World Baseball is No Classic

I’m as jingoistic as the next guy (assuming his face is painted red, white and blue) when it comes to international sporting events. During the Olympics, I check the medal count at least four times a day and figure out in my head how many trips to the podium the USA is likely to make by Games end. If we can grab a bronze in canoe/kayaking and capture at least two medals in women’s boxing — hey, some of our gals can punch — then China has no shot at catching us.     

But for some reason — actually, many reasons – the World Baseball Classic does not grab me by my patriotic lapels. Sure, I rooted for the USA (although, admittedly, I did not watch a single inning of our games), but I’m not disheartened by their elimination loss the other night to Puerto Rico. I should be over it in, oh, about five seconds.

There. That feels much better.

I think the WBC is  a nice idea and it clearly has fans in Japan, South Korea, the Dominican and Mexico excited. But for me, it’s a distraction from Spring Training, which I hold sacred. It’s the one time of year when the Mets have yet to lose a regular season game, less than 20% of the projected Opening Day roster is injured, marginal players like Colin Cowgill and Matt denn Dekkar (why was he not playing for the Netherlands in the WBC?) have me fooled into thinking they’re future All-Stars, and I can still fantasize about a third place finish. Other than that — which is a pretty big that  if you’re a Mets fan who is dreading the start of the regular season  — here are five other reasons why I’m not enthralled by the WBC:

1) I see WBC and I  think World Boxing Council. Every time. I spent the early part of my career in public relations in and around the sweet science. If you know anything about the World Boxing Council, you hear WBC and you have bad thoughts. Greed. Corruption. Don King. Maybe I need counseling, but that’s what rattles around in my head.

2) David Wright is injured. I knew this would happen. It’s what all the naysayers, players, managers and media alike, bitch about. What if guys get hurt or endure too much wear and tear on their arms and legs even before the season starts? Now Captain America, the Mets $138 million man, is likley to miss Opening Day. Probably much longer, I bet, or my name isn’t Whining Cynical Mets Fan. Of course, Wright could just have easily injured himself in Port St. Lucie trying to carry this sorry ass team on his back, but the WBC is an easy target. And I can’t blame the Mets for all of their problems. Somebody else has to be contributing to their misery now and then, right? You know, like Satan. Or a fraternity of  Yankee loving witch doctors.

3) The USA does not bring its best team —  for a variety of reasons, some good, some not so good.  That will not likely change in four years, eight years, etc. I don’t like watered down beer or watered down ballclubs. Unless it’s the Mets. In which case, I have no choice. Cheers!

4) March Madness. NFL free agency. NBA and NHL playoff stretch runs. World Figure Skating Championships. Finals weeks of the World Cup Luge season. Just too much going on, so little attention span to go around.

5) The Netherlands advanced further than the USA. That’s the Netherlands. As in soccer. And speed skating. And tulips. Yeah, I know, Bert Blyleven. And lots of talent from Curacao. But still — the Dutch? Having a better tournament than us? Sorry.

Start the regular season already. For me, it’s Flushing or bust.

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The Bourn Conspiracy

The Mets opened camp for pitchers and catchers on Monday and already my head is spinning with cynical, skeptical thoughts. It’s only mid February so by April, I should be curled up in a corner somewhere muttering to myself about blown saves, passed balls, bases loaded strikeouts, and torn labrums.

Here’s what has me pissing vinegar right out of the gate:

  • The Mets “lose out” on Michael Bourn to the Indians — allegedly, because they would not give Bourn a vesting option on a fifth year. I say “allegedly,” because last week, their reluctance to signing Bourn, who would have provided them with at least one true major league starter in the outfield, was that they would surrender the rights to their first round pick, thanks to a ridiculous quirk in the collective bargaining agreement that enables sorry franchises like the Pirates for being cheap and risk averse.  But this week, after being outspent by the Indians —  which is kind of like being outdone in a hot dog eating contest by a runway model — there was nary a word about the draft pick. Only the fifth year option.  Frankly, I think it’s all a smokescreen. The Mets should actually thank the Pirates and the Indians for gift wrapping them with a pair of convenient excuses for not pulling the trigger on Bourn, who has much of what the Mets covet: speed, a glove, a high on base percentage — experience, even!. So here’s why the Mets will instead enter the season with the punchless platoon of Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Collin Cowgill (who is he?) in centerfield: they had no intention of spending anywhere close to $48 million on Michael Bourn. Or anyone else for that matter, with the exception of David Wright, who they really had no choice but to re-sign at an inflated, but understandable, price.  Just as they had no intention of signing Jose Reyes last year. They simply made a long, drawn-out show of chasing Bourn to appease their frustrated, suffering fans. Trust me: I’ve worked in PR most of my life. I know how these things work.   
  • Yesterday, Mets owner Fred Wilpon shows up in Port St. Lucie and merrily declares that he’s all but free of debt (yes, and Nebraska is free of corn) and ready to start spending again.  Huh? Kind of strange that Fred would say this after what happened with Bourn.  Actually, it makes a lot of sense. Wilpon is under no obligation to spend this spring, as there is nothing left to buy — unless the Mets are looking for more 40-year-old retreads to mold away on their bench. And next year, with the onerous, bloated contracts of Jason Bay and Johan Santana (assuming his absurd vesting option does not kick in) coming off the books, he’ll have plenty of cash on hand (especially if he finds a way to open that gambling casino in Flushing, which of course is not a sign of  a man who needs to enhance his cash flow. No, not at all).  So keep talking Fred. We all know talk is cheap. Especially with interest rates so low.
  • Predictably, Frank Francisco, the latest installment of failed Mets closers, shows up in Florida with an ailment. Good to see he took care of himself this off season. That’s what you get when you hand $12 million over to a guy who is not worth half that. Maybe he just doesn’t give a crap, nor should he, considering he has little talent and probably lives like a sultan. So . . . the Mets start floating the preposterous (frightening, actually) idea that Bobby Parnell will step back into the closer role. Which is kind of like saying Manti Te’o will be opening a new match.com account real soon. I realize the Mets have slim pickins to choose from, but what have they seen over the past two years that leads the to believe that Parnell should be handed a baseball anytime past the seventh inning? Try Brandon Lyon. or Jheurys Familia. Or maybe Armando Benitez is out there for the taking.   Just don’t make us suffer the indignity of more Bobby Parnell blown saves.

It’s only February, for heaven’s sake! 

 

 

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Hall of Shame

It was quite predictable that the Hall of Fame voters pitched  a shutout last week. Unfortunate, but predictable.

I’m not shedding any tears for Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa. They deserve to be left out in the cold — at least for the next 50 years.

But I have a number of questions for the voters,  many of whom will need a healthy supply of Lubriderm to heal they chafing they induced by patting themselves on the back all week. They seem to think the system works. Sort of, but not really.

So. . .

1) Why was Craig Biggio not a first ballot inductee? If anyone was to reach the required 75% ths year, it should have been Biggio, unquestionably one of the greatest second baseman in history. If the big boys were not going to get in, then you’d think more than enough voters would want to ensure that someone deserving would be standing at the podium in Cooperstown next summer.

2) What do you know about Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza that uncredentialed blogger pond scum like me does not? Yes, I’ve heard the steroid rumors all these years about both guys. Maybe they’re true, maybe not. If I had to guess between the two, I’d say Bagwell, considering how quickly he seemed to morph into a monster slugger. But, hey, I’m a bit biased, especially about Piazza, because he was one of my alltime favorite Mets.  To me, the arc of his a career seemed more normal and predictable — especially for an All-Star catcher — than freaks like Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire.   But unless you know a lot more than I do, it’s just not fair to keep guys out based on innuendo. Both received more than 50% and there’s a decent shot at least one of them will be inducted within the next 3-5 years. But unless you got the goods on them, stop the whispering, don’t make them sweat, and give them their just reward.

3) Do you guys really abide by the Hall’s guidelines of considering a candidate’s integrity and moral fiber?  If so, then why did Clemens and Bonds receive more than a third of the votes? Either stick to the rules or scrap them and vote strictly based on performance. Clearly, that’s what many voters believe, at least in the case of Clemens and Bonds, who established their Hall of Fame creds long before their alleged PED use.

4) If Fred McGriff had seven more homers, would you have voted him in?  How could you shut out a guy with 500 homers and  a clean reputation?  You can’t. But because he was stuck at 493, he hasn’t been close. Maybe voters saw his totals as a ho-hum considering the power surge of the 90’s and early 00’s. But now that we know the truth, why is McGriff still an afterthought for Hall voters?

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How the Mets Caused (and Cured) My Writer’s Block

With 2012 drawing to a close, and my small but devoted legion of fans crying for one last blast of sarcastic, caustic, cynical bile about the Mets before the calendar turns, I have emerged from my long but somewhat unplanned hiatus to accommodate my loyal followers.

The reason I have not written since mid-September, if you so care, had little to do with a scarcity of material.  The Mets provided plenty of inspiration, right through to the questionable (yes, questionable) trade of R.A. Dickey. Nor was I gravely ill or otherwise indisposed. Sadly, there were a few nights when my intention to write was boxed out by my desire to imbibe. Truth be told, I can’t effectively drink and write, which I suppose exposes me as some kind of fraud, as sports bloggers go, but so be it.  And contrary to accusations from some who know too much about my unhealthy passion for the Flushing Nine, I had not given up on my team. Hell, no. Not after 44 seasons marked largely by fits and frustration — with a few miracles sprinked in to keep me engaged.

charliebrownsigh

The fact is, I had a wicked streak of writer’s block. Much to say, but unable to express. A constipation of the mind that no mental laxative could readily ease.  Blogging is supposed to an easy fix for this ancient malady, correct? You just grab your laptop or iPad and unload your thoughts, observations, mutterings, blatherings. I have a healthy supply of all. But I just. . . couldn’t. . . put . . .two. . .sentences. . .or. . .words. . . together. Too many distractions. Other priorities. The fear that maybe nobody would listen?   Who knows. And who cares. I really need  a drink.

Heh. Just kidding.

So —  how did I finally emerge from my “creative”  doldrums to craft one last (or maybe next to last if we’re all so blessed) blast of steam before 2013 arrives? For starters, I’m not working this week and at the moment, stone sober. I also heard a little voice in my head while going for an unusually clear-minded run earlier this week. It sounded like a cross between Woody Allen and Larry David (annoying, but effective), harping that I was in danger of losing my status, albeit questionable, as a baseball blogger if I did not get my ass back to the keyboard and offer something of substance or a close facsimile thereof. Anything. Just to break the ice.

So for  a variety of dubious reasons, ranging from voices in my head to a brief encounter with sobriety, Off the Foul Pole is off the respirator (which is more than I can say for the Mets’ outfield — more on that shortly). At least until the cobwebs begin to form once again in the part of the brain that controls nasty, cynical thoughts about your favorite baseball team.

Okay, enough of my self diagnosis. You came here to delight in my ruminations about the Mets recent moves and non-moves, however, you may be a bit disappointed as I’ve arrived to the game in the proverbial bottom of the eighth inning. I mean, how much more can be said about Wright, Dickey and such that hasn’t already been offered and beaten around like a punch-drunk eight-round club fighter with two bad eyes?

Well, let me give it a shot, in 200 words or less:

Dickey was one of my all-time favorite Mets. He defied all odds by winning the Cy Young. And he’s a good man, which counts for something in baseball and most other pursuits (except politics). Without him, the Mets win 60 games, finish last and are totally irrelevant after Santana’s no-hitter. I  get why the Mets traded him. They can’t really afford him — not after handing Fort Knox to Wright –and jumped at the chance to get some  top tier prospects and build for the future.  But I’m highly skeptical of any move the Mets make. Sorry, but the Jason Bay train wreck has me a bit skittish, not to mention all the other bad decisions  over the past 6-7 years –actually the better part of the past 40 years, but  I don’t have time to dig that deep into the muck.   Travis D’Arnaud may turn out to be the next Buster Posey or Mike Piazza. And Noah Syndegaard may be a flame-throwing stud in a few years. But my tongue is not wagging like most of the media who hailed this trade as a no-brainer.  Bill Madden of the Daily News,  who is one of my favorite baseball scribes, was making comparisons to the Gary Carter trade and I’m thinking, are you kidding me? Carter was practicaly a Hall of Famer by the time he reached Flushing. And he was surrounded by a lot more talent than the current group. To me, D’Arnaud is a guy, a prospect, who’s been in the minors for six years, is coming off knee surgery and was laid up two years ago with back problems. Yes, I’m a bit suspect about this prospect. So ask me in 3-4 years if I really like this trade. Maybe my opinion will have shifted by then.

The Wright signing was a no-brainer, although they overpaid for him and both parties will likely be unsatisfied with the state of things within four years. Long term deals involving 30-plus All Stars never work out well over the length of the contract. Besides, Wright can’t carry a team, so I trust the Mets will build  talent around him that will complement his considerable skills and lay the foundation for a championship club. I use the use the word trust in a highly aspirational manner because I hardly believe what  I just wrote.  Wright had a plenty of leverage being the only marketable player (with the Mets pretty much intent on unloading Dickey all along) on a struggling team desperately in need of maintaining some star power over the next five years while it attempts to rebuild. Again, a reasonable approach,  if you’re Oakland, or Baltimore, or Tampa, which I guess the Mets have become, minus the recent success (hah, small detail!).

Aside from Dickey and Wright, it’s maddening (but not surprising, really) that the Mets have not yet addressed other pressing needs. Then again, they would need three off-seasons to do so. Do they have any intention of shoring up an outfield that ranks among the worst (the worst?) in baseball?  And how about the bullpen, which has been water-boarding every Mets fan for much of the last decade? If it was me in Sandy Alderson’s chair, I would nuke the entire group and start all over. They can’t possibly think they can roll out Frank Francisco (coming off elbow surgery, which is a scary thought), and Jon Rauch, and Bobby Parnell, and Josh Edgin, and any number of guys named Ramirez, and think the fans won’t at sometime storm the field and riot! I know that sounds extreme (even for a guy who hears voices in his head) but that’s how I feel when I watch one guy after another pour kerosene on late inning leads. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, “Mr. Alderson, tear down this bullpen!”

Okay, I went way over my 200-word limit, but that sure felt good. I should do this more often.

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Davey’s Second Act, the Next Mantle, and Other Feel Good Stories of 2012

Davey Johnson: who could have predicted such a successful second act?

The 2012 season is far from over with every AL divisional race up for grabs and 8-10 teams still in the thick of the wildcard races. But regardless of what transpires between now and the end of October, here is what most impressed me in what has been an interesting, if not remarkable, season.

Jersey Guy: about two months ago, I noted to a friend that Mike Trout reminded of Lenny Dykstra, but a better all-around hitter. Boy, did I speak too soon. What a misinformed comment that was. He’s more like Mantle and Mays, a five-tooler if there ever was one. Honestly, I almost forgot Albert Pujols was playing for the Angels, that’s how compelling this young guy from Jersey has been. I’m not sure how a 20-year-old can be this good and I don’t know how much better he can be. Will he be another Mickey or Willie or will he settle in and be more of  a Fred Lynn?  Not offense to Lynn, king of the 23-homer season and  a very fine player, but I’m hoping Trout takes our breath away for the next 10-15 years.

Davey Johnson for President: 26 years after leading the Mets to their last World Series title, Johnson is leading the Nationals to . . . who knows? Davey was all but forgotten until he took over the Nats last season. At the time, he figured to be a just  a caretaker until they  found someone more permanent.  Well, he’s  a caretaker like Jack McKeon was a caretaker for the Marlins back in 2003 — and we know how that turned out. Johnson has handled this talented young team with remarkable skill and balance, especially with the specter of Stephen Strasburg’s shutdown hanging over the team for much of the season. I don’t know how much  a role Johnson played in the handling of Strasburg (probably less than his agent, Scott Boras), and I don’t know if it was the right decision,  but if he can get this team deep into the post-season without his young ace, then he will impress me even more than he has thus far. It’s not  a stretch to say he is the most effective leader in our nation’s capitol. 

Buck’s O’s: Across the Beltway from Johnson, here’s a skipper  who has done what Bobby Valentine could not: return to the bigs, annoying, acerbic attitude and all, and find success once again. The fact that Showalter has done it with the O’s,  perhaps baseball’s worst run team over the past 15 years (and who last went to the post-season under with Davey Johnson at the helm), is all the more impressive. I thought his team would fold by the All-Star break, but Buck has kept on the Yankees’ tails right to the end. As for Bobby V, he will be  highlighted in my next post: those that have impressed me the least in 2012. 

R.A. Dickey: Imagine how bad this Mets season would be without their ace knuckleballer? Don’t answer that question, please. He’s the only reason to pay attention to this otherwise irrelevant team, which once again has imploded in the second half. Although he’s cooled off  a bit since his torrid pace in June and July, Dickey is still a leading candidate for the Cy Young Award (Seaver, Gooden, Dickey  — I love the way that sounds). I think if he’s right there with the other leading contenders (Gonzalez, Cueto, Cain), he should get the nod. The other day, John Harper of the New York Daily News suggested that  some voters may hold it against Dickey because he’s a knuckler. Anyone who feels that way has it all wrong. No knuckleballer has ever won the award (Phil Niekro and Wilbur Wood finished second in the voting in 1969 and 1972, respectively), and for good reason: there are so few people on this planet who can even throw the damn pitch, let alone possess great command of it. Dickey should get extra consideration for what he’s accomplished, especially at the ripe age of 37.  Not to mention pitching for team with an anemic offense, leaky bullpen and swiss cheese defense.

The Captain: another 200-hit season, the eighth of his career. Hitting near .330 and still in contention for the AL batting title. Clutch hit after clutch hit. This is the guy who looked like he was fading fast three years ago? By the end of next season, Derek Jeter should be no worse than sixth on the all-time hits list. Realistically, he should end his career in the top three, behind Rose and Cobb. And is it crazy to think he can even pass Rose before he hangs up his Pinstripes? Far less crazy than the rant by blowhard Skip Bayless, who last month suggested that maybe Jeter was spiking his Gatorade with banned substances.   I can do nothing but tip my hat (yes, a Mets cap) to Jeter, for playing at the highest level, with class and dignity, year in and year out. Take a hike, Skip. Save your hot air and cynicism for mere mortals.

Philly Revival: It hurts me to write this, but I (begrudgingly) have no shortage of respect for Charley Manuel and his team.  Their best days have passed, but hold off on the funeral just yet. All season long they struggle, in part to injuries, in part to sluggish play.   But here we are, mid-September, and they’re in the hunt for wildcard. There’s just too much fight in this team (and too much pitching).  It’s really no surprise that as September approached, they went one way and the Mets went another. Despite the Mets winning seven of nine in Philly this year, these two teams are still far apart — in talent and character.     

Billy Ball: Just when we were starting to write off Money Ball as a noble but fading model for building a winning ballclub, here are Billy Beane’s cash-strapped Oakland A’s pushing the two-time defending AL champion Rangers and their high salaried All-Star lineup right down to the wire. One look at the A’s lineup — primarily a bunch of punchless .240 and .250 hitters — and a pitching rotation that discarded two All-Stars (Cahill, Gonzalez) in the off season, and you wonder how this team is playing as well as anyone down the stretch. Pitching. Defense. Steady  bullpen. And most importantly, sound management. But I still don’t get it.

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Escaping to the Past

After Johan Santana suffered one of the worst outings of his career last night against the Braves, and with the promise that his June 1 no-hitter (did that really happen?) and the Mets inspired first half play melting away into the humid, putrid air of another endless New York summer, it feels like a good time for me to escape to the past, to a time when things in Flushing were innocent and beckoning for better days to come.

Perhaps I could drink heavily and watch “Mets Yearbook” on SNY at 3:00 AM, but that would be more depressing than watching the final six weeks of this season circle the drain (speaking of Flushing).  So I must thank Michael Hnatov, a very talented photographer and lifelong Mets fan from Long island for sending me this photo of a very young Tom Seaver (circa 1967 or ’68)  that he shot from the stands before a game  that he attended with his dad at Shea.

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Michael Hnatov photo

I love this photo because it makes you think and wonder and imagine. That’s the joy of great photography. What’s running through Seaver’s mind? I doubt  it’s about the post-game buffet or the most recent episode of I Dream of Jeannie.  More likely, he’s wondering how he’s going to pitch to Mays or Aaron or Clemente or Brock.  And if  it is his rookie season, he has more than 300 wins and 3500+ strikeouts to record, three Cy Young Awards and the Miracle of ’69 – could he have imagined what lay ahead? He looks like an innocent kid, not the bulldog of an ace who would terrorize major league hitters for the next two decades.  But looks are deceiving. Witness his plaque in Cooperstown.

It’s nice to get lost in a memory like this. sometimes, all it takes is a simple photo taken by a young, wide-eyed fan, and your whisked away, far from the doldrums of another lost season.

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Classless in Kansas City

It’s rare that I use this space to defend the honor of a Yankee. In fact this may be the first time. But after what happened in Kansas City last night during the Home Run Derby, I have to change my (Pin)stripes —  at least for today.

Robinson Cano was mercilessly jeered by the home crowd when he took his swings in the Derby. The fact that he failed to hit one out, to the delight of the crowd, made the whole scene increasingly uncomfortable. Cano’s crime (other than wearing Pinstripes)? As captain of the AL Derby team, he declined to pick rising hometown star, Billy Butler. I understand the disappointment of the Royals’ fans; they’ve had little to cheer about over the past 27 years and were hoping their guy would get a share of the spotlight and give them reason to boast. But Cano instead went with Prince Fielder, Jose Bautista, and Mark Trumbo. No argument there. In fact, he also passed on Adam Dunn (25 HR’s) and Edwin Encarnacion (23 HR’s). Butler is having  a nice season with 16 HR’s thus far, but I have yet to meet anyone who has mistaken him for Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays.

The KC faithful could have expressed their displeasure with a quick opening boo to Cano and left it at that. To razz him all night — especially with his dad on the mound pitching —   was just plain classless. You don’t boo at an All-Star game. Even Philly fans know that!  I have no doubt they’ll do it again tonight, even though he’s playing for the home team. They’ll probably even cast their aspersions on Derek Jeter and the rest of the Yankees in attendance. That should hopefully cement baseball’s decision not to award KC another All-Star Game for at least another 50 years. By that time, maybe they’ll have won another pennant and won’t find the need to invest all of their emotions into  a home-run hitting contest.      

Speaking of the Home Run Derby: maybe it’s about time that Chris Berman hand over the reigns to someone else? I love watching him during football season, he was the best Sporstcenter host ever, and he does bring a lot of passion and energy to All-Star Week. But his act has grown soooooooo old! Does he have to get apoplectic over every bomb that lands in the upper deck, plops in a fountain, or bounds off the scoreboard? Can you imagine him next year calling the action at Citi Field. Every time the Mets home run apple pops up, he’ll shout for all to hear, from Flushing to Bayside, “And here comes the Apple! Again! It’s apple picking season for Prince Fielder!”  Spare me, please.    

I save my final vent of the day for Tony LaRussa. As if I wasn’t annoyed enough with David Wright’s snub by the fans — specifically Giants fans, who stuffed the ballot box for Roberto Sandoval and Buster Posey, thereby denying the more deserving Wright and Carlos Ruiz of  their rightful place as starters — now R.A. Dickey gets dissed in favor of another Giant, Matt Cain. I think Cain is certainly deserving of a starting nod, especially with his perfect game still fresh in our minds. But Dickey really has been the best pitcher in the NL this season, despite some recent shaky starts.  And the fact that he’s the only man on the planet who can tantalize major league ballplayers with  a baseball thrown from the knuckles, an almost extinct breed that may never again get even a whiff of an All-Star starting nod, I think LaRussa over-analyzed this one — surprise, surprise. Despite his eccentricities, LaRussa was one of the game’s great managers and deserves the honor tonight of leading the NL team. And I know he’s confident enough to make as many “I’m-right-and-damn-all-the-naysayers” decisons as he’d like (case in point: 2011 World Series), but he missed an opportunity to make tonight’s game all the more intriguing and reward Dickey, one of the game’s great rags-to-riches stories, with his moment in the sun (or klieg lights). A KC boo for you, Tony.

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