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Royals Rumblings - News for January 7, 2022

MLB Owners Lockout: Day 37

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals
Time to earn my Pop Tarts this week
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Whit Merrifield, the Royals MLBPA union rep, took to the airwaves to make the player’s case again on Thursday, this time with Cody Tapp and Alex Gold on 610. Lynn Worthy reports on it for the Star:

“Smaller-market teams cry poor,” Merrifield said. “They’re not poor. They’re not poor like they’re saying, and they’ve just found a loophole to where they’re going to make their money regardless of wins and losses — teams have come to realize [that].

“And so what they’re saying is, ‘We’re a small-market team. We can’t afford a high payroll.’ So they’re cutting as much payroll as they can because they know they’re going to revenue X amount of money regardless of wins and losses. So if they can have a smaller payroll, they’re going to make more money. We got to find a way to counterbalance that and to incentivize teams to win. Frankly, there’s too many businessmen and not enough baseball men that own teams at this point.”

Sam Dykstra of MLB Pipeline predicts Bobby Witt Jr. will win AL Rookie of the Year:

Sam Dykstra: Bobby Witt Jr. (AL); Oneil Cruz (NL)

“The Royals always seem like –- regardless of what service time considerations are at the time –- they always seem to throw caution to the wind in that way and bring guys up earlier than some other teams might. So Bobby Witt Jr. would seem to be an Opening Day candidate for them. … So I think what’s going to get him the playing time is that he can impact the game in different ways than a Torkelson, than a Rutschman, because of that speed factor. Whether he’s playing short or third base, we’ll see. … A lot going for Bobby Witt Jr.”

Craig Brown with a potpourri-type article at Into the Fountains. He talked about the stadium situation, the lockout, and this other topic. He echoed what was rattling around in my brain over the past week as I’ve received a couple of emails from different teams all saying the same thing:

The Royals canceled FanFest last week. The release announcing the cancellation was a bit disingenuous, citing only Covid as a reason it will not be held for a second consecutive year. Had FanFest gone ahead, the lockout means that players on the 40-man roster would not have been able to attend. That would’ve made for a bit of a dull gathering.

Look, Covid is absolutely reason enough to cancel FanFest. The Omicron surge is massive and having thousands of people gathered indoors—even with a vaccine and mask mandate—would be unwise. But nobody appreciates half-truths. The fact that the Whit Merrifield’s, Salvador Perez’s and Nicky Lopez’s of the team wouldn’t be there is just as much a reason for the cancellation.

Yeah, I’m sure it has nothing to do with no players being available. Also, does anyone know if things like FanFest make money for the team or if their value is in PR?

Alex Duvall awakens from his winter baseball slumber to post a list of “10 advanced baseball stats that you should know”:

So, there ya go. That’s roughly the 10 advanced stats I most commonly use personally or see used online by others. I have a feeling there will be a question like, “So which stats are the best for evaluating prospects?” The answer is…all of them. I know it sounds cliche, but there is SO much that goes into it, no one stat can tell the entire story. They don’t even come close. One of the most important things to consider for prospects is how old they are compared to the level they’re playing at. That’s right, age is one of my favorite statistics when evaluating prospects. Strikeouts are big, wRC+ is great, but you need ALL of it to evaluate a prospect, as well as the ability to watch a player and identify things in their swing/delivery that may or may not work at the next level. There’s a reason the best scouts in the world get paid handsomely to watch baseball. It’s a tough job. Hell it’s borderline impossible. But with the advanced stats that we have today, it makes that job a little bit easier, if nothing else just to confirm what our eyes are already telling us.

As an aside: Big ups to folks like Craig and Alex who post articles in this dullest part of the dull season for baseball. (also to David Lesky, Kevin O’Brien, and the folks at KOK)

The big sports journalism news yesterday was that the New York Times is buying The Athletic.

The New York Times Company has reached an agreement to buy The Athletic, the online sports news outlet with 1.2 million subscriptions, in an all-cash deal valued at $550 million, The Times said on Thursday. The deal brings The Times, which has more than eight million total subscriptions, quickly closer to its goal of having 10 million subscriptions by 2025, while also offering its audience more in-depth coverage of the more than 200 professional teams in North America, Britain and Europe that are closely followed by The Athletic’s journalists.

Max said that if I didn’t gin up some page views, he’d cut my Pop Tart rations.

So, today we’re going to tackle the mainline Star Wars movies. This has been sitting in my queue for months as we watched them for the first time with my son after last Christmas. I made the notes at the time but never quite polished them up to get them out the door before the season started. Then just figured I’d wait until the next offseason and here we are. Oh, as with some of these other movie reviews - spoiler warning. But, c’mon, it’s Star Wars and you should have seen these by now.

Let’s start with my tiers and then we’ll go from there: 4/5 > 6/7 > 8/3 > 1 > 9 > 2

Star Wars (1977) and Empire Strikes Back (1980) - These are the classics from the original series. For the plurality of Star Wars fans, Empire is the best, but for some of us, A New Hope is best. There are a lot of people who like the darker tone, universe building, and more mature characters and acting of the latter. I prefer the grander scale, the self-contained aspect, and straightforward, swashbuckling origin story of the former. For the record, I was too young for the “I am your father” to land with much of an impact - I watched the movie a bunch as a kid so I grew up understanding that (lolspoilers) Vader was Luke’s father long before I understood the significance of that moment. They’re both hugely successful with iconic characters, now-famous plots and moments, brilliant musical scores, and industry-advancing special effects. I don’t know if there’s much more to talk about here. Let’s be honest: If your list doesn’t have these two at the top in some order, you’re doing this wrong.

Return of the Jedi (1983) - Jedi is the most maligned of the original trilogy, but, seriously, is there another movie in the series that isn’t seriously maligned in some capacity. Really, the main plot is a warmed over version of ANH with the rebels up against the clock before they get destroyed by another, bigger Death Star. However, the real main plot is the interaction between the iconic characters: our trio of heroes, Luke and Vader, Vader and the Emperor, etc. I love my mom’s read on this: For all the Emperor’s powers and foresight, he couldn’t account for the Ewoks. The Galactic Empire was toppled by a bunch of “primitive” toyetic bears. Perhaps rating this third is just through the eyes of nostalgia but it’s hard to escape the cultural gravity of the original trilogy.

The Force Awakens (2015) - When this movie came out, it was highly regarded by fans and critics alike. Yes, it’s basically a modernized version of ANH for the millennial audience while shamelessly mining the older crowd for nostalgia. And that’s ok! I mean, at one point, Harrison Ford looks into the camera, practically winks at the audience, and says “So it’s big... Okay, how do we blow it up? There’s always a way to do that.” However, it’s a loving homage and not a derivative ripoff. We take our three heroes and villain from the original, scramble up their roles, run them through a 2010s lens, and hand them the original three heroes as mentors. The cardinal sin of TFA was not that it was unoriginal - there were more than enough plot devices and character elements left on the field to make a compelling new trilogy, but that it didn’t carve enough of a defined path forward. Supposedly, there was not a concrete literary Bible to go forward so when Rian Johnson comes along... well, we’ll get to episode eight in a minute. Anyway, I think episode seven gets unfairly criticized for the sins of its successors whereas if you watch it by itself and in the context of the start of a new trilogy, it fares much better.

The Last Jedi (2017) - This one’s easily the most divisive of the series. Some love it as one of the best while others hate it for “ruining Star Wars” (though, to be fair, ever movie since episode five has been accused of that). I’ve spilled a lot of digital ink on these pages about my thoughts on this movie so most of you have heard my theory that Rian Johnson hated most of the hand that JJ Abrams dealt him so he tossed things aside like a petulant child, or, say, Luke’s lightsaber at the start of the movie. The parts with Rey and Ren he does exceedingly well but at the expense of the rest of the cast and movie. As opposed to many other fans, I actually think Luke’s arc is good - he is destroyed when he fails his best friend and sister - and the three tellings of the night’s events make sense. However, all of our other character arcs suffer: Finn’s... entire arc in episode 8, Poe’s lame cop-who-lives-by-his-own-rules turn, mostly unnecessary Rose, Laura Dern’s superfluous replacement Princess Leia character, etc. The long slow-speed space chase is boring and dumb. Leia being taken out of the picture is pointless. The trip to Canto Bight is rendered superfluous. The fight on Crait... well, that was pretty darn cool, even if parts of it were dumb (like Rose’s mindless platitude or Luke’s fighting from afar only to... die anyways). It’s one giant mess from both a plotting and character perspective. If Rian Johnson had been given his own trilogy and free reign, it might have worked. But this movie horribly fails as a follow up to episode seven and bridge to episode nine.

Revenge of the Sith (2005) - After episodes one and two, the bar was so low, it was practically on the ground. That said, this was always going to be the “easiest” of the three to make: we know how the story “ends” so the drama and conflict were already sewn in the beloved original trilogy. It takes a while to get out of the gate as there’s a lot of time wasted time with Grievous. But, once it gets going, it moves pretty well. Christensen’s bad acting and lack of chemistry with Portman doom this so it can never be great. But McGregor and McDiarmid do their best acting in the series as the stakes rise. Anakin’s turn is way, way, way too fast, but it’s more on the writing than the acting. In 5 ridiculous minutes of screen time, he goes from accidentally killing Windu to pledging his life to Sidious to killing younglings. The climax is good from Obi Wan’s anguished “You were the chosen one” to the beautiful molten lava CGI that looks a little dated, but had come a long way from episode one. If all three prequels were as good as 3, there would be less hate.

The Phantom Menace (1999) - There will be a substantial audience for whom this will always be the worst movie, the one where the expectations gap fell through the floor and there was no recovering. To me, episode one feels like a really high budget low budget film. It’s slow and it’s sloppy: it badly needed an editor and a rewrite would have served it well. The acting is really wooden, even from the good actors. Ultimately, it has two huge problems: streamline the Trade Federation and Gungan stuff (including Jar-Jar)* and clean up Anakin’s tale (wipe away missteps like the midichlorians and immaculate conception). There are some odd parts that really stick out as low budget like the fight choreography** and film quality in some of the scenes. But, otherwise, it’s generally pretty, considering where CGI was at the time, and there are also some great character designs like Amidala, Darth Maul, etc. There are parts that are fun and most of the base story works if tightened up. The Duel of the Fates scene is really well done and they were lucky to get John Williams at his best for the entire score, and not just a famous leitmotif. I maintain to this day that there’s a good movie in there with some nips and tucks, unlike our last two entries.

*C’mon: how do you think that in 1999, you can come up with Jar Jar and the Trade Federation, which play worse than anything in a trilogy made 20 years prior and felt that way at the time, not just in retrospect

**Not including Ray Park’s twirly Darth Maul, of course; to be fair, it predates Crouching Tiger (2000), Gladiator (2000), Lord of the Rings (2001), and was released 2 months after the first Matrix (1999) movie and all of those movies pushed fight choreography forward in significant ways

The Rise of Skywalker (2019) - When Abrams returned, all that was left of his episode seven chessboard were warped and deconstructed power pieces, underdeveloped pawns, and desolate wreckage. In theory, he tries to both conclude trilogy-long plots while building enough dramatic tension for a single stand-alone movie. In practice, he gets caught up in trying to resolve the mangled characters arcs he set up in seven, while underdeveloping new plots because there’s just not enough time and there was way too little exposition in eight. Because of that, it’s simultaneously bloated and lightweight. Everything is either too rushed, too low stakes, too hokey, or a combination of the three. Rey thinks she kills Chewy, but it was transparently obvious at the time that she didn’t. And we don’t even try to dwell on it long enough to sell that it might have been true so why even bother? C3P0’s wipe was well done emotionally... until it was reversed maybe 30 minutes of screen time later. We waste time on a meaningless Sith wayfinder macguffin but don’t have enough time to fully appreciate Leia’s death or Kajimi’s destruction or Ren’s turn so they all lack emotional heft. I feel for Abrams a bit (ok, maybe a little, since he probably “sleeps on a pile of money with many beautiful ladies” so I guess his life isn’t bad) - he was dealt a bad hand. But I think he made it worse and not better.

Attack of the Clones (2002) - This movie will always be the worst of the movies and it would be so hard to save it. While I said episode one could be cleaned up by an editor, two needed a completely new script and director. It’s more than just “ I don’t like sand. It’s coarse, and rough, and irritating, and it gets everywhere.” The acting is just generally bad and it’s not just Christensen: somehow Portman seems to get worse from movie to movie and this is Ewan McGregor’s worst outing. Honestly, the muppet is the best actor in the whole cast. The Kamino plot is both confusing and mindless Boba Fett fanservice. My favorite pet idea is that the movie would be a lot better of Dooku was actually a good Jedi, a zealot with genuine belief that the Jedi council was blind. Give him the force gift of foresight where he can see the formation of the Empire and he thinks his route is the only way to save the Republic. Then his story plays out like a tragedy rather than a farce. It doesn’t save the parts with Anakin and Padme – nothing will – those two had no chemistry together. And it doesn’t salvage that huge swaths of screen time are devoted to Boba Fett fanservice (the pretty Blade Runner-esque first act and the scenes on Kamino). But at least it gives the second episode some meaning. The only really lasting parts of episode two are the death of Anakin’s mom and the formation of the Empire in the Senate. And those take up like 20 minutes of screen time. If you’re making a credible list of Star Wars movies, much like it has to start with episodes five and four, it also has to end with two (though I understand lists that have episode one here due to expectation gap theory).

This is going to be short as I only got about 5 hours deep into today’s game. But I really should revisit it as a port was just released for the Switch late last year and an updated remake was announced last fall for the PS5 and PC (tho the release year hasn’t been specified, much less a date). In keeping with our theme above, today’s game is Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

Also known as “the other good Xbox-exclusive game” in the 6th generation, the Bioware RPG often placed atop the list of “best Star Wars games of all time”. Here’s the first half hour of the Switch port: