Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In Which the Venn Diagram of SportsCenter And News Shows No Overlap

Back when I was in college, I had a first date that involved going over to some friends' living quarters (the word "habitrail" really was appropriate) for some board and card games. The last game came down to me and my date, and as we got down to the finish, it became clear that I was not going to take it easy on her in order to increase my chances of late-evening canoodling. I won the game, the evening wrapped up, and as I walked her back to her dorm, she asked me to apologize.
"For what?" I said.
"For not letting me win."
I very politely (because she was a very attractive young woman) told her that there was no way in hell I would apologize, and that I wasn't going to insult her by "taking it easy on her because she was a girl."
And she asked me again to apologize, and I told her that I wouldn't.
And then for the third time, she asked, and I said, no, and she said, "Good. If you'd actually apologized, I wouldn't have wanted to go out with you."

Fast forward to tonight, and the lead story on SportsCenter. (Don't ask me why I was watching SportsCenter. I never watch SportsCenter any more; there's too much Center and not enough Sports these days.) Now, admittedly, any night where the biggest game is UConn-Providence isn't a big sports night, but still, they led with the fact that Dwyane Wade had apologized to Kobe Bryant for accidentally breaking his nose during Sunday's All-Star Game.
Now, I'm not a big believer in the cult of ultimate macho, where you regard the guys in the other city's sweat pants as the eternal enemy and don't allow yourself to admit to feeling bad that you might have, you know, hurt him. These guys know each other off the court; they hang out, they do commercials together, they play on Olympic teams together, and they're hopefully well-rounded human beings who still exist once they're off the 94 feet of hardwood. In fact, I think it's an admirable gesture on Wade's part, and considering Bryant's well-known proclivities for being perhaps a trifle rude, possibly more than he would have gotten in return had the situations and nasal passages been reversed.
And yes, it was announced later that Bryant had a concussion, which is indeed big news, considering that the Lakers had only recently rounded into form, and without their best player they're the third-best team in LA, behind the Clippers and Long Beach State. Leading with the concussion announcement would have been eminently understandable. It's sports-related, it has a direct impact on the games, and it's news.
But instead, we got the apology. The perfectly sincere, absolutely respectful apology, which had about as much to do with actual sports news as, well, anything Skip Bayless says. I'm sure that someone at ESPN saw the opportunity to lead with an item that involved the names "Kobe" and "D-Wade" and got all fluttery over it, but it was barely sports and it was barely news, and it certainly didn't deserve to be the top headline.
I mean, yes, an injury in an All-Star Game could be news. The litmus test here sits at the intersection of Rose and Fosse, wherein baseball's all time hit leader deliberately and with hard-nosed intensity aforethought, leveled a guy right out of his playing career in order to win the game. Wade, on the other hand, committed a pretty generic foul without malicious intent. Rose didn't apologize. Wade did. There could have been news, but there wasn't, and leading off with that - implying that anything that follows is going to be less newsworthy and less about sports - is a great indicator that anyone actually looking for sports news ought to change the channel.
So I did.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Dear Terry Collins:

I understand that you want to be a football coach. Football coaches have all the power, after all. To misquote Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels, there is nothing so much like God on earth as a football coach on the practice field. They get to make men many times larger than themselves run until they puke. They get to pontificate to a rapt media about their tactical brilliance. They get to call "voluntary" workouts and then cut the guys who actually understand the dictionary meaning of the word "voluntary".
You, on the other hand, had a shortstop show up on time for spring training. He did nothing wrong. He did nothing to get upset about. He simply did his job, and you, you chose to make An Issue out of it because, well, there's nothing else worth talking about in Mets camp, is there?
Look, Terry, I understand. You have a team with the deep potential to be terrible. Your best player left. Your second best player is undergoing the sort of power outage that usually goes with a flying saucer hovering over your car. Your best pitcher doesn't throw hard enough to break glass and nobody can pronounce your catcher's last name. And above it all lurks the high probability that you're going to have to hold bake sales in the concourses of Citi Field to make payroll this year, because your owners are in deeper financial dookie than the Greek government.
But really, Terry, taking it out on the kid in the media? Dragging it out long past the natural lifespan of the story? Isn't there anything, anything else at all you could be talking about? Or maybe you could just get down to getting a baseball team ready for spring, and not wish you were a football coach. At least, not quite so loudly.

Dudes Who Are Preternaturally Good At Their Thing

Lionel Messi is arguably the greatest soccer player in the world. One of the things that makes him great is that he refuses to go down even when being fouled. Plenty of soccer players "dive," that is, hurl themselves to the ground and pretend to have been grievously fouled after the slightest contact. Not Messi.
The Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin suffers a bit by sharing a team with Sidney Crosby. Malkin is merely incredible while Sid is unearthly. Sid's out, though, and Evgeni has stepped up his game something ferocious. Shades of Mario Lemieux.

Really, It's the Lack of Parties

Earlier this weekend, I heard ESPN's J.A. Adande discussing why some of the luster was apparently off the NBA All-Star festivities this go-round. Bear in mind that I generally find Adande's commentary some of the most insightful stuff ESPN offers, and I will therefore willingly listen to him talk about things that I otherwise have no interest in.
But this time, not so much. One of the things he threw out there was that because the NBA season's schedule was so out of whack, there hadn't really been enough time for booking venues for parties and other festivities during the weekend1. And so some of the big parties weren't being thrown, and therefore the weekend wasn't as All-Star-Spectacular as it had been in years past.
Now, call me crazy, but I'm reasonably sure the reason nobody was excited about the All-Star Weekend, and particularly not about the 3 Point Contest and the Slam Dunk Contest, was due to a combination of two factors. One, nobody knew when the hell All-Star weekend was going to be. (Did it just happen? I don't know. I wasn't looking.) Two, the Slam Dunk Contest2, typically the only part of the weekend that non-hardcore fans care about, was populated by something called a Chase Budinger (who has played a grand total of 24 minutes in his team's last 3 games), a Paul George (averaging 12 points per game), a Derrick Williams (18 minutes and 7 points per game) and your winner, Utah's Jeremy Evans, owner of a career mark of 3.2 points per game. That's three backups and a fourth option. It doesn't matter how many glow-in-the-dark jerseys or two-ball slams get thrown, if nobody's heard of the guys throwing them down, nobody's going to watch. This is a league that's been hanging it's image on visuals of stars like Blake Griffin, Kobe Bryant, Amar'e Stoudamire, and Dwight Howard posterizing hapless D-League refugees. To promise that, and then deliver the guy on the end of Utah's bench? That, not the lack of parties that all blend together for those of us on the wrong side of the velvet rope, just might be why interest was down.

1If Nike can't figure out how to leverage its cash and resources to throw a party on only a few months' notice, Nike isn't that interested in throwing a party.
2Ironically, the 3 Point Shooting Contest, which traditionally gets as much love as Uwe Boll at the Oscars, had a couple of actual stars in it this year. I didn't know that, either.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Your Handy Ryan Braun Conspiracy Theory Guide

Conspiracy theories are dumb. They are predicated on the simultaneous notion that A)there are vast, powerful groups of people exerting their reach invisibly to alter the course of world events on a scale vast and unimaginable and B)they're doing so in such a way that every dude named Shecky with dialup access can find the clues they're leaving behind. I mean, sure, the idea that someone out there is planning all this has to be comforting on some level - more comforting than the notion that there's no one in charge and thus, no one to magically save the day should events warrant it - but as a dedicated reader of conspiracy theory material for writing-related purposes, I can safely say that one conspiracy theory is generally dumber than the next. Doctor Rich recommends taking two Michael Shermer books, chasing them with Jon Ronson's excellent treatise Them, and taking a nap.
That being said, the Braun verdict has produced any number of hare-brained analyses, ranging from the insulting to the deeply insulting. Here's a quick rundown.

Braun Got Off Because Bud Selig Used To Own The Brewers
The key term in all this, of course, is "used to". As in, "he sold the team". As in "Some other dude named Mark Attanasio owns it now." Sure, the conspiracy theorists say, but it was his team, and it's in his hometown, and they've got a statue of him out front of their park! Surely that's enough reason for Bud to ham-fistedly rig the appeals process!
Which, of course, conveniently dodges the fact that MLB - which Selig runs - is so visibly unhappy with the results of the Braun case that they're ready to run into the buzz saw of litigation to try to overturn it. Yeah, that totally makes sense if Bud's the one who rigged it in the first place.

Braun Got Off Because Selig's Incompetent and the Player's Union Beat Him Like A Rented Mule Again
First of all, the MLBPA didn't appeal. Braun did. Union head Michael Weiner was nicely gracious in the wake of MLB's tantrum over the results, but that's long-distance applause from after the fact. The appeal was handed down, not by the union, but by a panel comprised of one union rep, one MLB rep, and one independent arbitrator with a resume longer than a Robert Jordan novel. Predictably, the union guy on the panel voted one way, and the management guy voted the other, leaving the independent arbitrator - not the union, not Bud Selig - to cast the deciding vote.

Braun Got Off Because the Arbitration Was Rigged
This one's being championed by Mike Lupica, who, if he had a goatee, would probably be best described as the Mirror Universe Bob Costas. To imply that independent arbitrator Shyam Das, who has worked with baseball for decades, offered decisions that have been roughly split down the middle in terms of who's won, and whose case history is both impressive and wide-ranging, would be biased or corrupt is lazy, juvenile mudslinging at its worst. For a putatively professional journalist like Lupica to even imply this sort of thing is because he didn't get the result he wanted is the sort of tantrum-throwing nonsense that immediately dismisses its author as a crank. The fact that it's deeply insulting to a respected professional and a leader in his field just emphasizes how thoroughly wrong-headed Lupica is in all this.

Braun Got Off Because the Sample Delivery Was Rigged
This one, superficially, appears to maybe have some legs. I mean, surely the courier responsible for passing along Mr. Braun's pee could have checked a website or two to get the hours of the local FedExOfficeWeUsedToBeKinkos, and found one that would be open long enough to divest himself of the urine in question - unless he were tempted not to do so by a nefarious bribe!
Except, of course, the guy in question is a Cubs fan, and thus unlikely to be doing the Brewers and their best player a favor. His stated logic - he thought the sample would be safe with him than sitting in a Kinko's waiting for pickup - makes a lot more sense than "Braun got to him!"
Besides, if Braun were going to bribe this guy, why didn't Braun just bribe him to pee in the vial instead, and thus save all the agita? It fails the sniff test, not that you particularly want to be sniffing in this instance.

Braun Got Off Because He Had Super Duper Expensive Ninja Lawyers
All things considered, Ryan Braun is a very rich man. He can hire very good lawyers.
The guys on the other side from him on this appeal are from MLB. MLB is the parent organization of the team that writes checks to Mr. Braun, as well as 24 other players. No matter how expensive a lawyer Braun can hire, MLB can hire more expensive ones.

Braun Got Off Because He's Jewish
Of course. Because Steve Carlton's wackier purported fantasies are right, and it's Sandy Koufax, Brad Ausmus, and the ghost of Hank Greenberg sitting in a luxury cave in Barbados with the last of the Rothschilds, secretly controlling the destiny of all of baseball.
Now call me crazy, but if I were running the secret Jewish cabal that oversaw baseball and I found out that Ryan Braun, the Great Whitefish Hope, had tested positive for something not normally found in rugeleh, wouldn't it make more sense to squash this before the results get passed to Braun? Before the results get announced? Before the appeals process happens? Before there are months and months of fevered speculation on this topic that would make any kind of manipulation of the results look like the sort of ham-fisted (sorry, trayf) dabbling that any kind of conspiracy worth its (kosher) salt would do its utmost to avoid?

Of course not. Shecky's got dialup, after all, and the interwebs have spoken.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Landon Donovan Should Stay In England

Landon Donovan, probably the best-known American male soccer player today, is under contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy of US Major League Soccer. The Galaxy won the MLS championship this past year due in no small part to the efforts of Donovan and foreign teammates David Beckham and Robbie Keane.
Only few members of the US Men's National Team come from the MLS ranks, because few MLS players have the skills necessary to thrive in international play. That's not to say that American men can't succeed in international soccer. The most successful active (male) US soccer player, Clint Dempsey, has been a top player at Fulham, and US MNT goalkeeper Tim Howard has played for Everton for years.
(For non-soccer-savvy readers, neither Everton nor Fulham is a powerhouse of the Premiership, but both have been pretty good teams by EPL standards for the last few years. Consider Everton to be the equivalent of the Chicago Bears or thereabouts: A club with a rich history that consistently does okay but not great, and whose last sustained success came in the 80s. Fulham, by contrast, is more like the Cleveland Browns. Perennially middling, gone entirely from the top-flight league for a span in the 90s, but back in moderate contention.)
Editor's note -- for those who don't follow American football, Mr. Kiley has just paid Fulham a grievous insult.
Since the MLS season is offset from the soccer season of the ENTIRE PLANET*, there's a two-month window during which MLS players can play for international clubs. In 2010 and 2012, Donovan has been loaned to Everton for several weeks during that window. In each of those two years he's received an Everton "player of the month" award. Near the end of the last home game of Donovan's 2010 Everton stint, fans at the stadium chanted "U-S-A" to credit his excellent play.
For the betterment of his own skills, and for the sake of the US national soccer program, Donovan should remain with Everton.
A player really only improves when he faces opposition that is comparable to his own talents. There are a few good teams in Major League Soccer. Donovan's championship LA Galaxy is chief among those. By comparison to the English Premier League, the rest of MLS is the soccer equivalent of the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.
There's something to be said for keeping the American game's biggest star playing within the United States. It certainly helps raise the visibility of the league in general, and helps the league be taken more seriously. But the best thing that can be done for American soccer is for the men's national team to have consistent success in the World Cup. Once that happens, the MLS will be seen as more than just a second-flight league. And until that happens, the best American players need to face the world's best competition.
* Don't get me started.

Braun and Journalism

Apparently everyone got scooped on this one by a 16 year old high school student with an unhealthy Nyjer Morgan fixation.

I anxiously look forward to Ken Rosenthal castigating him on live national television for not being a real journalist.

Braun Skates By a Razor's Edge

Defending NL MVP Ryan Braun has had his 50 game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance overturned by a 3-arbitrator panel. This has produced all sorts of interesting reactions in the chattering classes because A)it's never happened before, at least that we know of B)it massively changes the dynamic in the NL Central this upcoming season C)there was considerable weirdness around the whole case from the get-go and D)the reason the suspension was overturned will no doubt cause endless controversy going forward. 
For those unaware of the facts of the case, such as they are, they can be summed up thusly:

What Happened:
  • At the end of last season, Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun tested positive for a banned substance, later revealed to be artificial testosterone.
  • Braun was informed of the positive test privately, as per MLB's drug testing regulations, before the voting for NL MVP. 
  • Braun immediately took another test, which was negative.
  • Braun won NL MVP over a slightly-more-deserving-but-saddled-with-a-joke-of-an-owner Matt Kemp of the LA Dodgers*, knowing of the positive test but not violating his right to privacy and due process by informing the voters of the BBWAA of the test.
  • The test results were leaked, causing many of the writers who had voted for Braun to verbally roast him and demand he turn in his MVP award.
  • All sorts of weird bits of evidence surrounding the test came to light, and Braun vowed to appeal

Reasons to think Braun is clean:

He'd never failed a test before or since (23 clean results)
There's absolutely no logical reason he'd start juicing at the end of a season when he'd been clean all year and put up monster numbers.
His test numbers were so out of whack - we're talking "Bruce Banner in line at the DMV" out of whack - they looked like they came off a video game, and statistical outliers that berserk are always suspicious.
His followup test was clean.
Reasons to think Braun isn't clean:
His sample tested positive. Way, way, positive.
It is theoretically a very accurate test, with basically zero chance of a false positive.

Random bullshit swirling around the case:
The way the results were leaked on the supposedly anonymous testing is highly unethical, to say the least.
Various holier-than-thou reporters were ready to crucify Braun for daring to win the MVP award they voted for while testing positive, and not turning the award down
Rumors that Braun tested positive because he was taking a herpes med. (What is it about baseball players and wacky herpes rumors? See also: Jeter and Jessica Alba)
Conspiracy theorists claiming that since Selig once owned the Brewers, he was going to rig things so that Braun would get off.

The ruling:
Braun's guilt cannot be proven because there's a break in the chain of custody of the first sample, which tested positive. Apparently the messenger charged with transporting it thought that the local FedEx Office was closed and held onto it over the weekend, creating a two day gap in the chain of custody during which time anything could have happened to the sample, up to and including contamination, deliberate mucking about, or Moises Alou using it to wash his hands. 
The verdict was rendered 2-1 by the panel, which consisted of one MLB rep, one MLBPA rep, and one independent arbitrator (Shyam Das) who has a history with these things. MLB is furious about the whole thing, which is idiotic - the last thing you want to do is keep trashing your product, particularly your young, superstar, photogenic product, once you've been given an out on this whole embarrassing mess.

Why Everyone Is Mad:
The reason Braun's suspension was overturned by the arbitrator - and let's be honest, this was a one-man show, because the MLB arbitrator was always going to rule one way and the MLBPA was always going to rule the other - was, as noted, because the chain of evidence was broken, and Braun's sample apparently spent two days in a bike messenger's fridge. Now, leaving aside all jokes about what you're likely to find in a bike messenger's fridge (and they are plentiful), the fact is, the sample was not where it was supposed to be according to the rules of the testing. Period. That's it. Never mind that weird things can and do happen to samples that are not kept according to strict protocols, never mind that the tamper-proof seal was supposedly in place - none of that matters. The rules were broken, which leads to the inescapable conclusions that A)the positive test was unreliable, because it was not conducted under the agreed-upon rules and B)the way in which Braun's appeal was upheld will be described in all corners as "on a technicality".
And since we all now "on a technicality" means "he did it and got away with it but those darn rules kept a good cop from taking a dirty scumbag down like in that episode of Law and Order I just watched"**, those convinced that Braun actually did cheat will just entrench in their positions, forever convinced that he was guilty and that only some sort of shenanigans got him off. 
And to those who feel that way, I say "bugger off". As noted above, the chain of evidence was broken. None of these jokers would hesitate for a minute to use a broken chain of evidence defense if they were on trial, even if only in the court of public opinion. And as noted above, weird things happen to samples that aren't dealt with according to protocol. Ryan Braun did not test positive; a sample of Ryan Braun's tested positive under circumstances that rendered that test invalid
There's a whole other debate to be had on this, over the fact that Braun's results were leaked in violation of MLB's CBA with the players' association, a fact that conveniently gets overlooked in the supposed greater good of "finding cheaters". But that's a topic for another time. What matters now is that somehow, the system creaked to a conclusion in accordance with its own rules. It didn't get there quickly, and it didn't get there painlessly, but it got there. And that, more than any positive test, means that the system is working. Short-sighted zealots my decry this as Braun setting up a blueprint for cheating the system***; wiser heads will realize that preserving the accuracy of the testing process is more important in the long run.
And some of us do still remember the long run.

*Many of these same writers were ready to run Kemp out of LA on a rail the year previous for being "lazy" and "a clubhouse cancer" and so forth. Funny how that changes.
**Just so you know, Law and Order doesn't actually get that stuff right all the time.
***Step one: Cheat. Step two: find bike messenger too dumb to read the posted hours at Kinko's. Step three: PROFIT!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Get Those Bums Outta Here

It's telling that the biggest story around NC State basketball this season does not have anything to do with, say, their new coach. Or the continued gelling of players like C.J. Leslie, or their epic collapse and near miss at Duke, or, really, anything to do with NC State basketball. Instead, the one thing that's gotten the Wolfpack any kind of national play - and the first national attention they've gotten since the foofaraw wherein one particularly insensitive dolt of a columnist compared the then-vacant State coaching job to Khloe Kardashian - involved the somewhat irregular ejection of two notable Pack alumni, Tom "Googs" Gugliotta and Chris "I Now Hawk Mortgages on Local Sports Talk Radio" Corchiani, from last weekend's game against Florida State. Apparently the ref didn't follow proper procedure in asking that the two gents - whom everyone swears were innocently spectating - be booted from the building, possibly as a result of the fact previously, he had followed procedure and the desired results had not been achieved.
Whatever. I don't know what Gugliotta and Corchiani were saying or not saying, and I don't particularly care. No matter how just or unjust their ejection might have been, neither of those guys was on the court. On the court, the Wolfpack was getting its head handed to it by an eminently beatable Florida State team, even though State desperately needed one more signature win to cement their NCAA tournament status. And on the court is where things theoretically matter. It's all well and good to get excited over stuff like this, but the fact that more heat is being generated over what happened to a couple of guys who last suited up when the Raleigh Bullfrogs were a going concern than about the actual team. Better to focus attention and discussion on the guys who are on the court, and then maybe, just maybe, ESPN and company will notice more than the sideshows.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Burnett In Yinzerville

(Contrary to popular belief, only one of this blog's authors lives in Pittsburgh, and it's not the guy writing this post)

After two often ugly years, it looks like the Yankees have finally divested themselves of A.J. Burnett. He's going to Pittsburgh, along with $20M of a $33M contract, in exchange for two low-level prospects and the chance to not have A.J. Burnett pitch for the Yankees any more. The deal makes sense on a lot of levels. Burnett, his gutty playoff performance notwithstanding, was clearly done in New York. The fans and the media had turned on him, and his inconsistent performance wasn't what a pennant contender in the Boston/NY/Tampa/Toronto crab boil needed. Getting him out of the rotation and even partially off the books is a win. At the same time, Pittsburgh gets a guy who, regardless of anything else, is durable, and can set up at the front of a rotation that could generously be called "interesting". And, away from aforementioned crab boil and in the cozy confines of the NL Central - home to toothless lineups in Chicago and Houston - and in a pitcher's park, Burnett should experience what, at least superficially looks like a Comeback Player Of The Year-worthy season.
This will, of course, cause Yankees fans to go berserk. Roughly half of them will pillory GM Brian Cashman for trading Burnett away "just as he was getting good", and the other half will resurrect the spectre of Ed Whitson, sneeringly dismiss Burnett as "another guy who just couldn't make it in New York", and then go back to obsessing about whether Derek Jeter is the greatest player ever, or just the greatest Yankee ever.
You know. The important stuff.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Wakefield Retires

Yesterday, veteran knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield announced his retirement from baseball. Wakefield pitched in the big leagues for almost two decades, piling up 200 wins and a double fistful of big moments for both the Pittsburgh Pirates (yes, he pitched long enough to have been there back when the Pirates were relevant) and the Boston Red Sox. Wakefield was also the lone standard-bearer for the knuckleball for many years, soldiering on when many heirs apparent to this noble art (Charlie Zink, anyone?) fell by the wayside. All in all, not a bad career for a minor league infielder who switched to pitching after hitting roughly .195.
And, true to form with all things Wakefield-related, Jason Varitek couldn't handle it, and the announcement rolled all the way to the backstop.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

About This Lin Fella

The great and interesting thing about Jeremy Lin is not, contrary to Darren Rovell's belief, that he is Asian. It is not that he is effusively Christian a la Tebow, it is not that he went to Harvard, it is not even that he was an Economics major and thus amuses my wife (whose background is in econometrics). It is not that he was an undrafted free agent, that he was cut twice, that he spent time in the D-League earlier this year while the Knicks struggled with All of these are wonderful angles to fill a few column inches and spark sports radio call-in debates with, but they're missing the point.
The great and interesting thing about Jeremy Lin is that he is the only remotely great and definitely interesting thing about the New York Knicks this year. The great and interesting thing about Jeremy Lin is that he plays basketball like his hair - all his hair, not just the stuff on his head - is on fire. The great and interesting thing about Jeremy Lin is that, in a league dominated by boring-ass isolation plays where one star runs around and four teammates stand and watch, he attacks the rim like he's a starving zombie and the backboard's made of brains. The great and interesting thing about Jeremy Lin is that he is actually fun to watch play basketball.
Is he great at it? His one transcendent game against the Lakers notwithstanding, no. He is certainly talented, but let's take it easy before we anoint him the second coming of Oscar Robertson. Nobody who turns the ball over as much as Lin does keeps up this kind of run for long. He's a good player who's had a good few games after he fell into the perfect situation - playing for a coach who loves to push the ball, has no other point guard alternatives, and who has his two big scorers sidelined with injuries. Of course he was going to get his shot, and to his credit, he took advantage of it. But it's only been a few games. It's been a few games without Carmelo Anthony, who's got the same relationship with the ball that Wallace and Gromit have with cheese. It's been a few games when opposing coaches haven't had game film of Lin playing against anyone except Dartmouth, and opposing players haven't decided that the way to make a name for themselves is to shut down the guy everyone's talking about. In short, he ain't seen nothing yet.
Mind you, as a casual basketball fan, I hope the Linsanity continues. I hope he adjusts and elevates his game, and that Anthony and the Knicks continue to make use of his talents. And I hope that for the simple reason that he's fun to watch. No other reason, no more complicated explanation, no ham-fisted attempt at socioeconomic analysis by guys who are trained to report on high ankle sprains are necessary.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Further evidence that I'm right about Alex Morgan

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 2 2
NZL 0 1 1

NZL -- Hannah Wilkinson 49th minute
USA – Alex Morgan (Megan Rapinoe) 88
USA – Alex Morgan (Abby Wambach) 90 + 3

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Great Catch

My wife used to be a baseball fan.
More specifically, she was a Cardinals fan growing up. She discovered baseball during the Whitey Herzog era, growing up in Missouri, and she was a fan of Ozzie and Willie McGee and Vince Coleman. She watched games, and she listened to night games on the radio as she was going to sleep.
Then Whitey got canned, and eventually Tony LaRussa came in, and she stopped being a fan. She'd watch baseball with me on occasion, and she'd occasionally come to the ballpark, and she was always happy to have my fantasy league run its annual draft out of our home (roughly once every four years), but she wasn't a fan any more. She could admire a great catch or a drop-off-the-table curve or a long home run, but that was pretty much as far as it went.
The last straw came this off-season; she'd said many times that the one thing that could get her to come back would be if Tony went bye-bye and Jose Oquendo got the managerial job instead. She was a big Jose fan growing up, and we once spent a very pleasant evening watching the documentary about the attempt to get Jose into the Hall of Fame. Putting Oquendo in the manager's chair would be a way for her to get back to the Cardinals of her youth, the team she loved and the way they played. And when they hired Mike Matheny instead, she emailed me with "I GIVE UP. GOING TO BECOME A PHILLIES FAN INSTEAD!!!"
She didn't, of course. Some lines can't be crossed. But a funny thing happened the other night. She came in while I was watching some countdown show or other on MLB Network - the 75 Greatest Catches That Probably Didn't Involve An Infielder Not Running Into The Stands, or some such - and she got into it. A Robin Yount diving layout? Junior going over the wall to rob someone? Tony Barron's face-plant*? And of course, all the Ozzie Smith plays. "I saw that game," she'd say. Or "I listened to that one on the radio."
And maybe, for a few seconds, she was a fan again.

*Most of the catches involving Phillies seemed to involve people doing bad things to their faces. See also: Rowand, Aaron.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Toronto Raptors...

...are not good. I mean, really, really not good. OK, I'm just a casual NBA fan, but I watched a Raptors game the other night at a sports bar in downtown Toronto, and I noticed the following things:
  • I was the only one watching the game.
  • I had no idea who anyone - and I mean anyone - on the Raptors was. I mean, OK, I had vague memories of Ed Davis from his one season at UNC, but I thought a DeMar DeRozan was the sort of car Lamont Cranston drove. And a quick check reveals I don't know who any of the guys on their D-League affiliate are, either. Lots of directional Kentucky schools there, that's all I'm saying.
  • They do a lot of running around and being surprised at where their teammates end up on offense. Look, I'm not the sort of guy who can sit down and diagram the subtleties of the Triangle offense, but it's pretty clear when the guy with the ball looks up, looks at where his teammate is supposed to be, gets a look of "what the hell?" and then starts looking around wildly to make sure they haven't all left the court like there's three seconds left and they're playing Florida State, something's gone wrong. 
  • That happened about half the time. The rest of the time, they stood around and watched the aforementioned Mr. DeRozan, who did his noble best to win the game all by himself.
  • When the Washington Wizards make it look easy to dissect your defense, you don't have a defense.
I know their best player's out. But it's rare to see a professional sports team not owned by Peter Angelos or coached by one of the Ryan brothers that looks that genuinely disorganized in play, whose players look so surprised to see what their teammates are doing, and whose genuine effort get frittered away in a million different directions. I'd love to see them do well, if for no other reason than that their logo has fossils in it, and I'm all about any kind of fossil that blogging under the name "Murray Chass". But damn, right now, it's hard to watch.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

What's a Sixer, Anyway?

Back in those heady days when everyone was scrambling to get ready for the truncated NBA season, the conventional wisdom on the Philadelphia 76ers went something like this:
"They're young and they play hard, and Doug Collins won't burn out until next year. But they didn't add any stars in the offseason, so they're screwed."
Now we're roughly a third of the way through the schedule, and the Sixers have one of the best records in the league. They're efficient, they play defense, and they run fresh legs out there for all 48 minutes, and the end result so far has been a lot of wins. Yes, they've played a home-heavy schedule thus far, but you have to win the home games, too, and they've been doing that at a pretty impressive clip. No, they didn't add any stars, but it looks like they've figured out how to use the guys they've got - the Thaddeus Youngs and Spencer Haweses of the world - in ways that let them succeed, instead of trying to force them to be players they're not.
Maybe it's an illusion. Maybe the rest of the league will catch up to them. Maybe the lack of a go-to shooter (besides mugger-defeating sixth man Lou Williams) will do them in. Maybe they'll just run into their bete noire, Miami, too early in the playoffs. It doesn't matter. They've been winning and they've been fun to watch, and for the first time in years Philly fans are excited about the Sixers.
And they've proven one other thing: there's more than one way (i.e. spend lots of money) to get better. If you've got good young players, emphasis on the young, there's a good chance they'll be better this year than last. Sometimes, that little bit of improvement year to year adds up, especially when it's coming from the Evan turners and Jrue Holidays and Jodie Meekses of the world. Good young players can get better, if you coach them and you let them, and you don't demand perfection immediately or ship them out. Sometimes, that's all it takes.

Monday, February 06, 2012

NFL Hall of Fame

Real quick -- there were people on local sports radio this afternoon suggesting that this Super Bowl loss might somehow reduce the chances of Brady and Belichick reaching the Hall of Fame.
This is utter nonsense.
Look, I hate the Pats. But even I know that nothing short of an O.J. Simpson-esque rampage is going to keep either of those two guys out of the Hall of Fame.
Move on.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Watching Super Bowl 45 With Dad

I caught more of the Super Bowl this year than I thought I would. My connection out of LaGuardia - an iffy proposition on the best of days - ran late, and I got a few minutes of long-distance viewing of a monitor showing the second quarter as I waited, and waited, and waited a bit more for the chance to board.
Last year's game, I watched in a hotel bar in Dedham, Massachusetts. I was up there with my father on some family business. Winter wasn't screwing around, not last year, and much of our evening had involved pushing various cars out of various iced-up parking spaces on a cul-de-sac in Jamaica Plain. Dad had done great violence to his MCL, though we didn't know that yet. We did know that we were tired, and dusty, and bone-deep exhausted. So I drove us through the slush and the snow back to the hotel. We showered, cleaned ourselves up as best we could, and went down to the hotel bar for dinner. No restaurant there, just a bar that served food, and a room that got made up for breakfasts. Five or six televisions, though, and we positioned ourselves where we could both see one, ordered steaks and drinks (diet soda for him, a beer for me), and took our time.
The next day, he could barely walk, and business made us climb way too many flights of stairs. But that was the next day.
Behind us, at another table, a fistful of Russian businessmen were trying to take in the game. The intricacies of football weren't quite intuitive to them, so one of the waiters basically spent the entire evening camped out at their table, explaining the complexities of down and distance, and the cover-2, and why many people consider Ben Roethlisberger to be a douchebag. They got some of it, I'm pretty sure. Enough to enjoy the game. Which, ultimately, is what mattered.

Yinzer-free Super Bowl Pick

God, I hate the Patriots.
So does (almost) everybody around here ("here" being western Pennsylvania).
It's not just that they knocked the Steelers out of the playoffs several years running. It's not just Spygate*. It's not just that their most zealous fans are jagoffs (a Pats fan and former neighbor named his dog "Bruschi"). It's not just the lack of sportsmanship that leads them to run up the score against inferior opponents.
It's all of that.
Giants by 3**.
* Read this article on Scott Pioli's behavior after coming to the Chiefs and tell me that the Patriots aren't still cheating in every way they can manage. Is this the behavior of a man who expects his opponents to operate fairly?
** Not that I'm going to get to watch it live; I'm coaching three youth futsal*** games this evening.
*** this

Unscientific Ranking of Most Popular Topics at Super Bowl Week

  1. Peyton. Peyton Peyton Peyton
  2. Rob Gronkowski's ankle.
  3. Will this game make Tom Brady the greatest quarterback ever? (No.)
  4. Will this game make Bill Belichick the greatest coach ever? (No.)
  5. Peyton. Peyton Peyton Peyton Eli Peyton.
  6. Gosh, Indianapolis is nice.
  7. Is Eli better than Brady?
  8. Peyton Peyton Peyton. Irsay Peyton.
  9. Hey, Madonna's older than she was in 1986.
  10. TEBOW!
  11. Peyton Peyton Redskins Dolphins Peyton.
  12. Wait. The Giants are playing in this thing, too?

Saturday, February 04, 2012

On Filtering From the Comments Section

There's a particular kind of commenter on sports blogs who's got a very clear idea of what posts do and don't belong on a given blog. (We don't have any of those here, of course. We barely have any commenters at all, but we love the ones we do.) They'll carefully read stuff that, by title alone, is guaranteed not to interest them, just so they can then comment that this particular post doesn't belong. Advanced cases will generally phrase these posts with "Normally I love your work, but-". Hardcases prefer, "I thought this was a [name of sport] blog, not name of thing they disapprove of]". Often there are proud announcements that because of this one post which they perceive to be off-topic, they're leaving the site (most of whose content they appear to like) and never, ever coming back.
The latest incarnation of this particular sort of bloggy puritanism is over at Hardball Times, where bloggers are getting roasted for following the Brian Cashman pajama bottom story. They feel, and they may be right, that it's not a baseball story; Craig Calcaterra and DJ Short and the folks who write for the site feel that since Cashman is the GM of the Yankees it's baseball-related and they'll put it out there for folks to see, which is also a reasonable position. What's not reasonable, though, is the attempt by a few people to deliberately work themselves into a lather as an excuse to try to dictate content.
Hey, kids, here's an idea instead. See the title of a post you don't like, don't click through and read it. Then, you don't feel morally obligated to point out how offended you are by it, and the folks who are interested can read and discuss it in peace. You get to concentrate on the part of the site you like, and everyone wins.
Or, to put it another way, if you've got six things on your plate at the local Chinese buffet but you hate seafood, there's absolutely no reason for you to go get a double handful of crab rangoon and then bitch about how since you don't like 'em, they shouldn't be served. Your reaction to any given bit of posting is appreciated, not required, and the choice not to read something is just as the choice to read it.
And really, everyone ends up happier that way. Even Brian Cashman.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Don't Tell Me They're Not Worth It

Once upon a time, I remember people bitching about how ballplayers got paid too much. "They're just playing a game," people said. "They don't need that money." And of course, "We should be paying people who are really important, like policemen and teachers."

These days, you still get people bitching about ballplayers being paid too much. The difference, of course, is that now they're saying that money should go to the owners instead, because the owners "take all the risk". Funny how times change.

Politics aside, however, it's an idiotic position to take. The players are paid, despite numerous attempts to artificially suppress their wages (draft slotting, luxury taxes, multiple years until free agency, etc.) what they're worth to the business of the team that employs them. The players are, after all, the product. The better the players, the better the product. The better the product, the more seats you fill, the more beers you sell, the more team merch goes out the door. It's a simple, direct, and obvious function, and it's purely capitalist - the best players outcompete their peers to get the most money.

And the owners...are in position to write those checks. Not because "they're taking all the risk." They're not. More often than not, it's the taxpayers who are taking all the risk. They're the ones underwriting the new stadiums, after all. They're the ones giving up city parking revenues and naming rights on public buildings, they're the ones paying the extra half-cent in tax that pays for the new parking lots, they're the ones stuck with the bill if the metaphorical pooch gets screwed. Team owners take all the risks? Just ask the suckers from New Jersey, still on the hook for a quarter-billion in bonds for the Meadowlands, who's taking the risks. Ask Dodgers fans how Frank McCourt's siphoning a couple of hundred million dollars out of the team and leveraging a Los Angeles landmark was taking all the risks. And meanwhile, team values rise and rise.

The people who are rich enough to own sports teams got that way because they're good at making money. If they didn't think they'd make even more money owning a team, they wouldn't buy one. They get tax breaks on the purchase, an asset that constantly increases in value, and boatloads of taxpayer money to play with. Where's the risk, apart from the risk of being called a jackass by call-ins on a local radio station you don't actually have to listen to? Money can soothe that hurt. So can the adulation of a city, if you buy a winner.

So you can bitch about a culture that puts athletes in position to sign multi-hundred million dollar contracts. But within their context, they're worth it - they bring in those revenues to their employers, and they're the best in the world at what they do. We, for are part, are willing to pay to see them perform, and thus pay their salaries. If we're willing to pay the freight to go see them, they're worth the freight it costs to get them in uniform. And until an owner suits up and leads the coverage team on a punt return, he's not the one taking any risks at all.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Yet Another Reason to Hate Super Bowl Halftime Shows

The local sports talk radio station has been running this Godawful commercial of late. Over what sounds like a knockoff of "Also Sprach Zarathurtra (DJ Concussion Mix), it announces that history is going to be made. For the first time, Madonna is going to perform in the Super Bowl 46 (I refuse to use Roman numerals unless they release lions onto the field, and I don't mean Matthew Stafford) Halftime Show.

Well, no shit. Of course she's performing for the first time in the Super Bowl 46 Halftime Show; THERE'S NEVER BEEN A SUPER BOWL 46 HALFTIME SHOW BEFORE. Everyone who performs in it is doing so for the first time, including Madonna, her cone-shaped brassiere, and whatever organic material is left in her face.

Look, I realize correct grammar is not high on the list of Super Bowl priorities. There are meaningless platitudes to dutifully record, Mannings to pursue, incantations by Bill Belichick to his lord and master Arioch to take part in, and so forth. But for God's sake, people, you've known about Madonna doing the halftime show for months. Is that long enough to get someone who hasn't suffered multiple concussions to check the text on your three line radio commercial?

Yeah, probably not. Forget I said anything.