Friday, August 30, 2013

Seriously, Ron

Last night the Steelers played the Carolina Panthers in a preseason* game. Thousands of people in Charlotte paid scores of dollars apiece in order to see their teams' stars dress up like football players and cheer for their teams' scrubs and flotsam.

In the middle of the second quarter, Carolina quarterback / crisp, delicious pickle Jimmy Clausen drove the Panthers down to the Steelers' 1 yard line.  On 2nd down, the Panthers sent running back / baking soda Armond Smith over the top, and the Steelers defense stopped him just short of the goal line.

Panthers head coach / inscrutable guru Ron Rivera decided, at this point, to throw a challenge flag.


Why, Ron? Why would you do that?

Touchdowns in a preseason game are meaningless.  You play preseason games to assess your players.

If you didn't score, you now have two more offensive plays with which to assess your goal-line offense.  Isn't that worth more than six points in a preseason** game?

(Spoiler alert: It is in fact worth more than six points in a preseason game. )

Seen from this perspective, Rivera's decision to kick the field goal two plays later, on fourth-and-3, is maddening. Make another try. We're all pretty sure that the Panthers special teams can hit the trey from inside the 5-yard-line. Find out what your offense can do, Ron.

Apparently too many head coaches have internalized the only thing anyone will ever remember Herm Edwards for:

That's not what the preseason is for, Ron.

* I originally wrote "meaningless preseason game" but that first adjective is kind of assumed.

** Ibid, only moreso

Unsettling Settlement

Here's what you need to know about the settlement the NFL came to on the massive lawsuit filed by former players over concussions: It's the biggest win the league has seen since the Monsters of the Midway stomped Washington 73-0.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dear Reporters at Coaches' Press Conferences: No

Just, no.

I realize that when you're at a press conference for a coach whose program is embattled in one way or another, you're going to want to ask the hard questions. You're going to want to ask about the scandal do jour, and you're going to to want to be seen doing so by your editors when the awkward footage of said press conference shows up on SportsCenter.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sanchez Newtons

Over at Jets Over The Pond, Matt Goldstein (full disclosure here: Matt's my cousin, and I love him even if he is a Jets fan) compares the shambling husk of Mark Sanchez to Panthers QB Cam Newton. While neither of them has lived up to the expectations laid upon them by a hyper-rabid media and both have been dinged for occasionally acting like young men with gobs of money whose whims have been catered to since they were old enough to slow dance with a girl in the late stages of a bar mitzvah reception, they've taken radically different paths to their current level of Not Being The Next Tom Brady.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Your Handy-Dandy Conspiracy Theory About Mark Sanchez's Injury

If it had been Blane Gabbert, nobody would care.

Instead, it's Mark Sanchez who's down after a bizarre sequence of events, which means it's front page news. Never before has a training camp QB battle between two nonentities - the misfiring Sanchez, whose skills and poise have eroded under four years of Rex Ryan's "coaching" and inferior offensive lines, and the clearly not-ready-for-prime-time Geno Smith, whose main back-of-box feature at this point is that he's not Sanchez - been so endlessly dragged out in the public eye.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Network of Denial

This is what happens when you cover the product and you are the product.

There's a reason ESPN has pulled out of its coproduction with PBS on a documentary for Frontline. The piece, which was 15 months in the making, was called League of Denial, and was based on the investigative work of the Fainaru brothers - who write for ESPN. If the name Mark Fainaru-Wada sounds familiar, it's because he's been at the forefront of the ESPN's investigations into PED use in baseball for years, and has a spotless reputation for journalistic integrity.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Game Design Perspective on Baseball's New Instant Replay Proposal

Here are some basic rules of game design:

  • Simple and elegant is always better than complicated and filled with special cases.
  • Be aware of unintended consequences
  • Playtest and prototype the hell out of things before you release them to your audience
  • Don't train your players to do one thing, and then unexpectedly turn around and penalize them for doing what you've taught them to

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sunday Dinner With Baseball

Family dinner Sunday night was supposed to be Chinese food.

We're Jews from the Northeast. It's always supposed to be Chinese food on Sunday night. Instead, we ended up at a Japanese steakhouse - myself, my wife, my sister and her husband and two kids, and my parents. It wasn't the tradition, but hey, we knew the kids would enjoy it, and there was something on the menu everyone liked.

Monday's going to be a rough day, the latest is a series of rough days and the first in the start of a whole new stretch of them. My sister has cancer, and Monday is when they wheel her in for surgery. Our other sister also has cancer, and had surgery earlier in the summer, but then again as a family we've always been very good about taking turns. There was a tricky moment back in 1979 or so when my sister - the one who's getting operated on Monday morning, not the other one - got impatient waiting for me to listen to her and brained me with my pinewood derby car, but what siblings don't have those sorts of moments.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Cholly's Gone

Thank you, Charlie Manuel, for that authentic frontier gibberish

Cholly's gone.

Uncle Charlie Manuel, the marble-mouthed hitting maven who led the Phillies to the best run of sustained success in their history, is out, and designated successor Ryne Sandberg is in. Sandberg's got the "interim" tag on him, but nobody this side of the ghost of Danny Ozark thinks that anyone else is going to be in the dugout next year. Sandberg's been the guy-in-waiting for too long, and Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has this habit of locking in long-term to His Guy. (see also: Ryan Howard contract)

Friday, August 16, 2013

No Slumping For Old Men

Now batting, Alfonso Soriano

Here we go again.

It's late in the season, and the Yankees are eating contracts. Big, fat, overpaid veteran contracts. It's a strategy they've used for years, hand in hand with their habit of picking up scrap-heap ex-All Stars in spring training.

And like clockwork, the guys hit. And hit. And hit.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Good Stuff, Detroit Tigers Edition

In the midst of all the yammering about A-Rod and Biogenesis and the poor guy who fell off Turner Field yesterday, this is a wonderful reminder of the good stuff that goes with baseball fandom.

Give it a read.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

It Doesn't End Here

Here's the sequence of events:

  • St. Louis radio jock and ex-player Jack Clark goes on-air and claims that Albert Pujols' trainer told him Pujols shoots up with PEDs.
  • Pujols' trainer says, "Wait a minute, I haven't talked with that guy in ten years and I never said that."
  • Pujols says, "I'm suing you."
  • The radio station that employs Clark and his partner fires both of them.
  • Clark's partner makes some noise about how the radio station hung them out to dry,

End of story. Right?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Of Foul Balls and Genny Cream Ale

Wednesday night at the ballpark.

Me, my father, a family friend down from Philadelphia and my ten year old nephew Jake, the budding baseball fanatic. On our last outing together, he asked me to take him to a sporting goods store to look at catching gear. He's always talking about his baseball cards - the new hotness is the Mariano Rivera he just picked up. "Hang on that one for five years," I tell him. "They're going to have to let him in to the Hall of Fame."

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Not a Professor of Economics

Last night, on ESPN radio, there was a discussion of the comments former Patriot Wes Welker made about his former coach, the Hooded Nemesis Bill Belichick. Welker, perhaps understandably, noted that he felt he had done everything the team had asked him to do, and that his last year there, Belichick had still singled him out for unwarranted criticism.

After the season, of course, Welker got a lowball offer from the Pats, got a slightly higher one from Denver, and left town in a blaze of crossing routes. Now, to anyone not named Wes Welker, this sounds an awful lot like Belichick knew he wasn't bringing Welker back and purposely set about making sure his teammates weren't going to miss him too much. Call it character assassination, call it shrewd psychology, whatever; this is the NFL, where 370 pound men regularly slam into each other with the force of a SmartCar getting inhaled by a Hummer's engine intake. "Not nice" doesn't entire into it.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Pete Rose Said What?

Pete Rose has advised the Biogenesis 13 to "come clean". This is laughable, for any number of reasons, not the least of which being that it took literally decades for Rose to admit he'd lied, and lied about lying, and lied about lying about lying. Rose's story is too long and too sad to go into here; I'd advise anyone who still thinks he's a victim in all this to go back and read the actual report that lays out in damning detail who Rose was running with, what he did, and how he lied about it.

Denny McLain's weighing in, too. Denny's not as famous as Pete is, of course. He had some great years for the Tigers, was the last guy to win 30 in a single season, and got his toes broken by mobsters over a gambling debt while his team was in the thick of a pennant race. McLain later would indulge in such activities as embezzlement, mail fraud, racketeering, drug dealing, and flying a wanted felon out of the country. And Denny is disappointed in Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta for not appealing his suspension, what with his team in a pennant race and all.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Who are the Biogenesis Thirteen?

So here's the list of players suspended on Monday by MLB for their part in the Biogenesis affair:

  • Alex Rodriguez
  • Nelson Cruz
  • Jhonny Peralta
  • Everth Cabrera
  • Antonio Bastardo
  • Jordanny Valdespin
  • Jesus Montero
  • Francisco Cervelli
  • Cesar Puello
  • Fernando Martinez
  • Sergio Escalona
  • Fautino De Los Santos
  • Jordan Norberto

If you're not a baseball fan, you've heard of one of these guys: A-Rod. If you're a casual fan, you may have heard of a couple more. Cruz was an All-Star this year, and has shown up on endless blooper reels for the way he played outfield in the World Series a couple of years ago. Peralta and Cabrera were also All-Stars, middle infielders with a bit of sock and a lot of speed, respectively. But one played in Detroit, where he was overshadowed by Miggy and Prince and Verlander, and the other played in San Diego, where no national reporter has dared set foot since Tony Gwynn retired. So, semi-famous at best.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

What Can Michael Jordan's Retirement Teach Us About A-Rod?

So here's the difference between baseball and basketball.

If you believe the investigative journalists, when basketball's most transcendent talent got caught dead to rights doing something he ought not to have, he "retired". In response, the NBA dropped its investigation into Michael Jordan's gambling, one that it hardly trumpeted prior to Jordan's "retirement". There were no talks of a bargain, no targeted leaks of evidence, no long and drawn out public cha-cha with the evidence. Today, barely anyone remembers that there had been an investigation into Jordan's gambling, or that Jordan had written a massive check to a convicted drug dealer to cover gambling debts, or, well, you get the idea.