Oct 20, 2020

Lucky Shops At The Mega Lo Mart

Tom Petty
Photo by Mark Seliger
The leader of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers is one of my favorite musicians of all time.  He passed away a little over three years ago, and would have turned 70 years old today.  Happy birthday, sir, and thank you for all of the awesome music.

Oct 19, 2020

Frankenstein's Guacamole

Boris Karloff's Guacamole Recipe
Los Angeles Times (March 23, 1967)
Matt from Dinosaur Dracula recently shared the famous Boris Karloff recipe for guacamole, and he tested the recipe out with positive results.  I'm going to have to give this a shot for Halloween.  Maybe I'll even give that scalloped potatoes emergency dish a try.

Oct 18, 2020

The Realmuto Deal

source: David Miaialetti (Philadelphia Inquirer)

It wasn't that long ago that the Phillies acquired J.T. Realmuto from the Miami Marlins.  It was February 7th, 2019.  Not long afterward, the Phillies signed Bryce Harper to an unprecedented 13 year contract, and with Realmuto locked up for the next two seasons, it looked as if the Phillies would bookend the decade as National League East Champions.

It didn't work out that way.  In fact, they weren't even close.

The Phillies finished the 2019 season with a .500 record, and they fared even worse in 2020 with a record of 28-32.  With injuries to the starting rotation and the second worst bullpen of the past hundred years, they would have likely finished in dead last if not for the fact that the season was shortened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now, J.T. Realmuto is a free agent, and it has been reported by Todd Zolecki that he's looking for a contract in the $200 million dollar range.  When you consider the fact that the Phillies will not spend above the Luxury Tax threshold, and when you consider the more pressing needs of the team if they hope to compete in the years ahead, this spells the end of Realmuto's time in Philadelphia.  With that being said, it's time to take off the rose colored glasses and examine the reality of the situation.

The Miami Marlins won the trade.

I was as happy as anyone in Philadelphia when it was announced that the Phillies made a trade to bring J.T. Realmuto to town.  This wasn't the first time the Phillies made a "win now" move by trading young pitching talent for an established star.  At the 2009 deadline, they sent Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson and two prospects to Cleveland for Cliff Lee.  Later that winter, they traded a group that included Kyle DrabekTravis d'Arnaud and one other prospect to Toronto for Roy Halladay.  At the 2010 deadline, they traded J.A. Happ, Anthony Gose and Jonathan Villar to the Astros for Roy Oswalt.  At the following year's deadline, they made another trade with the Astros, sending Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Domingo Santana and one other prospect to Houston for Hunter Pence.

While some of these prospects didn't pan out (particularly Drabek and Singleton), the Phillies traded away valuable talent in each of these deals.  Carlos Carrasco and J.A. Happ were successful pitchers throughout the decade.  Travis d'Arnaud bounced around the league for a bit and has had an excellent 2020 as the starting catcher for the NL East Champion Atlanta Braves.  Guys like Anthony Gose, Jonathan Villar and Domingo Santana may not have become household names, but they've had respectable careers after being traded away by the Phillies.  The one thing that each of these trades had in common was that they brought established stars to a contending Phillies team, and they helped the Phillies win the NL East Championship in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

The same cannot be said for the J.T. Realmuto trade.  Not only did his acquisition not help the Phillies to win their division, but the men that they traded away helped a division rival to pass Philadelphia and secure a spot in the post-season.  There are two important differences between the 2009-2011 trades and the 2019 J.T. Realmuto trade.
  1. The Phillies were a "win now" team making "win now" trades in 2009-2011.  The 2019-2020 Phillies were not a "win now" team.

  2. The prospects that were traded away in the 2009-2011 trades were very good, but not great.  Sixto Sanchez has the makings of a great pitcher.
Whether or not the Phillies re-sign their star catcher is irrelevant to the discussion of who won this trade.  Had they locked him up to an extension in February 2019, it could be argued that the exclusive negotiating rights, and therefore the extension, were part of the return that the Phillies received when they traded Sixto Sanchez and Jorge Alfaro to Miami.  However, that didn't happen.  If the Phillies do retain Realmuto's services, it will be a free agent signing on the open market like any other, and they will have to outbid the rest of the league to keep him.  If they were satisfied with that arrangement, they could have just kept Sixto Sanchez and Jorge Alfaro and waited for Realmuto to become a free agent after the 2020 season.

Even if this trade was 2 years of Sixto Sanchez for 2 years of J.T. Realmuto straight up, at even money salaries, I would still say that the Miami Marlins were the winners of this trade.  All of the hyperbole about "the best catcher in baseball" doesn't change the fact that Sixto led his team to the post-season while J.T. led his team to a .500 and sub-.500 season.  If the 2020 Phillies had Sixto Sanchez in the rotation instead of J.T. Realmuto behind the plate, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to believe that the Phillies would have been in the 2020 playoffs instead of the Marlins.

Now, consider that Sixto is under team control with the Marlins through the end of the 2025 season.  Regardless of where J.T. Realmuto plays in 2021, there is no valid argument to suggest that this was an "even" trade, or a trade the Phillies should have made in hindsight.  The Marlins did more than simply win this trade.  I believe when both of their careers have reached their conclusion, people won't look back on the 2019 swap as the Realmuto trade.  They will call it the Sixto Sanchez trade, and it will sit alongside the Ferguson Jenkins trade as one of the most lop-sided losses in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies should not re-sign J.T. Realmuto

If the situation were different, I would say that the Phillies should absolutely enter the winter of 2020 with the top priority of keeping their star catcher in Philadelphia.  That certainly is what many of the fans and podcasters have been saying.  It's the same song they always sing when this type of situation comes up: "billionaire owners are being cheap", and "if they cared about winning, they'd sign him", and "it's not my money, so pay him whatever he wants".  Of course, it's complete nonsense.  The Phillies had the 5th highest payroll in all of baseball, but the chronic complainers who have never run a business in their lives insist on spending their winters having a long, drawn out temper tantrum on par with an ill behaved child in the toy store whose mother refuses to buy a new bike for their precious little darling.

It's even more absurd when you see how these fans react to a team like the Tampa Bay Rays going to the World Series.  They had the fourth lowest payroll in all of baseball and defeated a New York Yankees team who had the highest payroll in baseball, approximately 200 percent higher than the Rays.  It's no fluke, by the way.  The Rays were a much better team during the regular season, finishing with the best record in the American League, and they sent the Yankees home in ALDS in convincing fashion.  These same fans argue that we shouldn't celebrate the fact that the Rays won with such a small payroll, and that we should instead admonish their front office for not spending more (and they'll no doubt lose their collective minds tonight if the Braves overcome the free spending Dodgers).  It's an foolish argument, and once again, it comes from men and women who have never run a business in their lives.  If they had, they would never take such an asinine position.  To the men and women who invest money in running a team, baseball isn't a hobby.  It's a business.  If a business owner finds a way to defeat their competition while spending less than half of the money they do, they are doing things right.  Fans can cry all they want about how the owners are "greedy billionaires", but it's not greed by any reasonable definition of the word.  It's smart business, and it's one of the reasons that the team owners became billionaires while the complaining fans have not.

You can try to talk sense to these people, just like the mother tries to talk sense to their whining child, but it falls on deaf ears as the child screams and cries in protest.  The child, like the fan, is unable or unwilling to see the big picture.  Their only concern is that their demands aren't being met.  They want their shiny new toy.  They feel entitled to it, and the temper tantrum will continue until they get what they want, or until they've tuckered themselves out and are left pouting in the corner.

For fans who can see the situation holistically, here are many reasons the Phillies should pass on Realmuto at even half of the $200 million asking price.
  1. The Phillies will not go over the luxury tax threshold.  Period.  End of story.  Any discussion about the Phillies front office that does not begin with this understanding is not worth having. 

  2. The Phillies 2021 payroll target will likely be significantly less than 2019 and 2020.  Fans will argue against this until they're blue in the face, but calling the front office "cheap" is so laughably childish that it warrants no response at all.  They had the fifth highest payroll in baseball, and they're coming off of a season with zero fans in attendance.  The fans in the ballpark make up as much as 40% of a team's revenue.  Additionally, there appears to be no end in sight for the Covid-19 pandemic, so the most optimistic thing you can say about gate revenue in 2021 is that it's a question mark.  Fans will cry that the owners are billionaires who can afford to spend millions of dollars on a business without knowing what the return on investment will be.  However, these owners didn't become billionaires by needlessly risking millions of dollars when there's very little chance of that risk paying off.  Fans can complain all they want, but if it was their money at risk, they wouldn't spend it either.

  3. Even if the Phillies maintained the same payroll that they had in 2021, it is questionable at best to spend $200 million dollars on a 30 year old catcher who spent the last two weeks of the season on the bench with nagging injuries.  It's even more questionable when you consider that your backup catcher, who calls a fantastic game, had a career year at the plate in 2020.  I've heard the argument made that if the National League adopts the designated hitter rule full time, it could keep Realmuto in the lineup when he's no longer able to catch.  That may be true, but if they're resigned to using him a DH, they can get a much better hitter for $200 million than J.T. Realmuto.  Although there are exceptions to the rule, catchers do not tend to age gracefully.  If someone gives him the years and dollars he's looking for, I suspect it will be an albatross on the level of the 2010 Ryan Howard extension.

  4. One of the most overused cliches is that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results.  Dedicating a significant percentage of the team's budget to Realmuto may not be insane, but it doesn't seem like a particularly good idea in light of the team's needs.  The Phillies have had J.T. behind the plate for two seasons and have gotten one .500 season and one losing season out of it.  That's certainly not Realmuto's fault, but it does highlight the fact that having him is not the key to the playoffs that we all hoped it would be.  To paraphrase what Branch Rickey once told Ralph Kiner, we missed the playoffs with you, we can miss the playoffs without you.  J.T. Realmuto may be the best catcher in the game, but the 2021 Phillies don't need the best catcher in the game to be competitive.  They need a bullpen that isn't historically awful.  They need two starting pitchers.  They need to re-sign or replace Didi Gregorius in the infield.  They could also use a center fielder and leadoff hitter more than an All-Star catcher.  Even if they maintain the same payroll in 2021, they won't come close to being able to afford to address each of these issues if they pay Realmuto what he's asking.  We've seen what that looks like, and it's not pretty.

  5. If the Phillies were actually contenders in their division, as they were from 2006 - 2012, I could overlook the fact that he's 30 and that his best years as a catcher are likely behind him.  I could ignore the fact that he would cost far more than he's worth, in dollars and in years, and that by the end of the contact, we'd likely be looking at a $30 million dollar below average DH.  However, as much as I hate to admit it, this team is not a contender.  They are not one key player away from reaching the World Series.  They're a closer, two starting pitchers, at least four relief pitchers, a shortstop, a center fielder and a leadoff hitter away from even coming close to battling the Braves for the NL East.  Signing J.T. Realmuto is a "win now" move, and they are not a "win now" team.  Their roster has major questions with no answers, and their farm has been stripped to the bone.  They've found themselves in a dangerous territory where they have too much talent to be a rebuilding team, and too little talented to be a serious threat in the division.
So, what is the answer then?  I don't know.  What I do know is that as good of a catcher as J.T. Realmuto has been in his career, the man can't pitch and he can't stop the team from blowing leads.  If your refrigerator is broken, you don't solve the problem by going out and getting the best microwave money can buy.  Andrew Knapp may not be as good as J.T. Realmuto.  He doesn't have to be if the team spreads the money that they would have spent on Realmuto around to address their needs in the bullpen and the back end of the rotation.  It won't solve all of the Phillies problems, but it would be a good start.

Oct 17, 2020

Hell's Kitchen Is Toxic Country

The Toxic Avenger
Hell's Kitchen, New York (1986)
This sign was on the side of the Troma Inc. building in 1986 to promote the upcoming release of The Toxic Avenger (photo source: John Brennan).

Oct 16, 2020

Green Colored Creme?

Reese's Peanut Butter Franken-Cup
Hershey (2020)
I'm not sure what to make of the new Franken-Cup from Hershey.  They look pretty cool, but they don't taste much different than a regular Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.  The package describes the product as having "green colored creme", but I'm not sure what flavor it's meant to have, or if it's even supposed to taste any different than a cup that doesn't have a green bottom.

When I tasted these, I found that the chocolate and peanut butter flavor overpowered the "green colored creme", so I did a little confection surgery to separate the two halves and try to figure out what the green flavor is supposed to be.

I believe this is the same coating that Hershey uses on their White Reese's Peanut Butter Cup with green food coloring added.  It doesn't have a mint or lime or any other distinct flavor that I was able to detect.  It tastes sweet, but that's pretty much it.

The description of "green colored creme" is, in my opinion, a result of the ridiculous over-regulation of the word "chocolate' on food packaging.  In years past, products like this would simply have been called "white chocolate", or in this case "green chocolate".  People would all know what they're buying, and no one would feel cheated because the amount of cocoa butter didn't meet FDA regulations for the standard of identity.  However, in recent years, food companies have had to engage in semantic gymnastics to describe a product that is white chocolate for all intent and purposes, but without using the dreaded "c" word.  The result is ridiculous descriptions like "green chocolate creme".

I wanted to like these Franken-Cups, but there's just not much here to see.  They taste like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.  They look kind of cool, I guess.  I can't really put my finger on why these aren't clicking with me, but they're not.

Oct 15, 2020

Schottzie's Collar

Schottzie's Collar
Cincinnati Reds (1990)
When I first saw this baseball oddity, the person who posted it thought it was a pro wrestling title belt made to commemorate the World Series Championship that the Cincinnati Reds won thirty years ago.  He was half right.  It was commissioned in 1990 by Reds owner Marge Schott and made to look like the championship rings from her team's sweep of the Oakland Athletics in the Fall Classic, but it's not a belt.  It's a dog collar that was made for her beloved Saint Bernard, Schottzie, and it's on display in the Cincinnati Reds Hall Of Fame Museum (photo credits: Sean Ross Sapp and Mike Selock).

I'm not the biggest fan of Ms. Schott, but while she was a heavily flawed human being, no one could ever say that she didn't love her big furry friend.

Schottzie - Cincinnati Reds mascot (1982-1991)

Oct 14, 2020

Hot As A Warm October Day

Spicy Chicken McNuggets
McDonald's (2020)
These aren't going to set the world on fire, but they're not bad.  On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd put the level of hotness at around a 2 or 3 at most, but if they're not spicy enough for you, I'm told they offer a spicy dipping sauce.  I can't say if it's any good, because although I asked for it at the drive thru, I was given the spicy mustard dipping sauce instead.  Joe Pesci was right.

Oct 13, 2020

He Was No Average Joe

Joe Morgan
This year cannot end soon enough.

We're not even two weeks into October and three of the greatest baseball players of all-time have passed away: Bob Gibson on the 2nd, Whitey Ford on the 8th, and Joe Morgan this past Sunday.  All told, we have lost six Hall Of Famers this year, with the death of Al Kaline in April, Tom Seaver in August, and Lou Brock in September.

Joe Morgan was regarded by many as the greatest second basemen to ever play the game.  He had a 21 year playing career that began with the Houston Colt 45's in 1963 and ended with the Oakland Athletics in 1984.  Morgan was a ten time All-Star who is best known as a member of the Cincinnati Reds Big Red Machine of the 1970's.  He won back-to-back World Series Championships and National League MVP Awards in 1975 and '76.  Following his retirement as an active player in 1984, he started working as a broadcaster.  This second career lasted for over 25 years, which combined with his playing career equals nearly a half century of work in Major League Baseball.  Morgan was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 1990.

Morgan's time in Philadelphia was brief, but memorable.  The Phillies acquired him in a trade with the San Francisco Giants in the winter prior to the 1983 season.  There, he reunited with Big Red Machine teammates Pete Rose and Tony Perez and helped lead the Phillies to the 1983 World Series.

Rest in peace, Mr. Morgan.

Oct 12, 2020

Vampire Kisses

Hershey's Kisses: Vampire
Hershey (2020)
For a little while in the late 90's, my dad and I both lived at my grandparents house.  During that time, Dad and used to watch WWF Raw every Monday night at 9:00.  This was during the Attitude Era - a time when "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock were at the highest points of their pro wrestling careers.  At this point, you may be asking yourself what any of this has to do with Hershey Kisses that came out over 20 years later.  Stick with me... I'm getting to that.

The Rock was more famous for the way he talked than the way he wrestled.  It's not that he was bad in the ring; he was just phenomenal on the microphone.  When he spoke, The Rock referred to himself exclusively in the third person, and he referred to nearly everyone else as a "jabroni".  He had dozens of catch phrases that inspired sold out arenas to shout them in unison, but the one that my dad seemed to like best is when The Rock said he was going to kick someone's "rudy poo candy ass".  This gave my dad the idea for a type of hard candy or lollipop that is shaped like a butt.  It's been over two decades and he still believes this is an idea that would have made millions of dollars.

I wasn't as fascinated with an ass-shaped confection as my dad, but his idea did lead to an impromptu brainstorming session where we watched Raw and came up with different ideas for new candy products.  My best one was to make a chocolate bar in the shape of a bat that was filled with cherry or strawberry cream.  Everyone who bought it could then bite the head off of the bat and watch the red filling ooze down.  This bar would, of course, be called Ozzy.  I was as enamored with this idea as my dad was of his own.  It would appeal a wide variety of people, from children and their parents who would buy it as a spooky Halloween treat to multiple generations of metalheads who grew up listening to Black Sabbath and Ozzy.  I'm sure Sharon would sue me six ways from Sunday, so I'd either have to come up with some agreement to share the profits, or find a creative way to name and market the product without infringing on any trademarks or copyrights (hell, it worked for Baby Ruth).  I did end up spending time working for a candy company, but alas, I was not in a position to give candy asses or chocolate bats to the world.  However, Hershey has released a new Halloween candy that is as close to my Ozzy bar that I've found.  They're called Vampire Kisses.

Actually, they're just called Hershey's Kisses and the flavor is Vampire, but how freakin' cool is it to call them Vampire Kisses!  That's the best name for a Halloween candy I've ever heard of.  And just look at that strawberry creme!  It is the perfect shade of blood red from a monster movie.  Put this cream inside of little chocolate bats and I guarantee that millions of people would spend Halloween biting off their heads and watching the blood filling drip down their chin.  It's a candy that's just begging to be produced in the age of Instagram.

The Vampire Kisses are very good.  You really can't beat Hershey's milk chocolate, and the strawberry creme is sweet and flavorful.  I hope this becomes an annual Halloween product.  It beats the hell out of candy corn.

Oct 11, 2020

Happiness Is A Full Treat Bag

Peanuts Halloween Stickers (1989)
This sheet of stickers was recently scanned and shared by @TanookiKuribo.  I never knew Snoopy was part of the devout followers of The Great Pumpkin.

Oct 10, 2020

Double, Double, Toil And... Marshmallow

Kit Kat: Witch's Brew
Hershey (2020)
Hershey has finally taken notice of the success that Nestle has had in Japan with flavored Kit Kat bars.  They haven't quite reached the peak craziness of the Far East where Kit Kats come in flavors such as Baked Potato, Rock Salt and Corn, but the Witch's Brew flavor is definitely a step in that direction.

I love the phrase "snack size" when it's used on things like candy.  It's a Kit Kat.  What else would it be if it wasn't a snack... meal size?  Also, is it just me or does that witch have a Frankenstein vibe?

The candy itself is a pale green that reminds me of the color of a plastic glow-in-the-dark toy.  Thankfully, they don't taste like plastic.  They're meant to taste like marshmallow, they definitely do.  The flavor and texture remind me of Rice Krispies Treats, but without the unpleasantness of feeling like you're gnawing on a small gummy brick that the cereal-based snack tends to leave me with.  I could see these coming back for Easter with a rabbit on the package in place of the witch.  They really should because they're excellent.

Oct 9, 2020

Closed Until Further Notice

The pandemic has hit movie theaters pretty hard in 2020.  With the lack of new movies coming out of Hollywood, theaters that have reopened since the lockdown have been screening many classic movies.  This began in my local theater in late August with movies from the Rocky franchise, including the original 1976 classic film

This was followed up throughout September and early October with other vintage films, including a 40th Anniversary screening of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, the Don Bluth 80's classic animated film, The Land Before Time, and the early 90's family horror classic, Hocus Pocus.

While I have been absolutely thrilled with this decision to screen movies from the 70's, 80's and 90's, it appears that Regal Cinemas aren't too happy with the results.  I can't say that I blame them.  There was only one other family in the theater when I saw Rocky and Hocus Pocus.  This was double the attendance of Star Wars and The Land Before Time.  On both occasions, the only car in the parking lot besides mine belonged to the theater manager.  We had the entire theater to ourselves, with every movie screening to empty seats except the one that I was watching.

Covid-19 is unquestionably to blame for this turn of events as responsible people have spent most of the year avoiding public places where people gather indoors.  Quite frankly, the only reason I decided to go is because I expected that the theater wouldn't be very busy.  I live in a small town, and even in the pre-pandemic days, you could be reasonably sure that you would have an entire row of seats to yourself unless you were going to see something on a Friday or Saturday night.  I didn't expect to have an entire theater to myself, and I'm sure Regal didn't either.

The last straw seems to have been the recent decision by Universal Pictures to once again push back their release of the latest James Bond flick, No Time To Die.  It was originally scheduled for April 2020 before being pushed back to November 25th.  This month, it was announced that due to the second wave of Covid-19 and the closure of theaters around the world, the premier would be rescheduled for April 2021.

It wasn't long after the second 007 delay that reports in the media began to surface that the Regal Cinema chain would close its doors on Thursday, October 8th.  When I went to see Hocus Pocus this past Sunday, I asked the theater manager about the closure that was reported by CNN, he dismissed it as "internet rumors" and said that he received an email from corporate which confirmed that Regal would be closed on weekdays, but would remain open for business on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Sadly, the "internet rumors" turned out to be true, as Regal Cinema finally issued a press release to inform that all theaters in the chain will temporarily suspend operations until further notice.

I can understand why they made this decision.  You can't run a business in which you can count your daily customers in the single digits.  My concern at this point is if theaters in small towns like mine will reopen for business alongside all of the others, or if the less profitable locations have closed their doors for the last time.

Oct 8, 2020

Heaven Will Be Electric

Eddie Van Halen
The world has lost two icons in music this week.  The greatest rock guitarist of his generation, and perhaps the greatest of all time, passed away on Tuesday after a six year battle with throat cancer.

When I was very young, my mother gave me a box with a few dozen 45s.  The songs on those records became the foundation of the music that I have listened to in the decades that followed.  Included in that box were several singles each from Jim Croce, Simon & Garfunkel and Donna Summer.  It also contained Jump by Van Halen.  I listened to that record hundreds of times before my first day of Kindergarten, and it more than any single song inspired a love of rock & roll music that has lasted throughout my life.

Thank you for the incredible music, Mr. Van Halen, and for the gift of rock & roll.

Johnny Nash
The second icon to have passed away this week is the great Johnny Nash.  While I'm not nearly as familiar with his music as I am with Van Halen, I think it's safe to say that just about everyone in the world who has owned a radio over the past 50 years has heard I Can See Clearly Now at least once in their lives.  It's a beautiful song.  I think I'll spend a little time this weekend listening to the rest of his work.

This has been a rough year for humanity on many levels, and it just got a little rougher.  Rest in peace, gentlemen, and thank you.

Oct 7, 2020

Mario And Luigi Are Boomers

The Second Annual Hills Fun & Fashion Fair
Greater Pittsburgh Expo Mart (October 6-7, 1990)
You really have to give credit to Hills.  For a regional department store, they really went above and beyond with this mini-convention in Monroeville., complete with television stars, professional athletes, games and contests.  They also recognize that no family event is complete without costumed characters for the kids. The Nintendo Game Boy has been released the previous summer, and the NES was still selling well, so Mario and Luigi were a natural fit for the event.

Here's where it gets interesting: the ad for their appearance at the Fun & Fashion Fair includes the plumbers birthdays.  According to Hills, Mario was born on October 11th, 1959 and is four and a half years older than his little brother, Luigi, who was born on April 2, 1964.  I don't know if this was ever canon we, but if it was, it had changed five years later.  Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island is the first time I know of that the Super Mario Bros were presented as fraternal twins.  The fact that they're twins was confirmed by no less of an authority than the late Satoru Iwata, but I'm still curious to know the origin of the 1959 and 1964 birthdays from this advertisement.

These were the games that listed in the Hills flyer for the Fun & Fashion Fair.  My favorite ones out of this lot are Super Mario Land for the Game Boy and Chip N' Dale Rescue Rangers for the NESCapcom Disney games on the NES were pretty incredible, especially at a time when most games of licensed properties weren't all that great.  The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game is fun if you have a Game Genie, but it is punishingly difficult.

This has me even more intrigued than Mario and Luigi's birthday.  The Simpsons debuted on December 17th, 1989, so this event took place at the height of The Simpsons craze, just before the start of Season 2.  I can't imagine what a 20-30 minute live show of actors in Simpsons costumes would look like in 2020, let alone back in the fall of 1990.  Maybe someone will discover a VHS tape from someone's home video camera one of these days. I hope so.  I'm dying to see this!

Nothing says 1990 like a framed poster of Bart Simpson and the New Kids On The Block.

I guess they were only able to get one Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costume in time for the Fair.  At any rate, marketing the event as featuring a "Mystery Turtle" is a pretty ingenious way to turn a negative into a positive.

Upon closer inspection, the end of the ad may be a clue to why they were only able to have one of the Turtles.  It mentions that the costumes are being provided by International Video Entertainment - the film studio behind the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.  This suggests that the Turtle costume wasn't just an ordinary plastic Halloween costume, but the real deal from Jim Henson's Creature Shop that was used in the film, and you could bring your kids to have their photo taken with the Turtle for free.  Pretty sweet deal if you ask me!

Every kid I knew (including me) had at least one of these.  I'm pretty sure I had Raphael, Rocksteady and Miyamoto Usagi.

It seems like this event was hell bent on hitting all of my nerdy obsessions.  Not only did they have a haunted house, but it included Leatherface, Pumpkinhead and Jason Voorhees!  Good lord, the 10 year old me would have been in heaven.  Who am I kidding?  I'm 40 and I'd be all over this like a great big nerd if it were happening right now.

One of the simple joys of childhood that I miss the most is going to the drug stores and department stores looking for the perfect Halloween costume.  I miss those days.  I sometimes wish I could start over and live through it all over again.

Ok, let's add it up.  This event had pro wrestlers (including Randy freaking Savage!), the Simpsons, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Nintendo games, horror film icons AND comic book superheroes?!  I think if you had given me a choice back in October 1990 to go to Disney World or to this free retail fair hosted by a regional department store chain, I would gone with the latter and had zero regrets.  Seriously, you have to admire the effort they put into this.  This wasn't hosted by some huge global conglomerate with money to burn.  This was Hills - a small chain with most of their stores spread across five states.  We had a Hills in Hazleton.  In fact, my mother used to work there when I was very young.  It was a great store with an awesome snack bar, but I didn't appreciate just how cool these folks were to do something like this.  You've really got to hand it to them.  You don't see things like this too often these days, even before the pandemic.

I'll close with a few of the coupons from the flyer that struck my interest.  If you want to see the whole thing, you can find it through this link to Newspapers.com, but you'll need a subscription to see the whole thing.  It's a service worth subscribing to.  I've spent many hours happily digging through the archives to look up things from my hometown, or my family, or from movie and video game releases.  Check it out if you're so inclined.

1990 was the summer of Dick Tracy.  They marketed the hell out of this film.
You don't see Ziggy too often these days.
I still can't get over how quickly these became obsolete.
It's kind of funny that this flyer had coupons for a trimline phone, a 35 mm camera and this mini cassette boombox - three items that were in nearly every home which have all been replaced by a small mobile device that's smaller than a deck of cards, and can do 1,000 times more than we could have ever dreamed of back in the days that these coupons were printed.  I don't think the next generation will ever fully appreciate how amazing our mobile phones really are.
Last, but not least, we have the old classic - blank VHS tapes.  These were the cheapie brand that I used to get to record WWF Superstars and Saturday Morning Cartoons.

Oct 6, 2020

The Macho King Of Monroeville

"Macho King" Randy Savage autograph signing
Greater Pittsburgh Expo Mart (October 6, 1990)
Thirty years ago today, the Macho Man took a break from his feud with the Ultimate Warrior to pay a visit to The Second Annual Hills Fun & Fashion Fair at the Greater Pittsburgh Expo Mart in Monroeville, PA.  The Allegheny County borough is famous for the Monroeville Mall, which was the filming location for the George Romero zombie classic Dawn Of The Dead.  Monroeville had a second cinematic claim to fame 30 years later when it was used as the both the setting and filming location for the excellent Kevin Smith comedy Zack And Miri Make A Porno.

Visitors to the Fair could meet Randy Savage between 1-3 pm and ask the former WWF World Heavyweight Champion for an autograph.  I grew up on the other side of Pennsylvania so I didn't even know this was happening.  I had known, I definitely would have asked him to autograph his Tonka Wrestling Buddies pillow, which readers of The Pittsburgh Press could save $5 on with this coupon.

The Cream Of The Crop wasn't the only pro wrestler in town that day.  Although they're not mentioned until the last page of the flyer, former intercontinental champions The Honky Tonk Man and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine were in attendance.  This was during their short-lived run as the tag team Rhythm & Blues, so if you wanted to take a picture with The Hammer while his hair was dyed jet black, this was your chance.

The celebrity appearances weren't limited to professional wrestlers and football players.  Throughout the weekend, visitors to the Fair could meet Hall of Famer Willie Stargell, Full House star John Stamos, and cast members from The Young And The Restless and Days Of Our Lives.  I'm not much of a fan of football or soap operas, but how often do you get the chance to meet the Macho Man, Pops and Uncle Jesse all under the same roof?

There was more going on at The Fun & Fashion Fair, but I'm going to save that for tomorrow.

Oct 5, 2020

What's That, Hawaiian Noises?

Money For Nothing
Dire Straits (1985)
Thirty-five years ago today, one of the greatest songs of the 80's hit #1 on the Billboard Top 40 for the third consecutive week.  Singer and lead guitarist Mark Knopfler wrote the song at an appliance store in New York City after hearing one of the employees griping about the rock stars that were on the display televisions, and how much money they make.  He grabbed a pen and wrote down the things they were saying, and he used those lines in a song that was sung from the first person perspective of that guy.

Oct 4, 2020

Matt Klentak And The Luxury Tax Blues

The Phillies announced that Matt Klentak has stepped down as the team's general manager.  This resulted in a wave of fans and podcasters rushing to Twitter to celebrate like we just won a playoff series.  I'm not exactly sure why everyone is so happy, because the man who is really calling the shots hasn't gone anywhere, and it seems like he's even less inclined to spend in 2021 than he was in 2020.

John Middleton and the Phillies ownership group will not go over the luxury tax threshold.  Period.  End of story.  I'll be happy to say that I was wrong the second that the team spends a single dime over the threshold, but until that happens, it is pointless to speculate about any situation that would take them into that level of payroll.

Naturally, fans on Twitter can't wrap their head around this reality and seem hell bent on spending yet another winter complaining that Phillies are "too cheap" to go over the luxury tax threshold.  It's a discussion that goes absolutely nowhere.  They're not going to do it, and whining about it on the internet and talk radio isn't going to change a thing.  It's also a silly thing to complain about, because the team's refusal to cross the luxury tax threshold is not really the problem with this franchise.  Plenty of teams are able to contend for a championship while staying well under the luxury tax.

Here are the teams whose 2020 payroll was above the league average.

source: Spotrac.com
The Phillies had the fifth highest payroll in baseball; just a hair below the luxury tax threshold.  The four teams who spent more did reach the playoffs, but what about the rest?  The Cardinals had the 9th highest payroll this season.  The Braves were right behind them at #10.  The White Sox, Reds, Padres and Twins all reached the post season with the 12th through 15th highest payrolls in baseball respectively.

How about the teams whose payroll was below the league average in 2020?

source: Spotrac.com
The Blue Jays had the 18th highest payroll in baseball in 2020.  At just under $145k, they have fielded a team that cost less than the league average, and they were unable to play a single game in their home ballpark all season, but they managed to make it into the playoffs.

One spot below them is the Giants, who finished the season with a record of 29-31 - one game better than the Phillies record of 28-32.

The Brewers snuck into the playoffs on the last day of the season with the 22nd highest payroll in the game, but take a look at #25 and #27.  The Indians and Rays didn't sneak into anything.  Cleveland finished with a record of 35-25 - one game behind the division champions, and Tampa Bay dominated their division and had the best record in the American League at 40-20.

Then there's the Miami Marlins, who finished with a record of 31-29 and who went 7-3 against the Phillies, despite having the third lowest payroll in all of Major League Baseball.

Don't complain to me that the Phillies are being "cheap" and if they just spent a little bit more to go over the luxury tax that everything would be all better.  If they can't spend $203 million wisely enough to contend for a title, don't expect me to believe that $208 million would suddenly make them financial geniuses who could get the job done.  The problem this team has with money isn't how much they spend - it's how they choose to spend it.

The real issue that has hindered this franchise for over a decade is poor scouting, poor coaching and questionable player development.  That's not a problem that a new GM can solve in a single winter.  Even if the new GM swoops into town and fires every last scout and coach in the system and replaces them with the best and the brightest, it wouldn't make a significant difference for at least a few years.

As much as I hate to admit it, the Phillies rushed the rebuild, and it cost them their window of contention.  I was as happy as every other Phillies fan when they signed Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen.  I was even happier when they traded Sixto Sanchez and Jorge Alfaro for J.T. Realmuto.  However, when you set aside the "best catcher in the game" hyperbole, which has been chanted so frequently in Philadelphia that it could be mistaken as the official city prayer, these acquisitions have brought the Phillies one season of .500 baseball, followed by a season below .500.  They alone are not enough to get the Phillies to the post-season.

The new chant in Philadelphia is "Sign J.T."  Open your wallet and give the man as much as he wants to keep him in Philadelphia.  It sounds great on the surface, just as trading Sixto Sanchez for him sounded great on the surface.  However, when you spend a little time kicking the tires on this deal, it's not as black and white as it appears.

Realmuto will be entering his age 30 season.  Catchers don't tend to age well, and if the last two weeks are any indication, J.T. may not be the picture of health that we all hoped he would be.  That's not quite as big of a deal if the National League permanently adopts the designated hitter rule, but if they're resigned to him eventually being a DH, they could get a much more productive bat at the money Realmuto will cost.

Speaking of money, Realmuto has not been shy in saying that he wants a contract that will "set the market" for his position and shatter the record for the highest amount paid to a catcher.  Presently, that record is held by Buster Posey, who earned $21.4 million per year after signing an eight year, $168 million dollar extension with the Giants.  The low estimate for J.T. Realmuto is $25 million per year for five or more years.

Could the Phillies afford J.T. and remain under the Luxury Tax?  Sure they could.  Jake Arrieta's $20 million per year is coming off of the books in 2021.  Assuming we don't resign Didi Gregorius, his $14 million is freed up as well, as is David Robertson's $11 million, and the $10 million that the Phillies paid Realmuto last year.  That's $55 million dollars.

If this team won the division and was a championship contender with a robust farm of prospects, or if they had no other pressing needs that kept them out of contention over the past two years, I would say that it's a no-brainer to bring back both J.T. and Didi.  However, the Phillies are not a contender.  They're a sub .500 team with at least two spots in the rotation to fill, and a bullpen that was statistically the second worst of any team in over a century.  They have question marks at second base, shortstop and center field.  They have a first baseman who may need surgery over the winter.  They have a left fielder who has missed significant time to injury since joining the Phillies, and who will be going into his age 34 season - the last year of his three year contract.

Even if you assume that the Phillies will maintain the same payroll in 2021, which is far from a certainty in the age of Covid, keeping J.T. Realmuto in Philadelphia will likely cost the team about half of the $55 million in salary commitments that they will clear after the 2020 season.  Even if we assume Realmuto makes $25 million in 2021 (which is a low ball estimate), that means the Phillies will need to re-sign or replace Gregorius, add at least one OF to replace Jay Bruce (preferably one who can play CF), two starting pitchers, and practically an entire bullpen for $30 million... total.

Now that Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard are in the majors, there are no prospects coming to save the day, or who can be dealt away for a significant return.  Everything that this team needs is going to be brought in through free agency, and it's not a particularly strong free agent class.

The bottom line is that if the Phillies pay what it will take to keep J.T. Realmuto in Philadelphia, they will have to go bargain hunting to fill the bullpen, and we already know what that will get us: a .467 winning percentage and third place in the division.

Andrew Knapp is certainly no J.T. Realmuto, he is an adequate catcher who can handle the job.  The Phillies aren't even close to having a respectable bullpen.  They also don't have a reliable back end of the rotation, and they don't have a replacement for Didi.

I like J.T. Realmuto too.  I agree that he's the best catcher in baseball.  However, if the choice is between retaining his services and addressing the more detrimental needs of this ballclub, the decision is pretty clear.  They can either choose to end 2021 with the best catcher in baseball, or they can choose to contend for a championship.  They will not pay to do both.