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Thursday, June 4, 2009
Fantasy World: Baseballapalooza!


You looked so focused, what happened?

It's a scientific fact that 1994 was a great year for music. (And not just because it marked the end of the first phase of New Kids on the Block.) Forget the actual charts—the top-selling album was, hilariously, The Sign by Ace of Base—and just look at the list of albums released that pivotal year: Superunknown, Vitalogy, The Downward Spiral, Weezer's blue album, Jar of Flies, Throwing Copper, Unplugged in New York, Dookie … I could go on and on. Oh wait, I did.

Fifteen years later, many of those mid-90s "alternative" bands are back in the news. Weezer and Blink 182 have announced a summer tour. Marilyn Manson and Green Day both just released new albums to not-so-bad reviews. And Pearl Jam was Conan's first musical guest on the new Leno-less Tonight Show. So as a celebration of that vital year, oh so long ago, let's take a look at some of this year's high impact Fantasy World performers and find their '94 album equivalent.

Rick Porcello is Weezer's blue album Like Weezer's out-of-nowhere stellar debut album, Porcello's year has caught nearly everyone off-guard. Everyone knew he had talent—he was projected to be taken in the first few picks of the 2007 draft, before Scott Boras frightened everyone away—but anyone who thought Porcello would catch onto major league hitting this quickly (6-3, 3.70 ERA) is lying directly to your face.

Roy Halladay is Alice in Chains' Jar of Flies Alice in Chains were always among the second tier of Seattle-based bands. Maybe unfairly. They were always in the conversation, but had nowhere near the following of Nirvana or Pearl Jam. But this short seven-song EP of theirs was transcendent, one of the hidden gems of the 90s. In the same way, no matter how perfectly Halladay pitches, he still can't get that "household name" status. This year, the big pitching story has been the emergence of Zack Greinke; completely justifiable since he's sporting a 1.10 ERA and is a daily quote-machine to boot. But Halladay's quietly having the best season of his HOF-caliber career. Look at these ridiculous projections: He's on pace to win 27 games, strike out 246 batters and post a 2.77 ERA along with a 1.044 WHIP. (That's a Bob Welch year!) Of course, he's also on pace to pitch 273 innings, which would be the most since Dave Stewart's 275 innings for Oakland back in 1988. Maybe that's why Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell stopped at seven songs; perfection is an elusive animal.

B.J. Upton is The Smashing Pumpkins' Pisces Iscariot A disappointing follow-up to Siamese Dream (these are B-sides for a reason). At least there was that cover of "Landslide". In the same way, at least Upton has 15 stolen bases despite sub-par performances in every other category. He'll come back around, but a Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness bounce-back may be asking too much.

Josh Hamilton is The Offspring's Smash Remember that trade I tried justifying? Didn't turn out how I expected. Since coming to my team, Hamilton's hit .247 with five HRs and 16 RBIs. The batters I sent in return meanwhile (Paul Konerko and Travis Hafner) are hitting a combined .278 with 4 HRs and 22 RBIs. Which wouldn't be so bad, until you consider (a) Hamilton is back on the DL and probably out for two months; (b) I also traded Erik Bedard, who is 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA and 38 Ks since the trade. But how is Hamilton like Smash? Because after looking back at the trade, that's all I want to do.

Jered Weaver is Green Day's Dookie After years of middling around with low-fi punk demos, Green Day finally hooked up with a real producer in Rob Cavallo and broke out in a big way. Weaver, meanwhile, seems to have finally taken that jump with a 5-2 record, a sparkling 2.26 ERA, and 63 strikeouts in 75 innings. His unsustainable .239 BABIP is bound to come back down a bit—like Green Day's follow-up, Insomniac— but this year is evidence that he's not going to follow in his brother's disappointing footsteps.As you'll recall from the single "Closer", the album had some of the more explicit lyrics out there, which were made all the more disconcerting by hearing them spoken aloud by my mother. This is the same nauseous feeling those who wasted a high pick on either Quentin or Ramirez have right now.

Carlos Quentin and Alexei Ramirez are Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral NIN's The Downward Spiral was released when I was in 8th grade, a time when my parents maintained a rule that I could buy any CD I wanted as long as it didn't have a "Parental Advisory: Explicit Content" sticker. Being a rebel, I snuck a copy of Spiral past them. But being an 8th grader, they found out right away. Their punishment was that I had to sell the CD; fair enough. But before I took the CD to Discount Records, they sat me down and read some select lyrics out loud. As you'll recall from the single "Closer", the album had some of the more explicit lyrics out there, which were made all the more disconcerting by hearing them spoken aloud by my mother. This is the same nauseous feeling those who wasted a high pick on either Quentin or Ramirez have right now.

Milton Bradley is Spin Doctors' Turn It Upside Down The Spin Doctors' follow-up to their 5-times-over platinum album Pocket Full of Kryptonite—based mostly on that whole "Two Princes" nonsense— is just like Milton Bradley in that it has just about as many hits. Which is to say, not many.

David Wright is Stone Temple Pilots' Purple Like the album's title—which is only found in Chinese lettering on the lower left corner of the cover—the play of Wright has been nearly indecipherable. Is he a .321 hitter? (An outrageous BABIP of .435 makes me think not.) Or a hitter on-pace to hit nine home runs? (If he hits less than 20, I'd be shocked.) And what's with already being caught stealing seven times so far? That ties a career high. Essentially he's a fairly decent hitter this year, not the All-World talent that we've come to expect. If an opposing owner still treats him as such, sell high.

Raul Ibanez is Pearl Jam's Vitalogy Following the one-two punch of the stadium anthem-heavy Ten and the grunge heavy Vs. would be tough for any band, so there's no wonder Pearl Jam lost many fans with this somewhat-experimental release. In the same way, Ibanez's thought-to-be outrageous contract with the Phillies soured some fantasy owners on him during the draft. But just look at those stats: .340 with 19 HRs, 51 RBIs and 44 runs. Not to mention he's slugging an insane .716. I've said it before: Real world contracts have nothing to do with the Fantasy World. (Just look at Juan Pierre.) Oh, and go ahead and give Vitalogy another try. It's not that bad, despite what Bill Simmons says.

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Player on My Team of the Week: Ben Francisco, who had one of those great weeks he has every once in awhile that justifies his roster spot, hit .478 with a HR, six RBIs, four runs and a pair of swiped bases.

How to Heckle One of My Players of the Week: "Hey Nom-ah! I guess in this case DL stands for Dropped Loser."

Best Star Trek-Related Video Art of the Week: Khaaan!, a 15-minute film by video artist Daniel Martinico that features nothing but an endless loop of William Shatner delivering the famous line from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. For your viewing pleasure, here's a two-minute sample.

Buy High: Striped shirts and jeans coming back in style, after Universal announced it purchased the rights to make a movie based on the "Where's Waldo?" series of books.

Sell Low: The high art of a perfectly executed Thomas Crown-style burglary, after a robber walked into a Nebraska convenience store and stole a pack of cigarettes, his only disguise -- an empty Bud Light carton on his head.