Archive for April, 2017

April 30, 2017

#127) Drinking problems: Why “Worlds Apart” won’t get me to buy Heineken

There are two reasons why Heineken’s new “Worlds Apart” ad won’t make me by the beer.

The short reason: I don’t like Heineken. No matter how artfully an advertisement’s visual look is curated, how lovingly its message is crafted or how on fleek its hashtags are, if I don’t like the product, I’m not spending money on it.

The long reason: call me a hater, but Heineken takes the easy approach with “Worlds Apart.” You’ve heard the old adage “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.” Well, no one ever got criticized (at least by the media, the entertainment industry and other People Whose Opinions Matter) for touting diversity. No one ever got fired for joining the fist-shaking mob chasing down someone or something that has been publicly offensive: John Rocker, Larry Craig, Todd Akin and most recently Pepsi and their controversial ad.

Indeed, “Worlds Apart” has been hailed as the antidote to Pepsi’s reviled campaign that featured Kendall Jenner as a saint who instantly creates world peace by giving a police officer a Pepsi in the middle of a giant protest. By contrast, “Worlds Apart” is hitting all the right notes. An anti-trans man meets a trans soldier. A climate change denier meets an activist. A feminist meets a man who feels that feminism is all about man hating. Without knowing that they hold opposite views, these pairs of people get to know each other. After they build a bar together in a warehouse, they learn of each others’ contrasting opinions. They are then given the choice of walking out or discussing their differences at the bar over a Heineken. (Spoiler alert…)

Unity. Diversity. Beer. What’s not to like?

Perhaps if I felt marginalized the way some of the people in the commercial do, I might feel differently about the following bullet points, but my questions are:

  • Is it the job of a beer (or any other food or beverage product) to teach me about diversity or is its job just to taste good?
  • Has the “I never knew a _____ before; now that I’ve met one, I don’t hate them anymore” trope perhaps run its course?
  • Are there sometimes when it’s best to just politely walk away from a discussion you would prefer not to have?
  • Are people who hold “acceptable” views expected to change too?
  • Doesn’t Heineken’s response to the Pepsi backlash feel like a perfect sibling volunteering to teach a kombucha making workshop at the prison where the family black sheep is doing time for soliciting an undercover cop posing as a 14 year old boy online? At least a little bit?

Granted, part of advertising is to convince the target audience that using a certain product will make them feel a certain way – inclusive, tolerant, conscientious –  but, and I say this as someone who has quaffed an ale or two in his time, at the end of the day it’s just beer.

I do believe that “Worlds Apart” is coming from a good place. I think it was made by honest people who care about the issues – yes, they are trying to sell beer, but I also think they want to promote civilized debate and discussion – and want to create something positive in the wake of Pepsi. I’m just not quite ready to jump on the Heineken as Heroes bandwagon.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Heineken does hold a special place in my heart that no other brand – not even any IPA – can claim, but it goes back to something that happened when Kendall Jenner was a twinkle in Bruce/Caitlyn’s eye. My wife visited Amsterdam when she was in her early 20s, took the Heineken brewery tour, did what people do on such a thing and then became the only person I’ve ever known to go to the Anne Frank house while intoxicated. If that doesn’t prove that we’re meant to be together, nothing does.

But I digress.

And I still don’t like beer.

April 18, 2017

#126) Book review: “House of Nails” by Lenny Dykstra

Some baseball fans remember Lenny Dykstra for his hard-nosed, balls-to-the-wall style of play that earned him the nickname “Nails.” Others remember him for bankruptcy fraud, falsifying documents while leasing a car and writing a bad check to a prostitute. Dykstra’s ups and downs are chronicled in “House of Nails” – a memoir that is part self-reflection, part shit show (if you are offended by the term “shit show” don’t read this book; it contains an amount of cursing that would make a longshoreman uncomfortable.)

Anyone looking for balance, meaningful remorse or nuance in this book will want to keep looking, but that shouldn’t come as a shock. “House of Nails” is written by a die-hard Lenny Dykstra fan and is best read through that filter. Given that, how well does Lenny Dykstra present the awesomeness that is Lenny Dykstra?

Like the New York Mets in the years following their 1986 World Series championship, “House of Nails” is a collection of promising parts that never quite live up to their potential. The pieces are all there – no holds barred accounts of steroid use (by Dykstra and many others); unapologetic descriptions of life on the road with two of baseball’s most notorious teams (the 1986 Mets and the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies); boasts about blackmailing umpires; an insider’s perspective on the real estate crisis of 2008; escapades with Charlie Sheen – but while the anecdotes are by turns entertaining and cringe-worthy, the potential for a bigger whole is never realized. Granted, this is a sports bio, not Shakespeare, but with a little more finesse, “House of Nails” could have been a seminal baseball book of our times: “Ball Four” meets “Scarface.”

A mythological interpretation of the story, to which I don’t think Dykstra would object (he refers to himself as “a Greek fucking statue” in a way that may or may not be tongue in cheek) would see Dykstra as a tragic figure who starts from humble beginnings and achieves greatness but is undone by a desire for the forbidden (steroids, girls, Wayne Gretzky’s house). Our hero then pays his penance and becomes a New Man. However, Dykstra’s repentance is generic and conditional (“Undeniably, I have made some monumental mistakes in my life, some of which, inadvertently, have had a negative impact on my family”) while his accounts of those whom he feel wronged him are given much more detail (“Please note that [my attorney’s] letter is dated February 28th, 2012….eight months after I was incarcerated for grand theft auto.”) Dykstra enjoys playing the tough guy card (“I called him a cunt, and [Dodgers catcher Rick] Dempsey took something that resembled a swing at me”) but also the victim (“I was placed in solitary confinement for leasing a car”) when it suits his narrative.

Dykstra’s grievances have legitimacy. Major League Baseball turned a blind eye to steroids when record-breaking home run races were filling seats and then took the moral high ground when it made them look good (and why exactly did the federal government feel the need to step in anyways?) Dykstra may have been obsessed with buying Wayne Gretzky’s mansion, the prize that would prove to be his undoing, to the point where he irrationally walked into an unsound home loan, but at the height of the real estate bubble, banks weren’t exactly known for doing the right thing either. As for Dykstra’s treatment while incarcerated, the book may only give his side of the story – but misconduct by wardens and other officials in the L.A. County jail system is a matter of record.

Ultimately, “House of Nails” could be seen as a microcosm of Dykstra’s baseball career. Hall of Fame? No. Fun to watch/read? Yes. Considering how many books and baseball players alike come and go without making an impact, one could do worse than Lenny Dykstra did both on the diamond and the printed page.

 

April 13, 2017

#125) Why the 1985 World Series matters

If there’s one thing I love, it’s squeezing teachable moments out of the game of baseball. Often times, the more of a stretch it is to find a lesson from an event on the diamond, the more I enjoy trying to do it. With another baseball season underway, let’s examine the fallout for one of the most controversial calls in the history of the game, one which is still dissected and debated more than 30 years later.

If you’re a baseball geek, feel free to drop down to the Important Life Lesson part of this post. For those of you who actually have lives, here’s the backstory:

In the 1985 World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals led their in-state rivals, the Kansas City Royals, three games to two. In the sixth game, Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog brought his closer, Todd Worrell, in to protect a 1-0 ninth inning lead. The first Royals batter, Jorge Orta, hit a chopper which first baseman Jack Clark fielded and tossed to Worrell, who had run over to cover the base. First base umpire Don Denkinger called Orta safe. Despite arguments from Clark, Worrell and Herzog and replays that clearly showed Orta was out, the call stood. A misplayed pop fly, a passed ball, an intentional walk and a two-run base hit later, the Royals had a 2-1 win to force a seventh game. Angry and deflated from the loss, the Cardinals imploded the next night. Both Herzog and relief pitcher Joaquin Andujar were ejected for arguing with Denkinger as the Royals rolled to an 11-0 win.

Needless to say, St. Louis fans saw Don Denkinger as the reason their team lost. In the ensuing months, Denkinger would receive much harassment from irate fans, up to and including death threats. Losing in such a manner had to suck for St. Louis fans, especially with Missouri bragging rights on the line, but scapegoating Denkinger didn’t account for Clark misplaying an easy foul ball that could have been the first out or for the passed ball that put the Royals in a prime position to win the game. This was game six, not game seven and despite the momentum having swung in the Royals’ favor, the Cardinals had another chance to win.

There are also the circumstances that led up to game 6. After winning three of the first four games of the Series, the Cardinals had had a chance to close it out in game 5 as well but didn’t. The Cards’ offense was M.I.A., even in the three games they won. Their four-run ninth inning rally to win game 2 was the only inning in the entire series in which they scored more than one run. To be sure, losing rookie star Vince Coleman in the infamous “runaway tarp” incident during the previous series against the Dodgers didn’t help, but that alone didn’t explain the Cardinals’ team average of .185 against K.C., setting a record for lowest batting average for a team in a 7-game World Series. The Cardinals even benefited by another questionable umpiring call earlier in game 6: Kansas City’s Frank White was called out on a stolen base attempt despite appearing to have been safe from multiple replay angles. The next Royals batter lined a base hit which would have likely scored White for the game’s first run.

Important Life Lesson Part of This Post

Are there parallels between one of baseball’s most controversial calls and one of America’s most controversial elections?

Every Denkinger moment has both a history and a subsequent series of events that made it significant. It didn’t come from nowhere and after it happened, it could have been contained. Donald Trump didn’t come out of nowhere. While his Republican opponents were bickering and posturing, Trump got alienated voters on board. Sure, many of them saw him as the least of several evils but a desirable Republican candidate could have easily put an end to the issue. Similarly, the Democrats put up a candidate who failed to inspire. Perhaps they never took the opposition seriously; perhaps, like the St. Louis Cardinals, they felt as if being right should have trumped (sorry) winning. Either way the results on November 8th, 2016 were, as they were on October 26th, 1985, tough for the losers to swallow.

The most compelling, actionable parallel however, is in the reactions following the key moment. After the self-fulfilling prophecy of the Cardinals’ game 7 meltdown, there was little reflection among Whitey Herzog, the players or the fans about how the team could have done better. In the months since the election, I have seen articles making fun of Melania Trump’s inefficient planning of the Easter Egg Roll; re-posts of tweets by Trump against Syrian involvement vintage 2013; all manner of clever Sean Spicer memes and a general contest among bloggers, YouTubers and Instagrammers to be the most shareable critic of the administration.

What I haven’t seen is any serious indication of who the Democrats plan on grooming for 2020. The decisive winner of a March, 2017 Harvard-Harris poll, with 45% of the vote, was “Someone new.” Vegas apparently likes Elizabeth Warren, but the Massachusetts senator, with declining numbers in her own state, faces a no-sure-thing election in 2018 – possibly against former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling (see, you just can’t escape baseball!)

Will the Dems (and other Trump opponents throughout the political spectrum) continue the path to self-destruction as the Cardinals did or will they take a page from Armando Galarraga’s playbook? The Tigers pitcher had a perfect game ruined by a first base umpire’s blown call, on a very similar play to the one from 1985. Talking to reporters after the game, Galarraga was calm and forgiving of umpire Jim Joyce, saying, “Nobody’s perfect.”

I leave you with the words of Seth Godin: “You can disdain gravity all you want…seek to have it banned. But that’s not going to help you build an airplane.”