Thursday, February 26, 2009

I Guess The New Coach Hates Country...

"Coach wants to see you. Bring your playbooks. And your moustaches."

Brooks, Dunn released by Tampa Bay...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lerner's Permit

I used to play fantasy baseball with a guy a lot like Jim Bowden. He was great to have in the league, in large part because he was about as willing a trade partner as you could find this side of the East India Company. He traded and churned his roster incessantly, and if you entered into negotiations with him, all you had to do was wait him out because sooner or later he'd propose a combination that you could live with.

This made for some interesting deals, but not a lot of upper-division finishes, and for the longest time I couldn't understand why he played the way he did. Then, finally, I figured it out.

He wasn't interested in winning. He was interested in looking smart. Every deal, every transaction was a chance to show off how clever he was. The macro didn't matter, and he was incapable of cohering his various moves into a long-term strategy. But each trade he made, he had to "win", and let you know he'd won, and have people tell him how clever he'd been.

That's Jim Bowden. He's completely failed to put together a team. He's made some good trades and interesting signings, but they don't fit together, and he's failed to deal from strength or address weaknesses. But each of those individual deals - for Milledge and Dukes and Willingham and whoever - is clever, right? Each of them by itself was a pretty good move.

As for the Dominican bonus scandal, well, that sounds like a guy trying to be too clever, too. The money, ultimately, couldn't have been the real incentive, not with the money that's floating around for successful GMs these days. No, it had to be the feeling of getting away with something, with getting one over on the system. Was it conducive to building a good team? No, but that's tomorrow's problem. Today was all about getting away with it.

He's probably not going to be getting away with it any more. There aren't going to be many more of those momentary victories. And the franchise he was entrusted with will be, at the end of the day, not very good as a result of all of his efforts.

Here's hoping the Lerners do the right thing, for their business' sake. Get rid of Bowden - his track record certainly mandates it. Let someone new come in to clean up the mess. Someone dedicated to teambuilding. Someone who can plan long-term. Someone who, at the end of the day, doesn't constantly need to be told he's clever.

In Other News...

...Brett Favre has not yet announced his unretirement.

The clock, however, is ticking.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Uncool kid

Alex Rodriguez' real problem isn't PEDs. It's that he isn't cool. The cool kids get away with this stuff. Think about Jason Giambi, all golden thongs and tats and almost-confessions that let us pretend he's come clean so we can love him again. But the uncool kids - the jerks like Bonds and the bullies like Clemens and the sanctimonious teachers' pets like Raffy Palmiero - they don't get away with it. In the court of public opinion, ultimately they're tried for being uncool, and that's when they really get hammered.

So consider A-Rod. When he came up with the Mariners, he was the overachieving nerd, the gawky, hyper-talented kid on a team that already had its smiling, beloved face in Ken Griffey, Jr. He wasn't cool; Griffey sucked up most of the cool in the room, and what was left went to the glowering but personable Randy Johnson. A-Rod was the grind, the kid all the cool kids went to for help with their homework. Big Unit racked up strikeouts, Junior leapt over the wall to take away homers, and A-Rod was the baseball equivalent of the study-hound, quietly excelling in the shadow of the more popular kids.

When his free agency rolled around, that was the defining moment for Rodriguez' coolness. He could have established himself as cool if he'd stayed in Seattle, pledged his loyalty to one team and let the narrative be written for him. Loyal player, wants to win with the team that signed him, blah blah blah - the writers would have made him a hero. Or, if he'd signed with the Cubs, or the Yankees, or the Red Sox - one of the grand old "tradition" franchises - that would have been a story, and potentially could have cemented him as a Schilling-esque "student of the game".

But no, he chased the dollars down in Texas, forever branding himself the two-faced greedhead who lied about wanting to stay in Seattle while going for the big bucks. Never mind that's what me or thee might do - getting paid epic gobs of money to move to a more favorable work environment? Where do I sign? - it was an uncool thing to do. The contract made him an easy target, but the die had been cast. He was all about the money, and visible greed, without lip service to tradition or loyalty or "the chance to win" is uncool.

The botched trade to the Red Sox and the subsequent arrival in New York? More of the same. Never mind that he was willing to take less scratch to go to Boston; that didn't fit the narrative, so it got ignored. Instead, it was all about not caring which "side" in the rivalry he landed on, and then, the worst thing possible:

Landing in New York, playing the same position as Captain Jetes.

Derek Jeter, you see, is cool. Really cool. And he did exactly what the cool kids have been doing to the uncool kids since time immemorial - he picked on A-Rod. Forced him to acknowledge Jeter's dominance, sandbagged him in the media, withheld support at key moments, and made it clear that nobody else was supposed to like A-Rod either.

It didn't help that A-Rod wanted to be cool, which meant wanting Jeter to like him - a sucker bet if ever there were one. He agreed to slide to third base, despite the fact that he was the superior defender at short, but got no credit for the move - or for improving Jeter's defense. And he waited for Jeter to come to his defense over the post-season nonsense when it was never in Jeter's interest to do so. After all, making A-Rod cool would have diminished Jeter's own standing as the coolest kid in school, the queen bee of the Yankee scene's mean girls.

And yet, Rodriguez kept trying, as if he wanted to be cool but didn't know how. Dating Madonna? That's cool, right. Well, it might have been when Jose Canseco did it, but Madonna's coolness factor has long since passed its sell-by date. But it's what Madonna stood for that Rodriguez was after, anyway, the trophy that signified he'd made it past the velvet rope into a place that neither his money nor his stats could ever get him. It's sad to watch. Behind every over-calculated move is one eternally burning question: "Will this get people to like me?"

The answer, for now and always, is no.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Concerning the recent BC-Duke Men's Basketball Clash...

I got my MA from Boston College.

I live in Durham, NC.

Life is good.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Math Is Hard, Continued

Among the breathless state-of-the-game pronouncements in the latest Sporting News is this one:

"almost half of baseball's 30 teams fall below the average rank of 62nd in in-market fan loyalty"

Or, if you want to put it another way, "more than half of them rate above average."


On the other hand, the interview in this week's issue with Shaquille O'Neal is a revelation - sharp, funny, honest and revealing.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Screw You, Tom Hicks

Considering all of the crooked dealings surrounding Tom Hicks' purchase of the Texas Rangers - and if you don't believe me, look up things like "the Arlington Sports Facilities Development Authority" and "UTIMCO" - for him to utter sanctimonious horseshit about how he feels "betrayed" by Alex Rodriguez' admission of steroid use is near the intersection of "loathsome" and "two-faced." If Mr. Hicks really feels that bad about it, he can refund the ticket revenues he received based on the appeal of Mr. Rodriguez, along with the regional sports network he built on the A-Rodded Rangers, the commercial sponsorships he accepted during that time, and, while he's at it, the land seized from private citizens for land speculation projects around the stadium site.

The local residents who got their properties nabbed by ASFDA so the Rangers' ownership could buy them out cheap were betrayed - betrayed by their team and by their state government. You, Mr. Hicks, were not betrayed. You went into the deal with your eyes open, benefitted from it immensely, and have no moral standing to decry it now

And I say again, screw you.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

And Bruce Begat A-Rod

I blame Steven Spielberg.

I don't think he did it intentionally, mind you. But when he cobbled together Jaws, hiding a defective mechanical shark behind isn't-or-isn't-it there cinematography, he ushered in the age of the blockbuster, the mindset that says that everything's got to be the biggest, the best, the most important or the most catastrophic. And, like it or not, we haven't been the same since.

It's what brings us the Super Bowl in its current incarnation, the NFL recast as Roman gladiators fighting to the death for the noblest of causes. It's what brings us local news reports that breathlessly ask "Is Your Child's Favorite Popsicle A Killer?", to be followed by "This Common Household Cleaner Could Kill You!" and "Killer Secrets Of Your Lawn Care!", day by day by day. It means that movies that stick around more than two weeks are huge, and ones that don't are flops, and there is no middle ground. It means that every pretty young thing who got fifteen minutes in CW teen show is suddenly the hottest thing ever, until next week and she's in the "Where are they now?" file. It's all or nothing, do or die, and every breaking story has to be bigger and more important and fraught with more significance than the one before.

Seriously. How many "games of the century" have we had in college football so far this millennium? Six? Seven? And yet when the next one comes along, we line up for it like suckers, because THIS one is EVEN BIGGER.

Or so they would have us believe.

Part and parcel of all this, of course, is the fact that when you're in blockbuster land, nuance goes out the window. There's no room for the subtleties, the idea that there's more to anything than a simple hero/villain narrative. There's no place for context or a framing narrative, no examination of what the supposedly villainous or heroic act means. It's just the punchline, howled over and over into the echo chamber of a culture where we the mob howls to itself and thinks it's getting its voice heard.

Which brings us to the unfortunate case of Alex Rodriguez. In short, he did steroids, which are a no-no. He did them in a time when there were no penalties attached and he apparently stopped, none of which matters, as the only part of the narrative that has made it to the mainstream is "A-ROD IS A CHEATER".

Well, yeah. But there's more, there's always more. There's the fact that the test results that got leaked should have been destroyed years ago. And the fact that they're evidence in a trial, and leaking them is in fact a federal crime. And the fact that they were leaked right as the Barry Bonds trial - itself looking more and more like an out-of-control boondoggle - is heating up. And the reporter who broke the story has a history with Rodriguez, and has a book on him coming out soon. And there's no real evidence that PEDs as a class actually do enhance performance. And why are PEDs bad when LASIK surgery isn't, and why is it no big deal that the 1970s Steelers were all 'roided out of their minds when they were winning Super Bowls but 5-year old test results on A-Rod are news now, and why do we loathe A-Rod and not give a damn about Paul Byrd or Guillermo Mota, and...

You get the idea. It's the blockbuster concept, the thing that gets the normally levelheaded Jayson Stark to view this as the final torching of baseball's bridge to its past. At best, it's emotional thinking; at worst it's lazy and malicious, a cheapshot for the sake of seizing unstable moral high ground. I'm sorry, but I don't need an admitted steroid user like Mike Golic telling me how bad this is for baseball. I don't need the same reporters who lionized Roger Clemens until they feasted on his flesh to moan about the betrayal of the game's ideals. I don't need Vinnie from Saugus to write obscenity-filled "comments" on the end of overblown op-eds proclaiming Rodriguez' entire career - a career in which even his sandbagging former manager has admitted that he worked harder than anyone - the worst thing ever to happen to baseball. All it does is distract from the real problem, and allow for false band-aid solutions that can conveniently be ripped off whenever we need a new blood sacrifice on the front page.

In a sane and just world, we'd be worrying about other problems than this right now. Economic panic, war, genocide, disease, looming environmental changes and more - these are the things we should be getting upset about. In a slightly saner and more just world, we'd at least look at all the aspects of the story before rushing online with our imaginary pitchforks and torches. But we're in the world we're in, which means that A-Rod will be tried, convicted and tried again in the star chamber of semi-public opinion because it makes good copy, and because we like to see the mighty fall. All the rest - all the things we'd want taken into consideration if it were us in the spotlight - is details, chaff in the wind. Eventually, it will all blow away, roughly around the time the outrage well is running dry. There'll be a new greatest scandal ever, and another one after that, and another one after that.

And the stuff that matters, the stuff that's important - whether it's the context around the blockbuster accusation, or the truly horrifying stuff like the Rae Carruths and Ugie Urbinas and Ambiorix Burgoses and so forth - gets ignored because it doesn't fit the blockbuster story mode. A scrub wide receiver or middle reliever isn't a big enough villain, after all. Contradictory evidence doesn't make for a good enough story. Time and again, we'll go for the big target and the easy shot.

Maybe, honestly, it's because PEDs aren't really a big deal. We can turn on Bonds and Clemens and Palmiero and McGwire, can pretend they've let us down horribly because there's nothing too terrible about having rooted for a guy who may have cheated. Look too closely at an Urbina, though, and we have to confess that we actively cheered on a guy who went after another human being with gasoline and a machete. Demand blood with Carruth, and you admit that once upon a time, we rooted for a cowardly, despicable murderer. That makes us feel bad, makes us question the blind loyalty we give our sports teams and heroes. And we can't have that sort of thing, so we turn on the big names who've committed the minor infractions to make ourselves feel superior, and to give our fandom easy absolution.

It makes sense, as unpleasant a thought as it may be. Blockbuster movies are ones with lots of explosions, lots of inhuman feats of derring-do, and not a lot of nuance. In the end, they make you feel good. No wonder we demand the same from our scandals, again and again and again.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Michael Phelps Caught With Bong

Suddenly, the mystery of how he chows down that megacaloric diet of his is made clear.

Also, I don't actually care.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Things My Fantasy Baseball Guide Does Not Need To Teach Me

  1. Drafting too many players without proven track records is bad.
  2. Making moves during the season is essential to winning.
  3. Guys who have secure jobs going into the season are better than guys who don't.
  4. All things being equal, you don't want the hitter from San Diego.
  5. All things being equal, you don't want the pitcher from Colorado.
  6. Moises Alou may be an injury risk.
  7. Prince Fielder is a large man.
  8. Now that A.J. Burnett has a new contract, he's probably not going to perform as well.
  9. Guys who play first base probably aren't going to steal a lot of bases.
  10. Closers become available during the season.
  11. Some guys who go undrafted will probably put up big numbers.
  12. Some guys who get drafted early will probably stink.
  13. Albert Pujols is god.
Also, for the love of God, people, please stop putting your inane mock drafts in your publications? No one, and I repeat, no one wants to listen to anyone else talk about their fantasy baseball drafts. What in the world makes you think I want to pay for the privilege? The fact that precisely half of these "expert-drafted" teams are, by definition, below average means that you're sandbagging the authority of any advice those people might be giving in your publication.

Screw it. Where's Tuffy Rhodes when you need him?

Random Thoughts on the Super Bowl

Give the Cardinals credit for amazing goal line defense. It's what saved them against the Eagles, and it nearly let them steal the game from Pittsburgh. The one yard line isn't good enough, fellas - it has to go all the way into the end zone.

Pittsburgh let Arizona back into the game by going away from #10 in the fourth quarter. When tey tried to chew time off the clock by running it, they got stuffed, which forced them into passing downs and got Big Ben sacked. If they'd stuck to what had gotten them out to a 13 point lead - dumping it to Holmes in the flat and letting him grab twenty yards at a pop - it would have been a laugher.

They pretty much could have called holding on Gandy on every single play.

Never have I seen so many idiotic penalties in a Super Bowl. This may have been an exciting game, but it certainly wasn't a well-played one. And what on earth did Francisco say about Harrison's wife/sister/mother/pet schnauzer to inspire that little bit of MMA action? Good grief