TRUM: Choose your own path

June, 15, 2007
Thoughts, Ramblings, Useless information and Musings for Friday, June 15, 2007

Note: This piece contains spoilers to several episodes of "The Sopranos," including the series finale.

I loved it.

Among the many reasons you haven't seen a TRUM from me for three days is that I've been trying to adequately put into words why I felt the final episode of "The Sopranos" was so terrific.

And more importantly, why it's important that I do so.

The amazing thing is that the conversation about the show is as brilliant as the show itself. Mixing between the actual meaning of the last scene and what David Chase did or didn't do, there is no clear-cut path through the dialogue.

Those who say David Chase copped out don't understand the meaning of the phrase. Because not only did Chase not cop out, what he did was as brave a thing as you can do in a creative medium.

Pause. Pin placed in discussion. It's just a jump to the left.

Tony lived, OK? I've watched the last scene a lot and when the guy gets up to go to the bathroom, Tony clearly looks at him and then looks away. In other words, he quickly sizes him up and dismisses him. He's spent a lifetime doing this, he didn't make a mistake, especially not now, with things so jumpy.

I subscribe to the "blackout was the audience" theory. The whole Bobby and Tony discussion in the boat, about how you never see it coming and it goes black? That's us. We never saw that sudden ending coming. We were waiting for something else to happen and it didn't. So we were whacked. It's over for us.

I remember the tagline they used on posters when the show first started. Tony was in the middle of a large group. On one side was Carmela, Meadow, A.J., his mom, etc. On the other it was Sil, Paulie, the character whose full name I'm sure I can't type, but the first word was "Big."

They are all looking at Tony and the tagline reads: "If one family doesn't kill him, the other will." And that still resonates.

Because Tony's life will continue on, death by a thousand cuts.

A.J. is unhappy with his job. Meadow is late because she needs to go to the doctor so she can continue shacking up with Patsy Parisi's kid. Once again, Tony has to deal with Janice and her money-grubbing schemes. He's got Sil in the hospital and Paulie is giving him a headache about the construction site. Looks like Carlo has flipped and Tony still hasn't worked through all the issues with his mother.

And, of course, every time a door opens or he walks around, Tony has to wonder and worry.

Writing was once described to me like this: A story is an endless string. You decide the two places to cut it. And where David Chase chose to end Tony's story is where he started it, in a sense.

If one family doesn't kill him, the other one will.

Slowly but surely, his is a doomed life. Which is why you should "remember the good times."

That might be the most important line in the whole episode.

Because life isn't perfect. It doesn't have neat little bows, things don't always get resolved and life is not black-and-white. It's a theme that resonates throughout "The Sopranos" and it's absolutely why the ending should have been exactly what it was.

David Chase didn't cop out. He gave us an ending. Having Tony killed or something happen to Meadow or anything like that would have been a cop-out. That's the easy thing, that's what you expect. Tony turning to the Feds, Adriana showing up alive and out for revenge, all of it would have been false to the series, false to the characters and too easy.

But to give the show a controversial ending? One that people would debate and discuss and linger over days after the fact? One that he knew many people would find frustrating and disappointing and ambiguous? To write the ending he thinks the show should have, even if it goes against popular opinion? That's anything but a cop-out.

Dave (Anacortes, Wash.): I just listened to your June 8th podcast in which you blurted without thinking (much like all of your hilarious "jokes") that you would take Al Reyes over J.J. Putz for the rest of the year. Why? Is it because: (A) Putz is a proven closer with a spectacular closing year under his belt unlike Reyes; (B) Putz had a freakish K/9 ratio that was considerably higher than Reyes; or (C) Putz plays for a better team, will get more opportunities and has a great set-up man. Well, I'm going to go with D. Which says none of those, you just don't know what you're talking about and you should leave the fantasy advising to someone who knows what they're talking about (Eric Karabell) and the jokes to a sports writer who is actually funny (Bill Simmons).

I dare you to try and defend this ridiculous statement you made. If you do, please e-mail me so I can listen because I sure as hell am not going to listen to your podcast anytime soon. I really don't need a mixture of completely obvious advice like "trade Joe Mauer for Russ Martin and another good player" (Wow! What a novel idea I never would have thought of that myself) or the completely wrong advice (Reyes over Putz).

TMR: It's because Reyes has converted every single save opportunity this year, Tampa Bay will have a lot more close games than Seattle, I believe, and Putz is a legitimate injury risk.

So much focus has been on the last scene, people are forgetting the importance of many scenes that came before it.

As longtime readers know, I was a Hollywood writer in a former life. Over the years, one of the biggest debates in Hollywood executive circles about "The Sopranos" has been if Tony is a good guy or a bad guy. Because conventional wisdom is that the lead of a show has to be "likable" and people won't root for a person who is inherently bad.

Taken at face value, the mobster is a bad guy and an FBI agent is a good guy. But then we see the agent cheating on his wife and rooting for Tony. We see Tony going to see the man who shot him to make sure Bobby's kids are taken care of. Just like in life, there are no absolutes. Nothing's black-and-white. It's all shades of gray.

Lehho Rebassoo (New York): I hate your column. You and … are the worst things about the ESPN Web site. The eye and brain cancer given me by the self-indulgent nonsense with which you title your column makes me want to remove surgically my own skull, to keep from mentally pronouncing such a noisome abomination. I write because I've enjoyed for the first time something you've written. You replied to Dan Idell in San Diego, "Stay classy, San Diego." Superb retort; great movie. Kudos to you. You win this round, you execrable hack.

Colin (Indianapolis): Matt, I enjoy your column no matter what the delay. Most of these yahoos complaining couldn't do even half the job you do. Congrats on moving up in the world and don't worry about the haters … the true fantasy players (who know what they're doing) respect and appreciate your insight. Keep up the great work.

How people interpret entertainment like "The Sopranos" is, of course, based on many things, including their own prejudices which they bring to it. So for me, ultimately, I think Tony Soprano is a complicated man trying to do the best he can given how he was raised and the environment in which he's been placed.

There are no accidents. Showing a clip of "Little Miss Sunshine" playing on the TV in the hospital is a very specific choice. It's also a story about a fractured family trying to do its best, and it's not a surprise the title of this particular episode is "Made in America." From A.J.'s rants about the government to Meadow's "Cat's in the Cradle" moment about how she gave up medical school because of the way the police treat her dad, David Chase made his feelings very clear while still being able to leave much to interpretation.

Unless you've ever tried to write a script -- or anything creative for that matter -- you can't truly appreciate what it's like to stare at a blank piece of paper and try to make it come to life. Every single accolade David Chase has gotten is well-deserved and it's probably not enough.

Back to the mysteries of the actual show and the biggest one for me, of course, is the cat. I've heard the rumor about the cat being the reincarnation of Adriana, but the theory I buy is this one.

The animals represent Tony's psyche. You know how Melfi gets all the info about how therapy is hurting Tony? And that the sociopath shows his true self in children and animals or some such?

I argue the ducks at the beginning of the series run were Tony's way of trying to control and protect. To be the father and family man he wanted to be but couldn't. To try to control one part of his otherwise insane life.

Toward the middle of the series, you remember the bear that showed up for a bunch of episodes? The bear represented Tony's wildness and out-of-control behavior. Like the wild beast not belonging in a backyard, Tony didn't fit in the world in which he was placed and was lashing out at anything and everything, growling and destroying things because it was all he could do.

Now, with bare shreds of his crew left, having murdered his nephew, in fear for his life, his job and his family, no longer having the ability to beat a guy like Bobby in a fight … he's a pussycat.

I guess the reason the last episode was so enjoyable for me was that there was nothing easy about it. There were blood and guts and surprises and tension and humor. (Tony's line about A.J.'s bulimic girlfriend -- "You wouldn't kick her out of bed for throwing up cookies" -- might be the best line of the series.) So it had it all, but it never did the easy thing, the expected thing.

It's like the old saying "Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime." The series as a whole, but especially the last episode, never told us what to think. It showed us a path and let us make up our own mind.

Jason (Atlanta): What's up TMR, love your work. The blogs that you and the rest of the ESPN staff contribute are a big selling point for using your site as compared to your competition. I still prefer the interface to one particular site more, but your content has greatly improved from what I had seen in the past. Keep up the good work.

Now for the question, I guess I need to be talked out of my tree a bit. I'm in a 14-team, deep mixed keeper league with a standard $260 auction and $325 salary cap once the season begins. We start 24 players (10 pitchers) with seven reserves, a three-man DL, and minor league rosters with eight slots per team. I've been hovering around the top of the standings despite my pitching staff being troublesome, I'm next to last in K's and very low in ERA/WHIP, but I'm near the top in the power categories. After frustrating negotiations with several owners, I settled on a trade of Gary Sheffield, Ervin Santana and Dustin McGowan for Barry Zito, Andy Sonnanstine and Frank Thomas. My outfield depth is considerable, as I'll still be able to start Johnny Damon, Eric Byrnes, Barry Bonds, Magglio Ordonez and Jason Bay, and I have Travis Buck and Mark Teahen available as well. My starters now consist of Brandon Webb, Justin Verlander, Zito, Fausto Carmona, Dontrelle Willis, Rich Harden, Bartolo Colon, Sonnanstine, David Wells and Rodrigo Lopez. (I start 7-8 each week.) Did I do myself a disservice by trading Sheff and not maximizing value or am I OK here? I dropped about $7 in salary giving me a bit more flexibility for future moves. Sorry for the book. Thanks for any input you can provide.

TMR: I like the idea of trading some of your excess hitting for an improvement in pitching, but honestly, I hate this trade. I'm actually very high on McGowan (see below) and since you have bench slots, you can just start Santana at home, where he's been very effective. I've never been a huge Zito fan and Sonnanstine is a rookie on a bad team. Good skills, but he's going to have ups and down like many others. He's the same, if not a little worse than McGowan. The difference between the pitchers doesn't make up for the difference between Sheffield and Thomas.

As long as I am waxing poetic about "The Sopranos," my favorite character was Paulie, with Christopher a close second. But the scene where A.J.'s girlfriend ran out of the car made her this week's highest mover on the player rater.

My least favorite was Janice, followed by the bald chef guy whose name I always block out cause he drives me nuts. And the "Pine Barrens" episode is my favorite.

I should talk some actual baseball now.

Just saying …

… That after last night's start, Dustin McGowan has five quality starts in a row and his ERA over that span is 3.25.

… That it was good to see Jeremy Accardo nail down the save Wednesday night. He needed it. I believe in him long term, as you know. Have for a long time. But I would definitely pick up Casey Janssen in any league where middle relievers help.

… That Adam Wainwright's ERA over his last five starts is 2.43. And the Cards are starting to heat up.

… That Yovani Gallardo has been called up by the Brewers and you want him. A 2.91 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 110 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings pitched in Triple-A this year is why. With the Brewers' offense and bullpen behind him, the future is bright for Vani. (I call him Vani.)

… That you might not know what Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols and Vladimir Guerrero, among many others, have in common. None of them has as many home runs this year as Ken Griffey Jr. In fact, as of this writing, only four players in all of major league baseball have more. Why is no one talking about this?

… That since May 1, Wilson Betemit has six home runs in 51 at-bats and is batting .294.

… That Kevin Kouzmanoff is hitting .303 since May 1.

… That on Wednesday, Mark Reynolds played third base, Chad Tracy played first base and Conor Jackson was the DH. Jackson hit a home run and he needed it. You haven't seen the last of this.

… That Alex Rodriguez hit home run No. 25 on Wednesday. He is on pace for 64, but that's very misleading, due to his crazy April. His career high is 57. Then 52. Then 48. Sell very high. You're only getting 25 more home runs or so out of him, 30 at the most. That's about six or seven per month, which is good, in line with his career numbers, but it's not a 64-HR pace. There are a lot of other players out there who are going to hit more than 25 home runs from this point forward. And if you get one of those guys plus a really solid second player, you're in high cotton.

… That Byung-Hyun Kim now has 27 strikeouts in 31 innings since joining the Marlins. It's playing with fire, but if you need strikeouts in a deep leagues, there you go.

… That after a bunch of musical chairs, Nate Ravitz and I will be the permanent hosts of the daily Fantasy Focus podcast. We tape it every morning at 9:30, it's usually pretty funny and it's up by 10:30 a.m. ET, 11:00 at the latest. You ought to give it a listen sometime.

Cyberstalk the TMR



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