Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: A Last Post

This has always been a difficult blog for me to keep up.  From the title of the blog I always intended that it be my views of politics and popular culture from the Northwest.  I've had a hard time hitting my stride, but I must say that I've really enjoyed posting the last six weeks or so.  So here is my mini-manifesto on what you can expect to see on this blog this year.

 1.  Baseball, particularly Mariners baseball.  I'm a homer, I admit it.  I don't follow other teams real closely.  I simply don't have the time or energy.  But the home towne team is important to me.  I remember when Seattle had a team and watched it move away and the emptiness I felt as a local baseball fan.  There is a lot of anger in the M's community right now, but I will never turn my back on them because I remember . . . I'll also do my best to recognize baseball birthdays and baseball obituaries, and not just the hall of famers.

 2.  I love movies.  Old ones, new ones, good ones bad ones.  I'll review them, offer suggestions, do best of lists.  Some may be obvious, others may not, some may be just weird. That's okay, it's something I'm passionate about.
 
3.  I am also a music person.  I used to think I knew a lot about music, now I just feel old.  I have some perspectives others may not have and I'd like to share them with you.  Maybe we can swap some dialogue (which is why there is a comment box.)

 4.  I'm really a book person.  I love to read, and I read every day even if its just for fifteen minutes or so before I sleep.  I'll continue to keep a what I'm reading box, and will, periodically make some suggestions.  I like to set goals for myself, so I'll tell you up front I hope to read twenty-six books over the course of the year, one every other week.  I'll review those that are worth your time.  I'm not really in my book acquisitions so they aren't likely to be the next big thing, but you may find them interesting. 

5.  Finally, I may occasionally have something political to say.  It will be about a current issue and won't be ideological bashing (I hate that.)  I confess to being center-left which I guess puts me in a minority, but I do believe the country is pretty screwed up at the present, and I can offer my views as well as the next guy-including those in power. 

 If you're a regular visitor to From the Upper Left Corner, thanks for your support.  I love writing, but knowing that others read what I've written is inspiring.  Don't hesitate to comment.  I love to read 'em.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Review: Tron Legacy


In 1982 Space Invaders and Asteroids were in 7/11's, bars and video arcades sucking quarters.  The first Ataris were appearing in homes, and the personal computer was still just wishful thinking for most of us.  When Disney's Tron made its appearance on the big screen the same year, home computing was still a mystery for the average dude, and who had ever heard of the internet?

Tron was was an obscure offering at the time. Or maybe it was just obscure for me. It offered a story of an early computer geek who traveled inside the cyberspace on to "the Grid" creating an alternative world inhabited by "programs" controlled by users.  The electronic reality would be governed by heroes imagined by creator, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges.)  The movie's charm was as much its early CGI as it was its unfathomable story.  But it did have some loose ends to be drawn up by a future sequel.

 Fast forward nearly thirty years to the release of Tron Legacy. Video arcades are a thing of the past, replaced by personal game consoles. Personal computers are ubiquitous. The  grid is no longer a mystery.  We all spend too much time on the 'net.  The grid is something our enemies use to wage war against us, and we against them. The grid is the home of the social network and identity theft, of the blog and Wiki leaks, of Amazon.com and You Tube. The world of computers is no longer new, we know how they work, how they crash when we most need them, the sadness of losing our data to viruses, how we spend every waking hour playing World of Warcraft. Computer neophyte no longer, I brought a certain cynicism to the theater with me.

 Tron Legacy begins with Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges') son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) searching for his father who mysteriously disappeared into the Grid.  When Sam follows him he immediately encounters a world a world far more dangerous than what his father shared with him.  He meets the guardian/ruler of the Grid, CLU, with Bridges' 1982 visage.  CLU rules the Grid much like a Roman emperor, providing bloodsport for the masses of programs in the form of disc battles, light cycle races and other bloodsport in which the loser is de-programmed or destroyed.  Sam escapes the games with the help of Quorra, an Iso, an actual creation of the Grid that were systematically eliminated by CLU, and she takes him to meet his father.  CLU also is after Flynn because he wants his personal data to take an army off the grid and into the real world.  Why?  World conquest, of course, duh.

The second half of the movie is chasing hither and thither to the portal between Flynn's arcade and the grid.  Lots of chasing, lots of de-programming, some explosions and a climactic good-bye between Sam and Flynn.  Very nice CGI.  Yawn.

 This is not one of Jeff Bridges' finest performances, and I'm a fan.  Only Michael Sheen's character Zeus, is interesting or out of the ordinary.  There is something too about Quorra, Olivia Wilde, maybe there is a certain tabula rasa naivete about her character, or that she is just beautiful.  In any case, if you love great performances, you've come to the wrong place baby.

I looked forward to this sequel.  Maybe because the original Tron was interesting and different, and the concept of the Grid was something different than Star Wars  and the other computer driven movies that were still new in 1982.  Now it seems silly and too disjointed with our computer-driven reality.  If you like CGI effects, there's lots here to like.  If you want a great story, try True Grit. 

Two and a half stars out of five.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rob Johnson traded to San Diego

This was inevitable.  The Olivo signing which should be completed soon, meant the M's had little reason to hang on to Johnson who was designated for assignment last week.  It's a moral victory for Johnson and the Mariners that a trade was arranged with the Padres even if it is for a player to be named later, cash, or a bag of balls.
Rob Johnson corrals a foul pop against the Devil Rays.  Here's  hoping he locates the rest of his game with the Padres.

 I always had hopes for Johnson.  He seemed to slowly adjust to hitting at each level of the minors, but demonstrated the skills needed to be a good catcher.  When he arrived at the major league level, pitchers clearly liked throwing to him over Kenji Johjima. He earned their confidence and there was every reason to hope that Johnson would develop in the Mariners starting catcher, or at least an adequate placeholder and eventual backup to Adam Moore.

Last year, however, after multiple surgeries, he clearly did not have the physical ability to block pitches in the dirt, or prevent passed balls.  His hitting was execrable with a line of .191/.293/.291, an OPS+ of 63. Calling a good game just isn't enough and the M's sent him down to Tacoma in August. 

Catching is simply a wasteland for the Mariners, as I've stated before.  One worries about their ability to take catching prospects and develop them properly.  Jeff Clement, Johnson, and Moore have all been hailed as Mariners catchers of the future, but they went outside the organization to sign Miguel Olivo to be the M's starter for 2011-12.  I still have hopes for Moore, but it should be a concern for the organization. 

Ryan Divish has some useful Johnson insights in the News Tribune. I wish Johnson well with the Padres. 

More Thoughts on the Hall of Fame

Yep, more HoF ideas here, sadly they aren't mine. Monday Rob Neyer of ESPN posted a link to some interesting thoughts on Hall of Fame voting.  While blogger, the Common Man clearly has some interesting thoughts about who should be in and who shouldn't, what is more interesting is his view on principles that should govern voters thinking.  It's good stuff. As a person who likes rationality above almost all things, it is a way to look at voting.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Walt Dropo Dies at age 87

Walt Dropo died of natural causes at age 87 at his home near Boston.  Dropo was a prototypical 50's power hitter, the 6'5" 220lb "Moose from Moosup" was a three sport star at the University of Connecticut before signing with the Boston Red Sox.  A great article about his his connections to UConn appears in ctpost.com

 Dropo had a brilliant rookie season in 1950, hitting .322 with 34 dingers and 144 RBI's.  He won the AL Rookie of the Year award. 

 Unfortunately his first hurrah would be his best.  Dropo struggled his sophomore season and spent most of 1951 the minors trying to find his swing.  Dropo played in the majors until 1961.  A slow, big man capable of occasional power, Dropo played first base with the Red Sox, White Sox, Cincinnati Redlegs, and Detroit.  He had all the stockings covered.  Dropo's best years were 1950 and 1952.

Red Sox vice president for publications and archives, Dick Bresciani, remembered Dropo as an important member of the Red Sox in the post-war era and a valued member of the Red Sox community. 

"He was an outstanding gentleman and did a lot of good things for our organization in the community when his playing days were over," Bresciani said.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Hall of Fame Ballot

I've included my official MLB Hall of Fame ballot.  No, it's not real, something about having to be a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.  Sounds elitist to me.  Nevertheless I've included my ballot with my choices highlighted.

 Roberto Alomar                                 Bert Blyleven
 Jack Morris                                       Barry Larkin
 Lee Smith                                          Edgar Martinez
 Tim Raines                                        Mark McGwire
 Alan Trammell                                   Fred McGriff
 Don Mattingly                                   Dave Parker
 Harold Baines                                   Carlos Baerga
 Jeff Bagwell                                      Brett Boone
 Kevin Brown                                    John Franco
 Juan Gonzalez                                   Marquis Grissom
 Lenny Harris                                     Bobby Higginson
 Charles Johnson                               Al Leiter
 Tino Martinez                                   Raul Mondesi
John Olerud                                      Rafael Palmeiro
 Kirk Reuter                                      Benito Santiago
 B.J. Surhoff                                      Larry Walker

I've joined the Blyleven converts.  If I can argue that Felix Hernandez should win the Cy Young Award, it seems to me Bert should be in the Hall.

Roberto Alomar is a no brainer and should have gotten in last year.

Alan Trammell was so good for so long the only thing that seems a mystery to me is how his double play partner, Lou Whittaker, could fall off the ballot so quickly.

Barry Larkin was very good on some bad teams.  

Bagwell's career was not long, but he amassed 449 home runs played mostly in a pitcher's cavern.  He had a career OPS+ of 149, played a good first base, and somehow managed to steal 202 bases.  He should be in, though I doubt he'll make it this year.

 Larry Walker was a graceful right fielder with a great arm.  He was a dangerous hitter with a career 140 OPS+ and  389 career home runs.  Rookie of the Year with Montreal in 1990, Walker went on to be NL MVP with Colorado in 1997.  Often injured, one wonders how much better he may have been healthy.  Again, not a shoo in on the first ballot.

 Once again I voted for Edgar Martinez.  Hopefully as the writers think objectively about his achievements and lose their prejudice against DH's he'll at least improve over last year's 36.2%.  Hell, Don't Ask, Don't Tell was axed yesterday, maybe the writers can take that next step too.

Brett Boone is on my ballot because, well, he's Brett Boone.  He had the most memorable season I can ever remember seeing, in 2001.  It's my thank you to him for that.  I assure you Boone won't be on the ballot next year.

No Mark McGwire or Rafael Palmeiro.  I know there are those who want to rehabilitate the image of known steroid users, but I'm not there yet.  I'm sure at some point the writers will relent and begin voting them in, but I'm certainly not there yet.  Despite McGwire's admission and apology last year, which I believe was heartfelt and honest, he still didn't connect drug use to performance.  Palmeiro is merely despicable, insisting in front of Congress he did not take steroids and then found using the following season.  No time for that shit.

Here is a link to statistics for those on the Hall of Fame ballot by Baseball-Reference.com 

December is a Tough Month for Baseball

Heeny Majeski
 Johnny Gee
Eddie Joost
Johnny Pesky
Thornton Lee
 Danny Gardella
 Van Lingle Mungo

 The opening lines to David Frishberg's elegant jazz song Van Lingle Mungo introduce us to his theme.  It's a paean to players, most not well known from the 30's to the 50's and is a mellifluous recitation of their names.  Some are well known, most are not.  The names, chosen for the way they fit together, are products of ethnicity and the hard-scrabble economics of the times. Four are in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but most struggle just to be remembered.

 Whitey Kurowski
 Max Lanier
 Eddie Waitkus and
 Johnny Vandermeer
 Bob Estalella
 Van Lingle Mungo
  
Unfortunately it's been a bad month for those of us who love baseball's past.  Ron Santo, Bob Feller and Phil Cavaretta have all passed away this month, and there's still 12 days to go.

Santo died December 3rd due to complications from diabetes.  Santo was the best third baseman in the National League for the time he played 1960-74.  He was an excellent hitter by anybody's standard, a great defensive ballplayer, extremely durable even though he battled diabetes his entire career.  Yet he died as one of the best players never to make it to the Hall of Fame.  Chris Jaffe at Hardball Times wrote a wonderful article about Santo, so I won't share what's already been done.  Let's just hope the newly constituted veterans committee at BBHOF gets its shit together and puts Santo's plaque where it rightfully belongs.  A great player, long time much loved Cubs broadcaster, and by all accounts an incredibly nice man, Santo is deserving recognition. 

Augie Bergamo
 Sigmund Jakucki
 Big Johnny Mize and
 Barney McCoskey
Hal Trosky

 Bob Feller died on December 15th at age 92.  Simply put, he was one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game.  He's part of that lineage of great hard throwers that goes from Walter Johnson to Feller to Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens with lots of slightly less distinguished lights in between.  His 266-162 record was interrupted by the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  He enlisted in the Navy on December 8, 1941 and lost four years of his career to World War II at age 26, his years of peak performance. He lobbied for combat service and was a member of an anti-aircraft gun crew on the U.S.S. Alabama.  He was intensely proud of his service and rightfully so.  The best memorial to Feller is on Joe Posnanski's blog. 

 I do have a minor beef with Feller.  Great pitcher.  We see it in the newsreels, we see it in his numbers, we hear and read the anecdotal evidence from his peers.  We know his service, and we honor it as we do for all those of his generation who went off to free the world from fascism.   My complaint is with Feller's tireless self-promotion. Bob we already knew you were great.  My advice--don't be fighting with Walter Johnson over who was the best right hander when you get to baseball heaven. 

Augie Galan and
Pinky May
Stan Hack and 
Frenchy Bordagaray 
 Phil Cavaretta
George McQuinn
 Howard Pollett and 
 Early Wynn
Roy Campanella
 Van Lingle Mungo

Phil Cavaretta played twenty seasons for the Cubs from 1934-53 and two more years for the White Sox.  Not blessed with a lot of power, hitting only 94 homers in his long career, he was a good hitter and a nifty first baseman.  Cavaretta led the Cubs to their last World Series appearance in 1945, and was the National League Most Valuable Player that year.  He died from a stroke yesterday at age 94.  A brief memorial to Cavaretta is on Chicago Breaking Sports News.

 Augie Bergamo
 Sigmund Jakucki
 Big Johnny Mize and
 Barney McCoskey
 Hal Trosky

 In many respects we mark time with names of those who die.  Our family and friends we know and love, those who die in our wars, victims on the evening news, and those we don't know but wish we had.  I love baseball and it's history, the stories and stats, but it's really about the players and baseball lost three of those we know well.
 John Antonelli
 Ferris Fain
 Frankie Crosetti
 Johnny Sain
 Harry Brecheen and
Lou Boudreau
 Frankie Gustine and 
 Claude Passeau
 Eddie Basinski
Ernie Lombardi
 Huey Mulcahy
 Van Lingle Mungo
 Van Lingle Mungo

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Why Ichiro Can't Win

I saw my first major league baseball game in 1963.  We were visiting my grandparents in San Francisco and my Dad took me over to Candlestick to catch a game.  It was a day game and the weather was nice, not always a given at the 'Stick.  The Pirates were in town.  I don't remember tons about the game-the Giants won 3-1.  I remember a lot of the players that day.  Mays and McCovey were in the outfield.  Don't remember if Cepeda played, but Gaylord Perry pitched.  For the Bucs it was Clemente and Stargell in the outfield with Mazeroski at 2nd base.  Six hall of famers were on the field.  I wish I remembered more about the game.

Which brings us to Ichiro Suzuki.  Yesterday he was named The Most Dependable Player of the Year by the MLB network.  Why?  He played in all 162 games in 2010.  And those hits, all 214 of them, led the American league, as Ichiro has seven of the last ten years.   Despite his 37 years, Ichiro, who stays in remarkable shape, shows no signs of slowing down in his game, built largely on speed. He is one of the most fun players I've ever watched.  I've seen him hit a grand slam at Safeco to beat the hated Red Sox.  I've watched him make catches at the wall, over the wall, deep in the corner, and seen him gun down base runners going to third.  He's beaten teams with his glove, with his bat, with his arm, and with his legs.  He is one of the best in ways that don't show up in gaudy slugging percentages.
The magic year of 2009.  Ichiro with his friend and hero, Ken Griffey, Jr.
So why are Seattle fans, at least those who comment on blogs, those who seem to be most engaged in the Mariners' shrinking community of followers, so divided on the the question of Ichiro's value to the team.  Some simply call him a "slappy" hitter who contributes little to the success of the M's.  J.J. Putz implied after the disastrous 2008 season that his teammates viewed Ichiro as selfish, and suggested there were elements who wanted to do him physical harm.  Not all are haters, however.  One of my favorite writers, Joe Posnanski, penned a column for SI.com last May enumerating Ichiro's virtues and simply stated he was a one of a kind player.

Ichiro is a one of a kind player.  Unfortunately, he's the one of a kind player whose true value is lost on a team as terrible offensively as the current edition of the Seattle Mariners.  Look at Ichiro by the numbers.  From 2001-2003 the Mariners won 116, 93, and 93 games. Their offense included good hitters:  Brett Boone, John Olerud, Edgar Martinez, Mike Cameron, and even the long forgotten Randy Winn.  They all were above average in OPS +  and a few of them had monster OPS+ seasons of 140 or more. For those who don't know OPS+ is an offensive measure that takes ballpark and other factors into consideration.  An OPS+ of 100 is considered major league average.

Ichiro's lines in those years were:

2001     .350/.381/.457  56sb  127 runs   OPS +  126  6 teammates with OPS+ 100 or greater
2002     .321/.388/.425  31sb  111 runs   OPS +  120  5 teammates with OPS+ 100 or greater
2003     .312/.352/.436  36sb  111 runs   OPS +  112  6 teammates with OPS+ 100 or greater

In those years it was not "The Seattle Mariners Offense, featuring Ichiro Suzuki."  Ichiro's job was to get on base, chreate chaos on the basepaths and score runs.  He was a very good leadoff hitter on a pretty decent team and he had a clear role. 
Nobody else can do this.  Out of the box before his swing is finished, Ichiro is the fastest player to 2,000 hits.
2004 is the year of the cataclysm.  Everything went wrong in the first year of Bill Bavasi's magic touch.  The pitching was terrible.   At bat, the Mariners were no better.  Nearly all the moves Bavasi made, Scott Spezio, Rich Aurilia, Hiram Bocachica, the Carlos Guillen trade, were failures.  Only the acquisition of Raul Ibanez worked out. It was the year of Bucky Jacobson, and the year the fine careers of Olerud, Martinez, and Boone quietly ended.

Ichiro, arguably had his best year.  It was the year of the hits record and his line looked like this:

 2004      .372/.414/.455  101 runs  OPS+ 130  2 teammates with OPS+ 100 or greater*
* Bucky Jacobsen would count as a third in limited duty.

 That Ichiro scored 101 runs despite his very high OBP demonstrates how weak this team was. As Ichiro raced to catch George Sisler in the record books, it seemed the quest to fulfill that dream superseded his commitment to help the team win.  Bunts for base hits seemed more important than trying to drive in runs by hitting away.  The 99 losses sealed Bob Melvin's fate, and Ichiro 's accomplishment became The Season.

The years 2005-07 presented more failure.  The pitching was at best mediocre and the hitting was often not much better.  2007 seemed to be a year of improvement which proved chimerical, but the team improvement seemed to boost Ichiro's performance.

Ichiro's lines were:

2005      .303/.350/.436  33sb  111 runs 113 OPS+  4 teammates with OPS+ 100 or greater
2006      .322/.370/.416  44sb  110 runs 106 OPS+  4 teammates with OPS+ 100 or greater
2007      .351/.396/.431  37sb  111 runs 122 OPS+  5 teammates with OPS+ 100 or greater

The better the supporting cast, the better Ichiro seems to do.  In this respect, 2004 seems to be an outlier.  His goal of getting 200 hits seems to focus Ichiro, but beyond that, when he has better hitters around him, he's able to accomplish more.  When the team wins more, Ichiro performs better.
Ichiro ranks 6th in outfield assists among active right fielders.

Based on 2007's promise, Bavasi pulled out the stops to win in 2008 and traded for Erik Bedard.  You know the story.  It's not bad enough that Bedard was injured, everyone else underperformed too.  The team lost 101 games, clubhouse chemistry was poisonous, and Ichiro performed well-below his career stats.

2008       .310/.361/.386  43sb  103 runs 102 OPS+  3 teammates with OPS+  100 or greater

2008 is Ichiro's worst statistical year.

2009 was Jack Zdurencik's first as general manager and he put together a team that struggled to score runs, but remained competitive until August.  Again, despite the lack of good hitting, Ichiro seemed to respond to the glorious clubhouse environment, playing with Ken Griffey, Jr., and winning.

 2009     .352/.386/.465  26sb  88 runs 129 OPS+ 4 teammates with OPS+ 100 or better.

 Though 2009 is Ichiro's best year since 2004, it doesn't hide the fact that most of his teammates hit well below league average.  His 88 runs was the first season he didn't score at least 100.  Pitching and defense can only count for so much and at some point you have to cross the pay station

 Which brings us to 2010.  Built on might have beens and wishful thinking, the team crashed on take-off, losing 101 games again.  This might be the most frustrating season in the team's history.  Hitting was bad and the Mariners scored the fewest runs in the major leagues since 1972.  Ichiro's year, complicated by the signing of Chone Figgin,s was a disappointment.  Batting second, Figgins's style was so like Ichiro's and got off to such a slow start that the grounders he once legged out for base hits became double plays, 20 of 'em.  By far the most of Figgins' career.  It was like matter and anti-matter batting one behind the other.

 2010      .315/.359/.394  42sb  74 runs  113 OPS+ 1 teammate with OPS+ 100 or better.
 The teammate was Russell Branyan and his 205 at bats.

 What is a leadoff hitter to do?  What did the other hitters look like?  Chone Figgins 84, Jose Lopez 73, Milton Bradley 80, Franklin Guttierez 87.  And those are the good ones.

 Ichiro Suzuki, together with Felix Hernandez, are the most recognizable names on the Mariners.  Just as Hernandez showed with his Cy Young Award it's possible to be a great pitcher without great run support, Ichiro is a great leadoff hitter, even without the hitters behind him.  Though some years he is greater than others, mostly that's a result of the number of league average hitters that can drive him home. It's unfair to hold him accountable for the failure of his teammates.  His $18 million contract makes him an easy target for the whiners who expect him to morph into Albert Pujols or Josh Hamilton.  The M's didn't sign him to be either one of those. Unfortunately Ichiro was not made to be the straw that stirs the drink as Reggie Jackson once was.  Rather, he was intended to be the olive in the martini.  The more the burden of offense falls on Ichiro the less likely he can meet fan expectations. 

 Statistics from Baseball-Reference.com

Monday, December 13, 2010

Brendan Ryan: Woo Hoo!

Okay, Brendan Ryan is never going to be a guy who changes the world, but in many respects he's my kind of ballplayer.  He is a defensive whiz, and if you are defensive metrics fan, he led the major leagues in UZR as a shortstop.  Though he was sidelined with a wrist injury last year and hit a paltry .223/.279/294, he's never set the world on fire as a hitter and even if he fully recovers, he's likely not going to be a batting star.  However, assuming he keeps second base warm until Ackley is ready, he becomes a valuable fill-in guy for Wilson when he is inevitably injured, or take his job if Jack is traded.  It allows Figgins to take his best defensive position at 3rd, and makes the entire defense better.

There are lots of folks out there who rightly point out-it's the offense stupid. And of course they're right.  But there simply isn't a player out there who can do the things Ryan can do AND hit.  At least not for a price the M's can afford in dollars or players. The price for this trade with the Cardinals was Maikel Cleto, an A ball fireballing reliever with questionable control and a scary delivery.

I'm always intrigued by those in the blogosphere that are intensely critical of the Mariners' off season moves. Yes we all know the M's need to score more runs, lots more in order to be competitive in the division races.  Yet, each of moves they've made-signing Cust and Olivo, dealing for Ryan, making a deal with Bedard (see my fingers are crossed,) make the ballclub incrementally better.  Not good enough to contend, but better. No magic bullets folks.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

We Were Witnesses: Roger Waters Brings The Wall to Tacoma.

I've been to many concerts and seen lots of bands.  How many, I dunno, more than thirty and less than fifty.  After each show I reflect and try to decide whether it's the best I've ever seen.  I always try to convince myself the answer is yes.  I mean, I never really have a bad experience, right?

 I can tell you without reservation The Wall performed by Roger Waters and his band is without question, reservation, or hesitation is the most wonderful concert I've ever experienced. 

I am not a Pink Floyd follower, and cannot name every song on every album they ever did.  I've never listened to Piper at the Gates of Dawn or Ummagumma. But The Wall, a rock opera, is different.  I bought the album in 1980 after its release, and found the 26 songs about the descent of a young man into isolation and madness compelling.  I saw Alan Parker's 1982 movie in the middle 80's and was taken with movie's combination of dystopian animation and disturbing narrative that is the core of the lead character, Pink's, life.  

When it was announced last spring Waters was bringing The Wall to Tacoma, I winced.  It was a show I desperately wanted to see.  At 67, it was unlikely he would tour again.  Keyboardist Richard Wright was dead, Waters and guitarist David Gilmour were estranged, Pink Floyd was irretrievably broken.  This might be the last opportunity to see this opus live and I wanted to be a witness. 
Roger Waters in all his glory.  I've never seen anything like the Wall.
But I was broke and the tickets were exorbitant.  I was thrilled on my 55th birthday in August when my son, Patrick, presented me with a floor level ticket to the concert.  He'd organized the effort to coordinate funds to buy me a seat next to he and daughter-in-law extraordinaire Michelle for my birthday.  We were going to see The Wall, we'd just have to wait until December.

Last night we made our way to the Tacoma Dome surrounded by a sell out crowd and plunked ourselves in the middle of the reserved seats on the floor.  It was a knowledgeable, orderly crowd.  When the show began in shortly after the scheduled 8:00 with a full sixty seconds of explosions, fireworks and images on the walls flanking the enormous stage.  More images projected on to a huge circular screen, and thus began the evening's narrative.  Pink's story would be told aurally by the Waters and his band, and another story, told in parallel, sometimes connected and sometimes not appeared in the images all as a 40 foot high 100 foot wide wall was slowly constructed across the stage. 
Waiting for the train at UWT.  We parked uptown knowing there was little parking at the Dome.

Waiting for the show.  The semi built walls are visible to left and right with the large circular screen over the stage.

The musicianship was flawless.  Waters assembled a fine supporting band, and while they weren't Pink Floyd, they never missed a note, never took indecent liberties with the music, they were simply fabulous.  Waters was at the center of it all, handling nearly all of the vocals with skill and showmanship.  The highlight for me was Comfortably Numb with the lead vocal and guitar solo occurring atop the completed wall.  Though the song missed Gilmour's breathy vocals the emotional guitar was brilliant, simply the most moving work I've ever heard.
In the Flesh starts the show with a bang

All the while the band played, visuals played on the overhead screen (until it was obscured) and on the wall.  In some cases Waters chose animations from the Parker movie, or inserted background visuals in synch with the music.  But many of the visuals shown were political.  Waters presented a program that was clearly anti-war and anti-corporate.  Among the show's first images were the stories of those who died in war, soldiers, civilians, children and the families who'd been bereft by the loss of a loved one.  Always the stories, from Marines in Iraq to RAF fliers to children killed in Baghdad bombings were told with dignity and respect. Waters' message were encapsulated in the words of Dwight Eisenhower:

"Every gun that is made, every warship that is launched, every rocket that is fired signifies, in a final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."
The Wall of War Victims from WWII to Afghanistan, from Marines to civilians

War Victims up close

Neda Agha-Soultan, murdered by her government, Tehran 2009.  Unforgivable.

Waters was not what I expected.  I understood him to be crowd-shy and adverse to touring.  Not the case.  He was the ringmaster, always in control of the show and always connecting with the audience, well aware he was in Tacoma that was near Seattle.  One of the highlights of the show was after "A Brick in the Wall, pt. II" when he took the time to introduce the children that had appeared on stage as the maligned students suffering the indignities from the evil teacher.  They were from a local after school program and he praised their effort.  He then went on to play "Mother" double tracked with audio and visual of himself from the 1990 Berlin performance of The Wall.  It was stunning.
The Teacher is one of many oversized visitors to the stage.

Another Brick in the Wall Part 2

Local children play students in Another Brick in the Wall Part 2

The concert was a triumph, though not flawless.  There were times I felt there was too much reliance on the 1982 movie animations, particularly in the closing scenes.  While they were familiar, so much of what was done was new and special, why review twenty minutes of the court scene from nearly 30 years ago.  However, if that's all I've got to quibble about it must have been a pretty good night.
Mother Part 1

Big Mother

This says it all

I left the concert with Pat and Michelle knowing I had never seen a better show.  I wonder if I'll ever go to a live concert again.  I was a witness to the best.
Mrs. Pink visits the Wall during "Don't Leave Me Now."

"Comfortably Numb" soloist enveloped in light.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Custy and Olivo

It's Thursday and the baseball's winter meetings are over and Jack Zdurencik finds himself on the way home with a pair of free agents in hand.  Lefty Jack Cust signed on as DH for 2011, and word is that catcher Miguel Olivo signed a two year with the M's .  While neither of these are signings I am wild about, they will improve the Mariners in the short term.

It seems to me the Mariners GM had one important task in the off-season:  jolt offensive production. 
Jack Cust is a younger version of Russell Branyan, without the funny thing on his right hand--a glove.  Cust is characterized as an all or nothing hitter.  Low average, home runs, lots of walks and lots of strikeouts. On the other hand, his numbers have declined steadily since being traded to the Athletics from the Padres.  That was a watershed year when his numbers were .254/.408/.504.  According to Bill James, Cust suffers from having "Old People Skills" that diminish more rapidly than the normal decline curve.   With power to both left and right field power alleys, some of those shots that fly, fly away at McAfee Park may be hauled in as outs or go for doubles.The two scatter charts borrowed from Hit Tracker show clearly that Cust's power is bipolar, while Branyan's homers are more to right and longer.

Scatter Chart for Russell Branyan's home runs in 2010. 

Scatter Chart for Scatter Chart for Jack Cust's 2010 home runs

Still, don't want to rain on anyone's parade here.  Cust's acquisition clearly upgrades the DH position.  His line last year was .272/.395/.438 in 349 at bats.  According to Cust he was platooned, hitting against right handers, and had the fewest at bats since joining the A's in 2007. According to Jack, this reduced his effectiveness as he usually faced lefty specialists late in games.  Cust has never been on the DL, which makes him an instant upgrade over Russell Branyan with his balky back.  His 2010 line is a clear upgrade over Ken Griffey, Jr., Milton Bradley, Russell Branyan and the cast of thousands who seem to have filled that spot last year.  If Zdurencik's job was to upgrade the offensive over last year's execrable model, a one year deal with Cust should help.

I've already written about the catching black hole for the Mariners, but I was shocked when the GM ran out and dropped a $7 million deal on Miguel Olivo.  You may remember Olivo, he was the incredibly uncomfortable looking young man that came to the M's with Jeremy Reed, and Michael Morse in the Freddy Garcia trade in 2004.  He caught 104 torturous games for the M's before being shipped off the next year to the Padres for a few bags of field chalk, a case of scalp oil for Bill Bavasi, and spare parts for Ichiro's pitching machine.  The verdict on Olivo was he was a poor handler of pitchers, a dreadful hitter and a passed ball machine.
 
Times change, and as Olivo has developed he's definitely a different player.  In most ways that's good.  He's shown himself to be a much better hitter than he was with the 2004 M's, with a .269/.315/.449 line last year with the Rockies.  He's shown he has some pop in his bat, hitting  at least 12 home runs in each of the last five seasons, including 23 homers with the Royals in 2009.  The latter is significant as the K like Safeco is not a hitters park.  While Olivo led the planet in passed balls with 10, it's still six less than the combined total  for Adam Moore and Rob Johnson.  Even with that, Olivo led all catchers in the major league in defense, according to the Dewan Rating System with a value of 14.  His rSB rating against base stealers also leads the majors with 11, so the M's are getting a fine defender.

Olivo does bring some questions.  Olivo has never been a patient hitter.  His .315 on base average was the best of his career.  Hopefully this shows some maturity and growing patience at the plate.  He's also a right hander pull hitter coming to the graveyard of right handed pull hitters and the scatter chart shows this tendency.  As many other writers have already indicated, this looks like the second coming of Jose Lopez.  Hopefully Olivo recognizes this approach will not work at home, but I'm not holding my breath.

Miguel Olivo, good or bad?  I admit I hated this signing when I first heard it.  I had several reasons, the first being that I remembered his first sojourn in Seattle and Miguel's ability to do much of anything well.  But, that's not fair.  In fact the M's are getting a very good defensive catcher, passed balls notwithstanding.  Pitch calling ability is not clear and that was a rap on him in 2004-5.  There's no question this provides an offensive boost to the catching spot.  I'm not fooling myself, Olivo isn't Joe Mauer or Victor Martinez, but production from the catching position was so poor in 2009, that this upgrade simply adds one more weapon, however limited, to improve the Mariner offense.  If I have one qualm it is about the development of Adam Moore and whether this holds him back.  At least Olivo's deal is only two years and does not involve Bavasi-like money.  Moore's response to the signing was encouraging, telling the News Tribune's Ryan Divish that based on last-year's performance by the catchers this signing wasn't a surprise  

“It’s not going to change anything for me,” Moore said. “I’m going to continue to work hard to earn that job in spring training. It’s not going to change my mindset.”
I'll close with comments made by Jack Zdurencik to Brock and Salk  on December 8th, the M's GM voiced his unhappiness and frustration with the slow development of young Mariners prospects.  The Olivo signing is simply a message to Moore and others that the clock is ticking on their major league careers and if they don't give maximum effort, if development does not come with their time of service, the Mariners won't sit idly by and guarantee their place on the team.


 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Jack, If I Could Have Just One Wish

Geoff Baker at the Seattle Times has an interesting interview with Chuck Armstrong regarding some of the extravagant salaries paid to recent free agent signings.  Armstrong specifically referred to Jason Werth's seven year $126 million deal with the Nationals.

Not going to happen happen for the M's.  They already have too much money out on bets, some of which didn't work out well.  They're still choking on the four year $48 million deal Bill Bavasi signed with Carlos Silva, ahem, complicated by extra goodies included in the subsequent trade for Milton Bradley.  There are still $5 million out on the Jack Wilson signing, he of the perpetually injured hamstrings.  Bad deals, lots of money that will never be recouped on value.

If I could make one wish, it is that we spend the dough for a legit run producer at DH.  While I've seen Bradley penciled in here, I just lack faith the man will get the job done.  We're two years removed from his amazing year in Texas when he led the league in OPS.  2009 was bad and 2010 was atrocious.  Bradley is rarely able to play more than 120 games, and then what.  We're looking at Matt Tuiasosopo as DH, and no offense intended to Matt, but he's not an answer. 

The DH spot should be a spot for legitimate run producers.  Guys who can get on base, hit for a decent average with at least good gap power.  No defensive acumen is required, though if your designated hitter can play a position without untterly butchering it that's a bonus.  Speed is nice too, but that would be like hoping for a pony and a new iPad on your birthday, perhaps a little much. 

I'm not suggesting a respectable DH will land the Mariners in the division race, much less the World Series.  However, a run-producer at the position will help this team win.  If Eric Bedard is healthy, if Michael Pineda pitches as advertised, the Mariners rotation shapes up to be above average-enough to keep them in games, enough to keep fan interest.  But if the M's run out an offense that again scores as historically few runs as they did last year their fan will continue to shrink like the glaciers on Mount Rainier.

That said, I see Jack Cust may be near signing with the M's.  Good move, bad move? I'm not a big Cust fan because I don't think he represents what I like as a baseball player.  On the other hand, I think he's a prototypical DH.  Can't play the field at all, but he is someone who gets on base and can hit the ball a long way.  If he doesn't do those things, he strikes out a lot.  He's healthier than Russell Branyan and slower than molasses in January.  Not my first choice, but he'll make the M's better.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Confessions from a Husky Fan

You won't find many posts from me about Husky football.  Ten years ago that wouldn't have been the case.  I listened to Bob Rondeau and Chuck Nelson faithfully on KOMO and caught their rare television appearances on ABC or ESPN.  I admired the Don James and Jim Lambright teams that played bruising defense, their pro-style and  occasional option offenses.  They were things of beauty that first and foremost demanded solid offensive and defensive linemen who could dominate the line of scrimmage.

Times have changed since 2000.  The Huskies, a regional if not national powerhouse for years, have become patsies, punchlines, or worse, non-entities in football conversation.  My fandom has  gone the way of  the Jamaican bobsled team rather than the Jamaican track team, fading into history, an anachronism of the glorious 80's and 90's.

Even so, I've dutifully checked the papers each Sunday, hoping the Dawgs laughable defense hadn't been shredded by the gallant eleven from East Mossyrock Community College.  What's worse is that as cable television expanded its coverage of college football, the weekly slaughter of the Huskies and their fans occurred in front of a much larger audience, though, to be fair, in 2008 the followers must have shrunk to a few dozen masochistic faithful. Even the radio broadcast radio coverage moved from KOMO to KJR which I hear, in beautiful Puyallup, about as clearly as through two cans on a string.  And the Dawgs even replaced   Nelson with Damon Huard.  What's that about?  Huard may be an UW alum and have Puyallup connections, but is he really better than the Chucker?   I think not.

 After NewWeasel and Willingham sacked the program and in turn got the sack, and the Huskies hired Sarkisian, I drank the kool-aid and gave them a shot.  I confess, I was intrigued.  I sooo wanted to believe.  There was the miracle against USC in Husky Stadium, and the Cal and Apple Cup wins sandwiched around some almosts and might have beens,  and just terrible football.  How could a defense led by a nasty, mean looking SOB like Nick Holt be so ridiculously ridiculous? 

Yet, when Jake Locker re-upped instead of trekking off to the NFL I was intrigued and committed myself to watching once again.  I was, needless to say, disappointed.  the loss to BYU, the blowouts to Nebraska and the Arizona schools didn't sit well.  I didn't think I had enough digits to count the score I knew Oregon would run up on the Dawgs' hapless defense, but thankfully it remained well below the century mark.  As week ten of the season rolled around and the Huskies firmly mired at 3-6, needing to win all three of their final games to go to a bowl didn't leave me with much confidence.  That UCLA, Cal, and WSU were the Huskies' neighbors in Patsyland  didn't matter.  Two of those games were on the road, where UW hopes go to die.
The Cougs got used to variations on the Locker and Polk Show. 
Yet, Washington played more determined D against their Neuheisel nemesis and the Bears, and paired that with just enough offense to win.  It came down to the Apple Cup, a game so fraught with emotion the boys over at Sports Press NW called the Cup in favor of WSU 3-2.  Yes that same WSU with the 2-9 record.  I caught as much of the game as I could with a heart full of hope, and the Dawgs did indeed squeak out a win and should sometime today hear about their bowl destiny.
Jermaine Kearse showed why he can be a big time receiver with the winning touchdown.
 What does it all mean?  It means Jake Locker, an all-time good guy you just have to root for, goes out a winner.  It means UW goes to a bowl for the first time since 2002.  It shows some incremental improvement over last year, but it also unveils the considerable distance the program must cross before it joins the Pac-10's elite football programs.  Finally, as if to toss cold water on the whole business, Art Thiel writes that Sarkisian is now a marked man, a target for recruitment by other struggling  programs seeking a rapid rebuild with the big bucks needed to lure him away from Montlake.
Sark and Wulf.  Here's  hoping they're both back at their jobs next year.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

What to do about catching. Where have you gone Dan Wilson?

Dan Wilson remains the best catcher in Mariner history

Dan Wilson retired from the Seattle Mariners in 2005.  He caught 1,237 games  over his 13 year career.  Wilson wasn’t blessed with Ivan Rodriguez’s arm or Johnny Bench’s bat.  He wasn’t a big guy-tall at 6’3”, but only 190 lbs., 15 pounds lighter than Rodriquez and 20 pounds lighter than Lance Parrish, but he was a great defensive catcher, blocking the plate and lassoing balls in the dirt with the best in the game. In his 14 seasons with Seattle, he allowed 42 total past balls. To compare, Johnny Bench, a Hall of Fame catcher, caught about 500 more games, and allowed 94.  Perhaps Wilson’s greatest talent was his ability to work with pitchers and stay on the same page with them.  He called a great game. Though Wilson was not a great bat, he hit enough to keep himself in the lineup, and surrounded by great hitters for much of his career-Edgar Martinez, Ken Griffey,Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Jay Buhner and a swarm of somewhat less talented power bats, Wilson’s other strengths were much more important.
Wilson, second from left with teammates Jay Buhner, Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez and Ken Griffey,Jr in 2010


The foregoing is list of the catchers who have filled in for or tried to replace Wilson since the 2002 season.  Each of them is eminently forgettable.   With the possible exception of Johjima, none showed the consistency, leadership, defensive prowess, or bat needed to win the position and keep it over the long haul. 

Last year the Mariners started the season with Rob Johnson and Adam Moore on their major league rosters.  Both had fine minor league careers.  Johnson hit .300 his last full year in the minors,  and showed a little power and speed.  Unfortunately , a series of injuries rendered Johnson unable to sufficiently block balls in the dirt, and off-season surgery after the 2009 season didn’t helpt.    Though Johnson was praised by pitchers, his .191/.293/.282 and nine passed balls in 60 games resulted in a return to Tacoma

Right behind him was the highly regarded Moore, a big guy with a big bat. .  Moore was hurt off and on and played only 61 games.  His numbers .193/.232/.294 and seven passed balls wasn’t an improvement.  Josh Bard actually turned in the most serviceable numbers, but he was injured mid season and played in only 39 games.  Bard is not on the M’s 40 man roster. 
Adam Moore swinging the bat well in Spring Training 2010.
I am an Adam Moore fan.  I believe he has the tools to be a major league catcher, but at age 26 this is the year when he’ll have to show enough development to make the job his.  This is also the year when the Mariners need to provide Moore with veteran help through trade or free agency. 

The list of available catchers is not formidable.  They are veterans, some of whom have had nice seasons, but not anybody who is going to light your fire.  Those catchers are already gone-Victor Martinez, Ramon Hernandez, John Buck to name a few.  Not only are the best, those who can hit as well as catch gone, but it’s clear the M’s want somebody who is cheap.  That’s great, because virtually all the catchers available are over 30, and are likely back-up material.

Gerald Laird was terrible with the bat last year.  He posted .207/.263/.304 in 299 at bats.  This is well below his career average of .242/.300/.358.  It’s also below his last couple of years with Texas and Detroit. On the other hand, Laird’s defense has been quite good. According to Kurt Mensching on SB Nation, Laird should have been considered for a Gold Glove for his defense, and might have if not for that Mauer guy.  Laird, 31,  made $3.95 million in 2010.  Detroit cut him loose when they signed Victor Martinez. The Mariners could probably get him for a lot less

At 36, Bengie Molina says he’s good for one more year.  That he showed some real leadership with the Giants last year is probably enough to put the Mariners out of the running for his services.  Nevertheless, he would be a great mentor for Moore.  Molina made $4.5 million in 2010 and probably too pricey for the pinched M’s.

Last, but not a terrible option, is to bring back Josh Bard.  He performed creditably behind the plate and his line of .214/276/.347 was better than Johnson or Moore.  Signed to a minor league contract last year, his services would likely be very cheap.  Maybe not a flashy choice, but better than being forced into the duo of Moore and Johnson. 

There are other catchers who might be better.  A.J. Pierzynski has always been a good catcher with a good, left-handed bat.  But his nettlesome disposition would not fit in well with a young team trying to build chemistry.  Miguel Olivo has a good bat, probably most power among those catchers left, but he’s a lousy defensive catcher and is not known for his work with pitchers.  Both are also Type B free agents and would require compensation.  

While we may recall fondly the days of Dan Wilson corralling Jamie Moyer's circle change in the dirt, or climbing the ladder to grab Randy Johnson's heater, those days are gone forever.  Adam Moore must step up to be the man, and the M's need to find him a little bit of help.  



Come onnnnnnn Jack

I've been watching the headlines on the baseball sites the last few days, hoping the Mariners will do something to improve themselves.  The big boys are snapping up players right and left.  Today's big rumor reported by ESPN's  Buster Olney is Boston will trade prospects for San Diego's Adrian Gonzalez and move Kevin Youklis to third base.  This places Oakland in position to be the chief suitor for Adrian Beltre's services.  Crap!  It's not that I believed the Mariners would be in a position to trade for A-Gon, or would try the Beltre merry-go-round again, but it does seem a little bit like watching the world go by while we in the Northwest prepare for a season of gloom.

There was some interesting news this week.  Thursday night the list of non-tenders were released.  Not surprisingly, Jose Lopez won't be returning.  His trade to Colorado for right-hander Chaz Roe. Lopez may have more luck in Coors Field, and Roe a former first round pick, stuck in Colorado Springs, may find that his breaking ball has more bite closer to sea level.  Honestly I didn't expect anything to come from the Lopez debacle, and that he would be non-tendered, so getting a bag of balls in return would be a bonus.  I wish him well in Colorado, and believe that he could have taken a few more pitches and walked a bit more, he'd still be here.

The other subtraction from the Mariners is Ryan Rowland-Smith.  The big Aussie was not offered a contract to his liking so he took a walk.  Coming off a godawful 1-10 season in which Hyphen was arguably the anti-Cy Young Award winner, he turned down a guaranteed contract that apparently did not give him a shot at a starter's job.  Up to him.  I know he's working hard to get ready for the season.  He's a good guy, close to the fans through his blog and Twitter accounts, someone I hope can bounce back and have a nice career.  He's a middling talent who won't be a star, but could help a team out of the bullpen.

Neither the Lopez or RRS deals were surprises.  However signing Erik Bedard to a make good minor league deal was.  Larry Larue of the Tacoma News Tribune wrote an interesting column about Bedard's decision to sign with the Mariners, despite the fact there were offers for guaranteed deals on the table.  It shows that Bedard has pride and integrity, which many questioned during his struggles to stay healthy.  Signs are that he'll report to Spring Training healthy and ready to pitch.  I am keeping my fingers crossed.

What does adding Bedard to the Mariners rotation mean?  Here are a couple of major assumptions:
  1. Bedard is healthy and one of the best five pitchers to come out of Spring Training
  2. Michael Pineda is the real deal and ready to become a major league pitcher
If these are true, sort of , maybe, hopefully, the M's will run out a rotation of Felix, Bedard, Pineda, Fister, and Vargas, which is pretty formidable.  It should keep them in games.  Now we just need to score some runs.  A little help please Jack?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Christmas Story: The Musical

Lorri and I went to the 5th Avenue in Seattle Friday night.  We'd planned an away night for a while and god knows we needed it.  We Pricelined a hotel room and got a great deal at the Hyatt Olive 8, just a block from Pacific Place.  The hotel was wonderful.  It is Seattle's first LEED-certified hotel or energy and environmental efficiency.  The room was spacious and comfortable, though I think there are still bugs to be worked out of the heating system.  Great for high-tech travelers.

We did a little of the shopping thing, but found the Black Friday crowds to be pretty overwhelming.  So, we made our way over to Palomino's a couple blocks from the theater and had a great time over great food and drink.  Lorri had her favorite, crab cakes, and pronounced them more than acceptable.  I had a wonderful maple chicken salad with so many different flavors it's hard to describe.  Twarn't cheap, but every once and a while it's nice to get out and have a great dinner. 

We wandered a couple of blocks up the street and got in line for the opening night of "A Christmas Story." When Lorri suggested we see this show, I was a little hesitant.  I'm probably one of twelve people in American who has never seen the highly regarded 1983 movie.  I've seen lots of other Christmas movies, but somehow missed this one, except for some snippets. I don't really have a basis for comparing between the movie and the musical.

A Christmas Story is set in the 1960's during the dying days of big radio, and is set against a winter snowstorm.  a grown up Ralphie Parker flashes back to his youth and his 1940 Christmas memories. We are welcomed to a time that is much simpler and much more austere as his family, friends and neighbors emerge from the Depression.  We're introduced to the Parker family, with a hard working Dad, and a demanding, but loving, mom who keep the kids in line, most notably when Ralphie drops the f-bomb and implicates his friend as "the bad influence."
Clarke Hallum as Ralphie Parker with the air rifle of his dreams

There is a lot to like in this production.  My understanding is it is quite loyal to the movie.  There is the infamous tongue on flagpole scene, Ralphie's eternal desire to score an "Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle for Christmas is a central theme, and the memorable winning of the ugliest lamp in history dominate the movie.  However the performances outweigh the narrative in "A Christmas Story: The Musical."  11-year old Clarke Hallum, of Olympia, is fabulous as Ralphie.  John Bolton plays a fun if occasionally over the top Old Man (father,) and Anne Allgood is wonderful as Mother. The appearance of the Radio Quartet, nicely sung by Jadd Davis, Candice Donehoo, Brandon O'Neill, and Billie Wildrick, kept us abreast of scene and theme changes.   
John Bolton, as the Old Man, a major winner, with possibly the ugliest lamp ever conceived.
If there is anything to critique, it is the whirlwind that seemed to sweep up the early scenes.  Though there is some narration, I found it inadequate to  keep myself from falling into gaps in my understanding.  Probably not a problem for movie veterans, but a bit troublesome for me.  It seemed to me that, for me, the emphasis on the musical numbers were ahead of the story telling.  Even so, I did figure it all out and enjoyed it thoroughly. 
Must be time for a scene change.  The Radio Quartet does its thing.
It was fun.  The energy is pervasive, the performances are enchanting, go see it.  Perfect with with a cup of hot, spiced cider.