Thursday, April 23, 2009

One Toke Over The Line

"Family Guy" may have gradually declined in every other conceivable way since coming back from the television grave in 2005 (has it really been that long?), but one aspect of the show that appears to have still held up over the years is Seth McFarlane's uncanny ability to but on big, lavish, classic musical pastiches. It's shades of those classic Brian and Stewie "Road to X" episodes from the show's initial run. I don't even know what the rest of the episode is about, nor do I really care, but I still thought this musical number was pretty solid.

Also, while nine at night is definitely a different context than four in the afternoon on TRL, it seems that television censorship has gotten a lot more lax since the days of MTV editing out the word "hash" in Weezer's "Hash Pipe" video in 2001. God speed Mikey Welsh, shine on you crazy diamond.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Gold Digging, part 5: Easy Hits

It's time to break free of my recent posting doldrums with the fifth and penultimate edition of my exciting journey through the shimmering gilded excesses of late 60s-early 70s mainstream A.M. music radio. We're making our way into the second disk of the second three CD set "Radio Hits 69-74", taking in the shimmering bounties of the height of the A.M. Gold era (I guess you might also call it "The Golden Age"?). The uselessly ambiguous title to today's CD is "Easy Hits", which would seem to indicate that the track listing would veer more towards the lighter sounds of 70's soft rock (or maybe promiscuous music that always puts out?). However, given Time-Life's track record thus far of total inconsistency between the content and titles of their CD collections, I wouldn't be surprised if they threw in a show tune or a some wacky novelty hit.

On to the next golden dozen!:

1. "Venus" - Shocking Blue (1969) #1
It's just one of those pop music quirks of fate. Had I heard the Shocking blue version of "Venus" before the Bananarama version growing up, I'd probably consider it superior. From a strict genre to genre comparison, I would usually prefer a 60s organ heavy, psedo-psychedelic rock single over a polished 80s synth laden, girl group dance track. I still enjoy both songs, however Bananarama has already staked its squatters rights claim in my mind so basically every time I hear the Shocking Blue version I just think of it as a lo-fi cover of the later "original" song. Unfortunately, in addition, I also think about women's razors.

2. "She's a Lady" - Tom Jones (1971) #2
I never really considered the booming, sweaty, hairy-chested, crooning of Mr. Tom Jones as really A.M. Gold. It's definitely not what I'd call "easy hits". This is "the Voice" we're talking about here, every hit he throws out is a larger than life, ridiculously over the top, sexy, power bomb; nothings easy about it except his persona. With that said "She's a Lady" is definitely top form Jones, as soon as that funky guitar kicks in you know the song's getting down to business. The song is also fascinating in that it somehow manages to be both overtly male chauvinistic while also kind being of complementary and respectful towards females. I once had a debate at a karaoke function with a girl who thought the song was in praise of a strong independent lady while I though it was more about a more submissive lady who knew her place. That's just the kind of complicated stuff, Jones throws on you.

3. "Stuck in the Middle With You" - Stealers Wheel (1972) #6
Apparently Steven Wright was wrong when he mentioned the chart history of "Stuck in the Middle With You" in the famous scene from "Reservoir Dogs". According to wikipedia, the song was actually released in 1972 and topped out at #6 in 1973 not #5 in April of 1974 as he mention. However, for me it's still a "Dylanesque, pop, bubble-gum favorite". A lot of things come together to make this an A.M. Gold classic: the funky bass foundation, the country fried slide guitar, Gerry Rafferty's laid back delivery, the cowbell; but most of all it's the sweet background clapping. For me a quality clapping section is one of those subtle touches that elevates good songs into the rarefied air of great songs. This is a great song.

4. "Alone Again (Naturally)" - Gilbert O'Sullivan (1972) #1
The signature tune from Mr. Fun himself, Gilbert O'Sullivan. This song is always in the conversation for the most depressing pop hit of all time. In a little over three and a half minutes the singer: contemplates suicide, recalls being abandoned by his bride on his wedding day, sadly recalls his past joy, feels abandoned by God, considers how the world is full of heartbreak, recalls crying at his father's death, remembers his mother's deep despair over her husband's sudden death, and then crying at her eventual death, all the whole realizing he is truly alone in the world. It's overwrought and depressing but it's still so undeniably catchy. The song's unlikely success in spite of it's terminal uncoolness is sort of a microcosm of the entirety of Gilbert O'Sullivan's shockingly successful career.

5. "Moonlight Feels Right" - Starbuck (1976) #3
I just want to mention that this song was relased in 1976, which should technically not be included in a CD set entitled "Radio Hits '69-'74"! Apparently Time-Life has hit a new level of negligence concerning their title and track selections. Errors aside, I have to admit I've become somewhat obsessed with this song recently; definitely one of the most interesting A.M. Gold songs I've heard thus far. It has all the dated conventions of a vintage hit, but there are elements of the song: the subtle smarmy vocals (allmusic describes it as "the missing link between Barry Manilow and Pavement's Stephen Malkmus"), lush wall to wall electronic synth, random marimba, that could make for a passable indie disco/indie dance/synthpop single. It's not out of the realm of plausibility to imagine MGMT or Of Montreal doing an updated cover.

6. "The Candy Man" - Sammy Davis Jr. (1972) #1
One of the more idiosyncratic number one hits of the 70s (a decade known for idiosyncratic hits). I can't imagine how this record even came to be. Who at the record label thought that matching an outdated old crooner with a song from a children's musical would somehow lead to a number one hit? I'm sure true Sammy Davis Jr. purists find this song and the fact that it was the biggest hit of his long and distinguished career to be a terrible embarrassment along the lines of Chuck Berry's only #1 hit being "My Ding-A-Ling". I'm still a fan though. The guy's a consummate entertainer and I can listen him read a phone book with that unique voice. Totally part of my top tier of Sammy Davis Jr songs along with the theme from "Baretta".

7. "Love Will Keep Us Together" - Captain & Tennille (1975) #1
While the original Neil Sedaka version of this song came out in 1974, this more famous cover came out in 1975 thus once again violating the '69-'74 hit parameters. Sloppy job, Time-Life, sloppy job. Aside from the goofiness of the group itself, the song somehow manages a quirky otherworldly sound that avoids any edge or credibility or general coolness. I feel like it sounded cheesy and outdated from the first week it came out. The only other comparable songs I can think of that manage to stay in that bubble of datedness from the start are all the old Tony Orlando and Dawn hits. Of course for me I find none of these qualities to be a negative. In all its unabashed hokiness and seemingly shallow sentimentality, for me it still somehow manages to be one of the clearest, unconditional declarations of love in pop music history.

8. "Heartbeat, It's a Lovebeat" - Tony DeFranco and the DeFranco Family (1973) #3
It's another song from "Reservoir Dogs" referenced by K-Billy's Super Sounds of the 70's. This is one of my all time favorite A.M. Gold tunes. For one shinning moment in time in 1973, little Tony DeFranco and the DeFranco Family broke free of their ultimate lot as a third rate poor man's Canadian Osmonds and created a record on par with anything the Jackson 5 ever did. I just love the slow, suspenseful build up, the harmonizing vocals from the older less talented siblings, and then the obscenely catchy chorus. It also has the most important element of all great family pop groups: a cute little lead singer singing passionately about a love that he probably has no idea about.

9. "The Morning After" - Maureen McGovern (1973) #1
The CD abruptly changes gears by bringing the light, poppy love momentum we've built up to a screeching halt with this slow love ballad. If the track arrangers were paying any attention to flow and continuity this really should have been placed around the end. It's obviously a monster of a closer, a powerful block of overblown, soaring vocals befitting the over the top disaster movie that it was written for. While the music is sufficiently bombastic for my tastes, I think Maureen McGovern's holding back on the gravitas. In the hands of someone with the proper chops, like a Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey, it can really do some damage. Also would someone out there in the wilds of the Internet please do me a favor and ironically apply it to the totally pessimistic ending of the anti-nuke made or TV movie "The Day After"?

10. "Beach Baby" - The First Class (1974) #4
The genre of bubblegum pop, which I consider to be essentially a kissing cousin of the more traditional A.M. Gold pop, died out roughly in the early 1970s. As with the decline of all genres, it was blamed on the rise other other rival derivative genres, the loss of its target audience, the changing of styles and sensibilities, etc. I think the real reason it died is because after "Beach Baby" was released the entire genre as whole realized that it had obtained perfection and that it would be a hopeless exercise in futility to carry on (I'm pretty sure the entire original 1910 Fruitgum Company committed ritual suicide). "Beach Baby" is a pure masterpiece. Its production reaches a level of dense musical complexity with soaring horns, layered vocals unheard of for a bubblegum tune. In a genre known for 2 minute singles, it ran a grand 5 minutes (you could probably fit like 3-4 Archies songs in there) with an epic sprawling narrative that nostalgically looked back on and defined the genre as a whole. I can only imagine that when Tony Burrows wrapped up recording of "Beach Baby" and saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more world to conquer.

11. "In the Summertime" - Mungo Jerry (1970) #3
For me the season of summer doesn't start until I randomly hear "In the Summertime" on TV or the radio (and believe me broadcasters always find a reason to play the song). Now here's a song that sounds like no other, a song that sounds more apt being played on a player piano in a wild west saloon then on 70s A.M. radio. It's unique, jug blowing, old timey sound combined with its descriptive laid back lyrics of summer laziness and mischief (criminal vehicular homicide if you follow the "have a drink have a drive" advice) creates a timeless song that is quintessentially summer. It's almost like a popular Christmas carol in its connection to a season and its immediate ability to evoke all that is great with it. A hundred years from now, while humanity desperate scours the expanded seas to find mythical dry land, they'll still be listening to the breezy sounds of Mungo Jerry on their massive makeshift barges.

12. "Love (Can Make You Happy)" - Mercy (1969) #2
This is sort of a disappointing ending to what turned out to be a really solid collection thus far. The whole thing sort of comes off as obvious and hollow. If you're going to take on the Herculean task of trying to sum up the infinite complexities of human love into a three minute pop song, you either have to scale it back and focus on one element (like a kiss or their eyes or lust) or just go for broke and try to cheese it up as much you can (see the selected works of Barry Manilow). Mercy sort of takes an unsatisfying middle ground with a "love is nice" approach. It's a pleasant sounding tune, but it's not going to get any emotions out of this listener with the exception of apathy.

As for the CD as a whole, I really enjoyed most of it. It's probably the most consistent CD I've listened to thus far. The only real knock against it was that it turned out to be a bit too conservative for me. While it contained some of my all time personal favorite tracks, the other side of that was that I was familiar with most of the songs prior. So in terms of finding new nuggets, the pickings were a little slim. Of course that's no fault of Time-Life. What is the fault of Time-Life is categorizing a CD as "Easy Hits" when a majority of the songs aren't really easy hits. Five down, only one more to go. What treasures still await on the final disk?

Friday, April 17, 2009


I was randomly reminded just the other day of that stupefying scene from the cult hit (and last known documentation of the whereabouts of Rider Strong) "Cabin Fever". I find it surprising that it never reached the meme-tastic, parody laden, heights of "Silent Night Deadly Night 2". It's just as bafflingly non sequitur and full of general slow motion weirdness.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Power Rankings!: Cosby Show Opening Credits

Despite my prodigious consumption of sitcom television going up, in my life I've probably seen a grand total of maybe 3 or 4 full episodes of the "Cosby Show". In fact, the only episode I can actually recall is the one where Rudy and her friend Peter go to the dentist played by Danny Kaye. The bulk of its run was pretty much before my time and by the time it started entering excessive re-runs in syndication, I just didn't really get into it. Now before you start accusing me of network sitcom racism, to my defense I've watched practically every "Family Matters" from its TGIF heydays to it's sad, slow death on CBS. I also think that the "Fresh Price of Bel-Air" is totally underrated and is one of the few series that I still find just as (if not more) hilarious today as I had in middle school. There's just something about the Cos that I just didn't dig. I think it was because the humor was just too realistic and subtle for my tastes. There were no wacky neighbors or slapstick physical antics or cheap laughs, just ground breaking naturalistic family based comedy; not really my bag. On the whole I usually prefer more thrown pies and kicks to the groin when it comes to my network family sitcoms.

Despite the fact that the Huxtables and I never really hit it off, I was always a fan of their classic opening credits. During my elementary and middle school years I, like every other kid of my generation, would watch the Disney Afternoon after every long hard day of school. The conclusion of the programming block at 5 pm would signal the start of my homework time. However, after the final credits of "Darkwing Duck" or "Gargoyles" ran, I'd stick around just a minute more to catch the opening credits of the Cosby Show rerun that ran immediately afterward.

It was over these years of viewing that I developed an admiration for the Cosby show's dedication to providing new and ambitious opening titles nearly every season (7 opening credits over 8 seasons). In addition to new visual sequences, the general theme song to the show was performed in a completely different style (I was totally unaware it was the same song until I had a mind blowing epiphany a few years ago). Unlike most of the shows today where the opening credits, if they even bother to have one, stays stagnant and listless over multiple seasons (I'm pretty sure "The Office" has been using the same intro since the first episode, ditto with "30 Rock"), the openings to shows like "The Cosby Show" grew and changed with the characters. Whether it was watching Tempestt Bledsoe blossom into a young woman or following the wild fashion roller coaster ride of Malcolm-Jamal Warner or being introduced to a cute little Raven-Symone, every new opening credit provided a lasting, distinct snapshot of the season, while telling a general story of about the series.

While every intro was different, there were clearly ones I preferred over others. As the debate rages on among Cosby fans about which intros were superior, here are my definitive Cosby Show Opening Credits power rankings:

7. Season 8 Intro
According to wikipedia, the season 8 opening credits were suppose to be the for season 7 but legal issues regarding displaying the mural delayed it until the 8th and final season. While most of the other Cosby openings had a timeless, classic feel to them, this is by for the most painfully dated. It's a bizarre amalgam of what the show's producers must have thought mainstream hiphop culture was like in 1992, an ugly pastel colored mix of early Fresh Prince and TLC videos. I half expect Malcolm-Jamal Warner to come in with a condom over his left eye.

6. Season 1 Intro
Season 1 has the most strikingly primitive opening credits of the entire series. It's the only one that strays from the whole family dance sequence theme; in fact it doesn't even have moving pictures. The whole thing looks like something off of Cliff Huxtable's screen saver (complete with annoying wipes). While this generic 80s sitcom opening is defiantly the worst intro in terms of originality and production quality, its only saving grace is its version of the title song, a breezy sax flavored affair, that is in my personal top 3. Also, on a random note, doesn't it kind of look like the Huxtables are exiting out of the A-Team van?

5. Season 3 Intro
Season 3 doesn't really add much to the evolution of the Cosby intro. It's essentially a continuation of the Season 2 intro. You get the family out there doing their thing, this time to a spicy Latin take on the theme. I find Cosby far too spastic for my comfort here; as the continuing rankings will show, I prefer a more deliberate and restrained Cosby dance. I'm also going to have to give negative points for Tempestt Bledsoe's whole too cool for school, "I'm not dancing stance".

4. Season 2 Intro
Season 2's intro is more important than it is actually good. It's sort of like the Model T, it's notable because of its groundbreaking firsts but in relative terms it's not actually all that advanced or proficient. Season 2 lays out the fundamental blueprint for all other openings to follow: individual cast introduction shots, flamboyant dancing, reworked music, and (most importantly) a spastic Cosby. However, there were greater, more ambitious heights to be reached. Also, interesting to note is that Season 2 and 3 are only ones where the Cos is sporting those glorious sweaters.

3. Season 4 Intro
Season 4 is a truly noteworthy departure point. Given the high flying success of the show at the time, entering what would be their third of five consecutive #1 Nielsen rated seasons, the show could have remained with another conservative tweak to their previous two intros. A slight rework of the theme and another garish sweater would have been good enough, but they decided to up the ante. This is probably the classiest of all the intros: with everyone dressed in vintage formal wear (Phylicia Rashad looks absolutely stunning, definitely her best looking intro appearance), a minimalist jazzy soundtrack (a total Bobby McFerrin vibe), and a cool subdued Cosby grooving along. For better and for worse this would end up being the starting point for the grand experimentation for the rest of the series.

2. Season 6 and 7
An intro so nice they used it twice! By the 6th Season all the cast members had pretty much refined their dance techniques. What results is an intro with some of the fanciest footwork seen throughout the entire series. As soon as that wild sax comes in the whole crew puts on a show worthy of the Apollo theatre whose sign is used at the backdrop. Even the once, tepid, Tempestt is burning up the dance floor. This intro is also important in that it has the return of Lisa Bonet from her "A Different World" exile and the introduction of a young, cute as a button, Raven-Symone In an interesting contrast to the prolific dancing of the rest of the cast, Bill Cosby is at his most deliberate here, grooving along, in an almost penguin like display of subtle movies. I like it.

1. Season 5 Intro
The opening credits to the 5th Season of the Cosby Show is quite possibly the greatest opening credit in the history of television. When I first came across it, it positively blew my mind. The theatrics, the choreography, the grandness of it all. The theme had been reworked into some sort of majestic John Williams-esque score that just jumped off the small screen. The dancing, a colorful, hypnotic, maelstrom of organized chaos with the Cos being the goofy calm eye in the middle of it all. The whole thing felt like a classic Busby Berkeley musical number. It was ridiculous, it was totally removed from anything the show was about, it was amazing. Unfortunately with an opening so stirring and explosive, any episode proceeding it would be ultimately disappointing in comparison.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

It's Just a Fantasy...2009, Part II

The 2009 MLB season is now just about three days in. At this point I'd like to point out to the many overly anxious fantasy owners out there that there is still about 160 or so more games to play in the season so you should temper your expectations (whether positive or negative) based on this extremely small data sample. This goes out especially to all those gun jumping owners who are currently extrapolating Marlins 2B Emilio Bonifacio's current prolific output for the rest of the season. Seeing as how the season, however, is well underway I figured I'd better get the rundown of my second fantasy baseball team in before the selections lose their optimism and start to look foolish. Lets take a look at last year's team:

League: Ah Me Gusta Beisbol
My Team: Team Korea All Stars
Draft order: 11th pick out of 12
Previous Year's Rank: 6th out of 10

Although my team enjoyed a brief stint in first place at the midway point of the season last year, by the end of September they had totally run out of gas to finish in the bottom half of the standings. Looking back, the team had a solid offensive core but was done in by injuries and poor second half performances by basically the entire pitching staff (Carlos Zambrano, John Smoltz, Kelvim Escobar, John Maine, Chad Cordero, Oliver Perez, Bronson Arroyo). To go with the super obvious sports talk radio expert answer: had it not been for those rash of second half injuries and ineffectiveness, there was a good chance I would have finished first. With an additional two teams added the the league this year, I'll have to dig a little deeper for quality, consistent, talent:

Rd1. Jimmy Rollins SS - For the second year in a row, J-Roll becomes my first pick of the draft. It isn't all that surprising given the fact that I got slotted in the same second to last pick position I had last year (although that was 9 out of 10 while this year it was 11 out of 12). His injury hobbled post MVP campaign last year may have been a general disappointment, but he's still a top tier option in a scarce position. While, doubtful he'll put up number similar to his MVP year again, he's still effective when healthy and still steals a ton of bases, which is always fantasy gold.

Rd2. Evan Longoria 3B - Last year I picked rookie of year winning, superstar third baseman Ryan Braun; this year I picked rookie of the year winning, superstar third baseman Evan Longoria. Braun came through on his high expectations for his sophomore year and I expect Longoria to be as productive as well. Some sources at the beginning of the year tag him as a dark horse MVP candidate, so I've got high expectations about him overall.

Rd3. Brandon Webb SP - As last season and many previous fantasy seasons will attest to, I have a knack for picking pitchers that promptly get injured or suddenly lose their talent for the upcoming season. Webb has been one of the most consistent and dependable fantasy starters over the past three years. I chose him because I wanted a stone cold ace who I could just plug into the starter's position and never worry about for the rest of the year. This is why I am not overly concerned that he gave up 6 runs in 4 innings on his first start Monday. Oh he's missing his next start? No worries there either.

Rd4. Kevin Youkilis 1B - Youks put up some major MVP-like numbers last year. Although I wonder if he'll be able to repeat those career numbers this year, I'm pretty confident that he'll still produce enough to be a big contributor to the team. In retrospect I would have liked a little bit more power coming from my 1B position though.

Rd5. Matt Holliday OF - A top ten fantasy pick last, but a disappointingly unproductive season and a trade away from the hitter friendly thin air of Coors Field plummets his value to the fifth round. His home/away split stats in Colorado seem back up this assumption, but I still think he will maintain his stellar average and still be capable reaching the 30 hr/100 rbi plateau.

Rd6. Joe Mauer C - Picking up a catcher in the 6th may be a bit early, but it's actually more restrained then last year when I took Russell Martin in the 4th round. I sort of think Mauer's a tad overrated, but I can't deny he'll give me a major boost in the batting average category from a position that normally is poison to it. Of course this is all when he comes back from his stint on the DL for back problems.

Rd7. Cliff Lee SP - For all those people who thought Cliff's amazing, out of nowhere, Cy Young winning season last year was the fluke of a lifetime, his opening day start seems to indicate that they were totally right. However it is of course only one game and while I can't expect him to repeat last season, I still think he'll end up being a solid number 2 starter.

Rd8. Bobby Abreu OF - Sure he's getting a bit long in the tooth and his home run power has notoriously dipped since his famous home run derby win in 2005, but the man is still a five category roto machine. In that quality Angels line up, I expect another productive year from him.

Rd9. Matt Capps RP - Ah Matt Capps, the patron saint of second tier closers. When he comes off the board, you know you better start scrambling for the remaining closers left. As terrible as the Pirates are, they'll still win plenty of savable games, and Capps is dependably entrenched as the starting closer. I could have done better but I also could have done a lot worse.

Rd10. Carlos Zambrano SP - Once again I turn to probably my favorite fantasy pitcher, the rock steady Zambrano. What more can I say then I wish I had five Carlos Zambranos starting for me.

Rd11. Brian Wilson RP - What second tier closing tandem is complete without the addition of Brian Wilson? I actually had to pick him up two rounds higher than in my previous draft due to an early rush on closers. I'm obviously just looking for quantity of saves rather than quality.

Rd12. Andre Either OF - Yet another repeat from my first team. What can I say, every year you end up drafting a handful of the same players either due to similar circumstances or some personal favoritism. I for one am exited for the young OF and expect a breakout year from him.

Rd13. Zack Greinke SP - Did I mention I ended up with a a lot of repeats in this draft from the first draft?

Rd14. Adrian Beltre 3B - I feel sorry for Adrian Beltre. The man is forever haunted by the one straight up monster year he had in 2004. Every year since then has been a disappointment by comparison, despite the fact that they have been consistent to better than his career averages. They're steady, good numbers but nowhere near 2004. Of course he totally cashed in on that 2004 season when he signed his lucrative long term deal with the Mariners, so I guess I should really feel bad for the Mariners.

Rd15. Chien-Ming Wang SP - Wang's a great pitcher in reality but, in the realm of fantasy, his meager strikeout numbers and decent ERA and WHIP make him a merely good pitcher. He really only provides superb numbers in one pitching category: wins. Everybody loves wins.

Rd16. Ted Lilly SP - Deja vu?

Rd17. Brad Hawpe OF - He's a solid back up OF option. It also helps that he plays for the Rockies and he has demonstrated in the past (2007) that he was capable of elite fantasy numbers. While it remains to be seen if he could reach those numbers again, he's still a good hitter.

Rd18. Kazuo Matsui 2B - Unfortunately I waited just a bit too long to draft Jose Lopez as my 2B in the later rounds of the draft so I got stuck with Kaz Mat. It's a pretty bad situation, I may have to turn to trading to remedy it. For now, I'll have to plug in him and hope that he stays relatively healthy and continues to steal bases.

Rd19. Troy Glaus 3B - Definitely not as useful as he used to be when he qualified for SS and was taking steroids. The guy had 27 hrs and 99 rbis last year, yet he's totally relegated to late round bench fodder.

Rd20. John Smoltz SP - Just like my first team, I took another chance on Smoltz again during the late rounds. However at the time, there was no news that he wouldn't be ready to pitch until June. He's chilling in the DL slot for now but I may have to drop him.

Rd21. Fausto Carmona SP - Sort of a less consistent version of Chien-Ming Wang, not really sure what I'll do with him. Last year was trash, but I took a flyer on the assumption that he might be alternating good odd year seasons with bad even year seasons like Brett Saberhagen in the 80s.

Friday, April 03, 2009

It's Just a Fantasy...2009

Can you believe that April is already upon us? Man, March went by so fast that I didn't even get around to reaching my ten post monthly quota (and that's the story I'm sticking to). Of course, for all baseball fans, the start of April means the start of another fresh new season; another year of following your team through the 162 game war of attrition that marches through the sweltering dog days of summer and hopefully into the chilly promised land of October. As for my hometown Mets, the outlook for 2009 seems relatively optimistic. The team is essentially the same as last year but they made moves to completely turn their biggest, most crippling liability (the bullpen) into what may very well be their greatest strength. In addition, Sports Illustrated, just the other day, predicted the Mets to win the World Series and at the same time fatally jinxed CC Sabathia by putting him on the cover. And finally, what are the statistical odds of a third straight disastrous September collapse? Improbable, right? Right?!

The start of the new baseball season also signals the beginning of, that other great national pastime, fantasy baseball. While all I can really do is watch, cheer, and hope for the best in the realm of real world baseball, within the stat filled universe of fantasy baseball, I can at least attempt to exert some sort of control over my team's destiny, and it all starts with the draft.

The drafts for both my yearly Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball teams have recently concluded and the initial die has been cast. So once again I present the exclusive 2009 round by round coverage of the first of my two annual fantasy baseball teams:

League: The Champs Are Here
My Team: The Chan Ho Parks
Draft order: 1st pick out of 12
Previous Year's Rank: 8 of 12

For the second straight year, my team managed subpar 8th place finish. It was technically worse than last year since there were 12 teams as opposed to 13. Looking back with the crystal clear lucidity of hindsight at my picks from last year, all I can do is shake my head at some of my demented optimism. There were injury plagued busts (Chris Young, Ryan Zimmerman), breakout stars that just broke (Corey Hart, Rich Hill), and of course, as the case with every Victor draft, terrible closer seasons (Trevor Hoffman, Rafeal Soriano). These types of disappointments, however, are not just exclusive to me, time makes fools of every drafter. The key to success is how one adapts and adjusts their initial hand as the season progresses. But delusion will always springs eternal at the start of the year draft:

Rd1. Hanley Ramirez SS - This was the first time in my entire fantasy baseball drafting existence that I got the first overall pick. Unfortunately, I promptly squandered this opportunity by forgetting about the draft and showing up five rounds late. Although, all things considered, you're probably better off having the auto drafter make a 1st overall pick than a more nuanced later one. Han-Ram has been generally considered the consensus number one pick so, with the possible impulse choice of David Wright, I would have likely drafted him anyway.

Rd2. Carlos Beltran OF - For the second year in a row I get him as my second round selection. I can't really complain about the auto drafter's selection here, he's a top tier fantasy OF. Although I usually prefer to fill out my scarce infield positions and then rely on the depth of the outfielders.

Rd3. Prince Fielder 1B - A little disappointed with the drafter's discretion on this pick. There are plenty of big bat, slow footed (although he somehow managed to steal 3 bases last year) slugging 1Bs to be found later in the draft. Last year was a definite regression from his monster 50 HR 2007 and I have a feeling that the Brewers are headed for a step back this year. Also, I like to keep my teams with "no fatties".

Rd4. David Ortiz UTL - I really don't approve of this selection. Right after drafting a big fat slugger in the previous round, the auto drafter picks up another big fat slugger...with even less versatility. I've always been wary of that small class of straight up DH guys who can only play in the valuable utility spot. If they're not providing you above average production, they're just hindering your roster flexibility. I also think that Big Papi is basically done as the fantasy monster that he once was. I'm sure he'll still contribute to the team but those 40+ HR/125+ RBI/.300 seasons may be a thing of the past.

Rd5. Curtis Granderson OF - I'm not really over the moon about this pick as well. He's got speed and a little bit of pop, hopefully he can get back to being a 20/20 guy. If he ends up with something similar to his 2007 numbers he'll make for a good poor man's Grady Sizemore. If only triples were a roto category.

Rd6. Chad Billingsley SP - This is actually my first real pick of the draft. I frantically entered the drafting room to find that it was five rounds in and the drafter had yet to give me a pitcher. Based on what was available, I was glad to see my long time fantasy crush Chad Billingsley was still on the board. For the past three years I have had him on one team or another and he has never disappointed. As my ace, I expect another 15+ win, low 3 ERA, 200K season from the man.

Rd7. Mariano Rivera RP - Throughout my fantasy existence, the only closer I have ever selected in the past who did not immediately turn into suck for the upcoming season has been Mo. His ability as a closer to remain healthy and productive after being drafted on one of my teams is one of his greatest accomplishments as a pitcher and will no doubt be noted on his Hall of Fame plaque.

Rd8. Ryan Zimmerman 3B - Let that be a lesson kids, you wait until the 8th round to address your 3B position and you get Ryan Zimmerman. This is actually a full round lower then when I got him last year. Last year was a complete disaster (perhaps National disaster?), but I still hold out hope that he'll come back healthy, productive, and emerge from the fantasy blackhole that is the Washington Nationals to actually become a useful player again.

Rd9. Carlos Zambrano SP - As a fantasy owner, I am first and foremost drawn to predictable dependability. I usually like to leave all the high upside, high risk selections to the other owners. Few players embody the steady reliability I look for than the Big Z. The guy's a lock every year to pitch 200 innings, keep the ERA under 4, toss around 200Ks, win around 15 games, and walk a ton of guys. Last year was actually a slight aberration from the norm but I'll definitely start him with confidence.

Rd10. Andre Ethier OF - I hate to admit it but I really dig the Dodgers' lineup, in addition to stars like Manny and Furcal, they've got a really solid lineup of exciting young players, including Ethier, who is still slightly undervalued and has terrific upsides.

Rd11. Zack Grenke SP - Everyone's favorite brooding ace seemed to have overcame his social anxiety disorder and being a Royal to put together a fine looking season. I'm hoping that he'll continue his development and bring me similar to better numbers as my number three starter. One more quality year and I will stop referring to him with the word "crazy" in front of his name.

Rd12. Jose Lopez 2B - Lopez is my official hot pick of the year. In a position category where the talent level falls off a cliff after the top four or so guys are taken, I've grown quite fond of the criminally overlooked young 2B from Seattle. Despite solid offensive numbers (.297/19/89) and the potential for an even bigger breakout season, I find him lumped around middling, later draft, second tier options like Rickie Weeks and Kelly Johnson.

Rd13. Brian Wilson RP - Since I find drafting closers to be a complete crap shoot, I just looked for guys who had at least a firm lock on their jobs. Brian Wilson definitely is of the Todd Jones/Joe Borowski school of unsexy closing, but I'm willing to settle for quantity over quality in my saves. With an improved Giants team this year, would another 40 save season be all that out of the question?

Rd14. Bengie Molina C - Ah the catching position; where unless you overpaid for one of the top five or so catchers, the question to ask in making a pick isn't "will this player help my team" but "will this player not hurt my team"? His laughable position as the Giants' cleanup hitter last year allowed him to put up career offensive numbers. I expect them to be a little tempered this year but still consistent.

Rd15. Ted Lilly SP - Lilly's eight or so years of pitching mediocrity before joining the Cubs has thus far seemed to have shielded many from the fact that his last two seasons have been his best and most productive. Durable and consistent, another quality Victor type player.

Rd16. Kevin Gregg RP - I drafted him as an afterthought, just for the seemingly unlikely chance that he was going to beat out the far more talented Carlos Marmol for the Cub's closer spot. It was a pleasant surprise when he actually won out. The Cubs are going to win a lot of games this year and many of those wins will require unflashy, workman-like, Kevin Gregg saves.

Rd17. Jair Jurrjens SP - No real story behind this pick. I just needed a pitcher on the bench and I figured he had some decent upsides. Also, I felt the team could have used more J's on the roster.

Rd18. Ryan Theriot SS - By this point in the draft you're getting all your bench players in order so who's a better spark plug off the bench than Ryan The Riot? Versatility, a good average, plenty of speed, and most importantly "scrappy intangibles".

Rd19. John Smoltz SP - Sure he'll turn 42 in May and he's coming off major surgery and there's a good possibility that he'll be rocked by American League hitting; but until he shows me otherwise, the guy can still throw. How quickly people forget that he was well on his way to another age-defying sterling season last year before going down. I'm willing to take a flyer for the 19th round.

Rd20. Jeff Francour OF - He had just an absolutely atrocious season last year, but as a late round pick it's totally low risk/high reward. He's still a young guy and if he can make some adjustments and put up numbers even somewhat resembling his 06 and 07 seasons, it'll be more than worth it.

Rd21. Mike Pelfrey SP - Why the heck not? Gives me someone else to root for.