Friday Q&A

Here we go. First, a couple from the inbox.

Josh writes:

You mention in today’s post that you recently ordered a Cheesy Gordita Crunch with Flamin’ Hot Doritos Taco inside – this leads me to wonder:  is Taco Bell’s original Double Decker Taco their greatest ever food innovation?  (Per the Wiki, the Double Decker Taco dates back to 1995 and was, as far as I know, the first time they offered an item with a hard shell taco inside a less fragile soft shell of any kind.)

So, it depends on how you look at it. Many credit Taco Bell founder Glen Bell with the invention of the pre-formed hard-shell taco, but it turns out pre-formed hard-shell tacos existed long before Glen Bell entered the Mexican-inspired American fast food game, and that he may have just totally ripped off the idea and claimed it as his own.

But there’s little doubt that Taco Bell played a huge role in the dissemination and proliferation of the pre-formed hard-shell taco. The logical parallel here is Elvis Presley. Elvis Presley absolutely did not invent rock and roll, but for better or worse, he was responsible for a whole lot of people finding out about it for the first time.

So if you want to credit Taco Bell for the pre-formed hard-shell taco, it’s impossible to argue that the Double Decker Taco is a bigger innovation — it wouldn’t be possible or necessary without the crunchy taco inside. But failing that, yeah, I think shoving a crunchy tortilla inside of a soft one is probably the best and most important of many incredible gifts Taco Bell has provided us. Once upon a time, there was no way to eat a crunchy taco while driving. Then someone came up with one, and they used it as a way to put Shaq and Hakeem Olajuwon on a tandem bike for the commercial.

The Double Decker Taco is not currently on menus, a great shame. But the Cheesy Gordita Crunch obviously stands on the shoulders of that giant.

Via email, Steven writes:

Where do you stand on the DH in the National League? I like the idea that I can watch more older, limited players hit and my Mets have a handful of candidates.

This is the mildest take: I like the DH rules as they currently exist, even though they make no sense. It’s fun to me that there’s this slight difference between the leagues, and though I think it does give AL teams a mild advantage in interleague and postseason play, it’s clearly not an insurmountable one. Some pitchers hate hitting, but others love it, and at so many levels below the professional ones, the best pitchers tend to be the best hitters on their teams.

But the universal DH is pretty clearly coming. Pitching is so difficult and requires so much preparation that it makes sense to protect pitchers from the batter’s box and basepaths, the union loves it because it helps prolong veteran players’ careers (and the union is always kinder to and more protective of veterans than young players), and I suspect in 25 years, no one will miss the era of pitchers hitting.

A good argument I’ve seen in favor of the universal DH is this one: It gives AL teams more flexibility in free agency than NL teams have. If an NL team thinks a guy only has a couple years left of being a capable defensive player, it’s going to be reluctant to ink him to a four- or five-year deal. AL teams get the comfort of knowing they’ll be able to find use for him as long as he can still hit, and a means of periodically resting his legs while he’s still regularly playing the field.

I thought about this one at great length and concluded that, in pretty much all cases, I’d rather have quality fillings over quality bread. And I don’t mean to diminish bread’s importance in the quality of a sandwich, at all. Bread is important and good!

But how many times in your life have you had bread that you’d truly call bad? If the bread is fresh, it’s fine even if it’s bland. There’s a lot of truly gross stuff one might put inside a sandwich, but not that many truly gross things you could build a sandwich on. Perhaps nothing turns my stomach as reliably as the thought of slimy old lunchmeat, but bread that’s a day or two too old is just unpleasantly dry.

I’ve had sandwiches with great bread and underwhelming filling, and I’m rarely convinced they’re an upgrade over bread alone. What is this, France? Get out of here with that single-slice-of-ham nonsense. Meanwhile, several of the sandwiches I’ve presented here in the past few weeks have featured quality fillings and sub-standard bread, and most of them were really good.

Oh, here’s a nice little minefield!

It’s very hard to imagine Jesus being any good at baseball, miracles notwithstanding. Unless Judea had some sports I’m not aware of, I doubt He ever did much overhand throwing in his youth, and people who did not grow up with that motion tend to be pretty terrible at it in adulthood. Also, I’m not sure Jesus ever said anything to suggest he had the type of competitive drive necessary to excel in sports. Right? Blessed are the meek, but they bat ninth.

The obvious answer here is that Jesus should be your head trainer. Anyone who can cure leprosy with his hands could presumably work wonders on a UCL.

Jason Statham, obviously. No shame in dying by Statham’s hand or drop-kick.

I have no idea what’ll happen, but I thought the idea of splitting teams into Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues for one year made sense. It would suck for the handful of teams that still have lousy spring training facilities, but every team would at least have its own facility, and — as I mentioned last time it came up — lots of players have homes near their club’s spring training bases.

But obviously every proposal is pointless until we know they can pull one of them off safely. Baseball rules and I miss it very much, but baseball is a frivolity and not worth risking lives for. This whole Q&A is fraught with complicated topics and I’m not trying to start fights online when I know my kid will wake up and command my full attention in 45 minutes.

It’s obviously trampoline. I want to dunk. And I know you’re about to tell me about all the potential drawbacks and dangers in having every surface I step on magically transform into a trampoline, but did drawbacks and dangers stop King Midas? I’m going to dunk, folks.

 

Friday Q&A: Furloughs, food, Creed, FTW

Here we go:

Hemal, you’re asking the wrong guy. I typed out a bunch of things that might prove helpful for relaxation, starting with putting your phone away and going for a long walk without it. Then I realized that I wouldn’t actually find that relaxing at all! What if something happens that I want to know about while I’m without my phone!? What if someone’s trying to text me? What if the president says another dumb thing, and I don’t find out about it until the end of my whole walk?

I’ve been prone to bouts of insomnia since I was a kid, but in adulthood I’ve mostly found I can keep it under wraps with a steady bedtime routine. Over the past few weeks, I’ve slept less and slept worse than I have at any point since college, and I don’t have anything else to do. This is hardly the worst aspect of this crisis, but it’s an awful irony that it should be impossible to relax at a time when there’s so little else to do.

Yesterday I had a busy day, which I finished by drinking three servings of whiskey during the course of online baseball trivia. I figured I would be out cold when I hit the bed. Fitbit says I got just over three hours’ worth of sleep. Only once in the last week have I gotten more than five hours. I’m too bored to relax.

I love Thai food, and a bunch of times I’ve got it in my head to make my own Thai food. Then I haul myself down to Chinatown to buy kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass, come back uptown and spend the bulk of a day making some style of curry. Then I eat it and I’m proud that it’s almost as good as what I could get from the Thai place down the block in 20 minutes.

My cooking repertoire is pretty limited. I think I’m good at cooking the things I know how to cook — grilled and smoked meats, basically — and I know that I am objectively excellent at piling those things atop bread to make sandwiches. I can improvise off recipes pretty well (and I maintain that cooking is a lot like playing jazz), but I rarely attempt anything too involved.

The answer to your question is almost certainly fried chicken. I’ve tried to make fried chicken so many times in so many different ways, and I almost always screw it up in one way or another. Then my home reeks of oil for a week.

Because people, by and large, have bad taste. The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and two different Eagles records sold more copies than the most popular Beatles album.

I am honestly less shocked by Creed’s success than I am by the notion that Dark Side of the Moon is one of the best-selling albums of all time. That more than 40 million people have purchased it might be the single best endorsement for humanity. One might make the same case for Thriller, but Thriller seems so much more accessible that its commercial success feels easier to understand.

I recommend, first and foremost, that you get yourself to that Taco Bell. What to order there? Well, friend, that depends on how near the Taco Bell is to you.

If, say, the Taco Bell is on the first floor of your walk-up apartment building, then feel free to pick from everything on the menu, because you’re going to be able to get it home while it’s still good. But since making use of the Taco Bell dining room is probably not an option right now, I’d advise against ordering crunchy tacos if you need to travel for more than 10 minutes or so before you’re going to eat them.

The main key to Taco Bell ordering is not to stress too much. The menu might seem overwhelming, but only because Taco Bell has come up with a thousand configurations of the same eight things. I strongly recommend getting Taco Bell items with ground beef as the protein, and if you do that, the range between the worst Taco Bell thing and the best one is shockingly narrow.

Now and always — but especially now — you should order with the Taco Bell app. The Cheesy Gordita Crunch is a great option for pretty much any situation, but my current go-to and single favorite Taco Bell thing involves some customization. In the app, start with the (excellent as-is) Beefy Nacho Loaded Griller, which you can find in the “Burritos” section. Click “customize,” opt for extra seasoned beef, then, in the “sauces” area, choose one of Chipotle Sauce, Creamy Jalapeno Sauce, and Spicy Ranch — it really just doesn’t matter which. If you’re feeling especially frisky, add jalapenos as well.

Enjoy!

Hardcore Ted fans might know that I usually work on something until I hate it, then get frustrated and hit publish just to be done with it. This isn’t fishing for compliments, either, it’s just, I think, part of my process or something. It’s extremely rare for me to be fully happy with something I’ve written. Time sometimes softens my distaste for it, and I’ll often enjoy certain elements of things I wrote, but when I go back to them, I always find some details that I dislike.

The tiny coffee thing Chris alludes to might in fact be my favorite, just because the experience of having the entire city of Miami yell at me about coffee stands as one of the funniest and silliest things that has ever happened to me, and I was legitimately underwhelmed by the legendary strength of that coffee. I also feel very strongly about the internet’s propensity for rewarding posers, and I think I did a good job examining it in that post.

I liked this thing I wrote about my brother and Mariano Rivera when I wrote it. Now I regret having done it. It’s complicated, and none of the people who were in charge when I wrote that were still in charge by the end. Bottom line is, I feel like a fool and a sucker for having given that much of my soul to a company that ultimately showed it didn’t deserve any bit of it, and I think I’d still be working there if I’d known enough to just write baseball hot takes and cash paychecks.

Friday Q&A: Robots, foodstuff, quaran-time

Less talk, more rock. Via email, Steven writes:

Now that the Rakuten Monkeys of the Taiwanese Baseball League have bought hundreds of robots to dress as fans when they begin the 2020 season, will this be the setting of the first robot rebellion, with them storming the field and killing the players?

OK, so I’ve seen a bunch of clips of Rakuten games, and for the most part it seems like the robots in the stands are more mannequins than anything else. I don’t understand how the droids improve the baseball experience for anyone playing or watching unless it so happens they’re into extraordinarily creepy things — and more power to ’em — but these robots also don’t seem at all like the type of robots we need to worry about moving on humanity.

Although:

In any case, I feel that a baseball game is actually the safest place to allow robots to congregate. They will be lured in by its angles and its numbers and its logic, then tortured by its general senselessness, and either their circuit-boards will fry the first time they see the Taiwanese Joe McEwing go deep off the Taiwanese Randy Johnson, or they’ll be so entertained that their batteries run out before they get around to enacting the Singularity. All the smartest people I know chose to watch a lot of baseball instead of trying to take over the world.

On that topic:

I think, if it happens, it’ll be awfully weird. I’ve only seen highlights from the CPBL games, but I suspect they’re very weird. I remember watching when the Orioles played in front of an empty stadium during the Freddie Gray protests and thinking that it seemed extremely weird.

This is why I’ve suggested surrounding the playing fields with green-screens and staging the games against bizarre and hilarious backdrops, like, top of my head, outer space, underwater, an Old West desert scene, or the Himalayas. Heck, it wouldn’t even have to be so literal. Look, the Dodgers are playing the Padres inside Monet’s Water Lilies. Stare at the magic-eye backdrop of this Marlins game long enough and a real baseball team pops out. If it’s going to be weird, you might as well go full weird.

All that said, I’d happily tune into games in empty stadiums every night if and when that proves a safe way to bring baseball to 2020. The presence of baseball means I don’t have to figure out what to watch on TV, and right now I’m struggling with that. I know there’s plenty of great stuff I could be binge-watching, but it’s like I’ve gotten so bored that I no longer know how to handle boredom. Usually boredom is the exception, now it’s the baseline.

Pretzels. But you’re asking the wrong guy. I think I have about a lifetime .200 batting average at getting yeast to work.

I did play football! I loved it. I coached football, too, and loved that too. And I loved watching football for a very long time, until a couple of things happened:

1) I started spending the entirety of my Octobers on the road covering baseball, meaning that I’d come home after having spent some 30-40 consecutive days working and watching sports, the Jets would already be out of contention, and I just didn’t find myself in the mood to figure out what was happening in the NFL and start watching more sports.

And, mainly, 2) We learned that professional football somewhat regularly scrambles players’ brains, and that the NFL either actively covered up that information or at the very least put on some incredibly large blinders to avoid acknowledging it.

I try not to be too holier-than-thou about not watching football anymore because I understand that it’s exciting and because I recognize that millions and millions of people still very much enjoy it in spite of having seen and read all the same things I’ve seen and read about CTE. But I’ll say that having Sundays free turns out to be pretty amazing, and it turns out I can find other excuses to eat Buffalo wings.

Also, I find the NFL Draft especially frustrating for a variety of reasons, and don’t think it’s compelling television. Down with sports drafts!

I am vaguely interested in seeing what the inside of Mel Kiper Jr.’s house looks like, which presumably viewers of this year’s NFL Draft will get to do. But I’m forgoing that opportunity because the same night of this year’s NFL Draft — Thursday, April 23, or a week from yesterday — I’m hosting the online version of the bar baseball trivia I was doing monthly until all bars closed.

It was probably not the best idea to schedule it against the only sporting event in months, but the NFL Draft is not actually a sporting event.

quadaquiz.sketchpad (3)

If you’re reading this, you should play. Sign up here.

At times when I am not quarantined, I am actually terrible at this. I generally have pasta, butter and parmesan cheese on hand, and that’s kind of a meal, but it’s not a very good one. We almost always have yogurt and granola, and that’s a solid breakfast. Living across the street from a supermarket allows me to be pretty irresponsible about keeping food stocked.

So instead of an actual answer, I’ll share my go-to quick meal when I need to make a fairly fast, delicious, inexpensive dinner (and then some — it always feeds my family at least twice). You will need:

  • One box of pasta, preferably something like rigatoni or fusilli
  • One pound spicy Italian sausage with the casings removed
  • A large head of broccoli
  • Four cloves of garlic, sliced thin
  • Olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Steps:

  1. In one pot, boil some salted water for pasta. When it’s boiling, add pasta.
  2. Set another, larger pot over medium heat. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom, garlic and sausage meat, stirring occasionally to brown all the meat.
  3. After the pasta’s been cooking for a few minutes, throw in the broccoli. You can use a separate pot for the broccoli if you want, but then you have an extra dirty dish to deal with. Screw that. Just use the pasta pot.
  4. When the pasta and broccoli are cooked, drain them, then dump them into the pot with the sausage and lower the heat.
  5. Stir so the olive oil and delicious orange sausage grease coat the pasta. If the pasta looks dry, add a little more olive oil.
  6. Mix in about 2 ounces of Parmesan cheese. Two ounces is an estimate based on looking up the standard size container of Parmesan cheese, which turns out to be 5 ounces. I use a little less than half of that.
  7. Give it a healthy hit of black pepper.

Sprinkle some extra parmesan cheese on top to serve. It’s very good, and you can feed six people for like nine bucks.

Via Twitter, Kevin (who has a private account) asks:

What is the ideal age and living situation for this whole shitshow shut down?

I got at this a little bit a couple weeks ago, but I think it’s something that a lot of people are thinking about it. And I think a lot of people are thinking about it because everyone’s certain their own shutdown situation is something far less than ideal.

And I suspect, to a lot of people, my own situation for the shutdown might seem somewhat optimal: I don’t have a job so I don’t have to worry about working from home, and I was already out of the job long before this started, so I’m not stressing about the loss of income. My wife’s job is pandemic-proof, my apartment has a backyard, I’ve only got one kid and he’s too young for proper school so I don’t have to worry about home-schooling him in calculus or whatever. But still I keep finding myself like, “ugh this sucks, this would be so much easier if…”

Obviously the ideal circumstance for any situation is “eccentric billionaire,” but assuming that’s not an option, my first instinct was to say: Middle school. Remember how much middle school sucked? God, it’d be great to get out of middle school. But wait! You’re not just getting out of middle school to play sports with your friends and flirt with classmates you run into at the movie theater. You’re getting out of middle school to do nothing at all besides stare at various screens, and that sounds largely unsatisfying.

High-schoolers tend to think anything bad that happens to them is the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone, so high school is out. College kids have had their minds warped by people telling them “these are the best four years of your life,” which isn’t at all true but puts them under all sorts of pressure to make the most of those four years, so that’s out too.

I’d say, of all the living situations I’ve ever seen up close, the best for riding out a quarantine would be one that belonged to a friend of mine in Brooklyn when we were in our mid-20s. He lived in a huge apartment with four other dudes and all of them were musically or creatively inclined, so I imagine they could’ve rode out a hypothetical quarantine just jamming and making music and broing down, and there were enough other people around that you wouldn’t get sick of each other. But then, in retrospect, I can’t remember what any of those guys did for work, or whether they’d still be able to cover the rent in circumstances like this one.

I think this pretty much sucks for everyone except profiteering politicians. It obviously sucks way, way more for some people than for others, but I don’t know that anyone reasonable is satisfied with the terms under which they have to stay inside all the time.

Friday Q&A: Baseball stuff

arena athletes audience ball

One of the only free stock photos of baseball in WordPress is this ballpark that now hosts XFL games. (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’m limiting this to two questions today because I’m at my monthly drug infusion and typing with an IV in my hand is kind of uncomfortable. Both questions come via email from Paul M., but I’m going to take the liberty of switching their order.

If you’ve got questions you’d like considered for upcoming Friday Q&As, you can get at me on Twitter or email AskTedBerg-at-gmail.com.

Here’s Paul:

(This) is an idea I’ve been kicking around in my head for a while.  It will require that baseball returns to normal.  Teams are constantly trying to come up with better ways to use pitchers.  My idea would have a team moving from 5 starting pitchers to 9, sort of.  Pitchers would be asked to pitch 3 innings per “start” and pitch every 3 games.  The team would still have a 3-4 man bullpen.  One starter would start the game, then the next “starter” would come in for the 4th inning.  The next would start the 7th.  Over a full season, each starter would be expected to pitch 162 innings if he doesn’t miss a turn. 

This would most likely be best suited for teams that don’t have a true ace who can pitch 200-220 innings.  If you can get 200+ innings of Jacob deGrom, why would you give 40 of them to someone else?  If you factor in off days, an ace might still be able to pitch every 3rd day rather than every 3rd game and get closer to 180 or 190 innings.  I see pros and cons to this idea and could imagine a team like Tampa Bay trying it out.  It could cause problems for a manager putting together a lineup to maximize a matchup when he knows that by the 4th inning, there will be a different pitcher on the mound.  Will managers use up the bench earlier in the game or miss the opportunity and leave the biggest bat on the bench?  Egos and big salaries could get in the way.  Also, pitchers may be asked to train completely differently than they do now.  Pitchers would likely not get a chance to have a side day.  Finding 9 pitchers who are capable of pitching 162 innings for a season would be difficult for some teams.  Extra-inning games could be especially challenging since the bullpen arms would most likely be 1 inning guys.  In all, I think some team could make it work.  I’d love to hear your take.

I like this question for a couple reasons: First, Paul went a long way toward answering it already in his own email. All the potential concerns he lists — fragile egos, different training schedules, scarcity of durable arms, extra-inning games, etc. — are real ones preventing teams from trying something like this.

Second, I like this question because I think about it all the time. All the time. Sometimes I lay in bed awake at night thinking about better ways to construct a big-league pitching staff. Other times I’ll be spreading peanut butter onto bread to make a sandwich and think, “wait a minute, OK, a four-man rotation, with each starter limited to five innings on their start day but expected to provide one inning later in the week, four relievers that double as openers when the matchups make sense, three guys reserved for late innings, and one position player who doubles as a mop-up guy to eat up innings when his team is leading or trailing by a wide margin.” Stuff like that.

I do believe we are on the cusp of a paradigm shift in pitcher usage, as evidenced by the sudden proliferation of the opener strategy. As recently as five years ago, it felt like front offices were conservative to a fault out of fear that any shakeup gone awry would be grounds for dismissal. Now it seems like everyone better recognizes the potential value of innovation and is more willing to give MLB GMs and managers a chance to go bold. There are still limits, obviously, but just not like there used to be.

But I think the major issue with Paul’s idea is one he mentioned: If you’ve got a guy like Jacob deGrom on your staff, you want him throwing as many innings as he possibly can. If that’s more than 200 then it’s hard to figure how you could use him only as much as you use eight lesser pitchers without angering your clubhouse and fanbase both. And Major League athletes tend to be ridiculously competitive people who’ve dominated every level of the sport they’ve ever endeavored, so every guy is going to want the chance to prove he can be Jacob deGrom.

I suspect teams will ultimately move toward systems more flexible than the one Paul outlined, and — though there are inherent ethical concerns to this — I would not be surprised at all if wearable technologies monitoring arm health and fatigue eventually play bigger roles in pitcher usage.

My main thing is, I think it seems kind of nuts to have some of these guys wasting bullets in bullpens. “Throw days” obviously don’t bring the same intensity as actual outings, but adjusting the expectations for between-start sessions seems like a natural step forward to me.

Not every guy’s going to be so eager to change his routine, and at some point they’ll all need side sessions for tweaking and honing. But I feel like I’d ideally want to move to a system wherein every starter is piggybacked with another starter on his throw day, decreasing the general expectation for length of a traditional start — asking guys to go five or six at most in ideal conditions, basically — but allowing flexibility for when someone’s keeping his pitch count low and cruising through the middle innings.

woman in red cap while wearing baseball glove

Here is another one of the stock photos that comes up when I search for “baseball.” I have no idea. (Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com)

Here’s Paul again:

How do we handle the 2020 season?  I believe that we will not see real baseball until next year.  If by some chance they are able to play, I’d love to see this.  A 5 round tournament with all 30 teams.  Every round is best of seven.  If off days are limited until the LCS and World Series, it can be done in less than 2 months.  First step is seeding.  I would propose that Hall of Fame voters could each submit a power ranking of the teams separated by league.  The number 1 seed in each league would get a bye in the first round. 

This is obviously the question facing Major League Baseball right now, and it is completely unanswerable. A few weeks ago, when the league first announced the postponement of opening day, we heard about the steps it might take to still get in a full, 162-game season. Yesterday at Sports Illustrated, Tom Verducci laid out plans for a 43-game season.

Perhaps the most reasonable idea I’ve seen bandied about in recent days comes via my old colleague Bob Nightengale, who relayed a proposed plan to realign the league into Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues for a shortened 2020 season.

That makes a lot more sense to me than confining all 30 teams to Arizona, as teams are already set up to house players near their spring-training complexes and many players make their offseason homes near their teams’ spring-training complexes. It rains a lot in Florida and a lot of spring-training facilities lack the amenities of their big-league counterparts, but making every team’s spring home its full-time home for this one year seems like much less of a logistical nightmare that concentrating all the baseball in one place.

But then, we don’t know. Since no one can say right now with any confidence when it will be safe to play baseball again, it’s impossible to say how many games they’ll be able to get in, or if it’s worth planning for any baseball in 2020 at all.

Would I want to see a 30-team tournament? Oh, hell yeah. I usually argue that the outrageous length of the MLB season is part of what makes baseball so great, since the sheer number of games goes a long way toward mitigating the impact of randomness on the standings, and a tournament like the one Paul described would be patently absurd as an effort to actually reward the best baseball team with the championship trophy. But it would be extremely fun, and I’d watch the hell out of it.

I wouldn’t let Hall of Fame voters seed teams, though, because Hall of Fame voters get stuff wrong all the time, and the media outlets for which they work would have vested interests in teams from their regions advancing deep into the tournament. Also, reducing the entire season to a tournament would mean asking a bunch of Major League pitchers to get themselves ready to pitch in Major League games for the sake of a single start (and, perhaps, a single paycheck), though I imagine a bunch of these dudes would sign up for it in a heartbeat. Who wouldn’t, right now?

I had a larger point I was hoping to get to about feeling adrift in uncertainty, and how we’re now enduring an era in which the cheesy James Earl Jones speech from Field Of Dreams no longer applies — baseball is not now offering a constant to mark the time and remind us of all that once was good and that could be again — and how very much that sucks, and how desperate we all are for normalcy, and how I am increasingly skeptical that anything close to our old version of normalcy will return when it’s safe to start living our lives again. But the drug drip just finished and it doesn’t feel like a good idea to hang around a medical facility any longer than I absolutely have to.

Here’s a song that means a lot to me:

 

Friday Q&A

man holding microphone while talking to another man

Photo by Redrecords ©️ on Pexels.com

Let’s do this.

OK, so first of all, keep in mind that you’re asking this question of an unemployed man who spent his entire morning trying and failing to convince a toddler to put on pants. I never went to journalism school, I’m not sure I’ve ever called myself a “journalist” unironically, and I always tried my best to avoid big-picture strategy sessions because corporate buzzwords make me giggle inappropriately.

The short answer is: I have no idea, and you should look with great suspicion upon anyone who speaks with confidence on this topic and comes to a conclusion much firmer than, “I have no idea.”

There’s irony inherent in me talking out of my ass here: One of the aspects of contemporary media that I find most frustrating is the total obliteration of the notion of expertise. And though I can appreciate the value of scrutinizing and sometimes undercutting the entrenched institutions establishing expertise, there are outlets out there right now that essentially operate as though a Harvard-trained epidemiologist’s perspective on COVID-19 is no more valid than Kid Rock’s.

An innocuous example I frequently cite to describe some of my frustrations at USA Today is this article, headlined “Baseball players are getting fat like us,” and based on truly preposterous analysis that used BMI — a metric by which Mike Trout is considered obese — to reach a conclusion that would be dismissed out of hand by anyone who has seen a baseball game in the last 15 years.

I had received, rejected, and publicly mocked the same pitch less than a week before the paper amplified it in the opinion section, and I found it both troubling and unsurprising that whoever made the decision to run with it did so without consulting any of the six full-time staffers the company paid to know about baseball. “Baseball players are getting fat like us” is a great headline that people are going to mindlessly click and share on Facebook, and while I never met anyone who worked on the opinion page, I have no doubt those people were operating under a mandate to drive up traffic numbers. And, hey: Everyone has the right to an opinion! Let’s check in with Kid Rock for his take on Major League Baseball’s obesity problem.

Pageview-driven journalism, I believe, does more harm than most people realize, and I genuinely do not think Donald Trump would be the president today if the media industry had figured out and settled on a better way to make money.

None of that really even approaches an answer to Mike’s question, which — again — I am just not in any way qualified to answer. I can say (with hesitation, because I’d like to someday be employed again), that I think access can be overrated, especially in the case of something like Trump’s daily coronavirus misinform-athon. It just doesn’t really matter if you secure the ability to ask the guy a question when his answers show no correlation to the truth. Obviously there are huge benefits to access. But it often requires concessions.

And I can say that I hope paid subscription models prove successful in the long run, but that’s not at all insightful. Right now, it’s just as easy to imagine an accelerated Idiocracy, with press conferences by the end of Trump’s next term covered exclusively by the Ow My Balls! radio network.

The only other perspective I can offer is this: The internet is still a very new thing, historically speaking. Online media as we know it isn’t old enough to drink, and it’s probably unreasonable to expect an advancement of this magnitude to sort itself out so quickly. Right? The printing press generally gets a lot of credit for the onset of the Renaissance, but it was still some 70 years between Gutenberg’s invention and the Mona Lisa.

The excellent book The Sun and the Moon details an incredible hoax perpetrated by the New York Sun in the 1830s, but I found it just as interesting for its depiction of the early days of daily newspapers and their myriad parallels to the early days of online media. Early newspapers operated pretty similarly to early blogs — there were a ton of them, they were typically the work of one editor, they were unabashedly partisan, there was little accountability and constant jockeying for attention — and over time, some succeeded and some failed and some combined and some moved to the fringes.

Point is, I think, we’re still figuring this out. I don’t think the ball ever stops rolling, really, but I hope when it slows down, it does so in a place where there’s some appreciation for what’s actually true and not just what people will accept as true on Facebook.

OK, now to the food questions:

I’m sorry to say this, Ben, but it can’t be done. Taco Bell comes from magic, and the magic only happens inside Taco Bell kitchens. There are a bunch of recipes online that attempt to approximate it, but I’ve tried precisely none of them, because I don’t believe Taco Bell is something mere humans can replicate with any accuracy.

We talking just grilling, or full-blown smoking? If you mean the latter, I’m best, most practiced, and most consistent with baby back ribs, primarily because they’re so widely available and they’re my wife’s favorite of the meats one might smoke. But my personal favorite, if I can get it right, are beef ribs (a.k.a. “dinosaur ribs”). They’re hard to find and tricky to cook, but when you nail it, they’re so good. Better than brisket even, I think because the fat is better distributed throughout the meat.

For just straight grilling, it’s either skirt steak or chicken thighs. I cook a heck a lot of the latter, and I’ve gotten pretty good at making it so the skin gets nice and crispy without drying out the interior meat. Dark meat chicken is so far superior to white meat chicken that it’s absurd they charge you more for white meat at fried chicken places.

The bar for “replacement level” plummeted so much in the last two weeks that, if we’re drawing an analogy to baseball, it’s like the league just added 25 expansion teams.

A well-made PB&J, I think, has always been sturdily above-replacement, though a bad one — especially if someone fails to put peanut butter on both sides, so one side of the bread gets sogged up with jelly — can definitely perform at replacement level.

Three weeks ago, I would’ve told you a replacement level sandwich is some pre-packaged lunchmeat (think Oscar Mayer ham) on white bread with American cheese. The type of sandwich you might find pre-made and pre-cut in the refrigerator area at a gas station convenience store: Readily and perpetually available, inexpensive, bad, but not going to kill you.

Today, I made a sandwich from two pieces of American cheese on a toasted English muffin from a box that had been sitting in my freezer for about a year. That’s the replacement-level sandwich now.

Friday Q&A: What the hell should I do with myself?

A page out of the old-school TedQuarters playbook. If you’ve got questions you’d like to see answered in future installments of Friday Q&A, feel free to email AskTedBerg@gmail.com or tweet them at me.

I’ll start with some quick ones before I get to the big one:

Into the garbage. Maybe I shouldn’t admit to wasting food in times like these, but for as much as I love freshly sliced lunchmeat, few things gross me out more than old lunchmeat. Eating it risks making me feel so sick that I go off deli meat entirely for months, to my own detriment. As such, I usually buy lunchmeat in 1/2-pound increments, knowing I’d rather crave more meat than I have than wind up eating a 10-day-old piece of salsalito turkey that’s starting to spore.

1. Tried to, but didn’t get it to rise. I think I’ve successfully used yeast one time in my entire life, and it was in home-ec class in 7th grade. Made a calzone with it. If I recall correctly, it was a dope calzone.

2. In my eyes, there is no reasonable return, as my appreciation for Dom Smith extends beyond reason. The joy he took in the Mets’ successes last year while he was confined to the little scooter thing was completely infectious, and I want the Mets to keep him forever even if it’s not what’s best for his career. Being a fan isn’t a reasonable thing. They could trade Smith straight up for Juan Soto tomorrow and I’d still be at least a tiny bit bummed out. I’d get over it, but I’d hate to see him go.

Of course. Fun fact: I have the cap Pascucci wore during the TedQuarters singularity game, when he homered off Cole Hamels. A reader who was also a friend of a friend came into it somehow and thought I should have it, and I did not disagree. I’m not generally much of a memorabilia collector and I don’t know what I’ll ultimately do with it, but I do cherish it, and the only way I could ever imagine parting with it would be bestowing it back upon Pascucci’s glorious head in some grand ceremony someday.

Yes! There is currently a napping child separating me from the big stack of novels on my nightstand, but some I read in the last couple of years that I can recall enjoying include: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, New York 2180 by Kim Stanley Robinson, Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson, and everything by Ottessa Moshfegh, who writes so well it makes me angry. I also re-read 1984 a couple months ago and learned that it’s still incredible. Just started Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, because I read a speech he gave about writing and found it so thoroughly on-the-money that I kept involuntarily and vigorously nodding at the points he made. Seems good so far, but I’m only like 15 pages deep.

Man. I have a lot of thoughts on this topic right now — as we all do, I assume — and not a lot of time to sort them all out in this space, so I apologize if this strays into a stream of consciousness. I promise I’ll get to an answer.

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WordPress now offers free stock photos like this one, so I’m going to use them. (Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com)

Yesterday morning, I took my son out for a walk and got so frustrated that I planned to turn my Thursday post here into a tirade about how much this situation sucks. I love my kid, naturally, and I love spending time with him, and until the ‘rona hit New York, I found that the trophy husband lifestyle really suited me.

But now the zoo is closed, his one-day-a-week school program is closed, the Natural History museum is closed, we’re avoiding playgrounds, and all of a sudden I need to be a total hardo when he wants to climb up random stoops and stop in the middle of the sidewalk to wave at strangers. This child is 2 1/2 years old. He knows something has changed, but there’s no way he can understand it, and the only way to get him to behave in a socially responsible manner is to be far more stern with him than I really think anyone should ever be with a playful toddler. It blows.

All that was weighing on me yesterday after he went down for his nap, when I opened my computer to write. But before I started writing, I checked Twitter and saw a bunch of other people complaining about coronavirus-related inconveniences and stresses, and I completely lost patience. And I want to be careful here, because I recognize that everyone else’s feelings are just as valid as my own, and I don’t want to make light of anyone whose real mental-health issues have been exacerbated by this crisis.

But it’s just… I’m sorry. Nurses at Mount Sinai — one of the top hospitals in one of the world’s biggest, richest cities — are literally using garbage bags as protective gear. There are refrigerated trucks parked outside a hospital in Queens to handle all the dead bodies. This is a full-blown apocalyptic shitshow. And here I am, all, “I’m so mad I have to tell my kid not to touch the magazine rack outside the bodega.” And here you are (not Chris, but the general “you”) going on Twitter, like, “This whole shelter-in-place thing is really making me feel anxious.”

I hope it gets better. I think it will get better. But if you’re not feeling anxious about the situation right now, you’re a sociopath.

It sucks to have to stay indoors and isolate yourself, no doubt. But there are levels of suckitude, and losing your job and facing grim financial uncertainty at this time most likely sucks way more than just social-distancing. And it sucks even more than that, probably, to have a job that exposes you to these dangers and forces you to witness the horrors up close. And it sucks most of all to lose loved ones to the virus, or to die from it yourself.

What I’m saying is: It sucks across the board, but not equally. And because I recognize that the degree to which it sucks for me is far less than the degree to which it sucks for many others (my wife among them), I decided I don’t really want to whine about it publicly.

Still, when I saw Chris’ question, I felt a tinge of envy. I assume it implies Chris does not have kids, and all I could think was how much easier this would be if I weren’t charged with stewarding a toddler through it. I could rewatch The Wire! I could practice the guitar without my son wanting to play it himself. If my living-room floor weren’t perpetually covered in toys, I could do push-ups and sit-ups all day and spend this time getting super yoked.

But then I started trying to think of the era of my life in which I would have found the quarantine least burdensome, and I couldn’t do it. If this happened when I was in high school, it would’ve canceled a sports season or the play, and those things meant the whole world to me when I participated in them. If it happened in college, it would’ve destroyed the Moo Shoo Porkestra. In grad school, it would have dried up my only source of income — tutoring for the SATs — and I probably would’ve wound up murdering my roommate and his girlfriend (both of whom were, and remain, awesome).

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How do they have enough masks for stock photos but not enough for hospitals? (Photo by EVG photos on Pexels.com)

And so on. There has simply never been a time in my life when it would have seemed convenient or palatable to have the whole world shut down around me. I imagine it’s the same for you.

So to get back to Chris’ question: I think the first thing everyone in every situation needs to come to terms with is that this fully sucks, and it sucks for everybody else, too, and it’s just going to unavoidably suck for a while yet. Far as I can see it, this is more or less the rock-bottom moment for civilization in my lifetime. Right? Nothing’s ever canceled baseball before, except baseball itself in 1994.

If you’re young and healthy and desperate for cash and willing to take on the risk, there’s definitely work available in grocery stores and delivery jobs. That’s an option. It’s not an option for me due to my array of auto-immune diseases, so it’s hard for me to speak to the risk-reward ratio. But people are doing it, they’re (rightfully) being hailed as heroes, and if and when they come out of it OK, they’re going to have a heck of a story for the bar. And, statistically speaking, the percentages are in their favor: Most of them will probably be OK. It’s still terrifying, of course.

But if you don’t want to take that on, I’d say the pretty obvious answer here is bucket drumming. Learn how to play some fuckin’ bucket drums! There are hundreds of instructional bucket-drumming videos on YouTube. All you need is a bucket and a pair of drumsticks, both of which can still easily be acquired online.

I’ve always felt like bucket-drumming would be an incredible skill to have in my pocket, and I think, if I had the next couple of months to dedicate a few hours a day to practicing, I could come out of it a pretty awesome bucket-drummer.

Just picture it: It’s August, and everyone’s finally allowed to go outside and interact again. After the initial round of orgies, you’re at a regular, non-orgy party with some friends and someone mentions that there’s a really nice view from the roof and they’re going to go up there for a cigarette. You don’t smoke, but you’re down to get some fresh air, so you join the little group heading up the fire-escape to chill on the roof. The person was right about the view, too — it’s a sweeping vista of the Manhattan skyline, and it’s a clear, gorgeous night, and if you walk to the other side of the roof you can even see the Statue of Liberty.

And, lo! What’s there on the roof but an old bucket and, for some reason, some drumsticks. You sit down and start playing a little rhythm — real simple at first — and the people, all standing well within six feet of each other, cast eyes your way as they drag on their cigarettes, thinking, “hey, Chris is doing a neat little thing on that bucket.”

Then you build up a little, start playing a full-blown beat, and heads start to bob, and they’re all, “wait a second, it sounds like Chris actually knows how to bucket-drum. I didn’t know that about him; that’s pretty cool.” And next thing they know, you’re just absolutely throwing down on the bucket-drums, a complex but still undeniably funky assault of bangs and thwaps and bops and rat-tat-tat-tats, and everyone’s dancing and laughing and having a great time, totally mesmerized and impressed by the virtuosic bucket-drumming skills you cultivated during our shared, months-long hiatus from normal life. You’re now the coolest guy you know, because you made the best possible use of these lousy circumstances.

So that, or play a bunch of video games.

 

From the TedQuarters mailbag

I’ve had some interesting emails lately, so I figured I’d answer them publicly. If you’ve got any questions you’d like me to answer on TedQuarters, send them to tberg@sny.tv. Here we go.

Steve Sidoti from Seven Train to Shea writes:

Fans were very critical of the Mets, while demanding they show backbone and set a deadline for Jason Bay while negotiations were going on, but in the end as we learned from Bay himself; there actually was an agreement in principle just before Christmas. And also, with the rumored Castillo for Lowell deal, it could have very well been something that never really had life to begin with, but we still hear people critique the deal and judge Omar Minaya as if it’s a deal on the table. So I guess my question to you is are the fans and sometimes us bloggers guilty of jumping to conclusions while most of the time not knowing what goes on in a front office?

Yes. But don’t stop at bloggers and fans, Steve. I’m pretty sure the calls for an ultimatum on Jason Bay made their way into the papers and onto the airwaves as well. I do my best to avoid throwing Omar Minaya — or anybody — under the bus for moves he hasn’t made yet, though I occasionally get ahead of myself and sneak into the realm of explaining why certain rumored moves, if made, would be bad.

Anyway, it’s a great point and something that’s important to keep in mind. There are a lot of mechanics to every move in every MLB front-office that even the most tapped-in insider never sees, so it’s not always fair to judge prematurely. But since it’s always fun to judge prematurely, it’s necessary to strike a balance somewhere in the middle.

Chris M writes:

Just wanted to get your thoughts on something, the whole idea of a pitcher’s enhanced performance in Citi Field.  I was reading Metsblog and Matt made a statement to that effect about Washburn saying “very well in the National League, in Citi Field”

I see this idea floated alot, with regards to potential pitching targets of the Mets.  Like people see the guys stats, then say “and in Citi Field he will be even better” or something to that effect. I dont disagree with the overall thought, as in terms of numbers and personal effectiveness, the pitcher is likely to do better in Citi Field.

Where I have trouble grasping the concept is how does this effect the overall team?  And how effective will this pitcher be at helping the team win?  Since the park will help the picther in question on the Mets, won’t it also effect opposing pitchers the same way, meaning the Mets will score proportionately less runs themselves?

Example using Washburn: had a 3.78 ERA, and was 9-9  on Seattle, and people say ‘he’ll be even better in Citi Field’. Fine; say he drops his ERA to 3.40 with the Mets, isn’t that offset by the Mets scoring fewer runs in Citi Field?  Meaning he would have to perform that much better individually just to produce the same amount of results (say that same 9-9) for the Mets, who we should assume are scoring less because of the park?  Point being doesn’t any benefit the pitcher might get, just get offset by the reduction in runs the Mets will see at Citi?

There’s a lot to digest here, and it’s all tough to firmly weigh in on because I’m still not certain we know enough about Citi Field and how it really plays. What you’re saying, technically, is probably correct: Any benefit to a pitcher that comes from playing his home games in a pitcher’s park is likely offset because his team’s offense plays in the same pitcher’s park. His ERA may drop, but his win-loss record will remain, as it always was, in large part dependent on his team’s lineup. Luckily, we have park-adjusted metrics like ERA+ to help us sort out how a pitcher has fared regardless of his home stadium.

Of course, that is not to say that a team cannot cash in on specific pitchers that fit their home park or play well to their defense. Since Citi Field appears to have a spacious outfield, the Mets could probably load up on rangy defensive outfielders and exploit the talents of pitchers who yield lots of flyballs, especially ones who might be available on the cheap if they’ve struggled in smaller parks.

That said, Washburn tends to be one of the more flyball-heavy pitchers in the Majors, and he wasn’t all that great pitching at Safeco Field in Seattle — one of the league’s better pitchers’ parks — until 2009, when he had an absolutely stellar defensive outfield behind him. And the Mets won’t have that.

B, in the comments section last week, writes:

Taco Bell has a new commercial in which no less than three very attractive girls work at the register at a Taco Bell. Have you seen it, and can we get your take on this?

I have seen it, B. And you’re not the first person to express some degree of incredulity about all the hot women shown working at the Taco Bell in the Taco Bell commercial in question.

But to me, that’s not what really surprised me about that commercial. There are actually multiple beautiful women that work at my local Taco Bell. Of course, I should note that my standards of feminine beauty aren’t exactly traditional; I’ve long considered “access to Taco Bell,” a woman’s most attractive potential feature.

What bothers me about the Denise Commercial in question and how it relates to my local Taco Bell is that all of the beautiful Taco Bell employees depicted therein appear competent and able to produce that man’s 89-cent Beefy 5-Layer Burrito with no trouble or confusion whatsoever. The man is smiling and confident, and appears like a man content in knowing that he’ll have Taco Bell within a few minutes.

At my local Taco Bell, the World’s Worst Taco Bell, that’s not how it goes down. At my local Taco Bell, when you order the Beefy 5-Layer Burrito, they might give you the 7-Layer Burrito, or tell you they don’t have that yet, or randomly put tomatoes in there. And like half the time when you order a Volcano Taco you don’t even get the red Volcano Taco shell. Also, it might take up to 17 minutes. Seventeen!

As attractive as the various Taco Bell employees who ultimately serve you the Taco Bell may be, they appear, unlike Denise, completely uninterested in undertaking even the most basic duties to which they are assigned, and good luck getting your hands on hot sauce if you’re at the drive-thru window.