Sunday, July 29, 2012

Observations from Today's Jays-Tigers Game

  • Jeff Mathis vs. Jose Valverde simply is not fair.
  • Anthony Gose vs. Jose Valverde, especially after Valverde has loosened up and is hitting 95 regularly, is even less fair.
  • I have never seen so many failed attempts to do the wave at a single game. And when it finally did get going, it went the wrong way.
  • Brett Cecil actually pitched a pretty good game. Peralta's first homer doesn't happen without an iffy defensive effort from Travis Snider on a ball hit to the wall in left, and both Fielder and Cabrera were off-balance and lunging all day.
  • Shutting down a Bautista-less Jays lineup isn't as hard as it could have been, but Doug Fister was masterful. Very few hard hit balls at all today, and basically none of them in the air.
  • If there is a just and kind God, there is a van in the Jays' player lot that has a painting of a wizard fighting a dragon while riding a polar bear on its side, and Colby Rasmus is the owner of that van. Also, the only two albums that have ever been played on that van's stereo are "Street Survivors" by Skynyrd and "Tarkus" by ELP.
  • Rajai Davis at the top of the Jays' lineup - a better idea than you'd think.
  • E5 playing first base - also better than you'd think.
  • Beers at Rogers Centre - about $4 more than you'd think.
  • The Jays ran when they could - Gerald Laird did not have a good day behind the plate for Detroit. Credit Fister with keeping them off the bases when it counted. Also, Gose really is that fast. Possibly faster. 
  • Overheard in the stands: "Why can't Snider give effort like that guy on the highlight reel?" "The guy in the highlight real is Snider." "So why can't he do that?"
  • Also overheard in the stands: "I wish everyone gave effort like Colby Rasmus." Somewhere, Tony LaRussa just felt a stabbing pain in one eye.
  • Two homers for Jhonny Peralta, and neither of them was an excuse-me shot.  Both to left-left center, and both were line drives. Prince, on the other hand, was hitting 300 foot moon shots all day, swinging at the first pitch and getting himself out.
  • Trying to explain how exactly Anthony Gose got to Toronto to someone who's got multiple tallboys of Stella in them just isn't going to work. Ever. Trust me.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

What the Hell Is an Arctic Monkey

It's easy to make fun of the Olympic opening ceremonies. You can mock the music, you can mock some of the costumes, you can mock the commentary, you can mock NBC's edits in coverage, and you can mock the organizing committee for deciding that the band that would best represent London to the world was the Arctic Monkeys. Seriously, was Radiohead busy? Coldplay? The surviving members of Camel? Whatever. It's a target-rich environment.
At the same time, it does pay to remember that the opening ceremony is supposed to be ridiculous spectacle. It's supposed to be wacky and over the top and visually out there, and it's supposed to be memorable.
And let's face it, we're never going to see anything like the red-eyed butterfly-winged cyclists doing loops to a cover of "Come Together" ever again.
Yes, the last time that many people in alien-looking costumes descended on London, it was a Dr. Who Christmas special. But at the same time, the event succeeded at doing what it was supposed to: being a spectacle, and getting you to watch.
So, yes, it's all well and good we all took whacks at the Spanish team's headgear, or whatever. We raged at lousy commentary on NBC, and we moaned about how the US feed cut partial versions of songs we've all memorized anyway.
We still watched. And that's what mattered.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cole Hamels Signs for A Bajillion Dollars

At first glance, this is a terrible deal for the Phillies. They're already locked into monster contracts for a large pile of other guys. There are younger players coming up on free agency - Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence - who are going to need to be either paid or replaced, and there's not a lot coming up in the system.  Then there are the guys who are just going to need to be replaced, and one gets the feeling the Ty Wiggingtons of the world aren't going to be the preferred option next go-round. And of course, there's luxury tax, all of which add up to say that the Phillies spent money they didn't have to reinforce an area they didn't need to, and screwed themselves in the process.
Except, of course, it's never that simple. You can, as they say, never have too much starting pitching, and Hamels' deal isn't out of line for what you pay for an ace. And yes, he is an ace - durable, often better than his W-L record, and usually capable of going deep enough into games to hide the Phillies' dreadful bullpen. As for the money, to be blunt, the Phillies can afford it. They are in one of the largest single-team markets in the US. They sell out every night. They are going to, in a few years, get a new local television rights package that, if it is in line with the ones being signed in places like Anaheim, will pay for the Hamels contract and a few metric tons of scrapple besides.
And, to be blunt, there are two things that keep that stadium filled: winning and stars. Hamels is a star, a guy who came up through the farm system and has never played for another team. He puts butts in seats and moves jerseys in the gift shop and, despite bearing an uncanny resemblance to one of the two brothers on Supernatural, is well-liked by the fan base. And nobody out there is going to say that having six more years of Cole Hamels is going to hurt the Phillies' chances of winning. Yes, you can say that spending the money they spent on Hamels on a viable center fielder or third baseman would go that route, but to be blunt, there aren't any impact bats out there to spend that money on. Better to double down on pitching, pray that they get something out of Dom Brown and Freddy Galvis, and rebuild the bullpen on the cheap instead.
Maybe they should have signed him sooner. Maybe they could have gotten him for less. But as far a bajillion dollar contracts for pitchers go, this one ain't bad.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Rick Reilly, Please Shut Up

Dear Rick Reilly:

The Jerry Sandusky case is not about you. It is not about any reporter feeling the need to go all Krakauer in public and rend their hair over how, gosh, Joe Paterno fooled them for all these years, which really is a way of making the story all about them. There's endless yammering about the myth of the great man Paterno, when it's the same guys in the hair shirts now who were instrumental in building, brick by brick, anecdote by anecdote and year by year.
Here's a hint. We, as readers, don't care how you feel about this. We are horrified by what happened, saddened to learn that someone we thought was a symbol of how to do college athletics right was in fact party to something monstrous, and angry that those in power did not stop it at the first instant they had a chance to. We are not interested in self-righteous self-absolution, nor are we in the slightest bit interested in how all this affects the Rick Reillys of the world.
Now, if you're so inclined, you could use those reporting instincts of yours and keep a sharper eye out. Maybe question these legendary coaches you so consistently canonize. If there's smoke, ask a few questions. And God forbid, do your job instead of plugging yourself into the hype machine that allows coaches and programs to be insulated from real-world concepts like "accountability" and "law". Don't build any more untouchable great men for the sake of the overblown football narrative.

And you'd definitely think that in the wake of the report coming out of Penn State, and all the geshrying about the flawed myth of JoePa, that we'd take a few steps back from that godlike coach myth. That we'd take a minute or two to reflect on how the deification of college football informed the coverup at Penn State, and maybe hold off on building something like that again.

Then again, the Freeh Report on Penn State dropped two days ago. Yesterday, ran an article asking if Nick Saban - who ran out on his Dolphins contract, has been linked to various scholarship and recruiting irregularities, and whose daughter apparently battered one of her sorority sisters senseless - is the greatest coach of all time.

24 hours and the machine is up and running again.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Jerry Sandusky Questions

Jerry Sandusky coached at Penn State for 29 years before his earliest confirmed sexual assault of a minor. He ran The Second Mile for 21 years before his earliest confirmed assault.
Does anyone think that, in his 50s, Jerry Sandusky spontaneously began molesting little boys for the first time? That this was some kind of mid-life crisis?
Sandusky retired from coaching in 1999, after the Nittany Lions trounced Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl. This was a decorated assistant coach in his mid-fifties. No other college approached him to recruit him? Even a little one elsewhere in football-crazy, Penn-State-football-crazy Pennsylvania? Pitt or Temple didn't want to have their football program run by this guy? California University of Pennsylvania didn't even ask? Really?
Boy, that's weird.
I mean, either they approached him, and he turned them down (which would be kind of strange), or they knew not to ask. Or approached PSU and asked permission to talk to him, and were discouraged from doing so.
You know, now that I think about it... this guy won two national championships as a defensive coordinator, in '82 and '86. How come he never got poached? I know he was then seen as Paterno's heir apparent, but it's not like heirs apparent are never poached or supplanted (see Dana Holgorson).
It's weird. I feel like there's more to this story.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Booing Cano

Just so you can keep it straight:

it is perfectly acceptable for New York fans to boo the living hell out of anyone they like, not to mention throw whatever crap they can find up to and including month-old casualties of the Nathans' Hot Dog Eating Contest, onto the field. Players who don't appreciate it "can't handle the pressure", and are presumably named Ed Whitson.

It is deeply unacceptable for fans from Kansas City to boo a New York Yankee, which is disrespectful and inappropriate.

Of course, Robinson Cano, the guy who actually got booed - and let me tell you, the Kansas City fans did not half-ass it - had the right attitude about the whole thing. He understood why they were mad (he didn't pick local hero Billy Butler for the AL's Home Run Derby squad) and he could appreciate that they were behind their guy. The booing was a little silly - this was an All Star Game, after all, not anything that counted - but still, it's not like they were throwing snowballs at Santa (Philly) or batteries at Chipper Jones (the Bronx). And for the most part, the applause and enthusiasm shown by the crowds for the whole All Star kit and caboodle was impressive.

But yeah, they got on Cano for not picking Butler. The thing is, I can't blame him. Yeah, it would have been a nice story on a night of nice stories to have hometown guy in the Home Run Derby, but really, who do you replace with him? Prince Fielder, a guy who was hitting homers out of Tiger Stadium when he was bar mitzvah aged? Jose Bautista, who's been the best power hitter alive for the last few years? The beastly Mark Trumbo, who's got more homers by the All Star Break this year than Butler's had in any season in his career so far? Or Cano himself, last year''s champ? Not happening. So it's perfectly understandable that Butler wasn't going to get named to the team unless a meteor hit Kauffman Stadium during the Derby itself, and it's perfectly understandable that the hometown fans, whose baseball team is so screwed up that they're banning bloggers and giving Jeff Francouer long-term deals, let their displeasure with this be known.

The only real villains in the piece are the hypersensitive New Yorkers with column inches who are mortally offended by the whole affair. I mean, I realize they don't understand that anyone living beyond the broadcast range of WFAN does not actually have motivations of their own and instead exists merely to serve as backdrop, but c'mon, kids. Seriously? You're New Yorkers. You're supposed to be tough. Getting booed by a bunch of hicks from flyover country (their words, not mine. At least, presumptively) should be rolling right off you faster than a Rusty Hardin cross-examination. And yet, the geshrying is epic. It's as if Yankees fans and writers are somehow ashamed of their team's success and are looking around for anything they can find to make them feel persecuted, so they can justify whatever it is that Yankee fan types do.

Of course, I expect the a full-on media frenzy the next time the Royals to come to New York. I expect full-throttle booing of the likes of Luke Hochevar, not that he needs the help. And I expect someone in New York to finally be interested in a game with the Royals, for the first time since George Brett retired.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Bring Back the Snubs

Dear Major League Baseball:

I'm sorry I have to be the one to point this out to you, but in your efforts to make everyone happy, you've managed to destroy one of the best things about the All-Star Game.

I speak, of course, of the outraged fan reaction to deserving players they root for getting snubbed. It was the best part of seeing the teams get announced; the immediate, frenzied analysis of who'd gotten jobbed by being left off because the team needed at least one rep from every squad. And in the old days, guys did get genuinely jobbed, because there were only so many spots to go around, and a couple of them had to go to the Sid Monges of the world or the old warhorses who still raked in the popular vote regardless of performance, and, well, yeah. Guys who should have been there got left off, and we as fans got upset, and we went to war for our favorites who'd gotten screwed. There was passion there, and interest, and a genuine interest. There was weight to the debates over whether the team should be made up of proven guys who maybe didn't have the best stats this year or unknowns who were having the best first halves, and might never shine this brightly again.

Now, though, there's no debate. Put 'em both on. Hell, put 'em all on. 34 players per team. Fan votes. Player votes. Manager picks. More fan votes. By the time it's done, everyone gets a say and anyone who's got a positive WAR is on the team. There are no real arguments left to be had. Oh, sure, this year we got a little heat over Tony LaRussa's decision to leave off a couple of Reds he wasn't particularly fond of, but A)Brandon Phillips isn't having a particularly great year and B)Johnny Cueto is kind of a jerk. There's maybe a little smoke here, but even if LaRussa was being a vindictive jerk (and all signs point to yes), it's really not that big a deal. Poke around the bushes of the baseball blogs and you'll maybe see some love for Enesto Frieri, but other than that?

Also: Ernesto Frieri. Yeah, he's got 10 saves and an ERA of 0.00, but...he's Ernesto Frieri.

So we're left with bloated rosters and no excitement, no real investment in who makes it because everyone vaguely deserving does. Someone at MLB's offices should remember that the big excitement with the NCAA tournament isn't who gets the 1 seeds, or whether the big name schools get it. It's on the bubble, where the fans of the maybe-teams live and die with every game all season long. With rare exceptions, none of those teams ever makes noise in the tournament (VCU, you're excused), but everyone still goes out of their mind over perceived snubs, relative RPI, and the like.

Baseball used to be like that, before the 34 man All-Star roster, and it was better for it.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Nash to LA

Steve Nash goes to the star-studded Lakers, in a last-ditch effort to get that ring.

Somewhere, Karl Malone is saying he's seen this movie before.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

He Is The Lord High Executioner

God bless Roger Goodell.

He has ruled to uphold the suspensions that he handed down under the rules he created under an appeals process he designed, spun by a marketing machine he controls. He's also suggested that in doing so, he's above the rule of law.

I, for one, am stunned. I also expect he's going to start wearing a crown to games, asking players to kiss his ring in exchange for reduced suspensions, and referring to himself as the kwisatz-haderach.

Okay, maybe not the last. He doesn't seem like much of a reader.

Monday, July 02, 2012

In Pursuit of the N(B)Arrative

So let's play hypotheticals.

Let's take a superstar in his sport, a guy who's good enough to be mentioned in the same breath with the all-time greats.
Have him put a team on his back, despite a supporting cast weaker than the below-the-line players in a SyFy Original, and carry it to the playoffs again and again.
Let him, when he becomes a free agent, use the interest in his choice of destination to raise millions of dollars for charity.
Have him take less money to go someplace where he can win, in part to ensure that there's enough cash in the kitty to pay the talent around him.
Make sure he stays clear of drug scandals, bar fights, steroids accusations, incidents in strip clubs, driving his SUV into someone's living room while watching porn, and all of the other fun tidbits we've come to expect from our star athletes.
When his teammates get hurt in crunch time, have him pick up his team once again and carry it with a historically great playoff performance.

You'd think this guy would be lionized. Instead, he's LeBron, and we're all supposed to hate him for walking away from a dingbat owner and a franchise that wasn't going to be in position to win it all for years, if ever.

Of course, James' real crime wasn't bolting for south Florida. The same idiots yammering about how awful James' Decision was are the guys licking their chops over the far-future day when they imagine Bryce Harper in Yankee pinstripes. The real problem was that athletes aren't supposed to control their own narratives. They're supposed to give hometown discounts and stay, or let themselves be courted to go someplace in search of a championship, or let sportswriters beat up on them for taking money to do what they do. And with The Decision, James took control of his own narrative. He decided on the goal (championships), figured out the best way to get there (talented teammates), and made the plan happen, cutting the sportswriters and nabobs and myth makers out of the loop.

Naturally, he got buried. They draped it in outrage on behalf of Cleveland, but really, every AM radio host who chewed on James' gristle was upset over the fact that athletes aren't supposed to think that way, plan that way, do that way. How the hell are we supposed to project our fantasies on these own guys if they're going to act intelligently in their own self-interest?

But now LeBron's won a championship, and by the unwritten rules of the game, that makes him worthy. And if he's worthy, he can't the villain any more, according to the byzantine, Eddie Izzard-like constructions of sports narrative morality. Never mind that there are a lot more Earl Curetons and Marc Iavaronis walking around with rings than Karl Malones and John Stocktons; it's the arbitrary divider, the climax of the ordained narrative, and reaching it washes away your past sins. LeBron's going to be a hero now. They'll craft the story that he learned humility last year, that he accepted responsibility this year, that he did what they all wanted him to.

He'll know better. But he'll let them pretend, because it will make his life easier.

And down in Orlando, they'll find a new villain, a kid who had the temerity to be indecisive about whether or not he wanted to stay in his current job. The rumblings are already starting.

Dwight Howard, you're next.