Jan 31, 2020

The 2020 Arms Race

Pitchers and catchers report in less than two weeks, and the Phillies have half dozen new faces in the organization.  Unlike last year, the Phillies held off on spending top dollar on the bullpen, which is a decision I strongly support.  With a few notable exceptions, relief pitchers are unpredictable from year to year (see Brad Lidge 2008 to 2009).  If there's one part of a team where the front office should hold off on big contracts and look for low cost lottery tickets, it's the bullpen.  That's what the Phillies did this winter, and they've put together an interesting group.

Robert Stock: This 30 year old righty was acquired off of waivers from the San Diego Padres on October 30th.  He was the Cardinals second round draft pick in 2009 and spent some time with the Pirates and Reds farm teams before landing with the Padres in 2018.  He had a bicep injury in 2019 that caused him to miss the last three months of the season, but he'll be ready to go this Spring. He throws a fastball that regularly tops 100 mph and has been clocked as high as 102, as well as a pretty wicked slider, and he may find himself in the Phillies bullpen.

Cristopher Sanchez: The Tampa Bay Rays have one of the most prospect rich farms in all of baseball.  They reached the point where they had to add Sanchez to the 40 man roster, but they didn't have room.  Rather than lose him in the Rule 5 draft, they traded him to the Phillies on November 20th for a low level minor league 2B who doesn't yet have to be added to the roster.  Like Stock, Sanchez also throws a triple digit fastball, but unlike Stock, he's a 6'6" lefty who just turned 23 in December.  The expectation is that he will begin 2020 as a starter in Reading.

Trevor Kelley: On December 2nd, the Phillies picked Kelley up off of waivers from the Boston Red Sox.  He's a 26 year old sidearm pitcher who had a 1.79 ERA for the Pawtucket Red Sox and was named to the Triple A All-Star Team, but he wasn't able to replicate that success when he was called up to Boston.  He still has minor league options, so if he doesn't make the Phillies out of Spring Training, he could provide depth in the Iron Pigs bullpen.

Bud Norris: The 34 year old veteran was signed to a minor league contract on January 21st.  He was brought up as a starter in 2009 by the Houston Astros.  His departure from the Astros was a memorable one.  He was traded from the Astros to the Baltimore Orioles at the July 31st deadline in 2013, but the Astros were in the middle of a series in Baltimore at the time.  Norris began the series in an Astros uniform, and by the second game of the series, he switched dugouts as a member of the Orioles.  He got the last laugh on the third and decisive game of the series when he started for Baltimore and was the winning pitcher against the teammates that he came to town with.  He moved to the bullpen in 2016 and pitched in the Padres, Braves, Dodgers, Angels, and Cardinals.  He signed with the Blue Jays last year, but didn't make the team.  He's a longshot to bounce back in 2020, but stranger things have happened.

Drew Storen: The former Washington Nationals setup man/closer was the 10th pick overall in the 2009 Draft.  He lost his role as the Nats closer in 2015 when they acquired Jonathan Papelbon from the Phillies in the trade that brought Nick Pivetta to Philadelphia.  That trade seemed to effect him, as his numbers took a nose dive for the rest of 2015, culminating in an early end to the season after he punched a locker in frustration and broke his thumb.  He pitched for the Blue Jays, Mariners and Reds with varying degrees of success until his injury in the fall of 2017.  He had Tommy John surgery that winter, missed all of 2018 and signed a minor league contract with the Royals last year.  Time will tell if there's anything left in the tank, but like Norris, he is a low cost lottery ticket.

Francisco Liriano: The latest signing on this list the one I find the most interesting for the immediate future.  The 36 year old lefty is the only player ever to win the MLB Comeback Player Of The Year Award twice in his career, in 2010 and 2013.  He was an All-Star in 2006 and in 2011, he pitched a no-hitter as a member of the Minnesota Twins, with whom he spent the majority of his career.  Liriano also pitched for the White Sox, Pirates, Blue Jays and Tigers, and he was a member of the controversial World Series Champion Houston Astros in 2017.  The fact that he's left handed, can pitch in spot starts and had a decent 2019 in Pittsburgh make me believe that he's the most likely name on this list to earn a spot with the 2020 Philadelphia Phillies.  There's even an outside chance that he could win the 5th spot in the rotation.

Of course, the most prominent new pitcher who will be reporting today is our #2 starter.  The Phillies smartly signed Zack Wheeler before the other big name pitchers were locked up over the winter.  They got him for $118 million over five years, which may end up being a bargain, especially considering the asinine contract the Yankees gave to Gerrit Cole.

Many experts believe that Wheeler's best days are ahead of him.  If Wheeler proves these projections to be correct, there's reason to believe that the Phillies could have a strong rotation in 2020.  Aaron Nola has proven in 2018 that he has the talent to be a true ace.  Jake Arrieta will be returning from injury and in the final year of his contract, with all of the motivation in the world to see if there's any of the 2015 Cy Young Award left in his arm.  The back end of the rotation will likely be a competition between Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Francisco Liriano.

Then, there's this man...

Spencer Howard is the Phillies top pitching prospect and is ranked at #34 in the top 100 prospects in all of baseball.  He's the wild card of the Phillies 2020 season.  Howard has been invited to Spring Training, but I can't imagine a scenario in which he starts the season anywhere but Lehigh Valley regardless of his performance.  Not only will the Phillies not want to start his service clock a year early, but they're going to want him to get some experience throwing the redesigned baseball - the one that the commissioner's office have been lying through their teeth about (seriously, Rob Manfred's tinkering has been the worst thing to happen to baseball since steroids).

If everyone stays healthy and Howard's dominance continues, he may be called up before the All-Star Break.  That would give the 2020 Phillies a rotation fronted by Nola, Wheeler and Howard, which has the potential to be one of the most effective rotations in the National League.  His promotion would also have a trickle down effect on the bullpen, making three of Eflin, Pivetta, Veladquez or Liriano pitching in relief.

There's reason to be hopeful in 2020.


UPDATE: Earlier today, the Phillies placed Trevor Kelly on waivers to make room on the 40 man roster for Reggie McClain, who was claimed off of waivers from the Seattle Mariners.  I've never seen this man pitch, but I already love him for his "you look like you've just seen a ghost" expression during his delivery.  Like Kelly, he was dominant in the minors, but got lit up at the major league level in 2019.  However, there may be more to the story.  He gave up 14 runs in 21 innings out of the Mariners bullpen, but 11 of those runs were against the sign-stealing Houston Astros.  McClain may wind up being a diamond in the rough, and he has three minor league options remaining.  Smart move!

Jan 30, 2020


McDonald's (1991)
It's funny how something can go from being an inescapable part of the landscape to a rarity in just a few years.  When I was growing up in the 80's and 90's, almost every McDonald's restaurant that I saw looked something like this.  The restaurants have been remodeled many times since then, and I honestly can't remember when I last saw one that looked the way that they do in this picture.

Jan 29, 2020

I'll Believe It When I See It

Photo Credit: AtariHotels.com (via The New York Times)
Atari Hotels
Earlier this week, it was announced that the GSD Group will be building eight Atari gaming hotels around the country, the first of which will begin construction in Phoenix this Fall.  These are expected to be destination hotels which will host esports events and offer VR gaming experiences to their guests.

As someone who grew up loving Atari, I'm a hopeful skeptic about this project.  With the exception of articles about the Atari Hotel project, I could find no information about the GSD Group or any of their previous projects.  Also, the majority of products and/or services that have been marketed under the Atari name over the past 30 years have been disappointing (Atari Jaguar), ridiculous (Atari Speakerhat) or, in my opinion, outright fraud (Atari Gameband).  The latter was a video game watch that was announced in July 2016.  It had a Kickstarter goal of $75,000.  The company rocketed past that target and raised $500,000, but the project was cancelled less than two years later.  Atari did not deliver a product or a refund to its backers.  In recent years, Atari alleged that they were developing a new console called the Atari VCS which was scheduled for release in the second quarter of 2019.  They have collected a lot of money from preorders, but the machine has not yet been released.  In fact, they've only recently released a photo of an alleged prototype board which seems to offer more questions than answers.

It's also important to remember that the organization that calls itself Atari in 2020 has almost nothing whatsoever to do with the Atari that existed in the late 70's and early 80's.  The current Atari exploits the happy memories that gamers (myself included) have for the Atari of our childhood.  They piggybacked off of nostalgia, and they've gotten a lot of media attention for various projects in the process, but few of these projects come close to delivering on the big promises made in the press release, if they happen at all.

I hope to be proven wrong.  I hope to find a beautiful and successful Atari Hotel a few years from now that gamers from around the world can visit.  However, I've been down this road enough times in recent years to withhold the benefit of the doubt.  When it comes to an Atari product, I'll believe it when I see it.

Jan 28, 2020

Pizza Pinball

Domino's Spectacular Pinball Adventure
Spooky Pinball, LLC (2016)
The Nintendork shared photos of this awesome pinball machine on Twitter.  It seems to be geared toward people who work for the company with score goals that allow the player to work their way up through the ranks of driver, manager, franchisee and gold franny, which is an award that the corporate office gives to their most successful restaurant owners.

This table was designed by Adam Gacek and includes pizza slicer inlanes and The Noid operating the old pizza crusher from the 80's ad campaign.  Scott Gullicks did the artwork for the backglass and the playfield.  It's very colorful and is loaded with Domino's Pizza cartoons, including an employee holding pizza boxes above the flippers.  Maybe it's just me, but he appears to have a bigger set of boobs than I'm accustomed to seeing from the average pizza guy, and that smile is truly scary.

Jan 27, 2020

The 2000 Eyegore Awards

Rob Zombie and The Undertaker
Eyegore Awards - October 13, 2000
Singer Rob Zombie recently shared this photo he took with The Undertaker 20 years ago at the Eyegore Awards which were held at the Universal Studios Theme Park in Hollywood.  The award honors excellence and achievement in the horror and sci-fi genre.

There is video footage on YouTube of The Undertaker accepting the award, during which time he acknowledges the fact that this event is being held under a full moon on Friday the 13th.  The recording appears to have been taken with a home video camera by a fan in attendance.  Taker is decked out in the American Badass (aka: Biker Taker) version of his character that he was using at the time.  The video also shows a good look at the gargoyle on the award statue, which reminds me a lot of The Imp from Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama.

The two men were also at the theme park to commemorate the opening of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood.  This October 2000 event included mazes centered around Rob Zombie, The Undertaker and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, including guest appearances from The Undertaker, Mideon and Gangrel.  It also featured dark rides based on Jurassic Park and Terminator 2.

Jan 26, 2020

Eight Bits Of Caffeine

Game Boy Heat Change Mug
Paladone Products Ltd.
This Game Boy coffee mug was a Christmas present.  It shows the rescue screen from Super Mario Land when it's filled with hot coffee (or presumably any other hot liquids).

Jan 25, 2020

The Longer You Stare, The Stranger It Gets

Love Hotel
Freddo Sacaro (2014)
This painting was found at a flea market and was shared on Twitter by @GeekWithThat.  There's so much going on here, I don't know where to begin.  Why do Snow White and The Incredible Hulk have an IV drip of Coca Cola?  Why is there a steaming hot cup of Nespresso sitting on the monitor?  Why is Dopey taking a photo of George Clooney's butt?  Why is there a Van Gogh Sunflowers painting on a hospital room wall?  And, oh yeah, by the way, what the hell is on in general?

The original painting was done by French artist Freddo Sacaro, and it'll set you back about $10k to have this astounding piece of artwork shipped from France to hang on your very own wall.

Jan 24, 2020

Available For Children's Birthday Parties

This makes me love Gritty even more than I did before.

Jan 23, 2020

The Loss Of A Legume

The Citizens Voice
Wilkes-Barre, PA (2020)
This was front page news in Northeast PA today.

Jan 22, 2020

I See A Quesarito Rising

Creedence Clearwater Revival at Taco Bell
San Luis Obispo, CA (1968)
Back in the days when they had a chili burger on the menu.

Jan 21, 2020

Times Square At Night

Times Square
New York, NY (1970)
This photo was taken fifty years ago in the fall by James Wolcott.

Jan 20, 2020

The Alien And The Rocketship

Morning Scribbles
Chris Ryniak
You can find coloring pages, stickers, t-shirts, pins, and lots of other merchandise and examples of his awesome monster artwork and on Facebook and on the Bindlewood Shop.

Jan 19, 2020

Advance Token To Paris

Alec Monopoly art
Aqua Leather Shop (2015)
Rue Du Vertbois and Rue Volta - Paris, France
This street art is from five years ago, but I just came across it recently.  If I ever hit Powerball or come into an ungodly amount of money at some point in my life, I want to find a group of people with an equally ridiculous amount of money and play a game of Monopoly using real cash.  The total amount of Monopoly money in the board game is $15,140, which means that a five player game would have a buy-in of $3,028.

Jan 18, 2020

Nighttime At Wilkes

Wilkes University
Wilkes-Barre, PA
From the 2019 Wilkes University calendar.

Jan 17, 2020

The Greatest Record Player

As cool as this is, how in the world do you keep the record from skipping?  Also, I can't imagine that having a pile of 45s on the passenger seat and swapping out a new record for every song is an easy thing to do.  Source: @Super70sSports

Jan 16, 2020

MLB: Where Cheaters Prosper

Major League Baseball issued the lightest possible slap on the wrist to the Houston Astros for three years of blatant cheating and sign stealing.  They'll lose a first and second round draft pick for the 2020 and 2021 draft, a $5 million dollar fine, and a one year suspension for manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow.  The Astros quickly responded by firing their manager and general manager.  None of the players who cheated will be punished in any way.

So, from an organizational perspective, the franchise was able to trade four lottery tickets and the cost of one season of a league average middle reliever for the 2017 World Series Championship and a 2019 American League Championship.  The penalty is so laughably weak that I almost wouldn't blame the Astros for leaning into it.  Go ahead and throw Doug on the big screen and play "Banging On A Trash Can" during the 7th inning stretch.

Five million dollars sounds like a lot, but it's a small fraction of the added revenue earned by the Astros as a result of cheating their way to the World Series.  To put this in perspective, consider that the Astros were awarded over $30 million dollars in postseason bonus money for the 2017 season alone.  That doesn't include the additional revenue from parking, merchandise and concession sales throughout the post-season.  Is this going to deter future cheating?  I doubt that many teams would pass up the opportunity to trade four draft picks and $5 million bucks for a title.  Apparently, cheating is good business even if you do get caught, and there's always the chance that you get away with it.

The fact that no players are being punished is another problem as the league has set a prescient that players can freely violate the rules of the game with impunity.  The Astros sign stealing scandal was a collaborative effort with many people involved in the scheme.  What's to stop individual players from engaging in the same behavior, even if their team is clean?  Surely, it wouldn't take a whole lot of creativity for a single player to hire someone to purchase season tickets, steal signs at home games, and signal him when a fastball is coming.  There's plenty of cheap technology available to make it happen.  Hell, the Astros did it with a few cameras and a guy banging on a trash can.  Sure, they might get caught, but the players union can argue (and rightfully so) that since no players from the 2017 - 2019 Houston Astros were punished, their client should also get off with a warning.

Several high profile players and members of the media have spoken out to say that the Astros should have their World Championship vacated.  Frankly, I don't feel that this goes far enough.  The bare minimum punishment should have been a fine equal to the estimated added revenue for the Astros post-season appearances over the past three seasons, a one year ban for each member of the team (including pitchers and the entire coaching staff), and a lifetime ban for the manager and general manager, in addition to the loss of draft picks and a ruling to vacate the 2017 World Series and to strip José Altuve, Justin Verlander and Yordan Alvarez of their MVP, Cy Young and Rookie Of The Year awards respectively.  That would be the minimum appropriate punishment.  If it were my decision, I would add to that list a one year ban for the Houston Astros franchise.  The season schedule would be reconfigured, and the Houston Astros would be eliminated from the 2020 season altogether.

The punishment should be enough to cripple the franchise to the point where no team or player would dare risk this behavior.  With the punishment being as light as it is, I assure you that we have not seen the last stolen World Series.  The potential rewards are too great, and the deterrent is insignificant.

Jan 15, 2020

The Champion Of Philadelphia

The greatest manager in Phillies history is in recovery.  He posted this tweet to share his progress.

Get well soon, coach.

Jan 14, 2020

Happy Birthday Pop Pop

My maternal grandfather was born in Honolulu 90 years ago.  Happy birthday, Pop Pop.

Jan 13, 2020

Hungry For Nostalgia

Burger King
Times Square - New York, NY
This newspaper photo is from December 19th, 1988.

Jan 12, 2020

Gute Nacht

1001 Naucht
Knoebels Amusement Resort - Elysburg, PA
Newswatch 16 reported that the 1001 Naucht magic carpet ride at Knoebels has been retired and will not return for the 2020 season.  I wrote a little bit about this ride in the past because it's always been one of my favorites.  It takes you up pretty high so that you can see a lot of the park, and it was one of those rare amusement park rides that give you the thrill ride butterflies while still being a relaxing and mellow experience.

Description of 1001 Nacht on Knoebels.com

The photos below were taken from May 2006 to May 2008.

Jan 11, 2020

The Beast Of Braddock

Over the holidays, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf & Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman read a few of the mean Tweets that they received in 2019.  I'm not sure this one qualifies as mean though.  The former mayor of Braddock is 6'8" tall and covered in tattoos, so he'd fit right in at Wrestlemania.

Jan 10, 2020

Thursday, I Don't Care About You. It's...

Fried Egg I'm In Love
Hawthorne Blvd - Portland, OR
I've never been to Oregon, but I know where I'm going for breakfast if I ever get there.  Happy Friday!

Jan 9, 2020

The Grape Lemonade Dinosaur

Purplesaurus Rex
Kool-Aid (2014)
They brought back one of my favorite Kool-Aid flavors from my childhood a few years ago.  It's not at my local grocery stores anymore, so I had to turn to eBay for this box.  Hopefully they keep making it in 2020.

Jan 8, 2020

Fast Food Finale

Bacon Bourbon BBQ Burger
This was my dinner on New Years Eve.  I'm taking a break from fast food in 2020 to lose some of the weight I've put on over the past two years.  The barbecue sauce they use is delicious.  I hope they're still making this when I stumble back into Mickey Dees.

Jan 7, 2020

Wilkes In the Winter

John Wilkes statue
Wilkes University - Wilkes-Barre, PA
I know that college isn't necessary for everyone, but it really was for me.  Wilkes was where I was able to prove to myself that I could set my mind to something and accomplish it.  This photo of the statue of John Wilkes on the greenway after a snowfall was in the 2019 university calendar.

Jan 6, 2020

Camel Man In The 60s

Hotel Claridge (1960s)
Times Square - New York, NY
Camel Man blew smoke rings over the traffic on Times Square for 25 years.  The image of Camel Man changed over the years (compare this to the photo of the same billboard from 1948) until it taken down in 1966.  The Hotel Claridge was torn in 1972 and a 33 story building was built in its place. which is now home to ABC Studios where Good Morning America is filmed.

Jan 5, 2020

Camel Man In The 40s

Hotel Claridge (1948)
Times Square - New York, NY
This is the famous Camel billboard on the Hotel Claridge on the southeast corner of Broadway and 44th Street in New York City.  The billboard was designed by Douglas Leigh and it was mounted on the hotel in 1941.  It included a steam generator so that the "Camel Man" blew smoke rings into the city.

Jan 4, 2020

Crazy Big Burrito

Carnitas Burrito Loco
Taqueria J. Zapata
Laurel Mall - Hazleton, PA
This burrito is as large as it is delicious.  Seriously, this thing was almost a foot long, as thick as the barrel of a baseball bat, and it was packed with good things to eat. I got mine with pulled pork and no sour cream.

Jan 3, 2020

It's Got Electrolytes

Trace Of Tea
Turkey Hill (2020)
Have you ever had a glass of iced tea and then forgot to wash it when you were finished?  Then, later in the day, have you ever used that same unwashed glass to get a drink of water and wonder why it tastes a little funny?  I'm guessing that this must have happened to someone who works on the product development team at Turkey Hill.  However, instead of learning from their mistake like a sensible person, they decided to bottle a whole line of pointless beverages called Trace Of Tea.

So, if you're dying for an iced tea that's been watered down to the point where it's unrecognizable as tea, and you don't want to go through the tedious effort of adding an eyedropper full of iced tea to a gallon jug of water, this ridiculous drink is just for you.

Be on the lookout for their new frozen desert called Hint of Cream.  It's a solid block of ice with the "essence" of vanilla ice cream.  Grab your sharpest spoon and dig in!

Jan 2, 2020

Car Crash

The Fast And The Furious
Raw Thrills (2004)
No matter how fast and furious you are, you can't outrace the blue screen of death.

Jan 1, 2020

You Unlock This Door With The Key Of Imagination

The Twilight Zone
CBS (1959-1964)
I first discovered The Twilight Zone when I was eleven years old and living in South Florida.  I used to stay up until midnight on Friday nights to watch it on WPTV.  It came on right after Jack Horkheimer: Star Hustler.  I used to record every episode on VHS and I ended up filling several six hour tapes that I watched countless times since.

When I came back to Pennsylvania, I found that WPIX hosted an 11 year Twilight Zone marathon every year on New Years Day.  Over the past decade or so, this annual tradition has been continued by the Sci-Fi Channel

Every episode is available on Netflix, and I've had the collection on DVD since it was first released (they were a Christmas present from my Dad back in 2002).  Even though I can binge the series whenever I want, I make it a point to watch at least a few episodes every year on New Years Day.  Traditions are funny that way.

Happy New Year.  May 2020 bring you happiness, good health, and spooky moments from the fifth dimension.