After a surprisingly tense and well executed World Baseball Classic got us talking about baseball a short time before the inception of the 2009 season, we saw some surprising headlines early on.
Stories such as “The Pirates have a good pitching staff” and “The Nationals can’t spell their team name correctly” were early stoylines.
Recently, though, the 2009 season has returned to a semblance of normalcy. In the American League, Boston, New York, and Tampa will battle through the second half for supremacy in the East; Detroit, Minnesota, and Chicago will do the same in the Central; and the Angels, despite injuries and a shockingly ineffective bullpen, have climbed back to the top of the West.
In the National League, the Phillies and Dodgers sit atop their respective divisions, while the Central remains a quagmire between the Cardinals, Cubs, and Brewers.
Similarly, after the surprisingly thrilling and heart-wrenching 24: Redemption convinced me to rethink my position of leaving 24 off my DVR, Jack Bauer’s seventh day-long escapade offered some genuinely exciting twists and shocks early: compelling characters, a new threat from a fictional war-torn African nation, and Tony Almeida!
Then, around hours 12-15, the show returned to its own normalcy: predictable revelations, over-the-top melodrama, and totally unnecessary storylines involving Kim Bauer.
As we head into the All-Star Break, here are some mid-season awards, ripped from the headlines of season seven of 24.
The Tony Almeida “Least surprising surprise” Award goes to the Los Angeles Dodgers. At the beginning of the season, the producers brought fiancée favorite Tony Almeida back from the dead. They did everything they could to conceal Tony’s actual allegiances. I got a hold of his to-do list for the day:
Pretend to be a bad guy
Pretend to be a good guy
Be a good guy with reservations
Be a good guy that gets kidnapped
Get saved by a bad guy pretending to be a good guy that’s actually still a bad guy
Be a good guy
Destroy bad guys’ plans
Hope other bad guy escapes and that I happen to be in the same helicopter as director of FBI as he chases escaping bad guy
Bad guy shoots FBI director, doesn't kill him
Reveal you're a bad guy and kill FBI guy
Tell Jack you’re not really a bad guy but that you won’t follow the law
Kill other bad guy, get away scott-free.
The only point that Tony didn’t accomplish was the last one. Jack shot him in the leg. However, it was clear from the first moment he showed up that he wasn’t going to be on Jack’s side at the end of the day. Anybody with that facial hair has to be a double agent.
Along the same lines, eveyone seems shocked that the Dodgers have the best record in the league.
When you build a lineup that includes Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney, Orlando Hudson, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake, and Juan Pierre as a utility guy; and combine it with a pitching staff of Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, an over-performing Randy Wolf, Hiroki Kuroda, and Jonathan Broxton on the back-end; what is so surprising when that team succeeds?
Add Joe Torre’s evenness and sense of calm, and L.A.’s success is easily the least surprising surprise of the 2009 season.
Runners up: The U.S. being eliminated by Japan in the WBC, Eric Bedard’s 2.58 ERA a year removed from his big contract and the media spotlight
The American Government “Worst run organization” Award is presented to the New York Mets. If I have learned anything from watching 24, it’s that the organizations charged with running and protecting America have more leaks than Johnny Depp’s boat in the beginning of Pirates of the Caribbean.
This season, hundreds of traitors corrupted every level of the government, from senators’ aids to FBI analysts. Clearly, the civil service exams need to be a little stricter.
As for the Mets, the injury bug bit this team like it was drenched in sugar water, but that does not excuse the play of the replacement players.
When a young call-up finds himself on major league turf, he must, above all else, play fundamentally sound baseball. He may not hit like Carlos Beltran or run like Jose Reyes, but he should be able to grind out at-bats, intelligently run the bases, and throw to the correct base.
The Mets don’t do any of those things. When young players in an organization screw up the basics of the game, the coaches and general manager have to shoulder some of that responsibility.
Right now, everyone in the Mets organization is pointing fingers at one another, while the team continues its swan dive out of playoff contention.
Runners up: Nationals, Pirates
The Chloe O'Brien “Best support staff” Award is presented to Rick Peterson for his work with Scott Kazmir. Before Kazmir went on the DL and worked with Peterson, the 25-year-old pitcher was 4-4 with a 7.69 ERA while recording 35 strikeouts to 29 walks. A.P.—that is After Peterson—Kazmir has made two starts, going a hard luck 0-1 with a 2.70 ERA and an 11:2 strikeout to walk ratio.
Where would Kazmir be without Peterson? Probably the same place Jack Bauer would be without Chloe at the computer.
Runner up: Nolan Ryan and Ron Washington
Morris O'Brien “Most dubious support staff” Award is bestowed upon the Mets’ training staff. They just can’t keep anybody on the field.
Injuries include: J.J. Putz, John Maine, Oliver Perez, Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran. In almost every case, the medical staff pushed the players back onto the field before they were ready, resulting in more serious injuries.
Omar Minaya now has too many holes to plug, and he probably wishes he could disappear like Morris in the middle of the season.
Runners up: Washington Nationals’ bullpen
The Jon Voigt “I can't believe they're paying me that much to sleepwalk through a majority of this season” Award is given to Grady Sizemore (.231, 11 HR, 8 SB), Kerry Wood (5.08 ERA, 2-3, 4 BS), and really anyone on the Indians whose name does not rhyme with “Bin Boo Moo” or “Bliff Bee.”
Voigt wandered through a majority of the season squinting, clenching his jaw, and basically giving the same performance he gave in Enemy of the State and Varsity Blues. If 24 had been an episode of SNL, Voigt would have been the actor that emotionlessly reads the cue cards, while the cast members desperately scramble to salvage the show.
Through 84 games, the Indians are 33-51, rank 9th in the AL in batting average, 13th in opponent batting average and opponent OPS, and 14th in ERA, saves, and quality starts. How many more losses until Kerry Wood and Cliff Lee go on the DL with “shoulder stiffness” or “tendonitis?” 5? 10? Less?
Runner up: Milton Bradley
The Kim Bauer's flaming sleeve “Moment where we stretched credulity to the limit” Award goes to the Manny Ramirez PED saga. Whether she’s being stalked by a cougar in season two, inexplicably working for CTU in season three, or being chased by the actor that played the casino manager in ESPN’s Tilt, Elisha Cuthbert’s Kim Bauer never disappoints. Her presence derails a season. Always.
Manny’s failure of a drug test and subsequent suspension pushed the story of PED use in the Major Leagues into new territory.
Just like Kim Bauer’s presence, we’re no longer outraged by stories of PED use, we’re just sort of tired of it and wish it would go away. While Manny’s suspension came with its own intrigue, in that he was allowed to spend a 10-day “rehab” assignment in the minors (I still don’t know what he was rehabbing), not a whole lot was settled.
He still gets paid to play baseball. He’ll still be booed on road trips. He’ll still be cheered in L.A. And we won’t know anything about his place in history until five years after he retires.
Perhaps what enraged me the most about the whole situation was the discovery that Homer Simpson’s hunger strike was ultimately in vain, and that the Isotopes had in fact moved from Springfield to Albuquerque.
Runner up: New Yankee Stadium there have been 142 HR hit in Yankee stadium through 7/6...there were 160 hit all of last seasonThe Janeane Garofalo as Janis Gold “Damn, you got old” Award goes to David Ortiz. Janeane Garofalo got old since the last time I saw her. Really old. Like so old that I’m so glad I didn’t have my HDTV when this season of 24 aired.
When the Red Sox played the Yankees in past years, Ortiz was so dangerous that I’d have to change my pants after every one of his at bats. Now, he’s still got power, but he has a ton of holes in his swing. At the time I write this sentence, Ortiz was hitting .225 with a .318 OBP, and didn't hit his first homerun of the season until June 6.
Runners up: Jason Varitek, Jamie Moyer, Hank Blalock, B.J. Ryan
The guy, who plays Billy Walsh, “When does Entourage come back on?” Award is dedicated to any pitcher facing Albert Pujols. Rhys Coiro, the actor behind psychotic director Billy Walsh on “Entourage,” mysteriously appeared as a corrupt, philandering, and overall uninspired FBI analyst early in this season of 24.
He went through every scene with a longing look, as if he expected some beautiful topless woman to walk through the door behind Adrian Grenier.
Pitchers attack Pujols, who is succeeding at an unheard of level (.336, .427 OBP, 31 HR, 82 RBI through 84 games), with the same mentality. They just want to survive this painful experience, and live to collect their paychecks down the road.
Runner up: Julian Tavarez
The President Allison Taylor “Inconsequential leader” Award for the President that allowed her husband to be shot, her son to be murdered and framed for suicide, and turned her own daughter in for murder is bestowed upon Clint Hurdle.
Hurdle and replacement manager presided over the exact same personnel on the 2009 Colorado Rockies. Yet in 46 games, Hurdle went 18-28 while Tracy has led the Rockies to the tune of 26-11 and back into contention in the NL West.
Runners up: Jerry Manuel, Manny Acta
The First Gentleman Henry Taylor “I really am as ineffective as the title ‘First Gentleman’ suggests” Award falls to Manny Acta. In a particularly tense moment, the Sangalan nationalists kidnap the President’s husband. One of the cabinet members informed her of this turn of events by saying, “The first gentleman has gone missing.”
I laughed. For like ten minutes. Out loud. Is there any more emasculating title than "First Gentleman?" I can only think of one: "Manager of the Washington Nationals."
Acta sits in the Washington dugout wearing the same faraway, mournful look as Henry Taylor watching his wife remand his only daughter to federal custody.
Runner up: Dusty Baker for his work on the Cincinnati Reds. Sometimes the only way I know he’s awake is if that toothpick is still moving in his mouth.
The Renee Walker “Rookie of the Year” Award has obviously not been decided yet, but Atlanta’s Tommy Hanson (4-0, 2.25 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 1.28 K/BB, 5.8 K/9) and Toronto’s Ricky Romero (6-3, 2.85 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 2.54 K/BB, 7.6 K/9) are the front-runners. Romero is more like Agent Walker than Hanson.
While the FBI and government crumbled around her due to the corruption and widespread conspiracy, Renee looked to Jack for support.
Initially, an avid opponent of torture and Jack’s “whatever means necessary” approach, Renee came to see the importance of Jack’s existence. Ultimately, without Jack and Renee working together, America would have suffered from a series of devastating attacks.
Similarly, while the Toronto rotation fell apart as a result of injuries, Romero has proven himself to be a dominant starter. In his last three starts, before allowing a run to the Yankees in the fifth, Romero had gone 23 straight innings without allowing a run.
At the same time, he has been receiving an on-the-job education from veteran ace Roy Halladay. Without Romero and Halladay, the Blue Jays would not be six games over .500.
Runner up: Elvis Andrus, Pablo Sandoval
The Jack Bauer “I'm getting this done by any means necessary” Award goes to Ichiro Suzuki for his 10th inning game-winning at bat in the WBC final. If there was a theme to this season of “24” it was Jack’s willingness to go above and beyond the law to protect the country and people he loves.
Where others would balk at shooting someone’s wife in the knee to extract information, Jack wades in, at no insignificant cost to himself and his personal relationships. Nevertheless, whether he’s being tortured by Chinese nationalists, being betrayed by his loved ones, or suffering from an incurable neuro-toxin, in the end, Jack will get the bad guy.
The same holds true for Ichiro. With two strikes on him and two outs in the tenth inning, Ichiro simply refused to give in. He fouled off a pitch that bounced, followed by a fastball at the top of the zone. It didn’t matter where the pitch was located, Ichiro was going to put a bat on it.
On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Ichiro roped a single to center and secured Japan’s second WBC title.
Runner up: Joe Mauer and his scary-good return from debilitating back problems
The Bill Buchanan “Lifetime Achievement” Award is conferred to Ken Griffey Jr. This season, Bill Buchanan, the longtime director of CTU, gave his life protecting the President during a siege on the White House.
We watched Bill evolve from a rookie bureaucrat to a grizzled All-Star running covert operations with rogue agents, all for the good of the country. Bill’s record speaks for itself.
3 Seasons as head of CTU
1 Faking of Jack Bauer’s death to allow him to escape from government custody
1 Arrest of a corrupt President
1 Marriage to Karen Hayes
1 Shady trade with the Chinese for the return of Jack Bauer
2 Cases of disobeying the law to help Jack escape federal custody
1 Silent clock after sacrificing himself for the good of the nation
Because he’s been past his prime for a few seasons now, people forget the magnificence that was Ken Griffey, Jr. Every kid in the schoolyard imitated that sweet swing of his, while nobody could reproduce the sheer ease with which he glided around centerfield.
He was the best player in baseball throughout the ‘90s, and with every new revelation regarding some All-Star’s PED use, Griffey’s legacy grows stronger.
We watched his development from a lanky 18-year-old patrolling centerfield in the Kingdome to his current incarnation as a wily veteran, schooling youngsters on the ways of the game and soaking up the love in Seattle’s Safeco Park.
Despite injuries throughout many of the ‘00s, Griffey’s numbers and accolades speak for themselves.
Career: 286, .378 OBP, 621 HR, 1798 RBI,
Postseason: .290, .367 OBP, 6 HR, 11 RBI, in 18 games
13 All-Star games
10 Gold Gloves
7 Silver Sluggers
Runner up: Randy Johnson and his 300 wins.