Sunday, April 29, 2012

No-Hitter at the DBAP

So I got to see a no-hitter live and in person today at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, where the Bulls, long one of the minors' winningest franchises, took on the Indianapolis Indians, AAA scions of the perennially punchless punchlines, the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Needless to say, it was the Bulls that got no-hit, sending them to their 13th consecutive loss. Pirates prospect Sterling Marte bounced a homer off the sports bar behind the left field wall for the only run the Indians needed (they scored 2), and three pitchers zeroed out the hometown nine. The starter, Justin Wilson, got lifted after 107 pitches and a Leslie Anderson line drive off his right kidney, and two relievers closed it out. That was about as close as the Bulls got to a hit, really - there were a couple of close plays at first and a few nice catches, but really, around the third inning was when people realized that today could be special in all the wrong ways.
Friday night, at a game I also attended, the Bulls got thumped, 13-2. Ballyhooed pitching prospect Alex Torres got lit up like John Cerutti, getting pulled in the second. Saturday, another prospect, Chris Archer, threw a 3-hitter and still lost, 2-0. Bad teams lose in lots of different ways. They get clobbered. They get shut out. They fail to support their pitchers. They find ways to lose.
This year, the Bulls have the look of a bad team. This is not necessarily a surprise; they've sent a ton of talent up the ladder to Tampa over the last few years. As a Bulls fan, I've had the pleasure of watching Price, Longoria, Jennings, Upton, Joyce, Hellickson, Moore and many others come through town, and a pipeline like that generally doesn't keep flowing that well forever. And in the past, the Bulls generally peppered their roster with solid AAAA guys, hitters like Chris Richard and Russ Canzler and Dan Johnson, guys who could hammer a minor league fastball and provide a steady foundation the prospects could rally around.
This year, those guys are gone, Canzler to Cleveland and Johnson to Charlotte and Ruggiano to, well, I actually don't know where Justin Ruggiano is these days. The prospects, at least the hitting ones, are gone, too. Brandon Guyer's a solid bat, and Tim Beckham's rebounded from an awful first season after being drafted first overall to be a decent possibility, but there's no one except the pitchers to dream on. And when the pitchers aren't right (and even sometimes when they are), that means the Bulls, more often than not, are going to take it on the chin.
There are a lot of reasons to go to a minor league game. First and foremost, it's fun. The seats are always good, the tickets are cheap, and there's always the thrill of "I saw him when" prospect-hunting. Going and expecting win-at-all-costs, like the majors, however, is a mistake. Minor league teams are there to develop at least as much as they are to win. Sometimes, that means they're loaded. Sometimes that means they're outgunned. The trick is to enjoy what you've got, whatever it is.
And in the meantime, I got to see a no-hitter.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Who Won Roll Call?

Up at today, there are ratings of winners and losers of the first day of the NFL Draft.
Over on the baseball side of things, there are people going nuts over whether Michael Pineda's labrum tear means the Mariners "won" their trade with the Yankees. (Their prize in the deal, DH Jesus Montero, at least has both arms still attached, which temporarily tilts this in Seattle's favor.)
This is, of course, hooey. Trades take years to develop. Drafted players often take years to come into their own. Remember when everyone was screaming that Houston "lost" the draft one year because they took Mario Williams over Reggie Bush? None of those kids has played a down in the pros yet - judging them a "win" or a "loss" is spitting sunflower seeds into the wind - the best you can hope for is not getting spit on your face. Baseball trades are even worse, especially when much of the package is made up of minor leaguers. An A-ball arm today may not crack the big leagues for five years; he may be a stud then, but who wants to wait that long to pass judgment?
It's fun to compare. But when the comparison gets leavened with screaming panic and a demand for absolutes, then things get stupid.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pro Bowl on Life Support?

The NFL is looking to suspend its annual flag football game in Hawaii. It is as if literally dozens of voices cried out at once, and were silenced.

NFL Draft Thoughts

The NFL First Year Player Draft (which nobody every calls it because monosyllables are sexy) is, at its essence, a glorified class attendance list. It is nervous-looking men in suits having meetings and then calling out a name whom, after the first round or two, only local rooting interests (of the school the kid went to, not the team) have ever heard of. This is a fact, and the genus of the NFL is that it has taken class attendance and turned it into a three month buildup to a three day extravaganza.
The real fun, of course, comes in the weeks leading up to the drafts, when everyone suddenly becomes a "draft expert", largely by parroting the various, intrinsically inaccurate mock drafts that go up everywhere. Even the draftiest of draftniks - professional hair helmet Mel Kiper Jr. (who should never be allowed to speak about baseball on air again) and the like - admit that the predictions they are making are complete hooey, because they have no way to predict which picks are going to get traded. And yet, there are endless iterations of mock drafts and serious-sounding experts giving sonorous takes on whom Jacksonville might take at 7.
I listened to one of those the other night. The hard-hitting, insightful, insider-driven analysis said that the Jaguars might trade their pick. Or they might take a wide receiver. Or they might take a cornerback. Or a linebacker. Or a defensive lineman. And really, there were "a lot of directions" they could go.That sounds remarkably like "I have no goddamn idea, but they're paying me and I've got two minutes of airtime to fill", but let it pass, let it pass.
The manufactured drama is thick on the ground, though. In a draft where everyone knew that the first pick would be Stanford QB Andrew Luck - the team possessing said pick having ditched one of the five best quarterbacks in NFL history to assure him of a smooth landing spot, there was an attempt to claim that the Colts might actually be selecting Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. Because, well, no, really, there was never any reason to assume that. Now, with the first two picks locked down, there are ominous warnings that Minnesota, at #3, might not pick titanic slab of beef Matt Kalil, because Minnesota's coach said something in passing that, if you squint hard enough, makes it look like he might not want to take the guy who's the best fit for his team. And then there's the saga of Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M quarterback whose risen up the "draft charts" and then dropped and risen and dropped and...without having thrown a single pass in months. But hey, they need someone to talk about as a wild card, and this year Tannehill got elected, Mike Mamula being otherwise engaged.
I shouldn't be too hard on draft fans, though - at least the ones who aren't claiming that Bernard Pierce's running style is more conducive to a fifth-round pick because he squares his shoulders improperly and is tight in the hips. (Note: If you ever describe another human being you are not sleeping with as "tight in the hips", you have entered stalker territory) Really, what the draft is selling is hope - hope that your team's going to get a star player, hope that they're going to dig up a gem in a later round, hope that they've made themselves better. And for months, until these kids actually put on pads and start playing, they're something to dream on. It's my opinion, based on pretty much no expertise, that the young Mr. Tannehill is going to be the next coming of Dan Orlovsky. But until the games start and he starts younger Detmer-brothering the ball all over the place, he's going to be the bright and shining quarterback of the future. That's a few months of hope, and hope's really all most fans can ask for.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Word to a Small Subset of Our Readers

To all the folks who found this site by googling "Ryan Braun Jew conspiracy", thank you. Your traffic makes my co-author and I kvell with such nachas, we're like to plotz.

Also: in the words of the vernacular of my adopted home for the last 13 years, "Bless your hearts."

Monday, April 23, 2012

What Can Brown Do For SMU?

The real story with SMU hiring Larry Brown to coach their basketball team is not that Brown is 71, or that he is the only coach to have won both NBA and NCAA titles. It's not even that he hasn't cached college ball in decades, or that he is a dead ringer for Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm. No, the only noteworthy thing here is that Southern Methodist University just hired a ball coach so thoroughly an MOT that he's a featured alum of the Maccabiad Games. That's not what the sportswriters concern-trolling the story are doing is nonsense. Worrying over what Brown's hire might do to SMU hoops would make sense if any of these guys gave a damn about SMU basketball at any other time, ever. It's a mediocre program in a mediocre conference, nothing that sportswriters normally waste words on, and for them to be shocked, SHOCKED at the possible damage a Larry Brown hiring could do is disingenuity of the first water. Never mind that SMU has put a first-rate team of assistants in place behind Brown, including a head-coach-in-waiting with a pretty good pedigree. Never mind that pretty much anywhere Brown has gone - with the notable exception of the raging vortex of suck that was the Isaiah-era Knicks - he has won, something SMU basketball hasn't done a lot of in recent memory. (Last NCAA tournament appearance? 1993). Never mind that he's taking over from Matt Doherty, a coach so bad he failed at Chapel Hill, which means that there's nowhere to go but up - something unusual is happening, and so hands must be wrung over it.
In all honesty, I think this is a great move for SMU. For one thing, it's the first thing to generate national press - tons of it - about the program in twenty years. Money can't buy that kind of attention, at least not directly, but suddenly SMU basketball is on the map. And two, Brown is a really, really good coach, a better coach than SMU has had in a long while. And if making your program better and raising your program's profile simultaneously isn't the point of hiring a new coach, I don't know what is.
(In other news, ESPN commentator Fran Fraschilla is apparently up for the North Texas basketball job. Fraschilla has not coached on the college level in ten years. I look forward to an equal amount of media hand-wringing, should he get the job.)

Feelin' Ranty

(post title sung to the tune of Simon & Garfunkle's "Feelin' Groovy")

A few quick observations as we enter the sports lull during which all I do is coach soccer, and make relatively little time to watch sports (because the football season is over, the Penguins have been eliminated from the playoffs, and the Pirates are only worth watching if you're actually in PNC Park).

First: Flyers fans, yesterday, were chanting "CROSBY SUCKS."

Now, look.  You might chant "Crosby is a whiny little child." You might chant "Crosby has questionable taste in Christmas sweaters."  But... sucks?  The man played 25 games this year and got 46 points.  He does not suck.

Second: I rode my bicycle* past a Little League opening day celebration this weekend, in the rain.  I noticed it because they had a PA system playing funky music, a hyped-up announcer ("Age nine-ten boys, in blue, sponsored by Jim Shorkey KIA, head coach Dan Blorkskowski, the Tornadoes!") , and a live adult soloist to sing The Star-Spangled Banner.

The players were 9 years old.  Maybe, suburban USA, just maybe, we need to take it down a notch.

Third: My esteemed colleague Mr. Dansky is working on a post about this, but I just need to say: Really? Seriously?

* I am training for the Bike MS Escape to the Lake in June. I am old, and fat. It is hard.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Smokin' Hot Journalism

ESPN the Magazine's big story in the new issue is an expose on - wait for it - the fact that a lot of college football players smoke weed. This is, apparently, shocking. And a crisis. And a revelation. And all sorts of bad, m'kay?

In other words, ESPN is shocked that college kids are smoking weed.  The only thing that should be shocking about this is the number of players who might get way too into Pink Floyd as a result, and become Astronomy majors so they can spend more time blessing out in local planetariums.

Seriously. College kids smoke marijuana. Those of us young enough to remember going to college either did it ourselves, had friends who did it, or knew people who did, and that's the case whether you went to Miami, Oregon, Wesleyan, or BYU. (Note: One of my classmates at Wesleyan swore up and down that the finest weed in the world was grown just outside Athens, OH, home of this year's NCAA basketball cinderella Ohio University. I'm just saying.)

Now, I'm not saying that everyone should be toking up constantly, or before every game, or that it's a good thing or a bad thing or whatever. I'm just saying that absolutely no one who didn't spend their entire college experience curled up inside the return box at Inter-Library Loan should be surprised to hear that college students are smoking. 

Except, apparently, ESPN.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Upcoming NFL Specials

After the success of ESPN's three-hour special on the unveiling of this fall's schedule, broadcasters have announced a number of new football specials for the serious enthusiast.
  • Unsung Heroes, a continuing series about front-office employees. Their trials and tribulations, and previously unanswered questions (does the mailroom guy get tickets? good tickets?).  Each week will focus on a different club.  Wait until you hear about the wacky hijinks of the Houston Texans' IT department!
  • None And Done, a poignant look at the fast-food and car-wash careers of young men who neglected free educations at some of the finest universities in the world, left their degree programs early to declare for the draft, and then overate/lazed/doped themselves into being cut before playing a single game. (Editor's note: I would actually watch this one)
  • Call It In The Air, a special aimed at the coin toss.  Coin toss controversies of the past (which is to say, the 1998 Steelers-Lions Thanksgiving Day game, and anything else the NFL Films guys can scrounge up), styles and techniques, and proposals to replace the coin toss with games such as Rock-Paper-Scissors.
Stay tuned! The NFL Network will soon be filling its airtime with equally valuable programming!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The World's Dumbest Bird

The world's dumbest bird lives outside my house.
For over a month now, he has taken every opportunity to attack the cardinal he sees reflected in various windows around the place, nailing each one with a sharp rap from his beak, and then sitting there, surprised, for a moment when his opponent fails to magically disappear.
This isn't an accident. This isn't a case of a bird just flying along and slamming into a window it didn't realize was there (which, to be fair, is a major cause of depopulation of American songbirds, along with power lines, predatory house cats, and Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem's cover of "Rockin' Robin"). No, this cardinal deliberately sets up right outside the window, settles in, and - with the presumptive Mrs. Cardinal watching - shows that other cardinal, the one in the glass, who's boss. It starts at daybreak - WHAMP. WHAMP. WHAMP. - and goes until either My Delicate Bellicose Flower or I goes downstairs to chase the bird off. This lasts maybe ten minutes, until he circles around the house, finds another window containing the image of another challenger, and sets up again.
The cats, for their part, are useless. I suspect they're waiting on the moment when the bird finally summons a supreme effort, busts through the ridiculously constructed energy-safe double-layer whateverthehellIbought windows and collapses on the dining room floor, thus meeting the feline definition of "pizza delivery".
He's at it again today. Started at 7 AM. The world's dumbest bird, a cardinal.
I think I'll call him "Rex Hudler".

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Midlife Crises in Arkansas

So Bobby Petrino is out at Arkansas after A)Gary Busey-ing it all over the asphalt B)with a young lady who was on his staff, not his wife, and a participant in an "inappropriate relationship" C)which he then proceeded to try to cover up. For my part, I'm fairly unsurprised that Petrino went down like this; he's always been about as upright as a turnip, with the moral fiber of same. And really, this is just the same midlife crisis story that we've seen so many times before with coaches - anyone remember Larry Eustachy's starring role in "Basketball Coaches Gone Wild"? Fast vehicle, younger woman, abuse of authority/star power - add a nightmare descent into drugs and booze and it's any episode of VH1's Behind The Music, ever.
The interesting thing is, it got him fired. And it got him fired over the will of what is apparently a fair-sized contingent of folks who were rallying to save him because he won football games. Sure, what he did - cheating on his wife, wiping out and lying about it and so forth - was bad, but it had nothing to do with football.
Nothing to do with football. That's the key. Remember, these are the same fans who ran Houston Nutt out of town on a rail, subpoenaing his phone records as a state employee over a message board post, and raising the issue to the university trustees because someone thought he was making moofky-foofky with a local newscaster - and mucking with a favored son QB. He wasn't winning enough games, so suddenly the peccadilloes became relevant enough for the FOIAs to come out.
But Petrino won football games. And this had nothing to do with football, more or less, so it was OK, at least for some.
Maybe it shouldn't have mattered. Anyone looking to Petrino for any kind of moral backbone is better off looking for the Loch Ness Monster, and more likely to be successful. The last defense of a guy who pulls the job-hunting shenanigans that Petrino did is always "I was looking out for my family", and its hard to square that with a 25-year old strapping her hands across his (motorcycle) engines. Frankly, I've never been one to get too worked up about whom public figures were canoodling with so long as everyone involved was a consenting adult. That stuff, ultimately, is between Petrino, his family, and his dalliance(s), and whatever arrangement they come to, they come to. It shouldn't matter.
Except, of course, that it did matter with the guy who didn't get Arkansas to a BCS game, and so it should matter now, all of it. You don't get to pick and choose that stuff, or at least you shouldn't. You've got a problem with the coach who wins a few games screwing around, you should have a problem with the coach who wins a few more doing the same thing. Or, you should have a problem with neither, and, if it really is just about wins and losses, wait until the games count to start weighing in.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

On Pace For 432 RBIs, and Other Dreams Of the Early Season

There's something wonderfully goofy about early season baseball stats. It's the land of the small sample size, where outlandish projections are king, and you get things like ERAs of 108.00 (that's what happens when you give up 4 earned runs while recording one out) or "Omar Infante is on track to hit 81 Home Runs!" And you get these in baseball way more than you do in other sports for a couple of reasons.
One is that in any given game, you're liable to get a couple of outlier performances - even a 2-4 day extrapolates to something big. String a couple of those together and you've got a hot streak. String a couple of those together at the start of the season, when the hot streak is all there is, and suddenly it's "EVAN LONGORIA IS ON PACE TO HIT .600 THIS YEAR" and "BARRY ZITO HAS AN ERA OF 0.00!" and "HOLY CRAP, JAMES LONEY IS ON PACE TO GET NO HITS THIS SEASON" and completely ridiculous yet utterly enjoyable stuff like that.
And then there's the fact that in baseball, unlike every other sport, everyone gets a time up at bat. In football, the scrubs and second stringers don't get the chance to rack up the big numbers, especially not in the first week when everyone's presumably healthy. They don't see the field enough. But the no-hit, good-glove middle infielder (or as we like to call him around here, "Freddy Galvis"), when it's his turn in the lineup, it's his turn in the lineup. He gets his hacks, the same as the superstars do. And if one of those guys puts together a hot streak, well, Longoria may be on pace to hit .600, but the immortal Zack Cozart (You may pause to ask "who?" at this juncture) is on pace to hit .500. Perennial All-Star Miguel Cabrera may be on pace for 432 RBIs this year - yes, you read that right - and Omar Infante is on pace for 97 home runs - 90 more than he hit last year when he was on my fantasy team, not that I'm bitter - and Detroit reliever Duane Below, a guy with roughly a dozen career appearances before this year, is temporarily on track for 108 wins - a lucky 13 more than the Tigers got last year as a team.
Finally, there's the fact that the season is 162 games. That allows for a lot of extrapolating. Someone has a good performance week 1 of the NFL season, you get to multiply by 16 to come up with your ridiculous number, and thus the upper ceiling on ridiculousness is limited. Oh, and with baseball the parameters of what people "should" be doing are pretty well carved in stone. We know projecting a guy for 97 homers is insane, but how many touchdowns would be the equivalent? 70? 80? 90? It's hard to find the number that's both within the realm of possibility to project, and instantly psychically "wrong". And then there's...well, I think the point is that only baseball has the combination of factors that produces this sort of gloriously insane weirdness, and as a fan, I revel in it.
I know Miggy's not going to have 432 RBIs this year. Hell, it's going to be a good year if he gets a quarter of that. But now, for a few days, the impossible is sitting right in front of us, and that's just fine.

Monday, April 09, 2012

In Which I Fail To Understand Peter King's Perspective

Peter King appears to be taking the position that by releasing the audio of Gregg Williams urging his players to injure other players -- and offering money to do so -- filmmaker Sean Pamphilon did something immoral:
"Pamphilon betrayed the wishes of a dying man and a former very close friend by releasing the tape" ... "By blowing the whistle, though, what has Pamphilon accomplished?" ... "I can't get over the way the material was acquired and made public. It's just not right." ... "I cannot find it in my heart to quite call Pamphilon a rat, but I cannot call him a hero either."
I realize that modern journalism -- especially sports journalism! -- has become an entity in which the protection of insider sources is far more important than the public's right to know.  But just because that's the modern state of affairs doesn't mean it's moral, or right.
Steve Gleason didn't want the material published.  And Steve Gleason is dying. But Steve Gleason dying doesn't make his opinion about protecting the reputation of Gregg Williams and the New Orleans Saints corporation somehow inherently right.
What Williams did -- what he was doing in that recording -- appears to have been criminal.  A felony, in fact. By sharing the recording, Pamphilon correctly took action against that felony.  It's sort of vaguely sad that some of Peter King's friends are suffering because of this. It's genuinely sad that Gleason and Pamphilon are no longer friends about it.  But sometimes doing the morally correct thing makes people sad. Pamphilon should be praised for making the hard, right decision.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Over To You, Prefect Louis

"I am shocked, shocked to find gambling going on in here."

Everybody knows Prefect Louis' line from Casablanca. Many of us quote it when we want to be snarky and erudite and comment on hypocrisy, and we generally get most of the words right.

And it's something that comes to mind when all the moralizing erupts over the Saints/NFL/Gregg Williams (How many tasteful "g"s is that, anyway, Mr. Easterbrook?) bounty thing. Everyone - especially the guys who were going "Oh, hey, that's just foobaw" when the bounty story first broke, and saying things like "Well, you don't want to deliberately hurt anyone but..." and all that happy horseshit have spent the past few days spewing carefully calculated outrage about how Gregg Williams' caught-on-tape rant crosses a line.

Maybe it does. Maybe it does cross a line to tell your players to hit a guy who's had knee problems in the knee in order to test those oh-so-delicate knee ligaments. Maybe it does cross a line to tell your players to aim for the head on a guy who's had concussions, or otherwise target injuries. That's what Warren Sapp told us, after all, and he's the guy who called out the "snitch" who supposedly leaked the bounty story.

Except, of course, that "snitches get stitches", and calling someone a snitch is to use loaded language implying that a code has been broken at the "snitch's" peril.

And back when the Super Bowl champion Giants were sneaking their way past the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, they did it in large part thanks to errors by the Niners' often-concussed return man, Kyle Williams. Whom, incidentally, a couple of Giants players admitted to targeting deliberately.

"The thing is, we knew he had four concussions, so that was our biggest thing, was to take him outta the game," said Jacquian Williams, who forced the second fumble, in overtime, to set up New York's game-winning field goal. "He's had a lot of concussions," said Devin Thomas, who recovered both fumbles. "We were just like, 'We gotta put a hit on that guy.'" Later in the same interview, he told the Newark Star-Ledger that teammate and backup safety Tyler Sash "did a great job hitting him early and he looked kind of dazed when he got up. I feel like that made a difference and he coughed it up."

Of course, other Giants later claimed that No Such Thing happened, and an NFL spokesman proclaimed "nothing to see here." And we moved on, because hey, the Super Bowl was coming, and that was big, and there was enough deniability and wiggle room that nobody had to take this thing seriously. Besides, it was just a special teams guy, and everyone knows they're expendable.

So, by all means, let's be shocked that the Saints' coach told his players to go for the head. Let's do it loudly, even as Warren Sapp's contract with the league-owned NFL Network is allowed to quietly expire. And let's do it until the outrage has gone on long enough that people are bored with it, and we can safely get back to made-up controversy over whether the Colts might, just might, pick Robert Griffin III first overall.

And next year, when coaches who are smart enough not to get caught tell players who are smart enough not to brag about it, there will be gambling at Rick's Place once again.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Bush League

So last night, at the Durham Bulls' home opener, something really unpleasant happened - and no, I'm not talking about Tim Beckham's two-strike approach.

The Bulls have a mascot, the punishingly named Wool E. Bull, and he does the mascot thing you'd expect. He goes through the stands, he poses for pictures with kids, and in between innings he runs around on the field doing various things to keep the kiddies entertained. Whoever he is, he's good at it, and God bless him for it - I would NOT want to be the guy in a furry suit trying to do pratfalls in public in a North Carolina summer.

One of the regular Wool E. Bull routines involves racing a little kid from the stands around the bases. The kid always wins, of course, but it's fun and it's no doubt a thrill for the kid, and all that good stuff. Last night, as Wool E. came around third, one of the Gwinnett Braves players came out of the dugout and clotheslined him.

It's obvious the guy in the mascot outfit never saw it. I mean, going even half-tilt inside a giant bull head mask, your peripheral vision's going to be crap. And when this kid stuck his arm out, bam, Wool E. ran right into it and went down, hard.

It didn't look staged. It didn't look funny. The guy in the mascot suit fell down twice on his way off the field. To his credit, he was still playing to the crowd, but still. And the schmuck who hit him? Laughing as he went back to the dugout. From where I was sitting, it looked like a much harder hit than the one Randall Simon put on one of the racing sausages in Milwaukee back in the day.

Look, I can understand the near-insane desire to screw with people in funny costumes. I have vague memories of being the sort of 20-something kid who would find that particular audition for Death to Smoochy to be absolutely hysterical.

But come on. How much of a douchebag do you have to be to try to hurt someone whose job it is to entertain kids? Here's hoping the idiot who did it gets suspended a game or two. Failing that, here's hoping he runs into an angry bull in a dark alley.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Better Outman Than In, Man

One of the many reasons I love baseball is the injuries. Baseball is really the only sport where you get the truly crazed injury reports[i]. It’s where you get guys missing games for strained eyelashes. It’s where you get geniuses stabbing themselves in the stomach trying to open DVDs, or ironing their shirts while wearing them, or scalding their pitching hands on baby formula, or – and you really can’t talk baseball injuries without going to the Glenallen Hill well – having a nightmare about spiders and beating themselves up so badly they fall down the stairs.  I mean, any of those is way more interesting than another strained hammy, any day of the week. And other sports just don’t give you that.
Hockey has precisely three types of injuries that get reported: “Lower body injuries” (Got hit in the nuts with a stick), “Upper body injuries” (got rammed face-first into a wall by a large, angry man from Moose Jaw), and “Took a puck off the face” (Took a puck off the face). Soccer[ii], on field heart-attacks aside, has no actual injuries, just really good impressions of them. And football – all injuries in football get spun by the Orwellian propaganda machine that is the NFL to make them sound as GODDAM MANLY as possible. Trust me, if a Green Bay Packer wound up on the disabled list because he’d stuck his personal Johnsonville Sausage[iii] onto a live George Foreman grill, “just to see what it felt like”, the NFL press release would read that he was dealing with “thermal stress reaction injuries to connective tissue in the groin”. (Basketball-related injuries tend to boil down to either stress fractures, things requiring protective goggles, and guys with large salaries whom teams want to make Go Away For A While)
But baseball is refreshingly open and honest about its injuries, which is why we have stories like yesterday’s bit about Oakland hurler Josh Outman. Outman’s headed to the DL with a strained oblique, having incurred the injury in a post-Denny’s bout of Technicolor yawning[iv]. (And I think I speak for all of us who’ve staggered into a Denny’s at 3 AM, impaired for one reason or another, that violent illness is a generally accepted consequence of that choice.) It’s amusing, well, for everyone but Outman and Oakland’s pitching coach. It’s different. And it’s human, in a way that other sports try to deliberately keep their athletes from being.
So hurl on, Josh. We’re with you.

[i] Golfers dropping jet skis on themselves doesn’t count. Golf, in the words of George Carlin, is not a sport. It’s an activity.
[ii] Yes, this is a sop to my co-author. Deal with it.
[iii] Though to be fair, if it’s a Packer, it’s probably a cheesy brat
[iv] Of course, the details of the matter are still up for debate. I mean, you can’t dust for vomit.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Team From State Starting With "K" Wins NCAA Title

And so endeth possibly the blandest NCAA tournament in recent memory. In the end, the chalk talked. A few untimely absences (Fab Melo, Kendall Marshall) maybe made Kentucky's road to the title a little easier than it might have been, but really, nobody works the system better than John Calipari these days. Come play for me for a year, we'll win games, and I'll turn you into a lottery pick - what kid in his right mind would refuse that? You go 29th in the draft, you wash out of the league in a couple of years, you've still got plenty of cash to go back and finish up that degree with. It's a no-brainer.
But yet this year, ratings be damned, seemed ultimately dull. Too many of the close games were close because one or both teams spent the second half clanging shots off iron. Too many games turned into throttlings. And while it was fun to celebrate Norfolk State and "We messed up people's brackets", all the bracket-messing-up was essentially gone by the end of the first weekend. Hell, even the usual frenzies of "how's your bracket? how's your bracket" seemed muted this year; everyone knew the answer. You picked Mizzouri or Duke, you were screwed. You picked any other high seeds, you were generally fine for a good long way.
So congrats to Kentucky, and hopefully the fires will be out soon. (Seriously. One report from a Lexington, KY police scanner indicated that the cops were just letting the small fires burn, because they were stretched too thin already to deal with every minor act of arson). Here's wishing its players well at the next level; when interviewed they generally seemed like decent folk as well as transcendent talent, and it's a cinch they're not sticking around. And already, no doubt, the Joe Lunardis of the world are putting together their first brackets of the 2013 tournament, because it's not enough to enjoy what just happened; we need to be on the way to the next thing already or else we risk becoming irrelevant.
Of course, if you keep rushing away from the things you've built up as important, that's a way to get irrelevant, too. But don't tell Lunardi and his ilk. They've got a 15-2 game a year from now to make a completely random guess at, and to someone other there, it matters.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

We Must (Not) Ignite This Couch

If there is anyone out there who can draw the logical progression from "A sports team I cheer for won a game" to "I should set this total stranger's property on fire", please feel free to post it in the comments below.
For my part, bearing in mind that I am A)careening rapidly towards middle age and B)generally a fan of teams who couldn't win a giant stuffed animal at the state fair midway if you spotted them three milk jugs and let them stand inside the booth, I don't get it. Yeah, you want to celebrate. Yeah, you want to live in the moment. But how you get from that to "We should bust into a total stranger's place, haul their furniture out into the street and torch it" is beyond me.
I'm fairly certain there are ways to celebrate your favorite team winning a big game that don't involve acting like a douchebag. Many of these even involve drinking, carousing, getting together with a few thousand of your closest friends in the street and sharing in the moment of shared joy. But if you cannot actually experience the thrill of victory without arson, theft, and general mob behavior, maybe it's time to re-examine what you're actually getting out of being a fan.
Because whatever it is, rooting clearly isn't enough.