Saturday, December 22, 2012

Guest Post: Fix The NBA's Youth Problem

Guest post today from my brother, Sean Kiley:

I’m not a big college basketball fan. I watch during the conference tournaments and the NCAA tournament, and that’s about it. (Northwestern Pennsylvania is not exactly a Division-I hotbed.) I was struggling to figure out why I didn’t enjoy a sport that I love the professional version of, and I figured part of it out: college basketball games on TV all look the same. Seriously. They all play the same up and down the court offense with little variation. Defense is marginal at best.

I'm not helped by the fact that I don’t have the slightest idea who the players are, since anyone who is any good is gone to the NBA after a season. There’s no time to get to know the players like we could when I was a kid, and Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon stayed at Houston, or Jordan and Worthy at UNC, or Laettner at Duke. It just doesn’t happen anymore. It’s to the point now where a player sticks around until his senior year, and you think to yourself “What’s his limitation? If he was any good, he’d have come out after his freshman or sophomore season.”

Very few of the players who come out early are instant stars in the NBA (there are a few, to be sure) but most would benefit from staying in college until they were a little bit more seasoned. There aren’t many who could succeed more at the age of 19 than they do at 18. There’s really not that much of a physical difference. They get to the NBA and have to get used to the more physical nature of the game. Basketball people call it “seasoning.” I just think that the kids would be better suited going to school for a few more years then sitting on the end of the bench for Sacramento watching them get blown out by Oklahoma City.

I have a solution!

The NBA needs to do what Major League Baseball does: You can declare for the draft right out of high school, and if you get drafted, you go pro, if they pay enough. If not, and you turn down the money and the pros, and decide to go to college, you have to stay in college for at least three years. (I’m not sure if there are redshirts in D-I. If so, then the redshirt year counts. I would think that it wouldn’t matter because anyone who was going to come out after their junior year would be good enough that the coach wouldn’t redshirt them. I digress.) Following your junior year, if you decided to come out, your original drafting team forfeits their rights to you. This rule would also mean that if a player leaves college after a year or two and goes, say, to Europe or China, they would have to wait until they would have been a junior to return to the US to play in the NBA.

This of course, would have to pass the muster of the NBA owners and David Stern, who would probably hate it because it wasn’t his idea, and he’s the most sinister commissioner in sports. (Goodell is the most power-mad, Selig the most senile, Bettman the most incompetent, and Stern the most sinister.) If the NBA and NCAA could get together and do that, I would definitely watch college basketball in February when the football season ends, instead of wishing there was hockey or waiting until baseball starts.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


So the Eagles finally won one a couple of weeks back.

This is nice, in that people can stop tittering over the fact that until this past weekend, the Phillies had won more recently than the Boids had. It's been a terribly shocking year for Eagles fans, who expected that this year - THIS YEAR - was going to be the return to playoff glory. I mean, sure, last year was mainly a horror show of blown leads and late game three-and-outs, but there were plenty of reasons for it: new coordinators, injuries, the lockout preventing the Iggles from getting needed training camp time to learn new systems, you name it. This year, with a full training camp and coordinators settled into their roles, was going to be different. Michael Vick was going to be a beast. Andy Reid was going to learn clock management. DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy were going to run wild. The defense was going to, well, defend.
In truth, not so much. The successful Andy Reid teams of the Donovan McNabb era relied on two things: a monster of a middle linebacker and an O-line good enough to buy time for the short passing game. The Eagles haven't had a kaiju in the middle since Jeremiah Trotter, and the combination of an injury-depleted line and a quarterback who was never great at reading coverages in the first place meant that this year was doomed from the beginning. The nailbiter wins in the early going might have been fun, but despite a few exciting skill players, this was never going to be a good team.
Maybe Nick Foles is the future. Maybe he's just another A.J. Feeley. Who knows. What we can say we know at this point, though, is that the Andy Reid era's definitively over. It's been a fun ride, with a lot of success, but everything hits its expiration date. Even at his best, Andy had his weaknesses - clock management, curious play calling that got stars injured during blowouts, more clock management - and they leached the reservoir of fan goodwill that might have sustained his regime through a rebuilding phase. So at this point, it's a question of looking for bright spots in the wreckage of the season and trying to determine if they're optical illusions.
And next year will be better. Maybe.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Saw The Hobbit...

...was firmly convinced that the Eagles were going to fumble Gandalf, Thorin and Bilbo, too.


So the deed is done. The cash-strapped Mets, unwilling or unable to pay a below-market extension for their Cy Young Award-winning ace, shipped him off to Toronto for a haul of prospects and one overpriced, lumpen catcher. (I had John Buck on my roto team last year. I'm still bitter. Can you tell?)
But more than that, they made sure, before they shipped him out of town, to try to make him look like an ass. Suddenly, media sources reported, R.A. Dickey wasn't liked in the clubhouse. He was too interested in the media. He broke clubhouse code by mentioning a teammate did something dumb in his book. He - gasp - answered questions about his contract situation honestly when asked about it by the media at a team event. He was too interested in his sudden celebrity.
Oddly enough, none of these issues when he was picking up a broke-ass train wreck of a team and putting it on his back. Or when he was being celebrated for the brutal honesty in his autobiography about issues of abuse. Or when he was climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro for charity, cheerfully tweeting all the while. Or when he was giving interviews before his contract situation became A Thing. Or....
You get the idea. For whatever reason the Mets refused to meet Dickey's (in context) reasonable contract demands, and then tried to make him look like the bad guy so their fans wouldn't riot when they shipped him out of down. Because, really, devaluing your trade chip always works, and so does suddenly slagging the guy you've spent years building up.
Look, none of us actually know R.A. Dickey. Maybe we got caught up in the fun of a guy who named his bats after the magic swords in The Hobbit, and didn't realize he called his three outfielders Bifur, Bofur and Bombur. Maybe he did enjoy the fabulous book tour scene (note: Book tours, not actually fabulous) more than the Mets felt was proper. Maybe all he should have said at the Mets' holiday party when cornered by the reporters the team had invited was "Look! Santa!", and then run.
But for three years, Dickey has been unfailingly polite, gracious, humble and engaging. That these stories would come out juuuust when he and the Mets were at a contract impasse is more than just suspicious. It makes the Mets look like schmucks.
If you weren't going to pay the man, that's one thing, and that's fine. But to try to sully his name in what can only be described as spin more hamhanded than the right side of the Mets' infield defense, that's crossing a line. It's going to make players less interested in coming to play for the Mets when there are comparable dollars available elsewhere. It's going to make fans suspicious of anything coming out of the front office because, hey, wait, they said this guy was great and then they said he was a jerk. And it's going to make the rest of us even less likely to give the Mets the benefit of the doubt because, well, screw those guys.
And in the meantime, R.A. Dickey can pack his Cy Young award and head to Toronto, with a team behind him that's interested in winning and not largely composed of emergency AAA callups. I'm guessing that whatever names the Mets call him on the way out of town are going to get drowned out by cheers.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

In Other News, General Franco Is Still Dead

One of the evening radio hosts on ESPN said something the other night that may in fact be the funniest thing I've heard in ages. (I can't tell you which host, as they all sound alike to me. The lone exception is Colin Cowherd, whose instantly identifiable adenoidal self-righteousness can best be described as sounding like Stan Ridgway's bratty, annoying younger brother. But I digress).
And what he said, in the middle of a discussion of Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni refusing to pull center Dwight Howard from obvious hacking situations, was a howl of disbelief, that D'Antoni would theoretically put Howard's ego/state of mind/need to be on the court to actually score ahead of the team! Never mind that having a functional All-Star center is about the best thing for the team imaginable. "When," the host huffed, "did one player become more important than the team?"
Right about then is when I nearly swerved into oncoming traffic because I was laughing too hard to drive. Because the answer to that shocked, horrified question is: always. When did the needs of the superstar outweigh the mythological notion of team? Ask Michael Jordan. Or coach-killers like Kobe...and Magic. Ask Barry Bonds about the throne in the locker room, or Roger Clemens about picking his start date and not having to go on road trips. Ask Brett Favre about, well, anything. Or Babe Ruth about "too many hot dogs" or Mickey Mantle about the press covering up his horndogging or, well, you get the idea. It's always been that way, and for a radio jock to ask us to believe he is shocked - SHOCKED - at gambling going on in this establishment is like asking us to be shocked that the crew from Finding Bigfoot did not, in fact, find Bigfoot in any given episode.
Outrage grabs ears. Fake outrage needs to at least have the semblance of believability to it, or it just sounds ludicrous. Guess which this is.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The News You Pay For

Courtesy of ubercommenter Old Gator over at Hardball Times, here's a look at the way in which local media was in bed with Loria over the Marlins' stadium situation.

But remember, ownership took all the risk.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Things I'm Thankful For (2012 Sports Edition)

  • For Vin Scully continuing to call Dodgers games
  • For Mike Trout going over the wall to make a catch
  • For Tony LaRussa finally getting the hell out of the dugout
  • For Grinnell - even if it's for just one night, under highly artificial circumstances - being the lead story on SportsCenter
  • For the return of the great baseball beards. Prince, Sergio, guys - the Al Hrabosky fans of the world remember and love you for it.
  • For Duke losing to Lehigh in the NCAA tournament
  • For post-race NASCAR pit row fights, which top even baseball brawls in their ridiculousness
  • For the chance to see the AAA championship game, even if it was a beatdown of epic proportions
  • For major leaguers coming through minor league towns on rehab assignments
  • For the way the Oakland A's won the AL West, and the guys they won it with
  • For the work of writers like Craig Calcaterra, Joe Posnanski, Keith Law, and many others
  • For the fact that Don Fehr has work that isn't in baseball
  • For those random moments when people occasionally shut up about steroids and just watched the damn games
  • For MLB picking a good song as their postseason anthem
  • For the slow, slow steps towards trying to do something about concussions in sports, which are a damn sight better than the fast, fast coverups that used to be out there
  • For Toronto Blue Jays fans having hope for a change
  • For Tim Tebow sitting on the bench
  • For the guys getting off it
  • And for having the chance to yammer about this stuff occasionally to  you guys.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Second in Line for the Beatdown

The funny thing about picking on the fat kid (or the smart kid, or the small kid) in school is that there's always the chance the fat kid's going to move away. And when he does, the bullies and the opportunists and the sadists never seem to pack up and say "Oh, well, now that he's gone we might as well behave." No, they look around for the second-fattest kid, or the second-smartest, or the second-smallest, and they make that kid the new target.
Congratulations, ACC. You're the second-fattest kid.
For years, you've been trying desperately to hang with the cool kids in major conference college sports by pillaging the nerd conference to your north, the Big East. BC, Miami and Virginia Tech. Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Notre Dame. And all the while crowing about how you were proactive, how you'd strengthened yourself, how you were immune to the cherry-picking that was going on across the country because you were ahead of the curve.
And then today, the Big 10(ish) made it rain all over College Park, and Maryland left. Left despite there being a $50M penalty for walking out of the ACC - that's how much extra money is on the table for someone who joins the Leaders & Legends of the Rust Belt, that even with the $50M cover charge, it's still worth it. Worth it to the Big 10, which gets a foothold in a major eastern television market (and another one with Rutgers) and a corresponding boost in revenues to the Big 10 Network. Worth it to Maryland, which had to kill seven sports this year because of athletic department budget shortfalls. In other words, this was a no-brainer for the Terps, and the alumni and the talk radio hosts howling today about the loss of tradition had better understand that. (They'd also better understand that the glorious ACC tradition they loved so much had already been thoroughly trampled by importing football programs wholesale into their basketball conference, bloating their conference tourney, and exploding their schools' travel budgets for varsity sports by including trips to Miami and Boston.)
But if you ask me, this is only the beginning. Maybe they raid the Big East one more time to replace the Terps, filling the hole with Connecticut. But UConn football's not worth the add, and UConn basketball's no sure thing in the post-Jim Calhoun era, either. And in the meantime, the sharks are circling. There's rumors of Florida State being on the Big 12's radar. Of Clemson going to the SEC. Of North Carolina - venerable Chapel Hill, as ACC as ACC gets - going to the Big 10 when that behemoth rouses itself to fill out a roster of 16.
Maybe Louisville's left as a viable acquisition target in the Big East. Maybe UConn. But that's it. And when the biggest nerd is down for the count, it's the next in line that becomes the target.
Congratulations, ACC. It's your turn.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

All of Jeffrey Loria's Risks

So the Marlins have traded their two best starters, their All-Star shortstop, their super-utility guy, and their catcher (who, to be fair, offers slightly less value than a used La-Z-Boy recliner but makes a lot of money) to Toronto for some prospects, some kids, and a no-hit shortstop who's yakked his way out of two of the most laid-back situations in the majors (with a side of homophobic eyeblack). With this move, the Marlins have dropped their payroll to about $16M, or as we like to call it, "Ruben Amaro Jr's Idea of a Bargain Starting Pitcher" a year after opening a publicly funded ballpark that cost taxpayers such an obscene amount of money that I can't even type it. (Yes, I know it's supposed to be paid for by taxes on tourists. Except, of course, it never quite works like that - check out the Florida General Fund shenanigans and you'll get the idea).
Now, it is vaguely - vaguely defensible to say that the Marlins realized they weren't going to win anything with their current core, and shipped it off for good pieces. Which would be reasonable if A)they had given said core more than about half a season together B)they hadn't spent like drunken sailors at last year's winter meetings, swearing up and down that this time they really were going to put a competitive team on the field and they weren't backloading the contracts they were handing out so they could ditch the Heath Bells of the world before they got expensive C)they got back anything like a reasonable approximation of talent for all the talent they were shipping away and D)they hadn't pulled this crap multiple times before. No, to even the least cynical eyes out there (which excludes Jon Heyman), this is an obvious cash grab, a cynical rollback of the people Gollum-like team owner Jeffrey Loria used to soak his business partners and his municipality for giant gobs of filthy lucre the second it was possible for him to do so. (This article at Fangraphs lays out nicely how Loria got caught with his hand in the revenue-sharing cookie jar, how he was under the gun for three years, and how he went berserk with the sell-off as soon as the heat was off)
Smarter people than me have been all over the business aspects of this (starting with the estimable Maury Brown, here) and precisely how this whole scenario (back-loaded contracts, anyone? No no-trade clauses?) was always designed to funnel cash away from the product on the field. And that's really what this comes down to, right? Pulling money away from the product on the field - the team, the thing people are theoretically coming to see, the business that this turkey is supposedly engaged in - and into personal revenue. And you can spare me the arguments of "well, they weren't winning with those guys, might as well try to win without them" - when you've got most of the pieces in place, you add the missing one or two, you don't tear the whole thing down instantly. Last year's Marlins were basically a couple of bullpen arms and a few health breaks away from being beasts; they were not the hapless train wreck (except in the dugout) that Loria apologists are describing. No, the team was always an excuse, and that's all.
I'm sure there are folks out there applauding the move from a strictly business sense. I mean, hey, you have to respect the business acumen that turns so little personal investment into so much personal profit, right? Cheers to Loria for using baseball to make money, and why should we hate the guy for being successful.
Except, of course, it's not that clean. Yes, he grabbed an immense profit. Good for him. But to do so, he damaged the business models of his industry and his partners. He damaged the brand of baseball - the notion that the hometown nine is actually trying to win, which is at the core of the game's appeal. He salted the earth of what should be one of the most baseball-friendly markets in America by putting it on the hook for $2.4B in stadium costs while failing to deliver on any of the promises that came with the project, and he alienated the fan base - the customers - with his blatant disregard for the on-the-field product. He took $300M of his partners' money and redirected it to himself. He altered the competitive balance of the game - NL owners are by all accounts pissed that the other NL East teams get extra games against a AAA squad next year. All of this speaks to immense damage to the long-term prospects of the business, weighed against a short-term cash grab. So no, it's not good business, it's just a case of gimme now and damn the torpedoes, and screw the rest of you in the process.
And I read this, and I think of, of all things, hockey, and the NHL lockout. I think about the owners there demanding a unilateral rollback of all the stuff they agreed to last go round. I think about all the apologists who claim that the owners should be getting All The Monies because they take All The Risks. And I think about an owner in Miami, who got the city to pay for his stadium, who got his business partners to pay him $300M to stay in business, who deliberately ran his franchise into the ground for a cynical bout of profit-taking, and who will make another enormous profit once the league finally gins up the courage to make him sell. And I wonder, what risk, exactly, did he take?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dear #18

Hey Peyton!

I was just wondering something.

You own 21 Papa John's franchises now. That's cool. It's a smart way to help make sure that, unlike many of your peers, you continue to earn money after you retire.  And I am guessing that the recent legalization of pot in Colorado will do wonders for your sales volume.

But your partner, "Papa" John Schnatter, recently announced that he'll be docking his employees' hours in order to keep them ineligible for newly federally-mandated healthcare coverage.

I know that franchisees have a lot of control over the stores that they operate, in any industry.  So I was just curious whether you were planning to dock your employees' hours to keep them ineligible for federally-mandated healthcare coverage.

I know that you donated money to Fred Thompson's exploratory committee back in '07, but, I don't know, Fred was always kind of a goofy guy, I don't think anyone would hold that against you.  And your recent donations have all been to Republicans, but that's fine. You're allowed to hold political views, after all. I'm sorry your support for Dick Lugar didn't work out.

I know you have a personal brand as kind of a good-natured, friendly guy.  I wonder what kind of impact it would have to the Peyton Manning Brand for you to dock minimum-wage employees' hours to keep them from having affordable healthcare. Probably not so good.

Honestly it would be kind of dickish. I hope you don't do it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Having Had Our Phil

Dear Phil Jackson:

Look, I know you only like coaching teams with transcendent talent already lined up and waiting for you, but wearing the Phantom half-mask and lurking in the Staples Center steam tunnels while singing "Help me fire Mike Brown Thursday Night" is a bit much. The sad truth of the matter is, Mike D'Antoni is probably a better fit for this Lakers team than you are. Yes, there's Kobe, and there's Dwight, and there's Nash and Gasol, and yes, they are remarkable players. What they are not, however, are any combination of young, healthy, or suited to run the triangle offense. D'Antoni's offense, as frenetic as it is, matches Steve Nash's skill set and tendencies a lot better than trying to force him into the triangle. For God's sake, D'Antoni made Jeremy Lin look like a world-beater. You nailed Steve Kerr's feet to the three point line.
And there's one other thing: this team, even when it gets all its weapons back, is not going to win another championship. It's too old and too fragile, there's too much competition, and Miami's still better. So really, Phil, it's for the best. You don't reduce your legacy by going out with a team that won't bring home the basketball-onna-stick that is the O'Brien Trophy. (Bring that thing to Carolina, and we'll batter dip it and deep fry it before anyone notices). The memory of you that remains is undiminished, and when D'Antoni inevitably fails with this bunch (though he will make it exciting, and come close, and fill seats), you can nod your bearded head sagely, and let reporters tell you they should have hired you instead, and gently disengage the metaphorical parking brake on the bus(s) as it rolls downhill toward D'Antoni.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Your 2012 World Series Champs

The Tigers were supposed to be unstoppable.
They were well-rested, having dispatched the mighty Yankees in humiliating fashion. The Bronx Bombers left Detroit a circus, dismantled on the field by the Tigers' pitching and power, and off the field by their clubhouse issues, A-Rod's pickup lines and the ever-opportunistic New York media. That left the Tigers plenty of time to sit back, rest their pitchers, and set up the T-1000 disguised as Justin Verlander to inflict maximum damage on whoever staggered out of the NLCS.
The Giants were supposed to be doomed. Their 2-time Cy Young winner was relegated to the bullpen, a Loki lookalike who'd spent the year figuratively being thrashed by the Hulk. They'd dug themselves a 3-1 hole against the seemingly unkillable Cardinals, with their late-season sparkplug among the walking wounded, starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner was no longer on speaking terms with the strike zone, and they faced the terrifying specter of starting Barry Zito in a playoff game.
Of course Kung Fu Panda was going to hit three bombs and chase Verlander in the opener. Of course the Tigers, with Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera squatting athwart the middle of their lineup, were going to get shut out in games 2 and 3. Of course the Giants' bullpen, comprised seemingly entirely of Kansas City Royals castoffs, would be untouchable. And of course the Series would end with Cabrera whiffing on a pitch from replacement closer Sergio Romo, whose job description out of the pen was largely "replacement beard".
So much for conventional wisdom. So much for inevitable.
Thank you, baseball. I'll see you in the spring.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Mariano Rivera is old, and wolves are after him.

One of the greatest canards in sportswriting is the ongoing concern for a player's "legacy", whereby the columnist suggests that an aging athlete retire in order to protect those misty-colored memories of the athlete at their best, instead of tainting them with images of a descent into mortality. The sad spectacle of Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield for the Mets is inevitably brought up, and for extra credit you get call-outs to Johnny Unitas in Chargers powder blue. And then comes the handwringing, and the inevitable conclusion that the player, whether it be Mike Schmidt or Mariano Rivera, ought to hang it up in order to preserve the narrative of their greatness.
From where I sit, that's an incredible act of chutzpah. To tell an elite athlete, one of the best in the world at what they do, that they should hang it up to preserve a nebulous "legacy" that's really nothing more than an ill-defined narrative, that they should walk away from the millions of dollars that they could potentially earn for a myth, that they should step away from the thing they have trained their whole lives to do and theoretically love doing just so no one in the press box haz a sad.
It is, of course ridiculous, as ridiculous as me walking up to you and saying that hey, you should quit your job because I don't want to spoil the memories of how good you were at unjamming copiers in 2008. It's their decision as to when to hang it up, theirs and the teams that might employ them, and no one else's. They get to be the ones to weigh how much they think their bodies can endure, how well they can perform, how much they still want to compete, how many weeks and months they want to spend away from their families, and what else they might do if they do retire. Me and thee, all we've got is a rooting interest - no skin in the game at all. And while we might think it helps our favorite team if an aging superstar hangs it up - Wallace Matthews' recent piece at at least makes a nod in this direction - wrapping that sort of analysis in the fuzzy logic of "he should quit to protect his legacy" is nothing but sentimental arrogance.
Maybe, as per Matthews' piece, Rivera will retire. Maybe he won't. I'm wagering "concern for his legacy" - already locked down as the greatest situational pitcher of all time - will be at the bottom of things he considers as he makes his decision.
Because, at the end of the day, everybody's memory of Willie Mays is The Catch and his cap flying off, and not of a middle aged man lurching around Shea. Everybody's memory of Steve Carlton is of a slider that sprained batters' knees, not of a nondescript Twins swingman. Everybody's memory of Unitas is of The Greatest Game Ever Played, not a Chargers part-timer.
The legacy takes care of itself. The players know this. We should, too.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Charlotte: Real Sports Town

Something remarkable happened in North Carolina sports this fall. No, I'm not talking about Duke becoming bowl-eligible by beating UNC and Coach Hat. It's not the guarantee that the Hurricanes will get out of October without having once again dug themselves an insurmountable hole. And it's not the latest wacky rules change in NASCAR that makes no sense to anyone not part of the France family.
No, I'm talking about Charlotte suddenly deciding that it was a Big Time Sports City. The first signs came a few weeks ago, when the Charlotte media piled on Panthers star quarterback Cam Newton for his sideline behavior during a prime-time pounding by the Giants. This, of course, follows the long-standing tradition of big-time sports cities beating the crap out of their best players, from New York (A-Rod) to Philly (Mike Schmidt, Donovan McNabb) to Los Angeles (Matt Kemp). And yes, the Carolina sports media was inordinately proud of that fact. I heard sports-talk djs bragging on-air about how this made Charlotte "a real sports city".
As someone who was born in NY, grew up in Philly and went school in Boston, let me humbly suggest that this sort of idiotic behavior is the last sort of thing you want to emulate, and the last sort of thing that makes you "real" as sports fans. Newton's a convenient lightning rod, sure, but hey, he's a second year player at the most difficult position in the league, on a team that doesn't have a lot of weapons and no defense to speak of. He already expects he has to win every game by himself because his linebackers sure as hell aren't going to help him; getting mad because he doesn't always pull it off, because he's still learning, because he's the only recognizable name on a roster whose second-most famous player has a bad habit of putting his teammates on the disabled list, well, that's kind of counterproductive.
And so, as a resident of too many cities where the sports media eats its own,  I listen to the callers on "The Fan" and "The Buzz" talk about how it's time to give up on Newton, and how he's a bust, and how it's time to tear down a team that never got built in the first place, and I shake my head. That crap sort of works in Boston and Philly and NY because there's money there, and there's legacy, and there's a sort of "we've-been-married-so-long-that-we've-forgotten-how-to-say-nice-things-about-each-other-but-God-help-you-if-you-come-between-us" vibe. Charlotte doesn't have that. Charlotte's got one basketball team that packed up and left and another one that's literally the worst of all time, and a football team that can't figure out who it is or whether it belongs to Charlotte or both Carolinas. Picking up the worst habits of the old guys is not the best way to build fandom, or to make your town a desirable place to play.
Being a "real" sports town is overrated - ask anyone who endured the Bobby Valentine shenanigans this year. It's a lot more fun being a town that loves sports, even when there's a hiccup or two. And it's definitely a lot more fun living there.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

He Should Have Sent A Gift Basket, Cause That's Classy

There is a boring story, and there is an interesting story.
The boring story is this: hand and wrist injuries beat the holy hell out of your power. Alex Rodriguez is fresh off just that sort of injury, and as such, he is not hitting at all well precisely when the Yankees need him most. He is not alone in this on the Yankees' roster, but unlike, say, the case of Robinson Cano, the Yankees actually have a backup for A-Rod who can play a little, in the form of the spiderweb-fragile Eric Chavez. And so it makes sense, in an effort to jump-start a legendarily horrific post-season offense, for Joe Girardi to switch out a few parts and maybe see if he can get something rolling. And that's how A-Rod ends up on the bench.
The interesting story is this: A-Rod got pinch-hit for, and because he's such a prima donna and likes having himself painted as a centaur and he's not a team guy, he immediately turned around and passed a baseball to a coupla hot chicks in the stands trying to score some digits rather than do the officially sanctioned stand-on-top-steps-of-dugout-and-look-intense that you're supposed to do when you've been removed from the game. This violation of the unwritten rules of baseball (which sure do get written about a lot, don't they?) has called down the wrath of A-Rod's manager Joe Girardi and his GM Brian Cashman, who, despite ignoring or flat-out denying that Hot Chick Ball Gate (or whatever we're calling it) is the issue, clearly have decided that Hot Chick Ball Gate is the issue. Also, they're going to trade him to the Marlins, who love taking on older players and salary.
One is logical, one is not. One has been flat-out denied by the parties involved, one has not. One is salacious and fits into the ongoing "Whatever A-Rod does is wrong" narrative, one does not.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out which one people are going with. It's just a little sad that the choice wasn't a little harder.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bad Day At Second Base

Yankees fans are justifiably upset about a blown call at second base yesterday that gave the Tigers two insurance runs. They have every right to be upset; it was a terrible call. The umpire was right there and had no excuse for not seeing it.
I can only hope that as that horrible call was made, Orioles outfielder Nate McLouth sprang up and screamed at his television set, "Yeah, let's see how YOU like it!"
Also, I'm fairly certain I heard at least two announcers say that if Jeter had been on the field, they would have gotten that call.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Past a Disabled Jeter

"Thanks, guys. I've got gift baskets for both of you in the car."

Poor Detroit.

The narrative for this ALCS has been written. Never mind their ballsy recovery from last night's 9th inning implosion by their "closer", never mind the great work by Dotel and Smyly to shut the door once it had happened, never mind the way Delmon Young suddenly turned "clutch" in a way that's only reserved for Yankees this time of year - the story's been written.
If the Tigers win this series, it's because the Yankees don't have Derek Jeter. They won't win because of excellent starting pitching, or the 3-4 combo for the ages of Cabrera and Fielder, or because most of the Yankee lineup (with the exception of Raul Ibanez, who's streakier than a paint job applied by a meth addict) could be swinging canoe paddles up there and not hit anything. The Tigers cannot win this, the Yankees can only lose it.
And, of course, if the Yankees pull it out, they have Won It For The Captain. They have overcome his loss, and relied on his sage advice (Presumably, it starts with "ignore all ground balls to your left") and his intangibles and his leadery leadershipness and, well, the Tigers are just there to play the part of the Washington Generals.
Either way, it's about Jeter. And while I'm not a reflexive Jeter-hater the way some folks seem to be, I'm also not a reflexive Jeter-lover the way many are as well. (See also: Gift baskets).  And as sad as it is for one of the game's marquee players to be out for the remainder of the postseason, it shouldn't be the only story to come out of this series.
But it will be.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Cardinals 9, Nationals 7

Somewhere, in the smoldering, sulfurous pits of hell, there's an empty director's chair with the name of someone associated with the St. Louis Cardinals on it. Other than the Faustian bargain, there's no explanation for what happened last night in DC - or, for that matter, what happened against Atlanta, or what happened against the Rangers last year, or the Phillies, or...
In any case, that just happened. And let's be clear - Stephen Strasburg would not have saved the Nats last night. Gonzalez, not Strasburg, was the Nats' best pitcher this year, and when he got a case of the yips it opened the door for St. Louis to come back. And to their credit, the Cardinals took advantage. Their bullpen shut the Nats down with power arm after power arm, and in the ninth, well, you could see guys so desperate they were trying to hit three-run homers off Grizzly Adams-alike Jason Motte with no one on base.
In football, in basketball, in hockey - the Nats would have been able to just run out the clock. Not so here.
And thus, baseball.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Lock the Curse In the Other Room

Pitching Like Dinner at Hoy Hing Was On The Line

In 1993, they kept me in the other room.
It was the last game of the Phillies-Braves playoff series, and my friends Aaron and James had decided I was cursed. Every time I looked at the television, things went horribly wrong for the Phillies. So in the middle of the 6th, they - and James looks like the offspring of Reggie White and Ian Anderson - picked me up off the couch in James' basement apartment where we were watching the game (over takeout from Hoy Hing, the greatest greasy wok joint in Boston at the time, but I digress), slung me into James' bedroom, and shut the door. After each pitch they told me what had happened - "Roger Mason threw a fastball. Roger Mason threw a fastball. Roger Mason threw a fastball. Roger Mason threw a fastball" - but they wouldn't budge a bit when I pounded on the door and demanded to be let out.
Eventually, the game ended. The Phillies won. They let me out. And I wondered, just a little bit, if they were right - that I was some kind of a jinx.
You do that when you're young, overcaffeinated, overbeered, sleep deprived, and in grad school. You generally grow out of it when you hit the real world, encounter the laws of causation and probability first hand, and realize that there is absolutely nothing you do at home, watching on television, that affects what happens on the field.
Tonight, I turned on the Yankees-Orioles game while I was cleaning up the kitchen. It was a 2-2 tie when I turned on the televison. It was not a 2-2 tie ten seconds later.
Aaron, James, I think I owe you guys an apology. And maybe one for Roger Mason, too.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Reasons to Root For Each Team In the MLB Playoffs

Jim Leyland on Casual Fridays
The New York Yankees
Another chance to watch the ageless Derek Jeter and resurrected Andy Pettite on the big stage. And, err, that's about it. Screw the Yankees. They've won enough already.

The St. Louis Cardinals
Overcame a staggering number of injuries to reach the postseason. Made it in despite losing one of the best players in baseball history to free agency in the off-season, and filling the gaps with guys named Kozma and Craig and (the other) Carpenter. No brawls with the Cincinnati Reds all year. Rookie manager Mike Metheny had the stones to start Kyle Lohse - THE Kyle Lohse - in a win-or-go-home playoff scenario. And the chance that this might be the last go-round for Fat Elvis Berkman.
Plus, they're not the Yankees.

The Cincinnati Reds
They're the best team nobody's heard of. Their closer throws faster than Sammy Hagar is capable of driving. Bronson Arroyo rocks (literally). Joey Votto is a beast. Jay Bruce is a slightly smaller beast. Brandon Phillips is the second-funniest tweeter still playing (sorry you're home, @TheRealTPlush). Johnny Cueto had the best season by a pitcher you didn't hear about. All they do is win ballgames. They had the stones not to overload their playoff roster with starting pitchers they'll never use.
And of course, they're not the Yankees.

The Detroit Tigers
Miggy and Prince shouting "Si, motherfucker!" as they jack bombs in batting practice. The Koufaxian transcendence that is Justin Verlander - and the fact that he's damn funny in commercials, too. Closer Jose Valverde's untucked shirt and obvious love of pie. All other arguments aside, Miggy won the Triple Crown, and that's awesome. They finally divested themselves of Brandon Inge. Doug Fister, and the agony a simple typo caused Craig Calcaterra. Jim Leyland looks more like Solid Snake every year - or is it that Solid Snake looks more like Jim Leyland?
And they ain't the Yankees.

The Baltimore Orioles
A streak of 14 straight losing seasons snapped unexpectedly and astonishingly. An army of scrap-heap pickups like Nate McLouth and Joe Saunders rising to the occasion. Manny Machado, stealth third baseman, who in a year of no Trout would be the big rookie fish - he's that good. Adam Jones, putting it all together. A closer out of nowhere, with more saves than strikeouts. An astonishing job of shuffling personnel between Baltimore and AAA by former punchline GM Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter. The damn bird logo, which should beat the Cardinals bird up and take its beer money. And they're not the Yankees.

The Oakland A's
Because they have no goddamn business being there. Because Brandon McCarthy won Twitter when he got out of the hospital after taking a line drive off the face. Because wearing green and gold on national television when you're not a leprechaun takes balls. Because Yoenis Cespedes is in fact Batman. Because Chris Carter finally got a real shot. Because of the terrible, terrible thing that happened to Pat Neshek and his wife. Because of a rotation full of rookies and because there needs to be a giant "Screw you!" to all the troglodytes who routinely use Moneyball as a blunt weapon because reading it is too damn hard.
And as you might have guessed, they're not the Yankees.

The San Francisco Giants
Because every night, somebody's getting Poseyed. Because The Freak had a bad year, but he's still The Freak, and you can't not root for the guy. Because of the ongoing train wreck that is the Barry Zito contract. Because nobody's going to be talking about that goddamned beard. Because Matt Cain is a walking, talking statistical outlier, and because his perfect game was a masterpiece. Because the universe still owes Willie McCovey one.
And because they're so not the Yankees, they left New York half a century ago.

The Washington Nationals:
They've got a $126M caveman in right field. They're a year ahead of schedule. Their oh-so-brash underaged superstar spent the pennant-clinching celebration drinking apple juice with one of his teammate's kids. And most of all, if the Nationals don't win it all, we will never, ever hear the end of the armchair pitching coaches chewing on Nats GM Mike Rizzo for his decision to sit down Stephen Strasburg.
Also, they're not the Yankees.

Friday, October 05, 2012

The Arguments Against The Arguments Against: AL MVP

This is what it looks like when baseball bloggers throw down 
over Cabrera vs. Trout. Exactly like this.

At this point, the debate over who gets the American League MVP has gone past baseball and straight into religion, or perhaps politics. For good or for ill, the AL was blessed this year with two guys who had utterly transcendent, if wildly different, seasons. In any given year, either of the two - the remarkable all-around play of rookie Mike Trout or the once-in-two-generations offensive onslaught of Miguel Cabrera - would be enough to win MVP in a walk. This year, however, they're up against each other, and the partisans on each side have long since moved past debating their choice's merits and gone on to attacking the other guy's fans as A)knuckle-dragging Philistines who wouldn't know good baseball if it sat on their face and wiggled or B)spreadsheet-loving nerds who are afraid to attend actual ballgames without their allergy inhalers, and even then, only with written permission from their mothers.
It is, in a word, sad that in a year when we should be celebrating two feats of excellence, we are instead  beating each others brains in so as to best remove all the joy from what these two jokers actually did on the field. Contrast that, for example, with what's going on in the National League, where an army of good-but-not-transcendent candidates (Buster Posey, Andrew McCutcheon, Giancarlo Stanton, Chase Headley, Chipper Jones, Yadier Molina, and I believe the late Pat Paulsen) clutter the ballot and the debate is less than inflamed. The difference is night and day, where night is somewhere out beyond the Oort Cloud, and day is on Mercury.
That being said, it is the official position of Sportsthodoxy that it would not be a crime to award the American League MVP to either of the two gents currently in the running. Both of them have had historic seasons. Trout's combination of speed, defense and hitting has produced a nightly array of highlights, and his HR/SB/Runs numbers are, in conjunction, historic. Cabrera, of course, won the Triple Crown, and while it must be recognized that RBI are in large part a function of the guys hitting ahead of you, it's still one hell of a mythologically potent feat.
With that in mind, we're not going to make the case for either candidate. Instead, we're going to take a little time to demolish various arguments against them, largely because the people making those arguments are a bunch of Negative Nancies who are largely annoying about the whole thing, and because their failure to grasp the fundamentals of logic whilst still clinging to the slipperiest of ad hominems infuriates the editorial staff to no end.

So here we go:


  • WAR Is Arbitrary And Thus Inaccurate - WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, is an advanced metric that tries to assess a player's total contribution by including not just hitting, but also baserunning and defense. There are multiple formulae for WAR, and they don't all agree, and as such, nobody - not even the guys who come up with those formulae - think that WAR is utter and definitive. But, hey, it'll do as a general overview stat until something better comes along, and when all the thumbnail sketches line up the same way, you've probably got a good idea of what something looks like.
  • Stats Are For Losers - Mike Greenberg, of all people, made this argument. One can only presume that Mike Golic was giving him an atomic wedgie as he tweeted it; proponents of this ridiculous idea conveniently forget that HR, RBI, and Batting Average are also statistics. Ironically, the stuff that WAR includes that the Triple Crown doesn't - speed, defense, baserunning - are precisely the sort of thing that statheads are constantly accused of missing. 
  • Cabrera's Team Made The Playoffs And Trout's Didn't - This conveniently overlooks a couple of basic facts. One, the Angels won more games than the Tigers. Two, the Angels won them against tougher competition. The AL West had 2 90+ win teams and nearly had a third; the AL Central had 3 90-loss teams. The worst team in the AL West was still running King Felix out there on a regular basis; the AL Central had a team that insisted on letting Luke Hochevar pitch in front of paying customers. In other words, the Angels won more games against better competition than the Tigers did. "But they made the playoffs" is an artifact of the divisional setup.
  • Cabrera Won The Triple Crown And Trout Didn't - This is true, largely because only one guy can win the Triple Crown or it stops being the Triple Crown. On the other hand, it is also true that the Triple Crown Stats are A)an arbitrary selection and B)limited to the subset of baseball skills known colloquially as "hitting". So the argument really boils down to "Cabrera should have it because he was the best power hitter", which is a little less convincing.
  • Cabrera Helped His Team All Year And Trout Didn't - This also true. It probably also wasn't Trout's idea. And the fact that Trout managed to put up such monstrous stats even with missing 20 games would actually seem to point in Trout's favor. After all, he needed less time to do it in. 
  • Trout Wasn't As Hot As Cabrera In September - This line of attack is popular amongst a certain branch of narrativists, most of whom suffer from an inability to remember more than two weeks' worth of events at a time. Last I checked, they didn't award bonus wins for September. The guy who helped dig his team out of a 6-14 hole in May is still digging his team out of a hole when they need him to. He's just being a little more proactive about it.
  • Trout's A Rookie And He'll Get Plenty Of Other Chances - Tell that to Ken Hubbs.


  • Cabrera Gets "Good Teammate Points" Unfairly - In the offseason, Cabrera's team signed another portly first baseman, which meant that Miggy had to migrate back across the infield, in a scene reminiscent of the march of the dinosaurs in Fantasia, to his former position of 3rd base. His switch was less eventful than the annual ritual of Mike Young holding his breath until he turns blue down Tejas way, seeing as he had previously played 3B and didn't take his displeasure at the move to the media, and some folks think that he's getting way too much credit for being "valuable" over that. Regardless, an established All-Star agreed to move for the good of his team and worked hard, if not always successfully, at performing credibly there. That fits some definitions of valuable. 
  • Cabrera Benefitted From His Ballpark And Division - Yes he did. Comerica Park actually plays as a slightly better offensive joint than Anaheim does; Cabrera did get to bat against the Royals and Twins repeatedly. That being said, short of volunteering for a trade to Petco, what do you want the guy to do? He plays where his team plays, whom his team plays, and the fact remains he produced under those circumstances better than anyone else - even Prince Fielder, who got the exact same Golden Corral buffet of stiffs to hit off of. Favorable circumstances can only take you so far. Eventually you have to produce. And Cabrera did.
  • Cabrera's Defense Was So Horrible It Made The Baby Jesus Kill Kittens - Mike Trout is a superlative center fielder. Cabrera is not. Trout is worth much, much, much more with the glove than Cabrera, by any measure except perhaps the paleolithic abomination that is "fielding percentage". That being said, Cabrera actually turned himself from a horrible 3rd baseman into a slightly below average one this year, depending on which defensive metric you use. Yes, he's far worse in the field than Trout. No, he's not as bad as you think he is.
  • Cabrera's Good Teammate Narrative Is Phony - This largely goes back to Cabrera's unfortunate incidents with alcohol, bad driving, and the law, in various combinations. Proponents of this argument note that all of the "Good teammate because he switched positions" narratives conveniently ignore this stuff, which is probably true. That being said, MVP is not measured on the same metrics as the Lady Byng Trophy, and in any case, Cabrera seems to have cleaned himself up considerably. It's a worthwhile discussion to have, if you want to talk about whether you'd let Cabrera date your sister. It's got less of a place in the MVP discussion.
  • The Triple Crown Is An Antiquated Relic - Yeah, well, so was a lightsaber. Are BA, HR, and RBI the best measure of a player's worth? Absolutely not. But the trio of them together is something deeply rooted in the game's mythology, and that mythology is something that no other sport has. To arbitrarily dismiss it because OBP is a better measure of worth - and I don't argue that it is - is to risk losing some of what makes baseball so unique. And yes, RBI are largely a function of the guys batting ahead of you, but as misleading as they are, you generally have to be pretty decent to rack up a lot of them AND a lot of homers AND a lot of base hits, all at the same time.
  • It Wasn't As Good A Year As [insert season and year here] - Saying that Cabrera's Triple Crown season wasn't as good as Albert Pujols' 2007 or whatever would be great, if the award were "Best Offensive Season In Some Arbitrary Subset Of The Last Ten  Years And Both Leagues". Which it ain't. This is the American League MVP for 2012. Pujols had his shot at it; he doesn't get to drag his 2006 in from the other league when no one's looking.

Ultimately, it comes down to whether you value Cabrera's raw batting output over Trout's better rounded game, or vice versa. Both candidates are worthy; the sky will not fall and Cthulhu will not rise if one or the other is picked. We should celebrate both. We should denigrate neither. And we should definitely stop being complete jackasses about it.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

This Is Why They Play 162 Games

Playoff odds? They're ABOVE 9000!
You only need to be in first place for one day. The last day.
It doesn't matter if you're 13 games out midseason. That you're starting a rotation made up of five rookies. That your best starting pitcher tested positive for performance-enhancing hollandaise sauce and got suspended for the stretch run. That your outfield was composed of guys who'd signed long-term leases in Pawtucket and guys who'd bombed in Kansas City and a guy who was better known for his workout video than anything else. That your midseason power upgrade came from a guy who looked like he was locked into a AAAA career path. That your bullpen was put together with duct tape and rejects and former minor league first basemen. That you play in a cavernous shell of a stadium that the city fathers have gutted for their cheating boyfriend of a football team, that your payroll is tiny and your location status is in limbo and your decade-ago success has been turned into a punchline by every jock-sniffing sports radio blatherer who decided in grade school that fractions were proof that math was just too damn hard.
That you're down, 5-0, in the last game, against the team that you've got to beat, against their big mid-season pitching pickup. That you're pulling guys out of the bullpen whom the announcers have never heard of because your starting pitcher imploded in the 3rd. That you're relying on guys named Moss and Smith and Donaldson.
A's 12, Rangers 5. This is why they play 162 games.

Too Easy?

Cowboys Stadium, preparing to engage warp drive
We were going to put up a post about how the super uber-modern Starship Enterprise-ish shrine to the Mammon of Foobaw down Dallas way is apparently infested with giant roaches (and not the sort Nate "Fig" Newton used to drive by the van-ful), but the Bears intercepted it.

Monday, October 01, 2012

The Collapse

Sad Pirates fan is sad.
There's never room for all the underdogs.
A month or two ago, if you'd asked me which of the unlikely upstarts charging pell-mell toward a playoff spot was most likely to collapse, I would have picked the Baltimore Orioles. They had a negative run differential. They had an offense built out of spare parts and castoffs. They had the Yankees ahead of them and the pitching-blessed Rays coming up behind them. They were the team of Jeffrey Maier and Raffy Palmiero's butt injections, of desperate flailing in the GM's office and an owner odd enough to rouse Et Tu, Mr. Destructo away from politics for a brilliant, devastating profile.
Or maybe it was the Oakland A's, who'd shed established starting pitching over the offseason like it was RIMM stock, whose outfield looked suspiciously like last year's Pawtucket Red Sox, who ran a rotation full of rookies out there because they had no other option, who were buried under so many bad Moneyball jokes and stadium issues and are-they-moving-to-San-Jose distractions that it was a rare miracle anyone ever talked about what was going on on the field.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, I figured, were safe. They had a budding superstar in Andrew McCutcheon. They had a solid supporting cast. Pedro Alvarez had figured out that hitting baseballs was better than eating cheeseburgers. Closer Joel Hanrahan was a beast, A.J. Burnett had reinvented himself on returning to the National League, and James McDonald had taken steps toward being considered a top-flight starter. They were 16 games over .500. They had a lead in the Wild Card, and they were in striking distance of the NL Central.
And then the wheels fell off. Epically. Historically. Legendarily. They're 5 games under .500 now, with  3 to play. Their run differential is -24, while the Orioles, who clinched a playoff spot tonight, have climbed into positive territory. For the 20th straight year, it's losing baseball in Pittsburgh, and this year may be the biggest heartbreaker of all.
But the thing is, that's baseball. Short attention span types may grumble about the length of the season, but it's the only major sport season long enough to develop extended narratives. The rise and fall, the upstart conqueror, the nail-shredding tension of the pennant race - this is what you get from 162 games that you don't get from 82, or 81, or 16. And if the season was just too long for the Pirates this year, that's a narrative, too, a tragic one for the fans who bought into the magic of early summer, but a real and important and interesting one.
There's not room for all the underdogs, even in a year when payroll-heavy beasts like Philadelphia and Boston come crashing down. There's only a few playoff spots, and if the elegiac tale of Chipper Jones' final go-round takes a slot and the resilient Cardinals post-Pujols take another, then there's no place for the Pirates to go. Not this time, anyway.
But not every story ends in triumph. Tragedy's got its place on the stage, too. And in the words of my people, who dwelt for many years in the shadows of Ebbets Field, "Wait 'til next year."

Sunday, September 30, 2012

I Think We've Seen This Before

Cincinnati 27, Virginia Tech 24, in what was essentially a home game for Tech.

In other news, the ACC Commissioner's office is preparing a statement reasserting the superiority of the ACC as a football league, along with a membership invitation for Cincy.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Roger Goodell, Hero

Roger Goodell, relaxing at home after a hard day at work

The funniest thing to come out of the replacement ref fiasco has not been any of the on-field stuff, hilarious as that has been. It has not been the overblown bloviating by the chattering classes, nor the hysterical overreactions on Twitter (some of which veered off into deeply ugly, hateful bullshit). No, it’s been those noted labor economists at places like ESPN trying to spin this thing so that Roger Goodell comes out of it as some kind of hero, or, failing that, a victim.
Look, anyone who thinks the lockout was about anything other than Goodell trying to punish the refs for standing up to him is delusional. The money involved is, in the grand scheme of things, minimal. Dan Snyder pisses away more than that trying to bully Washington free papers in a given weekend. No, this was about power and control, and nobody in the NFL has more of either than Roger Goodell. The guy is Sauron, the all-seeing eye dispatching Nazgul to swoop down and fine players unexpectedly for inappropriate towel lengths. You’re going to tell me that in the face of a labor dispute that threatens to undermine both the product the NFL puts on the field and, more importantly, its relationship with Vegas (anyone who doesn’t think the rise of the NFL isn’t directly attributable to a combo of gambling and fantasy sports is delusional), Roger Goodell was suddenly impotent, waiting on the command of those same owners he bullies and fines to cut a deal equivalent to a single game’s concessions take?
It was a power play. And for once, Goodell lost. Everything else is just spin.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Referee-related observations

Inspired by my esteemed colleague's post below...
Have you noticed how the post-whistle scrums have gotten longer, as players realize that the refs don't really control the game?  They can keep shoving and jawing for a few extra seconds and nobody's going to do anything.  What happens if, this weekend, when the Broncos and Raiders play, Richard Seymour shoves Orlando Franklin into Peyton Manning after a play ends?
The NFL's owners should be protecting their investments, not arguing over pocket change.
Stop watching.  Seriously.
American football is a lot of fun. It's a great sport. It's fun to play. High school football is enormous fun to watch. But the apparatus around collegiate and professional football has become absurd. 11 minutes of action packed into 3.5 hours of beer commercials.
They're going to keep doing the same shit so long as we all keep watching. We keep watching, and Coors pays NBC to pay the NFL to keep doing the same shit. Imagine what a few percent drop in viewership will do to everyone involved.
The NFL still has an antitrust exemption. One might ask one's representatives to ask the league's owners why they are jeopardizing the health and safety of their employees so flagrantly.

Really, all this complaining about the NFL proves only that they continue to have a hold on our collective attention and imagination.  We could do worse things than to walk away.

No More Foobaw For...Someone

Pertinent fact 1: This whole dispute with the NFL refs  could be solved for roughly half of what Tarvaris Jackson is making to back up a guy from Harvard.
Pertinent opinion 1: The fact that it has not is due solely to the fact that Roger Goodell wants to show the miserable peasants who's boss. Saying that the refs suddenly don't get the pension plan they'd been promised for years because he doesn't get one only works as an argument if all of those refs were also making north of $10M a year. I'll give you a hint. They're not.
Pertinent fact 2: Refereeing NFL games is really hard to do well.
Pertinent opinion 2: For all of the mythology about the simple elegance of football, the NFL rulebook is a horrific mishmash of weird rules, special cases, and just plain strangeness about the thickness of an L. Ron Hubbard novel. Mastering its contents as part of a part-time job would be extremely difficult. Trying to then use that knowledge while having to pursue world-class athletes (and nose tackles) up and down the field whilst being screamed at and intimidated by dictatorial nutbar headcoaches and two small armies of human goliaths (and kickers), all of whom literally have millions riding on the outcome of the season and who are used to having their every whim catered to, is nigh impossible. There was no way they could ever have slid in flawlessly to replace teams of professionals who have been doing this for years, who have the league's backing, and who have earned the respect of the guys they'd be refereeing. The replacement refs, on the other hand, have been thrown into the deep end by a league that will clearly abandon them as soon as they're no longer needed, and the players and coaches know it. To be blunt, it's a miracle there haven't been more catastrophes, and I challenge any of the armchair Ed Hochulis out there to do any better under these insane circumstances. Here's a hint - you won't.
Pertinent fact 3: The NFL thinks they can run sub-standard product out there and you'll watch anyway BECAUSE IT'S FOOBAW.
Pertinent opinion 3: Available evidence suggests they're right. Remember how, during the lockout of the players, everyone was all "Oh, this will destroy trust in the game" and "the fans will take years to come back" and "Tony Romo sucks"? The second the lockout ended, bam, butts were in seats, fantasy leagues were full, and you were hooked again. Never mind that it did affect the product on the field - ask any Eagles fan about trying to break in new schemes and coordinators without benefit of a real offseason or training camp - for the worse. It Was Foobaw. And so, when this thing wraps up, when Goodell extracts some token concession from the refs and pays them their promised pension, all the folks who have sworn up and down that they're tired of the league showing contempt for them, that they're tired of getting substandard product, that they've had it and they're not coming back....they'll be back. Instantly.
Pertinent fact 4: The racist chuckleheads tweeting horrific things in Golden Tate's direction because of that last play need to go get bent.
Pertinent opinion 4: Immediately.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Speaking of Cardinals...

The World's Dumbest Bird, aka "Rex Hudler", is still at it. Five months later and he's still slamming his face against every window in our house...and our shed...and our live-in-nephew's car...he can, apparently to defeat the magical cardinal who lives inside his reflection.

Quoth the wife: "How does that bird not have brain damage?"
Quoth me: "How do we know he doesn't?"

Why I'm Rooting For the Cardinals (Sort Of)

I am of two minds on the second NL Wild Card spot.

On one hand, I'm a Phillies fan, and I'd love to see them steal it. A season that's largely been pissed away due to injuries, curious playing time decisions (Hey, whaddaya know? If you leave John Mayberry alone, he hits!), bullpen meltdowns, and too many inexplicable meltdowns against the Houston Astros could still provide a happy ending. And, with this year's cockamamie playoff system, any time you can run a Cole Hamels and a Cliff Lee out there, you've got a puncher's chance.
And yet, on the other side, there's the Cardinals. Lord knows, I should be rooting fervently against them. the luckiest WS champions of recent years - seriously, who did Tony LaRussa sacrifice to Thor to get those fortuitously timed rainouts last year - they angered my formerly-Cardinals-loving wife by not hiring Jose Oquendo as their new manager. (Seriously. They announced the Matheny hiring and she announced they were dead to her. Hope of Jose was all that kept her going through the LaRussa years.)
But at the same time, part of me wants them to win. Why? Not for any love of Lances Berkman or Lynn. Not because I think "the best baseball fans in America" deserve more affirmation. No, it's for one simple reason: For years, LaRussa wallowed in the "genius" label, for certain values of "genius" that include "having one of the greatest players in history anchor your lineup and several gazillions sunk into your pitching staff". If a first year manager...with no prior managerial experience...can win with that same roster MINUS Albert Pujols, well, maybe that takes a little bit of that self-applied shine off that genius label.
It's petty, I know. But with the Phillies 4 games back with 10 to go, it's about all I've got.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Lord Almighty, There's Violence In Foobawl

Jay Cutler vs. J'Marcus Webb: A Recreation
Football, it must be noted, is a manly sport played by manly men (and also by kickers). It involves putting impossibly burly men in suits of space-aged armor and having them running into each other repeatedly with the impact of 30-MPH car accidents. (That time in high school when you accidentally crunched half your Saturn's front end into a pretzel by bumping into a telephone pole while standing on your brake? Yeah, imagine that hitting the guys on your favorite team every time they open the way for a three-yard draw play. ) We cheer on reports of fistfights in training camp, choosing to believe it means our favorite players are "feisty" or "leaders" or something. We are trained to cheer on guys who have "non-stop motors", who don't take plays off, who play for 60 minutes (as opposed to the actual 11 or so minutes of action that most football games actually comprise). In short, we demand our football heroes go hard, go hard nonstop, and then come back and ask for more.
Except, of course, when they do. Last week, two things happened. One, Chicago Bears quarterback and walking edge case Jay Cutler got frustrated with the play of his offensive line - justifiable, really, as they had managed to do a credible impression of a group of matadors in the face of the Green Bay rush - and shoved one of his linemen. Meanwhile, new Tampa Bay coach Greg "Rutgers Forever" Schiano sent his defense full bore after the New York Giants on a kneeldown play as time ran out, hoping to incite a fumble.
Both instances, naturally, evoked howls of outrage, not to mention a great deal of pearl-clutching and fainting couch-reclining on the part of the NFL's chattering class. You don't do that sort of thing, commentators said again and again. You don't put your hands on your teammate. You don't try on the last play if your opponent is in Victory formation. It simply isn't done!
All of which, of course, puts the lie to all the self-serving myths the NFL likes to serve up like bratwurst. Look, any Eagles fan can tell you there's plenty of reason to go after the Giants on the last play. You'd be amazed at how often it works. Yammering about how the Giants weren't prepared for it just means Giants coach Tom Coughlin should have been paying better attention; the notion that players were endangered conveniently overlooks the fact that these guys are in danger on every single play. Yes, it's not the usual response to Victory formation, but since the normal response is a guaranteed loss, you can't necessarily blame Schiano for trying something different. And really, it's the something different that's the issue. For all that the highlight reels love to praise innovation and talk up the game's cerebral strategy, the truth of the matter is that playcalling's barely evolved since Bill Walsh's day. By all means, be clever - just do it in a way that we feel comfortable with.
As for the Cutler nonsense, it's even sillier. Cutler's maybe half the size of the lineman he shoved. He did no lasting damage, he didn't hit him at speed, and he didn't, break his teammate's face the way beloved All-Star WR Steve Smith did. He shoved the guy, which maybe shows a little poor judgement, but that's about it. And yet, the way sports talk radio blew up, you'd think he'd gone full Tony Jaa.
Seriously. Let's look at it again. Cutler. Shoved. Him. That's it. And in a sport where the shovee is expected to slam into a couple of 350-pound meathemoths on every single play, a shove from Jay Cutler is about as noteworthy as a new Maroon 5 single. And yet the Mike Golics of the world went full "Ehrmegerd" on the story, chewing it over for days when other things - like, say, actual games - happened.
By season's end, nobody will remember either of these too well. The narrative of the Unlikable Jay Cutler was written long ago; he'll get sandbagged by the press for failing to walk on the waters of Lake Michigan.  This thing is likely to get added to the dubious evidence pile, but that's as far as it goes; anyone who'll dredge it up is someone who's already decided that Cutler's a weiner. The Tampa Bay thing will get hauled out every time Coughlin and Schiano meet again, which is to say, probably never. But for those who pay attention, the disconnect between what the league celebrates and how it reacts when those "virtues" actually hit the field is immense.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lessons From College Football, Week 2

Dear Missouri:

If you look around the conference and you don't see Kansas, you are Kansas.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Little-Known Secondary Rules For Dez Bryant

The big ones - no strip clubs, the curfew, the bodyguard - have already been reported. But what most folks don't know is that there's a whole slew of secondary rules the estimable Mr. Bryant has to follow as well. At great personal risk, not to mention prolonged exposure to Ed Werder's mustache, we've obtained a partial list of those conditions. They include:

"Fluttershy, you run a post route"

  • Not permitted to participate in illicit street racing with Vin Diesel
  • Banned from attending IMAX showings of The Dark Knight Rises; must only see it in regular theaters
  • Required to remove sing-along video of "Call Me Maybe" from YouTube
  • Not allowed to serenade members of his 3-man security detail with "And I Will Always Love You"
  • Required to block on at least one out of every three running plays.
  • Not permitted to rub Tony Kornheiser's head or Michael Wilbon's belly "for luck" before games any longer
  • Must write a lengthy review of the latest episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic by no later than Thursday, every week
  • No longer allowed to use the Chocolate Wonderfall at Golden Corral
  • Mandatory sessions visiting Mrs. Ethel Goldstein at a local nursing home every Tuesday, wherein she will announce that he's "a nice boy, but she's very disappointed he didn't become a dentist"
  • Must return Chris Berman's toupee the next time he sees him, and stop calling it "baby Tribble"
  • Required to blame Tony Romo for team's inevitable late-season collapse