The major news yesterday was the passing of Royals Hall of Famer* Art Stewart. The news was big enough that it hit the AP wire:
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Longtime baseball scout Art Stewart, who began his career with the New York Yankees in the 1950s before becoming the longest-tenured member of the Kansas City Royals organization, died Thursday. He was 94. The Royals announced the death of Stewart, who just completed his 52nd year with them. No cause was given.
Stewart scouted more than 70 players who reached the big leagues, including Bo Jackson, Kevin Appier, Mike Sweeney, Johnny Damon and Carlos Beltran. He was instrumental in helping sign the talent that led the Royals to the 1985 World Series title, and Stewart was still part of the front office when they won their second title 30 years later.
Everyone Kansas City sports media outlet wrote about Stewart. Anne Rogers at MLB.com:
Stewart was an original Royal, having joined the organization in 1969 as a scout covering the Midwest. In 1984 he became the Royals’ scouting director, and he held the position until 1997, when he became a senior advisor to the general manager — a role he had since...
“Art was truly an extraordinary human being, whom we all loved and admired for many reasons,” Royals president of baseball operations Dayton Moore said in a statement. “His unmatched love and appreciation for the game of baseball, recollection of players and events, combined with his special ability to tell stories will be forever cherished by all.
Pete Grathoff wrote about him for The Star:
It was always easy to catch sight of Art Stewart at Royals spring training in Arizona, as he could be found zipping around the complex in a golf cart. But what people remember most is what they heard Stewart say. A legendary storyteller, Stewart would regale reporters with tales like this one.
In 2007, a high school batter in California crushed a home run that not only cleared the outfield wall, it landed in the parking lot, smashing the windshield of the school principal’s Mercedes-Benz. That batter? Mike Moustakas, the former Royals third baseman, who was the No. 2 pick in the 2007 Draft.
As did Sam Mellinger (sub required):
On my friend Art Stewart, one of the best men I'll ever know, and a life so incredibly well lived. https://t.co/gDOSOVeksv— Sam Mellinger (@mellinger) November 11, 2021
At The Athletic (sub required), Alec Lewis also wrote about Stewart:
One night in the spring of 2016, a bunch of Royals legends met for dinner at Rosie's. Art Stewart was among them. His impact always will be. On the passing of the legendary scout at age 94: https://t.co/K2HPkGYqCP— Alec Lewis (@alec_lewis) November 11, 2021
He also spoke with former GM Jim Bowden about the Royals winter:
AL winner: Salvador Perez, Royals (fourth win) While Perez saw increased time as the Royals’ designated hitter in 2021 as the team attempted to keep him fresh, the veteran still drew 120 starts behind the plate and only missed one game all year, making his offensive output all the more remarkable. Now a four-time Silver Slugger Award winner (the most in Royals history), Perez set an AL/NL record for the most homers (48) by a player to make at least 50% of his appearances behind the plate. He tied for the big league lead in that department and was MLB’s outright leader with 121 RBIs.
Back to the Star, Vahe Gregorian talks about Buck O’Neill’s chances for the Hall of Fame:
No lesson in his life taught him “you never know” like that one did. As he looked across the table and pictured Buck sitting at the other end 15 years ago, a part of him still shudders at the memory of having to walk back in that room to give Buck and other friends the news after getting the phone call from the Hall of Fame’s Jeff Idelson.
The despair and devastation of the moment, after a process that had felt set up for Buck but fell one measly vote short, still feel familiar for one reason above all others. “Honestly,” Kendrick said, “I know in his heart he thought he was in. ”
I’m over 3500 characters at this point so we’ll just do a Royals blog roundup:
- Alex Duvall at Royals Farm Report: “Evaluating the AL Central Windows: Cleveland”
- Jared Perkins at Royals Farm Report: “Five Under-the-Radar Royals Prospects, Part 5: Will Klein, RHP”
- Lucas Murphy at Inside the Royals: “Getting to Know Royals Relief Pitcher Tyler Zuber”
- Jerry Edwards at Inside the Royals: “Putting Together a Brad Keller Trade Package With the Nationals”
- Trevor Hahn at Inside the Royals: “Potential KC Royals 2022 MLB Draft Target: 3B Jacob Berry”
- Mike Gillespie at KOK: “The KC Royals could strike free agent gold in Oakland”
- Mike Gillespie at KOK: “KC Royals News: New coaches, and a legend passes”
- Connor Miller at Royals Blue: “Royals Target: Brooks Raley”
*I can confirm this: I was there the day he was inducted. It was a game in June 2008 and, sadly, the Royals lost to the Cardinals. Kyle Davies took the loss. Mike Aviles had 2 hits and Miguel Olivo had 1, but both had errors. DDJ and Ross Gload had the only other hits for the Royals against whoever-the-heck Mitchell Boggs was. Fortunately, we had the short-lived “All you can eat seats” and drowned our sorrows in hot dogs, peanuts, and nacho cheese.
Jay Jaffe at Fangraphs is in the process of previewing the Godlen Days Era Committee candidates (Buck O’Neill is among them). Today’s is Roger Maris:
Particularly on this slate, which features five candidates who polled at least 50% on the 2015 Golden Era Committee ballot, that’s not going to cut it. Still, that shouldn’t diminish our appreciation for what Maris did accomplish, or our empathy for what he went through to do it. Quite frankly, he got a pretty raw deal.
Everything else around MLB right now is a simmering hot stove and labor negotiations.
Speaking of Fangraphs, MLB suggests using fWAR to determine arbitration salaries:
This proposal is in essence of a revision of the owners’ prior proposal, in which they floated the idea of setting aside a pool of money dedicated to arbitration salaries each year. That, however, would be a de facto cap on the salaries of arbitration-eligible players, and the Players Association isn’t going to go for that. As Drellich and Rosenthal note, this revised approach to salary arbitration is also probably a non-starter with the union, as broad-scope metrics like WAR are not designed and are not fit to determine something as important as player salaries.
Dyan Perry at CBS Sports asks about Rob Manfred’s job security:
There’s a couple of paths toward such an outcome. One could be failing to maintain or even carve out new economic territory for the management side during the ongoing negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement...
That said, Manfred has a post-Fay Vincent lack of autonomy as commissioner, and the idea that he’d force through an agreement that’s not to the liking of most owners is far-fetched in the extreme (he also has an extensive background in labor negotiations, including during his time as one of Selig’s lieutenants). You can bet anything Manfred does toward advancing an agreement will have the imprimatur of the owners upon it. Moreover, Manfred isn’t even the lead negotiator for the club side. That’s deputy commissioner Dan Halem. In that sense, there’s a possible buffer between Manfred and accountability for any losses at the conference table.
Manfred really is just as slimy as they come, a lawyer to the owners and not much else.
Finally, if you’re just catching up, Nathaniel Grow at Fangraphs has a complete CBA talk primer:
This post will provide an overview of the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations, briefly summarizing how the parties got to this point, what are likely to be the major issues to be hammered out in a new CBA, and what baseball fans can expect in the coming weeks (and, perhaps, months).
This was originally going to be the picture for today, but I felt Art Stewart’s passing preempts my silly jokes. So you get it here instead:
Ahead of the release of No Time to Die, we decided to watch the other four Daniel Craig James Bond movies. Of course, there’s still a pandemic out there and movie theaters are one of the last things I’ll return to. Fortunately, as of Tuesday, No Time to Die was released for On Demand streaming. I guess we’ll be sitting down to Bond 25 sometime this weekend.
As will all of these little movie reviews I do, keep context in mind: we’re talking James Bond movies. As someone raised on James Bond movies, I have to think that making a modern James Bond movie must be such a difficult needle to thread. How do you stay true to the character and themes of the movie while also updating for the modern world and giving the audience something fresh in one of the most venerable and popular film series of all time?
FYI: There are going to be some spoilers here because, well, all of these movie are years old. I would say that if you start talking No Time to Die in the comments, it’s fair to have spoiler tags for that as it’s a recent movie.
Casino Royale (2006) - It’s a strong Bond movie. Starting with the nicely shot black-and-white opening scene, it occupies this space as a quasi-reboot/prequel while still retaining the James Bond (TM) feel. It straddles a continuity line from previous outings: Dame Judi Dench still stars as M (and is brilliant) but eschews some of the other trappings like Moneypenny or Q Branch. The movie takes advantage of this nebulousness so you can see James Bond’s first kill or be surprised when it’s revealed that Jeffrey Wright is Felix Leiter.
Much of the movie is just a good, professional outing that does everything right that it’s supposed to: satisfying cold open that plays into the rest of the movie, a classic Bond-looking opening sequence with gambling motif and quality Chris Cornell theme song, a sinister villain with a memorable feature in Mads Mikkelsen and his bleeding eyes, and great locales from Prague to Italy to The Bahamas that are backdrops to visually stunning action sequences. In particular, the skyscraper crane action sequence is beautiful. Most of the plotting is action-movie worthy, though some is less than optimal. For instance, a terrorist financier blowing up the plane to short stocks seems smart but his plan was not sophisticated at all and just begging to be foiled*. The poker sequences play just long enough to build tension but not too much to drag the movie’s pace down.
The third act is a messy and the denouement is particularly problematic. M tells us that Vesper’s boyfriend was captured by
Spectre this shadowy organization and that’s why she turns double agent. However, she also cut another deal to save Bond’s life. So either she slept with and used Bond to get the money to save her boyfriend but then committed suicide. Or she loved Bond enough to risk her boyfriend, her original reason for doing all this. I know I’ve been accused of nitpicking odd movie details, but this is a main character’s primary motivation - it’s fair game. Never mind that I never quite buy the chemistry (or dialog) between Craig and Eva Green’s Vesper so the resignation and “love story” don’t feel genuine to me - it’s all tell and no show. And (spoilers) the “explanation” at the end of Quantum of Solace feels more like retconning than anything. That issue aside, this movie really sets up the Craig era with a soft reboot and a look to a bigger plot.
*Steal an airport security costume in post-9/11 world to blow up a fuel truck? Really? It’s a prototype so just come up with a spy plot to sabotage the darn plane already. If you blow it up like a fuel truck, everyone will scream “terrorist” not that
Airbus Skyfleet screwed up.
Quantum of Solace (2008) - When I suggested to my wife that we should rewatch the Craig Bond movies, she forgot it existed. I can’t really blame her as it’s quite forgettable. I think I’ve only seen it once before and all I really remember is the fight in the cool desert hotel, that’s it’s about water rights, and that I held out hope that maybe the whole of these movies would be better then the sum of their parts. The plot and villains are clumsy and forgettable. It picks up right where Casino Royale left off with a car chase - it’s classic Bond! Only, it’s not: it’s full of ugly, gritty flash cuts and an abrupt finish. This style of filming doesn’t allow for any dramatic tension - there’s no telling how close Bond is to death or his pursuers, so the audience is just left in the same level of suspense, eventually numbed. Frankly, that chase scene is representative of the plotting, as well: clumsy and ultimately boring. It’s not witty; it’s not interesting; it just brute forces itself from set piece to set piece. M is almost assassinated and Bond kills the only lead, Bond goes to Haiti and kills his major lead, Bond goes to Austria and kills a PM’s bodyguard - see the pattern?
Along with the “gritty action”, another big crack is emerging. Daniel Craig feels his least Bond-ish in this movie. In Casino Royale, he’s supposed to be a rough-around-the-edges new agent. Here, the writing and acting portray him as an action movie character and a classless thug rather than a suave, sophisticated spy. Yes, I get that Bond is walking misogyny and, to some, that’s the biggest part of his appeal. But to others, we appreciate that, to greater and lesser degrees, Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosan (sorry, George Lazenby) look at home in an Aston Martin, know which vintage of Dom Perignon to drink, and are clever enough to beat the Soviets several times over. In this movie, the studio could have replaced Craig with Jason Statham and removed the James Bond name and the movie would have played the same.
This movie is not without its charms: the returns of Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) are welcome, I buy Joaquin Cosio’s General Medrano, and the revenge plot against him by Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko) dovetails nicely with Bond’s quest for vengeance. But the interagency squabbling with both MI-6 and CIA are pointless and without payoff, Mathieu Amalric’s Dominic Greene plays more as a small time middleman than full member of Quantum, and, really, the entire movie is just a small-time plot to get us to where we can do the big reveal of Quantum being the reincarnation of Spectre in a future movie (which most Bond fans had already guessed). Notice: at least half of this review is about the series so far and not about this specific movie - Quantum really isn’t memorable except as being another link in the chain that ginds the franchise forward.
Skyfall (2012) - Fortunately, Craig, Dench, and new director Sam Mendes deliver one of the best Bond movies of all time for the franchise’s 50th anniversary. Whereas Casino Royale delivered old Bond with a modern interpretation, this was something entirely new for the series while still celebrating the past. Craig fully realizes his interpretation of Bond, there’s a changing of the guard at M, and a new Q and Moneypenny are introduced, but there’s still a scene where Bond gets into an Aston Martin DB5, M makes an ejector seat joke, and the classic Bond theme swells. It’s a loving fusion of old and new.
We talked about The Dark Knight (2008) earlier this year and this movie borrows heavily from it. The vastly improved cinematography is generally dark and often gorgeous. However, unlike Nolan, Mendes beautifully contrasts the night with neon skyscrapers lights in Shanghai, the boat lanterns in Macau, or the fire at Skyfall. Also, the scene where M is making her dramatic speech is reminiscent of the police parade scene in TDK. During a dramatic speech, tense music begins, as our hero is rushing to find the villain before he executes his meticulous plot, which culminates in a thought-to-be-secure public location and wounds a major character. Also, there was something in the zeitgeist as 4 tentpole movies from disparate franchises copied the “Joker wants to be captured” plot within a couple year stretch: The Dark Knight Rises (2012), The Avengers (2012), Skyfall (2012), and Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013).
Speaking of our villain, who was the last iconic Bond villain? Max Zorin (and May Day)? Jaws? All the way back to Francisco Scaramanga? It’s been a while, especially for a series that prides itself on having a strong rogues gallery. Even though his introduction isn’t until halfway through the movie, I think we can add Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva to the list. Occasionally, his scene chewing veers from that of a brilliant and broken wild card to a pitiable and pathetic child with mommy issues, but his motivations feel genuine. His cyanide-wasted face and dyed hair look the part and his ambitions to destroy MI-6 are suitably high stakes for a Bond movie.
James Bond is such a “live in the present” character (except for the occasional revenge tale), but this movie dwells in the past: Silva’s past, M’s past, and Bond’s past. The latter had never really been explored before Bond 23. We also get a fitting sendoff to Dame Judi Dench’s brilliant M. It’s one of the meatiest Bonds ever, made all the more impressive because it was “just” a personal squabble, a diversion that had little to do with the larger Spectre storyline.
Spectre (2015) - These four movies are very easy to rank with this one clearly 3 of 4: it’s well below Skyfall and Casino Royale but a step ahead of Quantum of Solace. In theory, it ties together the previous movies with Bond’s past and other characters while revealing Spectre and pitting them against MI-6. In practice, it’s sloppy with a lot of missed potential.
On paper, the villain casting is brilliant. Andrew Scott’s C plays similar to his popular Moriarty from Sherlock. Dave Bautista’s silent Mr. Hinx is in the mold of an Odd Job or Jaws, though with a little less flair. Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds is one of the best villains in 21st century cinema. But I’m not sure he was the right type of actor to play Blofeld. The Spectre gathering in Rome, including his reveal, will go down as an iconic Bond moment. The torture scene with the brain needles felt both old school and very modern. However, making him and Bond adopted brothers is a clumsy writing misstep and his big claim as “the author of all your pain” strains credulity.
Maybe No Time to Die changes this, but one aspect of the Craig Bonds that I never hear talked about is the failure of the Spectre story arc. Movies and TV are getting very adept at telling big multi-season or multi-movie stories. I’m not just talking about huge, pre-planned billion dollar franchises like the MCU or Harry Potter, but smaller scale serialized TV is very popular, as well. There are legions of modern, well done multi-movie and/or multi-season stories. It was clear from early in Casino Royale that the Bond universe was building towards something bigger. And for three movies, that illusion held. However, it had the classic cinema problem where the villain is made too great and brought down too easily. Halfway through this movie, they’re a global terrorist organization, embedded in seemingly every major government and every criminal enterprise on earth, can topple governments and commit global terrorist acts at will, and MI-6 and the CIA know almost nothing about them except that they’re three steps behind. But Spectre and their mastermind Blofeld are brought down by an exploding watch, shooting at gas tanks in the Sahara desert, and 30 minutes of Q behind a computer. Thanos, this is not.
Finally, there’s Bond himself. Daniel Craig does a great job with the the “old and broken” Bond. He’s retired and/or died in each of the four movies and I’m guessing No Time To Die will make it five for five. They’ve made him look and act the part: graying streaks in the stubble, circles under the eyes, alcoholism, and even more disposable women than usual. Even for being in great shape, Craig doesn’t play up his charisma, either. Between that and his lack of classiness (noted above), it makes his animal magnetism (or whatever) not very believable. He’s the sketchy guy at the end of the bar that may look hot but you wouldn’t go anywhere near because you might wake up without a kidney or worse. Yet, somehow, this sociopath orphan who can’t form anything more than superficial attachments (except with his boss) is in love again for the second time in four movies. And his relationship with Swann, Mr. White’s daughter, is even less believable than his one with Vesper, who at least had some flirty brinkmanship screen time.
* * *
If you want a preview for what you’ll be seeing over the next couple of months in Rumblings or maybe watch along, here’s what I’m thinking. We’ll probably snag HBO Max for a couple months and watch the new and old Dune, the Matrix Trilogy (and Animatrix) ahead of Matrix: Resurrection, and maybe a couple of the DCEU movies, including the 4-hour Zack Snyder Justice League. I’m also considering these after the new year: the Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan Bonds, catching up on MCU Phase 4, and the Disney live action movies vs the Disney Renaissance cartoons on Disney+. I don’t know how many of these I’ll actually get to, but I’ll pretend I have a plan.
It seems fitting to revisit Goldeneye here, this time with a walkthrough of the Facility on single-player. It was also one of the more popular multiplayer levels: