Sunday, September 29, 2013

Game 163

It's not quite the postseason, the one game playoff to see who gets the chance to play a one game playoff to advance to the next round of the American League playoffs. The National League side has been reasonably set for a while now; only an impossible run from the Nationals combined with a complete collapse from one of the NL Central front-runners would have shaken things up. It was only a question of seeding, with the Reds and Pirates duking it out to see who got to host the Wild Card game, and the Dodgers and Braves cruising home with 10+ game leads.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

To Tide You Over....

...until the long piece about the Oklahoma State non-scandal hits, here's a few other pieces you should check out.

Adam Sobsey's Bull City Summer has been a marvelous memoir of a season spent following the AAA Durham Bulls closely. It's brilliantly and affectingly written, and this piece on hard-luck OF Brandon Guyer will dent your heart a bit. The rest of the series - and the blog - is well worth reading as well.

Sports On Earth is home to some consistently good writing. This recent guest piece by Susan Elizabeth Shepard stands out, however, for its brutal honestly and refusal to pander to squishy sentimentality. What do pro athletes and strippers have in common? More than you'd think.

There is nothing on Earth better than Joe Posnanski writing about the Royals. Except maybe Posnanski writing about Springsteen. But here he writes about the Royals.

These days the great Charles Pierce makes his crust tearing into politics like a gator tearing into an unwanted Duck Dynasty cast member, but every so often he unlimbers the old sportswriting muscles over at Grantland. The management of this site cheerfully confesses to not being fans of Mr. Simmons' self-absorbtion or style, but he's given Pierce and Jonah Keri a place to play, and that's worth something.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Great Moments In Oversimplified Media Narratives, Atlanta Braves Edition

The narrative is clear. Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez admired his home run against the Braves and took a slow trot around the bases, causing Atlanta catcher Brian McCann to confront him before he got to home plate. This triggered a bench-clearing brawl, which resulted in ejections, suspensions, and an injury to Brewers infielder Aramis Ramirez. But in the aftermath, McCann was lauded for upholding the unwritten rules of the game, and Gomez got blasted as a showboating punk with no respect for baseball or anything else.

Lots and lots of fans  and media types piled onto that narrative, vociferously defending Atlanta and McCann and calling Gomez some fairly awful things.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Adult Swim In Arizona

Apparently there is some outrage being generated in certain quarters over an unsourced rumor that, during their victory celebration in the swimming pool in center field of whatever they're calling the Diamondbacks' park these days, at least one Dodger (and possibly more) embraced their inner six year old and - there is no graceful way to say it - peed in the pool.

Now I find this ridiculous for several reasons, namely:

  • The whole "They partied in our pool!" nonsense out of noted razor clam poacher Willie Bloomquist is precisely that: nonsense. The game was over, the park was empty, and they won. In the words of Chopper, Harden the @#$# up, Willie. 
  • Everybody pees in the pool. 17% of adults - not kids, adults - admit to it, which means that the actual numbers are way higher. Any pool you dare venture into is almost certainly going to have some whiz in it. That's why there's enough chlorine in your average swimming pool to kill half a regiment at Ypres: BECAUSE EVERYONE PEES IN THE DAMN POOL ANYWAY.
  • And because the Dodgers jumped in the pool in uniform. Those bad boys would almost certainly show a narsty colored stain quite well. 

Which leads me to the conclusion that A)it's probably a load of bollocks that someone dreamed up so more old men could yell at Yasiel Puig to get off their porch and B)nobody in their right mind would give a crap even if it were true.
But, it did get me thinking about how this story might have gone if it had been someone else in that pool. For instance:

  • If it had been the Denver Broncos, it would have been someone else's pee added to the pool.
  • If it had been the Milwaukee Brewers, the pee would somehow have been mishandled on its way into the pool.
  • If it had been Lance Armstrong's, he would have sworn that the pee was actually an organic healing elixir.
  • If it had been the Philadelphia Phillies, someone - probably Ryan Howard - would have gotten hurt while peeing.
  • If it had been Oklahoma State, thousands of angry internet commenters would have demanded to know why it hadn't been Miami or North Carolina or USC or Oregon that peed in the pool instead.
  • If it had been Texas A&M, someone would have sworn that it was just a coincidence that 4500 vials labeled "Urine sample - Manziel" showed up in the pool at that time. And Johnny would have had to sit out of the pool for half an hour.
  • If it had been the Lakers, the story would have been about how nobody would have peed if they'd hired Phil Jackson as coach.
  • If it had been the Coyotes, nobody would have cared.
  • If it had been the Arizona Cardinals, nobody would have believed it.
  • And if it had been the Yankees, it would have been reported as Derek Jeter nobly and honorably marking his territory as God-Emperor of the Suburban Phoenix Dunes, and for that we should all be grateful.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Steelers 911

Last week, the Pittsburgh Steelers were 0-2. This doesn't happen a lot here in Pittsburgh.  The player leadership of the team didn't have much of an idea of what to do in response.
Now they're 0-3.

So I guess maybe the team's troubles aren't related to rookies playing 8-ballThat's weird and surprising! The correlation between snooker and crappy football play is well-documented in precisely nowhere.  Perhaps the relationship is too subtle to be detected by modern science. We need better footballoscopes.

Maybe the vets will double down. Maybe next, guys with three years or fewer won't be able to play Battleship, cribbage, or Vampire: the Masquerade.  (Meanwhile Roethlisberger's standing on the trainer's table shouting, "I call a Blood Hunt upon thee, outcast Kindred Ryan Clark!")

Guys, you are a team. The standings don't say "Pittsburgh Steelers New Dudes: 0-3."  You want to refocus the team, refocus the team. Don't pretend that the problem is that the new guys are distracted while the wily vets are pure professionals.

There are some specific, concrete problems that can be addressed.
* Ben Roethlisberger is personally responsible for 7 of the Steelers' 10 turnovers (4 picks, 3 lost fumbles).  He should, uhh, hold onto the ball.
* The offensive line is atrocious. The Steelers' O-line hasn't been great since Russ Grimm left, but the current line gives swiss cheese a bad name. As of this writing, Football Outsiders' advanced stats rank the Steelers' offensive line 30th. I don't know enough about the trenches to know whether this is schematic problems or personnel problems, but with a rank that bad it's almost certainly both.
* Related, the coaches must stop substituting guys in and out of the offensive line from play to play. The linemen must learn to play together, and that requires actually playing together.

The team's not the Titanic. Most observers thought this was going to be a rough year for the Steelers. It's OK to have those once in a while, so long as the team uses this opportunity to get what they can out of the personnel they have, and learn.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Congratulations ARRRRRR In Order

We interrupt our usual non-stop stream of snark and unusually convoluted sub-references to offer congratulations to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who yesterday clinched the franchise's first playoff berth in 20 years.
Or, to put it another way, the last time the Pirates made the playoffs, Mariano Rivera, who is retiring after an unprecedented run as a closer after a ridiculously long career, was in the minors.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Your Weekly ACC Update

Another week, another game against Bethune-Cookman for the league...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

AL MVP: Any Argument In A Storm

I remember it like it was only last year.

The baseball season was headed into its home stretch, and one of the fiercest debates raging was who deserved the AL MVP award. Was it Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera, on his way to the first Triple Crown in recent memory? Or Angels outfielder Mike Trout, the darling of the analytics community, whose unprecedented rookie season was made even more impressive by the fact that he got a late start on the year. Columns raged, invective flew, and in the end, Cabrera won. Old-school types cheered it as a win for, well, for old-school types, and yelled at the analytics types to get off their lawns. Analytically-aligned fans chanted "but what about defense" and muttered darkly about how the demographic shift was on their side.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

18 Innings In

18 innings.
21 pitchers.
6 hours, 54 minutes.
184 pitches thrown for each team.
10 consecutive scoreless innings.
A game-winning RBI delivered by a guy who didn't enter the game until the 10th inning, and had enough time to go 2-4.
That's what the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles did to each other last night. That's what you do when there's under 10 games left in the season and the wild card standings are packed tighter than salmon going upstream in a David Attenborough documentary. That's what you do when it's September and your roster has expanded and one loss can drop you from leading the wild card race to a half game out of the second spot. That's what you do when you're a couple back with not that many to go, and you're running out of chances to make up ground.
The storylines are everywhere. The win went to a guy (Jeremy Hellickson) who had to get sent down to Class A to get his head straightened out. That RBI in the 18th came from a guy (David DeJesus) who was traded twice this season, once to a team that expressly didn't want him. The losing pitcher (Bud Norris) was supposed to end up on the West Coast when he got ransomed out of 100-loss factory Houston for prospects; instead he wound up, to everyone's surprise, in Charm City. Super-rookie Wil Myers went 0-8 in the game. The guy who scored the winning run (Desmond Jennings), went 2-4 after getting into the game in the 9th. The Orioles' closer never entered the game, which may say something about the way Buck Showalter manages or may say something about the way Jim Johnson is pitching.
But really, the only storyline that matters is that this is what you do when the year's running out. You fire every bullet, including your Sunday starting pitcher, because this one game really does matter that much. There's no time for sunk costs any more, no saying sometime around the 13th "screw it, put the shortstop in so we can save the bullpen for the rest of the series". Because if you don't win this game, the rest of the series might be too late.
The game wrapped up around 2 in the morning.
And today at 1:05, they do it all again.

Friday, September 20, 2013

What the Bo Pelini Rant Can Teach Us

Soon you will learn the power of this fully operational football coach
There is precisely one circumstance under which Nebraska fans will not forgive coach Bo Pelini for his Mamet-esque rant from a couple years back that just got released over at Deadspin, and that's if he fails to win enough games.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

I wear my visor in a fight*

The NHL has implemented a rule where, if a player gets in a fight (where they get a 5 minute major for fighting, instead of the 2 minute roughing call) and removes his helmet, he gets an additional 2 minute minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.

It's been stated that the reason for this rule is to avoid concussions.  But it's really just a way to penalize fighting even more than it already is.  And I think it's a dumb idea.

Let's be clear here:  the staged fights you see when the guys drop their gloves just after a face-off need to stop.  The players are transparently attempting to pump up the energy of the team, and it's generally transparent.  Although this one (Max Talbot vs. Dan Carcillo in 2009) was an example of one that broke that mold, leading to the Pens eliminating the Flyers.

But a spontaneous fight, where the players just start smacking the living bejeebies out of each other because one guy smashed the other guy into the boards, that almost always results in a momentum shift.

There are also logistical issues with this.  What happens when a guy knocks the other player's helmet off?  What happens if the cause of the fight was a guy high-sticking someone and knocking it off?  Are they penalized then?

I think it's a bad rule, and the NHL should feel bad.

*Sung to the tune of that great 80s hit "Sunglasses at Night".  Yeah, it's a reach.  Deal with it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Improbable Math of September

September is the time for improbable math.

It's when you look at the number of games your team sits out of a playoff spot, and the number of games left, and you squint and you hope and think maybe, just maybe...

Maybe if we win all our games, and the three teams ahead of us keep losing, we'll make it.

Maybe we'll get hot.

Maybe the Reds will go 6-6, and that means all we have to do is go 11-2 to catch them. It's doable, right? We've still got games against the Marlins.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Your 2013 International League Champions, the Durham Bulls

Bulls in Motion...
You may have noticed a decided tilt towards Durham Bulls-related content on this blog over the summer. The reason for this is simple: I live ten minutes from their ballpark, and I get to games (generally with some combination of my dad and nephew or my friends Mur "Sansaball" Lafferty and Jim Van Verth and their mighty daughter) as often as I can. The park is lovely and the games are a lot of fun to attend, and if the food options largely run to "variations on hot dogs", that's just fine.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Your "ACC Is On The Rise" Update For 9/16

In the interests of science, let's see how the resurgent ACC did this weekend:

Just one game this week, with Georgia Tech hammering Duke. Duke has been making strides under David Cutcliffe, but Tech's bizarro offense is tough if you don't have the athletes to pursue the flexbone, and Duke, well, doesn't. Or if they do, they're all playing for Coach K.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

In Defense of Knuckleballers

Our Patron Saint
Those of you not reading Adam Sobsey's marvelous Bull City Summer series, about one year at the ballpark (and beyond) with the AAA Durham Bulls, have been missing out. Graceful, insightful, and fun, it's a long-form exercise that really gets to the heart of the material its covering, with genuine affection for the players, managers and characters who make the AAA game what it is.

But in a recent post, he takes a swipe at knuckleballers, and that's where I've got to draw the line. Sobsey's point is that knuckleballers are, in essence, a novelty act. They have precisely one (1) pitch, and they throw it every time out. And that, he posits, is an unenjoyable fan experience - there's no suspense over what's coming next, there's no chance for a pitcher to magically squeeze that extra bit of velocity out of his arm for that one vital pitch, there's nothing but the knuckler, darting and dancing and eventually making its way to the plate (and occasionally behind it, when the catcher fails to handle it). The comparison he settles on is the comedy of Steven Wright: off kilter, repetitive, and functional only within its own space.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Cheatery, NASCAR Style

So the buzz out of NASCAR right now is that Joey Logano - and really, what better sign is there that NASCAR's gone national than a guy whose name make him sound like he should be a roadie for Bon Jovi - did some cheatery to lock up his place in the "Chase".

(The Chase, for those of you unfamiliar with is, is NASCAR's version of the playoffs, wherein the top drivers basically wipe the slate and compete all over again for the last few races of the year. But since those races still include full fields, it's like letting the Yankees and Red Sox slug it out in the ALCS while the Royals and Mariners play catch in the outfield, and the White Sox show up, take batting practice, and then leave right after the first pitch.)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Your Jets Update

Mark Sanchez is probably out for the year with a busted labrum.

Which means that there's still a good chance Rex Ryan won't announce his quarterback until the second quarter of Sunday's game.

Your Handy-Dandy Guide to the Sports Illustrated-Oklahoma State Scandal

What's the big deal?
In a five part investigation, Sports Illustrated has allegedly uncovered evidence of massive institutional corruption at Oklahoma State University's football program. Money, sex, academic fraud, you name it - it's all apparently in there, and the allegations extend from the turn of the century up through 2011.

So what's the big deal?
Well, it depicts a program where academics were laughable, players got handed envelopes of cash in the locker room, and more. And all of this is coming from eyewitness reports from former players.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Let's Not Get Too Excited, ACC Edition

Local sports pundits (and a few national ones) are all a-twitter over the notion that finally, after roughly 2 decades of saying "NEXT year we're going to be good at football", the ACC has risen up to show its fangs. After all, the evidence is unmistakeable: a high-profile win by the league's best team, Clemson, over a highly ranked SEC opponent (Georgia). Another win by a league team (Miami) over an SEC powerhouse (Florida). And...and...

And that's about it.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Great Moments In Getting Overexcited Over One Game, Geno Smith Division

Buoyed by the fact that Jets didn't get run out of the stadium by the Buccaneers on Sunday, the pundits are declaring the Geno Smith era to be a resounding success. Leading the chorus is The Sporting News' Vinny Iyer, whose love letter to Smith makes you wonder if Iyer was standing outside the Jets' locker room after the game, hoping to be asked if he'd accept a rose.

Friday, September 06, 2013

A Summer At the Ballparks

Fan Appreciation Day, Durham Bulls Athletic Park. A dad tosses pop flies so his son can learn to make spectacular catches crashing against the fence.

AT&T Park, preseason tour, the view from the Press Box.
And in the distance, the waters of McCovey Cove.

The view from the Giants' dugout, placed along the third base side
because there's more room there. Looking out to dead center,
an awfully long way away.
Outside Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, just before
Opening Day. A bronze statue seemingly hurls a water tower, daring
another statue to hit it. Bronze Ted Kluszewski waits out of shot, patiently, for his chance
to swing.
Domonic Brown stealing second against the Reds, in a game the
Phillies won with 2 homers in the 9th off Aroldis Chapman.
Erik Kratz and Freddy Galvis, you are a thermodynamic miracle.

Opening night, Rogers Centre, Toronto. R.A. Dickey was betrayed by
his catcher, who let a fistful of knucklers roll by. The Jays lost, setting
the tone for the season. But for one night, the joint was jumping.

The end of the Phillies' ballpark tour; a chance to sit in Charlie Manuel's press conference seat,
deep in the bowels of Citizens' Bank Park.
I tried to announce a trade of Michael Young, but no one believed me

Nephew Jake's first college baseball game - Duke vs. Maryland,
right before the ACC tournament. Note the Jays jersey and Bulls hat.
Also note the foul ball, off the bat of Duke's shorstop. While we admired it, the kid hit a second one to the exact same spot and nearly brained us both.

Dad and Jake, Bulls versus Charlotte Knights. 

Dog days of summer. Rochester's bullpen crew heading in to the dugout after pre-game warmups at the DBAP.
Catching warmup tosses in the visitors' pen, during the last homestand of the season.
The catcher's mitt pops with every pitch.

Seated right behind home plate at a Winston-Salem Dash game.
16 rows back and a million miles away.

Bulls infielder Mike Fontenot takes his son onto the field after
a loss to Charlotte in the next to last home game of the year.
The grounds crew ignores Fontenot, and just works around him.

After the last home game of the season, the Bulls gather on the mound to celebrate.
13 runs, 17 hits, and nary a homer to be seen - and that was just for the Bulls. 

Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Year of the Third Stringer

Clearly, this is the year of the third-string quarterback. 

Usually, nobody knows who these guys are and, apart from their immediate families, agents, and alumni associations, nobody cares. They're rookies who didn't get drafted with glamor picks, coming out of school without the sheen of Mel Kiper Jr.'s slightly unsettling approval to grease their way into reps with the first team. They're journeymen who never made it big, bouncing from clipboard to clipboard around the NFL because they're known quantities. 

These are the guys whom you never want to see on the field, but if they get out there they won't fumble every snap or throw every pass into the middle of the cheerleaders. They're safe, and nothing more; they're Tony Pike and Koy Detmer and Scott Tolzien and Tyler Bray. And year in and year out they get flipped and swapped and cut and picked up, and only the most obsessive fans and fantasy players ever really bother to learn their names.

Until this year.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Pirate List

Sometime in the very near future, the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to win their 82nd game of the season, thus guaranteeing themselves a winning record. (They got #81 tonight, meaning the worst they can do is .500) This is a good thing, particularly for A)the Pirates organization B)fans of the team and C)anyone still mad at the St. Louis Cardinals for hiring Mike Matheny as manager instead of eminently qualified Cardinals lifer Jose Oquendo (like, say, my wife). And it's a big deal for baseball fans because the Pirates haven't had a winning season since 1992.
That, in case, you were wondering, is a very long time. It's the longest active streak of losing seasons in major professional team sports (No, the Washington Generals don't count). And when the Pirates do cross that magical 82-win barrier, you can expect a barrage of Beloit List-like articles detailing exactly how long it's been since the Buccos had a winning record. Things like "The last time the Pirates had a winning season..."