Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Drew Brees, MVP?

I think it's very nice and great and everything that Drew Brees broke Dan Marino's record last night for passing yards in a season.

I'm not enthused because football records don't get me like baseball records do.  If someone is threatening DiMaggio's hitting streak, or flirting with .400, or going after 30 wins in a season -- I'll be going nuts every single game.

But to NFL records:  eh.  I didn't care when running backs started breaking the "most TDs in a season" mark, from Emmitt Smith to Marshall Faulk to Priest Holmes to Shaun Alexander to LaDainian Tomlinson.

This is very nice for Drew Brees, though, and he makes a terrifically easy guy to root for.  The argument that this now makes Brees

By the way...

Tom Brady is 187 yards behind Marino's single-season mark.  If Brees hadn't broken the record, Brady would've done it this Sunday.  And considering that Brady is 190 yards away from Brees, a big game for the Pats quarterback and something strange happening to the Saints could mean that Tom Brady ends the year with the most passing yards in a single NFL season.

All of this in an "off" year for Brady (because a bad Patriots defense and undistinguished performances from receivers not named Welker or Gronkowski has overshadowed him).

Who's your MVP then?

Uh, let's go with Aaron Rodgers.  Even though he only has 4,643 passing yards this year, and not 5,000.

*

By the way, when Marino set the record in 1984, there were only three quarterbacks in the league with at least 4,000 passing yards.  This year, there are seven already and three others within 150 yards of topping the mark.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Monday Mishmash

First things first:  This was TNT's NBA opening video yesterday, and it is fantastic.

I'm a LeBron hater (and a Tebow hater, and a Yankees hater...), but man did the Heat look good yesterday.   As a Wizards fan, this is going to be a long season.

On the bright side, there's a host of fun teams to watch -- off the top of my head, I'd tune in to the Thunder, Clippers, Kings, Nuggets, Warriors, and Timberwolves just for the sheer entertainment value of the way they each play basketball.  I'm a simple man.  I like teams that are running and blocking and dunking and generally getting up and down the court in a hurry.

Yes, the Heat do that too, but I'm a hater (who thinks they'll win the title this year).

*

Bob Nightengale reports that the A's are likely moving to San Jose.  If this means more fans, a better stadium, and a higher payroll, it works for me.  With the Twins in their beautiful new ballpark and the Marlins opening up their new digs next year, this means we're getting closer to having every team in MLB in a good situation.

Now if we only could do something for the poor, mighty Tampa Bay Rays.

*

Terrible trade for the Reds in dealing for Sean Marshall.  Maybe he'll help out their bullpen, but they gave up proven starter Travis Wood and diminutive talents Dave Sappelt and Ronald Torreyes.

No exaggeration:  Torreyes was the best opposing player I saw in person this past year.  He influenced virtually every game that his Dayton Dragons played and led the Midwest League in batting in the second half.

*

Saturday was NFL, Sunday was NBA, today is NHL.

I'm perfectly happy about that.

Happy 6th day of Chanukah!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dreidel days

I have never been shy in letting folks know that I'm Jewish, and perhaps that's because I'm generally the minority in the room.  There's something strengthening to your identity to know you've got something that not everybody else has.

I'm speaking, of course, of the ability to spin a dreidel upside down.  I'm a master.

So far for Chanukah (which can be spelled any way you'd like), I've received a shirt/tie, a sweater, and a 2012 Onion tearaway calendar.  Solid.

This is an American Jewish tradition to receive gifts each night of Chanukah.  My siblings and I were threatened as kids with an Israeli Chanukah when, nearing the holiday, we misbehaved or disobeyed our father -- and we'd leap to behave properly!  An Israeli Chanukah meant no gifts, and no one wanted that.

I've got my chanukiyah in the kitchen, set up on aluminum foil for maximum safety.  After singing the blessings (I sing Hebrew so much better than I sing in English), it's family tradition to go through a medley of Chanukah songs before reaching for a gift.

Since I'm celebrating -- or rather, "observing" the holiday -- away from my family, I returned from a Thanksgiving visit to Maryland with my presents all with me.  It's been my choice which one to open each night.  That's easily one of the best parts of Chanukah, going through the presents and picking the perfect one out each night.  Shaking is totally allowed; I'm very big on trying to guess what the gift is before opening it up.

A quick note:  Jewish days all start in the evening and continue through the following day.  Last night was the third night, for example, and today is the third day.  This gets confusing for some people, but look:  Christmas Eve is December 24th and Christmas is December 25th.  Simple.

And now a clip from our traditional family movie for the holiday season:  Happy Chanukah!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On Yu Darvish and false scoops

Last week it was reported that the Toronto Blue Jays posted the highest posting bid to negotiate with Japanese ace Yu Darvish.  Here's the initial NY Post story, and the sort of follow-up that came about next.

Well, no.

The Texas Rangers posted the highest bid.

This is all well and good for the Rangers, and I harbor them no will.

I do, however, harbor ill will toward all reporters who report wrongly without repercussions.  I don't need something like this, but I do think there needs to be a running tally of media members who get their scoops wrong.  Let us know who's trustworthy, the same way Amazon.com lets us know how reliable their sellers are.

Currently, it's all about the speed of the scoop.  That's not good enough.  We need accuracy.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Tales from the Winter Meetings: SABR

First, your Tim Tebow mention of the day.

He took a 29-yard sack yesterday.

That is all.

*

I joined the Society of American Baseball Research at the Baseball Winter Meetings.

The Society, in my mind, whether this is true or not, is baseball's version of MENSA... except that they'll admit anyone, high IQ or not.  They're very forgiving in this way.

SABR has become connected with baseball analytics, though it is much more than that.  It's about baseball research and a search for greater knowledge, especially with regard to little-known history.

(One of the top articles right now is the "20 Greatest Blunders of the Deadball Era.")

Frankly, going through the website, I am already intimidated.  There are specialists in the 19th century, in specific cities and states, and in specific areas such as mathematical analytics.  I'm not really much of a researcher nor a mathematician.

But that's all right.

I'm a reader.

They can all do their great research projects and I'm going to read them, and then I'll share what I think on the broadcast airwaves and on this blog.  There's treasure everywhere, as Bill Watterson once wrote.

From the greatest blunders article, there's this wonderful gem, derived from the years when ballplayers would ghostwrite columns in the local paper.  It's a little tiff between diametrically opposite Hall of Fame pitching teammates...


When Marquard grooved one for Baker. 


In Game 2 of the 1911 World Series, Frank Baker’s two-run home run off Rube Marquard broke a 1-1 tie, and the Athletics beat the Giants, 3-1. 


When Matty grooved one for Baker. 


In Game 3 of the 1911 World Series, Frank Baker’s ninth inning home run off Christy Mathewson tied the game at 1-1 and sent it into extra innings. The Athletics won in eleven innings, 3-1.


The wording “grooved one” suggests that the pitchers served up “fat” pitches. Mathewson’s (ghost-written) column of the morning after game two was critical of Marquard’s serving up Baker’s blow: “Baker’s home run was due to Rube’s carelessness.” Continuing, “Marquard was told just what not to pitch to Frank. Well, Rube pitched just what Baker likes.” Ironically, the very day that column appeared, Mathewson served up a home run to Baker, too. Marquard (his ghost) then wrote, “Just what happened, Matty?” (Fred Lieb, The Story of the World Series.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

You're the normal one

I like to watch NBA preseason.

I know.  It's totally, mindlessly forgettable, but I enjoy it.  I'm a basketball fan.  I stayed up last night to watch the first half of Golden State/Sacramento to see what Jimmer Fredette could offer.  (He was excellent.)

I did not watch Saturday Night Live, though I did catch the best sketch of the night this morning:  Tim Tebow and Jesus.  (Pray to Matt Prater!)

Everyone is entitled to enjoy unpopular aspects of life, it seems to me, while disdaining several popular aspects of life -- hey, I don't like the beach or coffee or fireworks.  I don't care for Halloween or Thanksgiving or draft day in any sport.  I don't own an iPhone or a Blu-Ray player or even a microwave.

Meanwhile, I greatly enjoy wintry days, several previews before my movie, pro rugby, pro soccer, and All-Star Games in any sport (except football).  And, I admit, I enjoy the casual rhythm of preseason basketball, same as I love exhibition baseball.

I just can't stand NBA refereeing.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tales from the Winter Meetings: Jack Lazorko

If you've never seen this before from This Week in Baseball, seriously, just watch.

It was at the New Era Cap booth at the Trade Show... and I had the thrill of shaking hands with the inimitable Jack Lazorko.  (I raved to him about the TWIB spot and everything.)

I still have his rookie card, too.

Tales from the Winter Meetings: Bobby Valentine

The Baseball Winter Meetings were held in Dallas last week, and I attended -- where I promptly became sick with a seven-day cold.  And now here I am, finally getting around to writing about it.

For those who've never been to a Meetings, everyone in baseball is there.  Everyone.  It's astonishing.  I flew in on a Sunday, flew out on a Thursday, and jammed a wealth of experiences and conversations in between.

Since there's too much to tell all in one spot, I'll break it down a series of anecdotes.  Today, the new manager of the Red Sox.

*

I shook Bobby Valentine's hand and congratulated him on his recent hire.

He was standing, talking with a friend near the front lobby, and I said -- why not?  To be honest, I considered the question of "Why not?" for nearly ten minutes, standing frozen around a corner, and then made my approach when another man stepped up to talk with his friend.

The conversation was brief.  I said, professionally and politely, "Excuse me" and "Congratulations" and he said "Thank you," and then I walked away.

It was worth it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sports Talking Points That Need to be Rewritten

"The NFL is a quarterback league."

Except when Tim Tebow can win a game with only two completions and the 49ers can win nine of their first 10 games with Alex Smith under center.  Right now there are, perhaps, 9-12 teams with a competent quarterback -- the Cowboys, Giants, Packers, Lions, Saints, Falcons, Patriots, Ravens, Steelers... and maybe the Bengals, Chargers or Raiders.  There are 20+ teams with stiffs at QB.

(Speaking as a Redskins fan, my team has had the choice between Rex Grossman and John Beck this year.  They both stink, one worse than the other... and the Skins have the same record as Phil Rivers' San Diego Chargers.  It's a bad year for the NFL.)


"Defense wins championships" (in the NFL).

Except the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl two years ago thanks to a brilliant offense -- and the 20th best defense in the league.  Two years before that, the champion Giants were #17 (and topped the 4th-ranked Patriots).  The champion Indianapolis Colts were #23 in the NFL in 2006.

Does it help to have a great defense?  Hey, it can't hurt.  Still, the top team in the NFL right now is the undefeated Green Bay Packers, who have the 30th-ranked defense in the league.  Meanwhile, the AFC-favorite New England Patriots have the worst defense in the league.  (ESPN's team defense chart)


"Great pitching beats great hitting."

Except that the Texas Rangers had a blast disposing of this one in the 2011 postseason.

Texas was shut down by Rays rookie Matt Moore in the first game of the ALDS before beating Jamie Shields, David Price and Jeremy Hellickson in succession despite - statistically - having the better offense but the worse opposing starter.  Team ERA:  4.25.  They won.

In the ALCS, the Rangers' offense again carried the load and the relievers provided all four victories against the Detroit Tigers.  The starting pitching was negligible.  A Texas starting pitcher made it through six innings exactly once in the six games.  Team ERA:  4.02.  They won.

In the World Series, the Rangers pitched to a 4.65 ERA... but they held the Cardinals to a .243 batting average and .396 slugging percentage while hitting .254 and slugging .419.  Naturally, they lost.  The Cardinals' Series-winning ERA was a mediocre 3.86.  On the bright side, it was a classic series.

The easiest way to crush this talking point, though, is just to note that arguably the greatest pitching staff in baseball history -- the 1990s Atlanta Braves -- won only one World Series amid their 14 consecutive division titles.  Except for one season, 1995, the Braves' great pitching was annually outdone.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The ballot is out...

The 2012 BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot has been released.

The nominees are...

(cue the cutting and pasting)

Jeff Bagwell, Jeromy Burnitz, Vinny Castilla, Juan Gonzalez, Brian Jordan, Barry Larkin, Javy Lopez, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Bill Mueller, Terry Mulholland, Dale Murphy, Phil Nevin, Rafael Palmeiro, Brad Radke, Tim Raines, Tim Salmon, Ruben Sierra, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Bernie Williams, Tony Womack, Eric Young

I'm conflicted about steroid guys.

On the one hand, MLB owners and management implicitly approved the use of PEDs, rewarding such players with huge contracts and promoting the game around them... and then immediately scapegoated them when the truth was discovered.

On the other hand, PEDs were/are illegal in this country.  That's not up for debate.  I am of the opinion that it's the rare enhanced player who would have made the Hall of Fame without the need of a PED -- Roger Clemens, for instance, or Barry Bonds.  It's a hypothetical argument, but that's my contention.  Without steroids, Rafael Palmeiro is Will Clark, and Will the Thrill's not a Hall of Famer.

In other words, I'd vote Clemens and Bonds into the Hall while keeping one-dimensional sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa out.

As for the rest of the field:

Barry Larkin and Alan Trammell are among the top 10 greatest shortstops to ever play the game.  Tim Raines is among the top three or four greatest leadoff hitters to ever play the game.  Jeff Bagwell ranks with the great slugging first basemen of the 1920s and 1930s.  I like Edgar Martinez on the basis of his late start and tremendous offensive production.  (I'd rather vote for a great-hitting DH than a good-bat/bad-glove player like Bernie Williams.)

Lee Smith puzzles me; I'll leave him out for now.  Jack Morris was a very good pitcher, but not Hall-worthy.  Dale Murphy makes a compelling pre-steroid case, but I'm not convinced.

Also, Jeromy Burnitz and I share the same birthday.

There you are:  Five guys from this class for me.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Really troubling

From Sports by Brooks, this video is - at the very least - highly unsettling.

Via ESPN and CNN footage, it's ESPN's Mark Schwarz discussing the network's possession of a tape of a phone conversation between Bernie Fine's wife and a young man whom the Syracuse assistant coach had sexually abused -- and ESPN's decision to do nothing about it.

Brooks is spot on.  If you're an advertiser with an ESPN, you have some major questions for the network -- and they better come up with better answers than the ones Schwarz was providing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Good to know

Driving from New Jersey to Maryland on Monday, I listened to ESPN's Greenberg & Golic morning show.

(I generally tune into sports talk radio while driving - it goes along with being a sports fan.)

The topic of conversation was Ndamukong Suh, dirty punk.

Which is true, you know.  You can't stomp on a guy and expect not to be thought of as dirty, particularly not when you have a litany of personal foul penalties already on your resume.  (You can't give a lousy excuse for it, either, without any personal responsibility or remorse.)

Here, however, was how Mike & Mike -- and a third Mike -- discussed the matter:

1)  Special guest Mike Ditka talked about how he had done all sorts of different things on the football field that he now regrets, and how he had definitely stomped on guys -- and then proceeds to catigate Suh for the play.

2)  Co-host Mike Golic talked about his own dirty actions, including the story of one particular premeditated assault on an opponent -- and then similarly berates Suh for his action against the Packers.

In other news, Bob Gibson disapproves of pitchers for throwing inside, Ulf Samuelsson thinks the NHL should crack down on dirty play, and Roddy Piper is against eye-pokes.

Glass houses, gentlemen.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Name Game

New Cubs manager Dale Sveum's surname is pronounced "swame," rhyming with 'name.'

It occurs to me that there have been a host of athletes' names through the years that do not have the most common pronunciations, and yet sports fans don't give them much thought.

MLB
Craig Biggio - "bih-zhee-oh"
Kiki Cuyler - "kye-kye kye-ler"
Johnny Evers - "ee-verz"
Mark Grudzielanek - "grud-zih-lah-neck"
Derek Jeter - "jee-ter" (NBA player Pooh Jeter pronounces his surname "jeh-ter")
Sandy Koufax - "koh-fax"
Stan Musial - "myew-zee-uhl" (or "myew-zhul")
Mike Piazza - "pee-ah-tza"
Albert Pujols - "poo-holes"
Gary/Ron Roenicke - "reh-nickey"
Red Schoendienst - "shane-deenst"
Jim Thome - "toh-may" (although "toh-me" is also acceptable)
Joe Torre - "tohr-ee"
Carl Yastrzemski - "yuh-strem-skee"

NBA
Kobe Bryant - "koh-bee"
Antawn Jamison - "an-twan"
Dirk Nowitzki - "noh-vitz-kee"
Shaquille O'Neal - "shuh-keel"
Kiki Vandeweghe - "van-deh-way"
Dwyane Wade - "dwayne"

And, lastly:

NFL
Brett Favre - "farv"

All right, who'd I miss?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ditch the NCAA hoops Top 25 poll

The Top 25 poll for college basketball, whether voted on by the coaches or by the Associated Press, is obsolete and needs to go.

*  The poll rankings don't affect seeding for the NCAA tournament, which determines the true champion for the year.  Therefore, they're entirely insignificant.

*  There's one #1 team in a Top 25 poll.  There are four #1 seeds in the tourney.  Ditto #2, #3, and so on.  Are you the #11 team in the country?  Forget that, you're a #4 in the East.  The Top 25 poll confuses things...

*  ... and let me say again, rankings don't affect seeding.  The 20th team in the poll might be a 3-seed in the tournament.  The poll carries no weight.  It's bupkis.

*  Why are "25" teams even listed?  There are 68 total teams in the tourney, 37 of them receiving at-large berths.  If you want to list the most likely teams to qualify, you might as well make it a Top 40 or thereabouts.

Really, the poll's about pure vanity and nothing else.

Ditch it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

I feel you, Rick Perry

No need to discuss any politics here, except to say - for purposes of full disclosure - that I am liberal and Democratic and I support the "Occupy __" movements.


As somebody who talks for a living, specifically during baseball season, let me tell you:  It happens.

I've blanked on the name of my radio station.
I've blanked on the teams playing.
I've blanked on the stadium's name.
I've blanked on the city I'm broadcasting from.
I've blanked on my board operator's name.
I've blanked on my broadcast partner's name.
Heck, I've blanked on my name.

It happens.

It's embarrassing, but it happens.

In one incident in college, I could not remember what a certain position was named.  "It's 4th down," I said, "so they're bringing out the -- uh -- the kicker -- Nick Aiello -- who kicks it to the other team on 4th down.  Aiello.  Out to kick."  Five minutes later, my interior monologue:  "The punter.  That's what he's called!"  Hey, it's easy to laugh about it now.  At the time, I was panicking.

If you're going to vote against Rick Perry in the primaries, it would seem to me that you could find more substantive reasons than "Oops."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Clarify the MVP criteria

Major League Baseball is irrationally idiotic and obtuse.

Exhibit A:  Refusing to standardize or remove the DH, causing each league to play a significantly different game.

Exhibit B:  Placing unequal quantities of teams in the AL West and the NL Central, making it easier to make the playoffs in the AL West (and in the American League in general) and more difficult to make the playoffs in the NL Central.

Let me submit a third item.

From this November 2010 OpposingViews.com article by Hardball Times, we learn the guidelines for voting on the league Most Valuable Player Awards.

A pertinent quote:


The BBWAA has been voting on the MVP award since 1931. Jack O’Connell, secretary-treasurer for the BBWAA, said by email this week: “That award places 'value' on contributions to the team by a player. The only guidelines for the other awards is for voters to select the pitchers, players or managers they feel are most deserving of being honored. It's as simple as that. These are elections, not coronations...
BBWAA members assigned to the National League Most Valuable Player committee are told, “There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.
“The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931: (1) actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense; (2) number of games played; (3) general character, disposition, loyalty and effort; (4) former winners are eligible; and (5) members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.”


Want to know why the MVP debate is convoluted?  Because "it is up to the individual voter to decide" what the award means to her or him."

That's ridiculous.

The Cy Young Award goes to the best pitcher in the league, bar none.  The Hank Aaron Award goes to the best hitter in the league, end of story.  The Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award goes to the best rookie in the league, no questions asked.  The Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards are presented, respectively, to the top power-hitter and defender at each position, nothing vague about it.  The Manager of the Year goes to, drumroll, the best manager in each league.

But as for the MVP...

Some writers vote for the best player in the league.  Some writers vote for the best player on the best team in the league.  Some writers vote for the best player on a playoff team.  Some writers vote for the player who was the heart and soul of his team.  Some writers vote for pitchers.  Some writers exclude pitchers entirely.

The Most Valuable Player award is the TOP AWARD.  It's the pinnacle of post-season honors.

Is clarifying the MVP criteria really too much to ask for?  Or is it okay with MLB that your top award is being voted on by people who have no consensus what sort of player they are voting for.

Two easy steps to fix this:

1.  There are writers who refuse to vote for pitchers because they believe, idiotically, that "pitchers have their own award."  Yes, the Cy Young Award is solely for pitchers -- and the Hank Aaron Award goes solely to hitters.  Tell these writers to cram it and start voting deserving pitchers among their top 10.  Or don't.  Disqualify pitchers entirely.  Just make it clear.

2.  Outright specify which is more important to winning the MVP, making the playoffs or compiling huge numbers.  Don't leave it vague.  Give each accomplishment a measure of weight.

Baseball's a great game, but that doesn't mean we should overlook its idiocy.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Penn State

The #1 story in sports right now is Penn State University and Jerry Sandusky.

I am reacting like everyone else.  It is sickening and horrible.  I'm increasingly uncomfortable the more I read -- it's abhorrent.

More details will come out as Penn State decides how to react.  Joe Paterno looks to be out, but that's a minuscule salve.

That is all.

Questions I'd love to see an athlete ask the media

*  Is this what you really want to do with your life?  Why?

*  Maybe that quote is disrespectful toward me and/or the team, but what was the context?

*  How much preparation did you do before you came in here?

*  Is your article already written and you're just looking for quotes to fill in?  Or:  What's your soapbox and what are you looking for from me in order to prove your point?

*  Was I the person you really wanted to talk to, or did you settle for me?

*  Are you going to treat me with the same respect that you want me to treat you?  Or:  When we're not in the same room, what do you think of me then?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Why I'm watching The Boondocks

I'm a Washington, D.C., area sports fan.  I root for the Mystics, D.C. United, the Bullets/Wizards, the Maryland Terrapins and the Georgetown Hoyas, and all of the other DC-and-surrounding-vicinity colleges like George Mason, George Washington, Howard, and American University.

(I'm not really a Nats fan; I work in baseball for a Blue Jays-affiliated club, I've worked for a Rays affiliate, I grew up a Tigers fan, and there were no Nats while I was growing up.)

The two teams I wish to focus on here are the most popular:  the Redskins and the Capitals.

You can't root for the Skins and the Caps in the same way.

The Washington Redskins have won three Super Bowls and five total championships.
The Washington Capitals have zero Stanley Cups and zero total championships.

The Redskins have been in existence since 1932, in Washington, D.C. since 1937.
The Capitals have been in existence since 1974, playing in D.C. the entire time.

The Redskins, clearly, have the lineage and tradition, with generations of faithful fans.
The Capitals do not.

However:

Each team has made the playoffs exactly 22 times.  This year, it is very likely that the Caps will make the playoffs and the Skins will not.  Even conceding that it is easier to make the postseason in the NHL than the NFL, it's easy to see that the Washington Capitals are a first rate powerhouse, among the favorites in the Eastern Conference entering each season, while the Washington Redskins are miserable losers with optimistic moments few and far between.

The Caps lost to the Islanders on Saturday, 5-3, after winning the previous day in Carolina.  It's tough to win the second of back-to-back road outings.  The defeat dropped their record to 9-3, best in the Southeast.   Still, hey:  I know the Caps are going to make the playoffs.  That's where things get interesting since they've made a habit of losing early in the postseason.  But they're going there, no doubt in anyone's mind.  It's taken for granted.

The Skins lost to the 49ers on Sunday, 19-11, their fourth consecutive loss.  They are now 3-5.  They are terrible.  Their offense is nonexistent.  They were lucky to score 11 points.

That's where both teams, while their fates diverge, come together for me:  I really have no must-see need to watch their games.  The Caps are going to win, more often than not, but their regular season games feel inconsequential.  The Redskins' games are also inconsequential because they're not going anywhere; they stink.

And so I am now watching episodes of The Boondocks instead of my teams.  That's great - brilliant, even - TV.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Good news, everyone

Complaining is easy, especially on something as cathartic/therapeutic as a blog.

On the bright side, though:  There's a new Shel Silverstein book!  (Here's my current book of choice.  It's just outstanding.)

Hockey is terrific.

And, hey, it looks as though I might be publishing a book soon!  Stay tuned...

Hypothetically speaking, that's nonsense

On ESPN Radio's Scott Van Pelt Show yesterday, Ryen Russillo and Doug Gottleib discussed a potential national championship rematch between LSU and Alabama following their game on Saturday night.

(LSU and Alabama have fine defenses, offensive lines and running games.  Their quarterbacks are mediocre.  I'd rather watch Andrew Luck face Matt Barkley... but that was last week.)

The main crux of Russillo and Gottleib's conversation:  if LSU vs. Alabama is a terrific game, shouldn't they rematch for the national title?  From there, they imagined a victorious Alabama team stumbling against Mississippi State or Auburn and what ramifications a loss post-LSU would have.

Classic sports talk radio fodder:  Bring up a situation that doesn't exist yet, and then react as if it did, creating hypothetical situations from it.

It's nonsense.  It's drivel.

My local area of sports talk, DC, does this all the time.  "Let's say the Redskins get killed by the 49ers this week, will it be time to panic?"  "Yeah, but let's say they play the 49ers in a close game but lose by a field goal.  Do you panic then?"  And from there, they get into a topic of conversation on the week in which Mike Shanahan finds himself on the hot seat.  Ridiculous.

It's like the old Jewish joke of the man who goes to his neighbor's house to borrow something.  On his way, he starts imagining what his neighbor's reaction will be.  Sure, he'll lend it... but what if he doesn't?  What kind of a man wouldn't lend to his neighbor?  By the time he arrives at his neighbor's door, he's worked up into such a lather that he knocks on the door, punches his greeting neighbor in the face, and snarls, "Keep it!"

We don't know what's going to happen in LSU/Alabama.  It could be that, hey, the game's a classic.

Then let's react to it.

How's that sound, sports talk drivelers?

By the way - if Boise State, Houston, Oklahoma State and Stanford all end the season undefeated, there's no way a one-loss team should be anywhere near the national title game.

Cram it, SEC.

EDIT:  On the Tony Kornheiser Show today, Tony just posed this hypothetical scenario to Pat Forde -- What would happen if the SEC team that wins on Saturday night then loses in the SEC Title game?  Idiocy.  There's a lot in life that's complicated and headache-inducing.  No need to create headaches out of thin air due to adding hypotheticals onto hypotheticals.  Let's discuss things when they actually happen.

Also:  If Major League Baseball's postseason was run like college football, the Yankees and Phillies would have been voted into the Championship Game, the Rays and Red Sox would have been inserted into prime BCS bowls since their division was clearly the toughest, and the Cardinals would've played an unwatched bowl game on December 28th against the Angels.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Apathy and disgust, conquered

The NBA missed its Opening Night last night due to the lockout.

I'm in the minority when I say:  I miss it.  I cheer for competition in baseball, for hockey, for football, for soccer, and yes, for basketball.  (Not auto racing.  Not golf.)

I'm not happy when my Washington Wizards lose games, but I'm used to it.  I'm really not thrilled when an entire league loses games.

There are complex issues at work in the lockout, I realize.

Generally, I fall on the side of the players.  The owners not only make more money and have more job stability, they have longer primes.  An owner can run a basketball franchise much longer than a player can play the game.

Additionally, to put this into simple mathematics, let's say the Cleveland Cavaliers before LeBron James sold only 47% of their tickets, with LeBron James sold 99% of their tickets, and after LeBron James sold only 43% of their tickets.  (This is hypothetical, mind you, not fact.)  Don't you think James deserves a share of the profits that the Cavs made, especially since it was based upon his presence?  I'd say so.  I don't mind a player making an exorbitant amount of money as long as he in turn helps his employer profit.  That's what it comes down to, in the end:  Win games, make money, and not always in that order.

Setting aside the lockout, though...

The solution to every athlete and sport's problem has always been:  Play the game.

Michael Vick needs to revitalize his image?  Baseball needs to recuperate from the steroid scandals?  Brawls and referee controversy in the NBA?  Recruiting and agent problems in college football?

The games play on, and all is forgotten.

I don't like a lot of things about college football.  I don't like the polls, the BCS, the conferences, the coaches, the fraud of "student-athletes," the recruiting -- heck, I don't even like the Heisman Trophy.  (Wait until after the National Championship to hand it out and then we'll know who the best player in college football is.  No more chumps like Jason White or Troy Smith who couldn't cut it against a good team.)  But I love the game of college football, what transpires on the gridiron.  When I watch Stanford play USC or Boise State play Georgia, I forget about all of the game's woes.

The World Series was its own best advertisement for baseball.  You may not like a heck of lot of things about the Major Leagues, whether it's the Yankees payroll or commissioner Bud Selig or the way the DH is ignored by one league and glorified by the other.  Still, all of those concerns fade away when the game is compelling, and the 2011 World Series was FILLED with compelling baseball.

(The NFL is an exception.  The NFL is producing terrible football right now.  I'm hoping it's just a funk that will be straightened out by season's end, but seriously - the last time the NFL was good, Tom Brady and the Patriots were going for it on 4th down against the Colts, 11/15/09.)

The NBA is dealing with apathy right now.  When the owners and players' association figures things out and comes to a deal, it may very well still have to deal with an apathetic or disgusted public...

Until, that is, the NBA produces compelling, exciting basketball once more.

Then all will be forgotten.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Baseball's biggest PR problem

The problem with baseball is not that the games go on for over three hours, or that Tony La Russa and Ron Washington used their entire bullpens in each World Series contest, or that the umpires' strike zones are inconsistent.

It's much more simple than that.

Baseball is my favorite sport.  Basketball isn't.  Yet this page of the NBA's greatest shots is better than anything baseball can ever produce online.  Why?  Because it has video links.

Baseball's media department, run by Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) prohibits the sharing of any MLB video away from the official Major League website.  It's asinine and counterproductive, and promotion of the game suffers because of it.

If I wanted to show someone why Barry Sanders was so good, I type 'Barry Sanders' into YouTube and a multitude of his highlights come up.  Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins, same thing.

The greatest dunks?  The greatest hockey goals and saves?  They're easy to find and share.  A non-fan becomes a fan in a heartbeat.  "So that's why Pele's the greatest soccer player!"  "That's why Wayne Gretzky's the Great One!"  Yes, video proof.

Why should someone become a baseball fan?  Who was Bill Buckner?  What did Kirk Gibson's home run against the Eck look like?  Why is Ozzie Smith regarded as the greatest defensive shortstop of all time?  Baseball has none of this.

I know exactly why Pete Maravich was the man.  Where are the highlights of his baseball contemporaries - Mantle, Mays, Clemente, Banks, Gibson, Aaron, etc.?  Ken Burns can show video reels of Babe Ruth in his national pastime documentary - why aren't those videos easier accessed by a curious public?

Of all the sports, baseball is most proud of its history... yet, visually, that history is entirely inaccessible to fans, and that's bush league.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Why I don't like Tim Tebow... with bonus Duke hate!

Here's why I don't like Tim Tebow:

Reason #2 is media oversaturation.

That's the easy one.

Tebow equals ratings right now, so ESPN and Fox are jumping fully on the bandwagon.  If he loses this week, they'll do 24/7 of what went wrong for him.  It's the same reason I don't like the Yankees, Red Sox, Notre Dame, Cowboys, Lakers, the NFL offseason and LeBron James -- the sports equivalents of Lindsay Lohan and Kim Kardashian.  All of those topics equal higher ratings... and so the big media outlets run them into the ground.

Now then...

Reason #1:  the idea that he's an underdog competing with nothing but heart and spirit against superior athletes is nothing but idiocy and hogwash.

Tebow played at big-time high school football and college football programs with and against the finest athletes in the nation.  He's listed at 6'3, 236 pounds, fast enough to outpace linebackers, as he did last week against Miami, and strong enough to absorb a hit and deal a blow of his own.

You know what's he's competing against?  Compared to the average NFL quarterback, he can't throw.  His reads are slow, his release takes too long, his spirals are wobbly, his accuracy is inconsistent.

The defense against Tebow should be exactly the same as the defense against Michael Vick:  keep him in the pocket, don't let him run, show him different looks in the secondary, and dare him to pick you apart.

*

Here's why I don't like Duke's men's basketball team, who are otherwise an utterly respectable unit with terrific talent and a legendary coach:

On offense, if their 3-pointers aren't falling, they do whatever they can to draw the foul, arms and legs flailing.  On defense, they elbow, slap, shove, trip --- and then they flop upon the first hint of contact.

If Duke ever had to play itself, offensive and defensive players flopping at the slightest provocation, it would look like Italian soccer.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A poem from the baseball season


Never a Pothole When You Need One
While watching “The Kingdom” on the team bus,
returning to Lansing from Clinton, Iowa,
we hit a bump and the audio went out.
Now we’re rooting for our team of US commandos
to hold back on killing any dirty Muslim terrorists
until the next bump.
Muted vengeance is unsatisfying.

Social Media's best contribution to society:

The feeling when you're watching a sporting event utterly momentous, and then going on Facebook and/or Twitter to realize your friends are also watching.

Last night was a prime example.  It's after midnight in the Eastern time zone.  It's nearing 1 a.m.  And there we all are, friends from North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Illinois, Delaware, New York, New Hampshire, Maryland, and Ontario brought together by the increasing drama, second-guessing managerial moves, having heart attacks with every pitch, increasing in number by the minute to join together in fandom.  I'm watching alone in my apartment in Michigan, and yet I'm not alone in the slightest.

It's a beautiful thing.

(It's even better it's one of those sneaky sort of games that you don't realize is turning into a classic until you reach the very end.  Butler vs. Pittsburgh in the NCAA tourney.  Boise State vs. Nevada at the end of last year's college football season.  US women's soccer vs. Brazil in the World Cup.)

*

Social Media's worst contribution to society is lending anonymous power to loud-mouthed small-minded schlemiels, but that's another story.

Let's talk Game 6

When the World Series began, I wasn't rooting for either the Cardinals or the Rangers -- I only wanted Game 7.  I have no dog in the fight, favoring neither the Cardinals or the Rangers.  Ever since the World Series began, I have been rooting only for a Game 7.

Now, after a fantastic first five games and last night's Game 6, we're here.

When David Freese lined his two-out, two-strike, two-run game-tying triple in the ninth, the game became great.  When Lance Berkman answered Josh Hamilton's two-run homer by lacing his two-out, two-strike game-tying single in the tenth, the game became classic.  When David Freese walked off in the eleventh, it was added to the pantheon of epic World Series games.

Game 7.  No rain in the forecast.  Let's do this.

The most anticlimactic Game 7 in World Series history (that I can think of off the top of my head) was 1985.  Kansas City vs. St. Louis.  First base ump Don Denkinger's blown call highlighted a Royals 9th inning comeback in Game 6.  In the series clincher, the Cardinals embarrassingly imploded.  Final score:  KC 11, StL 0.  Don't remind the folks at Busch.

Somehow I don't think tonight will be anticlimactic.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Quality Control

My perspective is inexpert, but I'd say that the NHL is currently being played at an enormously high level, the World Series is being contested in a set of outstanding baseball games... and the NFL consists of utterly poor football.

The NFL is the ACC right now.  One excellent team (Green Bay equaling Clemson), a couple of fine - albeit schizophrenic - contenders, and an overwhelming amount of mediocrities and doormats.

Pro football is the most popular sport in America at the moment not because of its entertainment level, but because of gambling and fantasy football, neither of which require good quarterbacking or solid tackling.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The problem with leagues

1.  Teams in a league are owned separately.  The league is one.  The teams are many.

2.  Teams are supported by separate fanbases, relying on those fanbases to stay in business thanks to ticket and merchandise purchases.

3.  Fanbases, with rare exceptions (Tampa Bay, Oakland), support winning teams.  Few fanbases (Kansas City, Chicago) support losing teams.

4.  For every winning team, there is a losing team.  For every dynamic powerhouse, there is a pathetic unit going nowhere.

Put these together:  I have not seen a league yet in which every franchise was thriving economically.

Walking to the Back of the Team Bus at 3:30 a.m.

The initial steps, past the pair of seats with only one occupant, go without incident.

Coaches recline in their seats and snore away their stresses.  Veteran players lean back upon their faithful pillows and dream of what still might be.

The aisle is left unbothered.

Knees begin to appear where the players begin doubling up, jutting into the aisle from all angles.  Dexterity is needed to maneuver around them.  No need to rouse a player from his slumber.  Let sleeping starters lie.

The first true obstacle appears:  The long legs of a dozing outfielder extending across the area between seats, stretching onto the nearest armrest.  Behind him, the longer legs of a pitcher cross from the opposite direction, his feet mounted high atop the headrest of a teammate.

He who hesitates here is wise.

Crossed legs, like the crossbones beneath the skull on a pirate’s flag, signal that a dangerous situation is near.  For players to stretch out so widely, there must be another player missing from his seat.

And there he is, curled up in the darkened aisle, utterly unaware that he might be stumbled over by an unassuming busmate.

If it is worth it to proceed, despite this obstacle, step up on an unoccupied armrest and negotiate a path above the crossed legs, stepping carefully from armrest to armrest, seat to seat, until clear ground can be found.

It is a perilous path. Trust that the motorcoach operator does not choose to take a curve in a hurry, jam upon his brakes, or do anything else unexpected or untoward that might send everyone hurtling together at once.

Sleeping, like traversing a crowded bus, is accomplished best by the man who trusts in his driver.

At last, after several uneasy steps, an empty stretch of aisle is found for a landing spot.

Halfway there!

A daring attitude creeps in at the sight of more raised feet.  Why not tap the players in question and see if they’ll move?

They do, half-consciously, one after another, swinging their legs away for a half-second to allow quick passage, before returning to their previous positions.

Another prone form is revealed in the aisle, again blocking the way.

No matter.  Up onto an empty armrest once more, beginning the dangerous tightrope dance anew, until it looks safe to come down and –  Oh, good G-d.  What was just stepped on?

A considerate semi-awake player sees fit to use his smartphone in one of its most practical functions, illuminating the aisle and revealing that the soft thing underfoot – was a duffle bag, thank goodness, and not a shortstop.

With the newfound light, the final steps come easier, edging around several of the pointier knees and smellier feet in the league, until at last there is only one last outstretched body in the way, stretching out horizontally like a tollgate.  By this time, all proper respect and consideration is tossed to the wind.  The player’s legs are lifted directly out of the way, no toll necessary.

His immediate reaction is one of grumpy understanding, especially once he sees the door opened.

It is an unenviable route to the bathroom on the team bus, but it is always worth it.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Good or bad?

A road trip is generally thought of as either good or bad, rarely neither.

The Lugnuts are coming off a 3-4 trip to Fort Wayne and South Bend.  Three of four games lost at Parkview Field shouldn't sit too well, especially when those game were ripe for the taking if only there was a clutch hit gained here or there.  Bad trip, right?

There was an earlier road trip this second half in which the Lugs went 7-2 in a trio of three-game series taking them from Lake County to Kane County to Clinton.  That's pretty clearly a good trip, isn't it?

Not quite.

It's all about how the final game goes that determines how you feel coming back home.

The nine-game road trip ended with a disastrous loss to the LumberKings, 11-5 on a miserably hot day, made worse by a Clinton nine-run seventh inning.  It was a 7-2 road trip that left everyone sulky and irritable on the bus ride back.

This last road trip, conversely, finished off with a satisfying 6-2 win in which players as diverse as Jake Marisnick, Jack Murphy, Garis Pena, Egan Smith, Aleson Escalante, and Shawn Griffith all had a part in finishing off the Silver Hawks.  It felt good, regardless of the overall 3-4 record on the road trip.

Oh, yes, one other thing:  the 7-2 trip required a long drive home from Iowa.  The 3-4 trip just completed needed only a little two-hour jaunt from South Bend.

Which one was better?  No contest.

Friday, August 12, 2011

With regard to the ESPN article on the Blue Jays...

I'm skeptical until shown better information than one year's worth of selective data and anonymous eyewitness guesswork.

Then again, it wouldn't surprise me if this was true.  Baseball players historically cheat as much as or more than any other other sport's athletes.  In the grand scheme of things, cheating in baseball is ranked as slightly better than trying to bunt to break up a no-hitter but much worse than hot dogging a home run.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A brief update

David Cooper is now longer batting .400 for Las Vegas.  He's now at .379, collecting two-hit games the past three days and in 11 of his last 16 games.  Home/road splits?  All right:  he's batting .379 on the road (.450 OBP) and .379 at home (.457 OBP).

That, it would seem clearly to me, is the makings of a .300+ hitter in the Majors.  The question is, with Adam Lind at first base and Mike McDade breathing down the back of his neck in Double-A, will Cooper get his shot with the Blue Jays or is he merely trade bait?

Henderson goes to the Show

Henderson Alvarez was the Lugnuts' 2009 Opening Day starter at the ripe old age of 18, turning 19 a couple of weeks later.  He spent last season with A-Advanced Dunedin, going 8-7 with a 4.33 ERA, and began this season with the D-Jays as well before getting called up to Double-ANew Hampshire in late May.

Now 21-year-old Henderson is heading to the Big Leagues, promoted directly from the Eastern League to start for Toronto against the Oakland Athletics.

When he throws his first pitch tonight at 7:00ish p.m. against, perhaps, Jemile Weeks, he'll be the sixth Lugnuts alum to make his MLB debut this season and the 78th all-time Lug to reach the Majors.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

David Cooper's batting .400

I'm just saying.

The Jays' 2008 1st rounder went 4-for-5 yesterday and his batting average is up to a Pacific Coast League-leading .400.  Highly impressive.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A change for the better

Last night, the Lugnuts eked out a 3-2 win over Bowling Green thanks to a home run from Marcus Knecht, two RBIs from Carlos Perez, four shutout innings from John Anderson, and an edge-of-your-seat save by Steve Turnbull.

But let's ignore all of those other guys and talk about the man who allowed Bowling Green's first run... and also picked up his first win of the season.

Misaul Diaz started the Lugnuts' first game in 2011, April 10th at West Michigan, and was battered about for five runs on five hits, two walks and two hit batsman in 2 2/3 innings.  In his next start, he gave up six runs on five hits and four walks and didn't complete the 5th.  Three straight starts allowing a home run followed, overlapping with three straight losses.

In a completely justifiable decision, Diaz was sent to the bullpen.  He has since made four relief appearances, accumulating 11 2/3 innings -- and he has already struck out 16 men, the same number of strikeouts he piled up in 24 innings as a starter.

Take it further:  He has only four walks as a reliever, compared to 17 walks as a starter.  He has a 2.31 ERA as a reliever, compared to 6.38 as a starter.  If you'd like to talk specifics, last night his change-up was utterly unhittable.  Bowling Green has now faced Misaul twice, with only three hits, one run (on a strikeout/wild pitch) and 11 K's to show for it in six innings.

The best thing about Diaz's breakthrough performance:  It joins a host of other sterling relief improvements by these Lugnuts.  I'm still wondering about Dayton Marze's consistency, but there seems to me to be no doubt about the Midwest League mastery shown by Marcus Walden, Danny Barnes, or Steve Turnbull.  Scott Gracey has already earned his call-up to Dunedin.  If the Jays need any other candidates for promotions, it's a crowded field.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

That felt great - now let's move on

Everything went right for the Lugnuts last night, from Casey Lawrence and Dayton Marze's strong pitching to key offense and grinding at-bats to brand new second baseman Jonathan Jones' sliding catch for the final out.

Conversely, everything went wrong for the Loons, from a complete absence of offense to terrible pitching by Raul Burgos and Robert Boothe to a freaky run-scoring error off a return throw to the mound by catcher Michael Pericht.  Heck, even unhittable closer Shawn Tolleson gave up two hits.

In short, it's one to send the Lugnuts to sleep smiling, but it's also one to move on from.  Every team gets to experience routs over the course of the year from both sides of the scoreboard.  The last time the Lugs went on the road, they humiliated Fort Wayne in the series opener 12-2, were promptly routed themselves 12-4 the next day, and then were shut down in a pitcher's duel in the rubber match.

I suppose Great Lakes is wondering how their Loons will react to being humbled at home.  Me, I'm wondering how the Lugnuts will react.

Lefty Sean Nolin to the mound today in a swap out with Misaul Diaz, who looks like he's off to the bullpen due to ineffectiveness.  Tim Sexton, a good one, starts for Great Lakes.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hello from Dow Diamond

Back to blogging, after a little hiatus!  Okay, more than a little - since the first game of the season.  It's good to get back to it, though.

Video Coordinator Pete Gaglio is sitting next to me in the Great Lakes broadcast booth; he tells me he understands how busy the schedule can get, but I'm still going to try to do a little better as the season wears on.

This is an interesting Lugnuts team this year.  It doesn't feel that they've played their best baseball yet, due to awful infield defense, inconsistent starting pitching (8-9, 4.51 ERA, .292 average against, 1.52 WHIP), and a lack of hitting from K.C. Hobson yet.  (I'm certain K.C.'s going to catch fire sometime soon.)  Still, there they are, with the second best record in the Eastern Division.

Works for me.

Big games starting tonight against Great Lakes, the first of six in a row vs. the Loons.  I don't know if there's any team in the Eastern Division anyone wants to beat more than the Loons.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A 13-12 loss is a good thing

A 13-12 loss, particularly one where you blew a 12-7 lead in the late-going, should not be a good thing.  It should be exhausting, draining, difficult to stomach.

Getting sick, that's not a good thing.  Not only was I sick, miserably sick, all last week - especially Thursday and Friday, so was the Lugnuts coaching staff and the front office.

Arriving at the ballpark early in the week to discover that the lights didn't work downstairs, that's not a good thing.  Arriving at the ballpark on Opening Day to discover that the lights didn't work upstairs, that's not a good thing.

Having the field thaw on the afternoon of the scheduled first game of the season, turning the infield to marshland and wiping out the entire weekend's worth of planned festivities... that's definitely not a good thing.

So it was that yesterday, a rollercoaster defeat, represented - at last! - a return to meaningful baseball for the Lansing Lugnuts.  That, yes sir, is a very good thing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Count it down

1 day until Opening Day 
tomorrow, 1 p.m., Tigers vs. Yankees to get it started

2 days until the Blue Jays' first game 
Friday, 7:07 p.m., Ricky Romero against the Twins 

4 days until the Lugnuts arrive in town 
plane lands in Detroit on Sunday night 

6 days until the Crosstown Showdown presented by Auto-Owners Insurance 
next Tuesday, 7:05 p.m. vs. Michigan State, $1 food specials,
Cooley Law School Stadium 

7 days until Meet the Team
April 6th, 7:00 p.m., get to know your 2011 Lugnuts,
Cooley Law School Stadium

8 days until the first day of the Midwest League season... and the first Thirsty Thursday
April 7th, 7:05 p.m. vs. West Michigan,
Cooley Law School Stadium

Are you ready?

Of writers and athletes

I am an unabashed fan of Bill James, and so it was a great pleasure today to have my brilliant poet friend Jaime pass along this excerpted essay of his from Slate, entitled "Shakespeare and Verlander."  It is about, to be quite blunt, how come our culture can produce the finest athletes in any sport and yet no such talented writers to approach the likes of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

James also wrote one of my favorite essays of all time, based around the idea that as a native Kansan he was sick and tired of the negatively-connoted Midwest "dust bowl" idea being played up in relation to the allure of the city (particularly New York). He themed it around the black and white misery of Dorothy's Kansas in the Wizard of Oz movie compared to gloriousness of Oz, writing that there was just as much wonder and happiness and triumph to be found in the small towns of Kansas and Nebraska as there was in New York City.

These two theses are related, I think...

It is often mentioned that for a tiny nation, Ireland has produced so many of the greatest writers and poets, and I think this is related, too.

Really, great talent/skill is where 1) you look for it, 2) where it is cultivated/appreciated.  James gets right into the thick of this in his essay.

I think there are simply sensational writers being produced right now, as there always have been -- but they need light shed upon them. Unfortunately, light comes their way only if they stumble onto it serendipitously (or work their hearts out to be discovered, perhaps) or if they're friends with someone, who is already gaining the light of attention. That latter reason is why one hears of great writing friendships/groups; why the music scene is always filled with singer-songwriters/musicians collaborating. You work with someone else great, it makes you greater... or it at least puts you in their company so someone with resources will take a chance on you.

Here's perhaps the most important reason, though:  I think we as a culture seek to discover/cultivate great athletes because they make a great deal of money for many people other than them, whether in clothing/merchandising or sports agencies or media networks, etc. etc. etc. During Shakespeare's day, a great playwright (or even just a good one) could bring fame to an awful lot of people. In contemporary culture, who do you think is going to make the most people the most amount of money, a topflight baseball player or a novelist? If it's the novelist, that novel better be able to be turned into a smash movie with plenty of sequels in store.

Friday, March 4, 2011

In the grand scheme of things...

Heartfelt condolences to Wes Leonard's family and friends and everyone else affected by his sudden death last night.  Man oh man.  Here's the story.  Yes, the next logical step is to determine the cause, but first let everyone come together and mourn/honor his memory.  My cousin David also just passed away, yesterday.  Moving on is fine, but grieving comes first.

I hope you will excuse me if I continue this blog post in a less somber tone, focusing on baseball.  It's just a reminder that sports are fun and all, but there's far greater gravity to be found elsewhere in life.  (And now that epic Heat collapse against the Magic doesn't quite seem so significant.)

The Blue Jays lost to the Pirates in Spring Training action yesterday, but if you read the recap, you'd see that the main story according to the reporting writer was Brett Cecil's three scoreless innings.

(Former Lugnuts update, Blue Jays edition -- Darin Mastroianni, 1-1, single;  John Tolisano, 0-2; Moises Sierra, 0-1; David Cooper, 0-3; Jake Marisnick, 0-1.  No pitchers.  Former Lugnuts w/ Toronto are now 5-for-34.)

This is one of those weird things about Spring Training write-ups -- writers realize that March games are meaningless, and so they use their game recap space to write up a player profile piece and ignore 90% of what happened in the game.  (Then at the end of March, they'll start realizing... hey, look at so-and-so, hitting the cover off the ball for the past few weeks!)

Elsewhere, for example:
From ESPN's Sweet Spot, Bill Parker writes that the BBWAA has made no bigger mistake than their treatment of Lou Whitaker as a Hall of Fame candidate.  To sum up, briefly:  Whit was a tremendous defender and his offensive skills were just about as good as Ryne Sandberg.  He wasn't as powerful but he reached base more often and he played in a more difficult park for hitters than Sandberg.  I grew up revering Whitaker and Alan Trammell.  If/when the two of them receive their just due and end up in Cooperstown, by hook or by crook, I shall do my darndest to be on hand.

Remember Robinson Chirinos?  He played for the Lugs in 2003 and 2004, and now he looks to be on the verge of making the Majors with Tampa Bay (after coming over from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade).  Thus far this spring, he's 3-for-7 with a double, a home run, and a team-high five RBIs in just four games.  There weren't any ex-Lugnuts who made their Major League debut in 2010 - I'm hoping that gets rectified this year.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A bitterly windy day near the capitol

With our job fair completed, the majority of the gameday staff for the 2011 season is now hired.  With me, I now have to concentrate on the team media guide and articles for the Lugnuts magazine.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Marketing Department is concerned with preparing all other materials for the season and getting our affairs in order for when it's time to put single-game tickets on sale.  We've got some big things in store.

A link:  Chicharito scores a goal with face.  Always fun.

This Saturday at 1 p.m. is our open audition for Lugnuts Pit Crew, Hawkers, and Granger Rangers.  We're looking for young (16 and older), fearless, exuberant folks who are ready to have a great time at the park this year.  Wear comfortable clothing, come on out, and show us what you got!

Our new manager would not want you watching this.

Former Lugnuts update from Dunedin:  Darin Mastroianni, 1-6; Moises Sierra, 1-6, BB; Mike McDade, 0-6; David Cooper, 2-5, 2 B; John Tolisano, 0-2; A.J. Jimenez, 0-1.  In all, 4 hits in 26 at-bats.  Hey, the spring is young!

This really opens your eyes to how the Blue Jays farm system underperformed during J.P. Ricciardi's tenure -- there are absolutely no Lugnuts from 2005-2007 anywhere to be found.  (Well, there is Casey Janssen among the pitchers from 2005.)  But from the 2006 team, and this sounds absurd, there have been zero Major Leaguers.  Not a single one.  The 2007 team had Travis Snider and that's it.

Not good, man.  Not good.  It shows why everyone was so grateful that Alex Anthopoulos was given the reins.

As for the pitchers this spring:  Henderson Alvarez, Joel Carreno, Alan Farina, the aforementioned Janssen, Brad Mills, Luis Perez, and Marc Rzepczynski have all seen time on the mound.

It's too early for anyone to have distinguished themselves yet in the black and white stats, although I doubt I'm alone in my satisfaction with Eric Thames' early play.

Spring is young yet.  Heck, in Lansing, Spring hasn't even arrived yet.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Campy and Newk

I am currently reading Jules Tygiel's "Baseball's Great Experiment:  Jackie Robinson and His Legacy."

The most interesting thing so far has been a quote from Branch Rickey - "It might not be so good to sign Robinson with other and better players unsigned."  Shortly thereafter, the Dodgers inked Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe to contracts.

In other words, Brooklyn considered Jackie to be the perfect man to break the color barrier because of the quality of his character, but not as talented as such negro leaguers as Campy and Newk.

In retrospect, though Roy Campanella became a Hall of Fame catcher and Newcombe was a bulldog in the rotation, Jackie Robinson electrified the National League and retired as one of the greatest second basemen of all time.

Not bad for a character guy.

Dear Sen. Lautenberg and Sen. Durbin:

I am writing to wholeheartedly support your letter and stance regarding a ban on smokeless tobacco in the Major Leagues.

I am the radio broadcaster and media department for the Lansing Lugnuts, a Class-A team in the Toronto Blue Jays minor league system.  This is my seventh year in professional baseball, including stints in Brockton (MA), Montgomery (AL) and Crestwood (IL).

I wish to inform you that everywhere I have been, despite the ban to the contrary, the vast majority of the minor league players and coaches use smokeless tobacco on the field, in the clubhouse and in public.  Indeed, it is the rare one or two players on a team in any league who DON'T use smokeless tobacco.  No wonder the problem is so rampant in the Major Leagues.

Thank you very much for your time.

Sincerely,
Jesse Goldberg-Strassler

Be prepared

A Black History month tribute today to Willard Brown, an immensely talented slugger who was noted for:

1)  being nicknamed "Sonny" (or "Sunny") because he would always play better on sunny days than cloudy days,
2)  integrating the St. Louis Browns,
3)  using the broken bat of Browns teammate Jeff Heath to hit a home run -- and Heath immediately destroyed the bat beyond use in the dugout afterward (life was hell for Brown in St. Louis to say the least),
and 4)  my favorite:  heading to the outfield with a copy of Reader's Digest in his back pocket for whenever the game grew slow and he needed something to occupy his attention

I would have gotten along, I think, with Willard Brown.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Jim Edmonds, Hall of Famer

Let's talk Hall of Fame for a moment here.

The discussion has arisen because of the retirement of one James Patrick Edmonds, a center fielder for 17 seasons in the Major Leagues.

Some reading material on the subject:

* Rob Neyer from back on Feb. 1st at SB Nation (I am an unabashed Rob Neyer fan)
* Andy on the Baseball Reference blog; verdict:  unsure
* Aaron Gleeman at Hardball Talk; verdict:  HoF
* bryn.swartz at Philly Buster via Yardbarker:  nope
* Chad Dotson on Sweet Spot; verdict:  HoF

etc. etc. etc.  I'm sure you can find a heck of a lot more articles on the subject if you look hard enough.

As for me, I suppose you can guess my opinion right from the title line.  I'm not a "small hall" person.  It's okay with me that the Hall of Fame is bigger than Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Walter Johnson.  There's space there.  (Maybe not for Jim Rice, but hey, what can you do?)

My criteria is pretty simple:  Is the guy one of the ten or so best players at his position of all time?  I'd contend that Jim Edmonds is one of the ten best center fielders in baseball history.

That's my argument.

You can take it farther, mentioning his 132 OPS+ or his 393 home runs... but really, it's all about where you stack up historically, and Jim does just fine.  Was he as good as Ken Griffey, Jr.?  No, but that's okay.  Griffey wasn't as good as Mays, and that doesn't lessen him any as a player.

Which center fielders were better than Edmonds?  Going from my Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract:  Mays, Mantle, Cobb, Speaker, DiMaggio, Duke Snider, Junior Griffey... anybody else?  We'll exclude negro leaguers in this conversation (but Oscar Charleston's still got my vote for being in the top three among all baseball players all time).  "Sliding" Billy Hamilton?  Larry Doby?

Jim Edmonds, Hall of Famer.

That's my argument for Alan Trammell being in the Hall of Fame, too, right alongside Lou Whitaker.  Name me 10-15 middle infielders better than them in baseball history.  I don't believe it can be done.

Friday, February 18, 2011

First week back

Jackson Field is uncovered.  All of the snow has melted.

It's a glorious sight.

I'm completing my first week back with the Lugnuts.  Mostly my work has been limited to creating up the 2011 media guide, which is painstaking and sometimes numbing; I'm right now in the midst of typing up the Toronto Blue Jays' complete statistics from last year, number by number.  It needs to get done but I'll be happier when it's over.

Perhaps the best part of my week occurred early on.  We're preparing a story for the 2011 Lugnuts team magazine about new manager Mike Redmond, thus requiring images of Mike from his Major League career.  I love that I'm in a position that allows me to call up Major League teams directly and ask for a favor.  (The Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins forthrightly responded, the Indians quite promptly.  Highly appreciated.)

The work week also consisted of several interviews for key spots in The (Marketing) Department, as we're shoring everything up heading into the season.  Outside of work, the dominant Lansing Lugnuts' front office trivia team (name withheld to protect the innocent) triumphed in the City Limits' DJ Trivia Thursday night competition for the second straight week.  Challenge us next Thursday in Mason if you dare.

Black History tribute today to the greatest black player in Detroit history, Norman "Turkey" Stearnes.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A (Sort-Of) Defense for Albert Pujols

Heard on Peter Brown's show on Sporting News Radio last night:

Albert Pujols wants too much money.

He's right, too.  Pujols apparently wants $300 million over ten years.  That's a heckuva lot of money over a heckuva long time for a guy who isn't getting any younger.  (Who is?)

Those, I believe, are the three best arguments against it:  1) too much money, 2) too many years, and 3) who knows how long he'll stay productive?

The other arguments I heard on Peter's show, though, were ridiculous.

"The common fan can't relate to the player anymore."  The common fan could NEVER relate to the star baseball player.  Not during Mike Schmidt's day, nor Mickey Mantle's day, nor Joe DiMaggio's, and right on back past Babe Ruth to the very start.  Never.  Since when did you ever have to relate to a guy in order to root for him?  Who could relate to Michael Jordan?

More pertinently, "Baseball players are all overpaid."  Put yourself in the place of a baseball owner.  It's a business.  You're in it to make money more than anything else.  If a star player helps an owner double or quadruple his profits thanks to helping the team win/sell more tickets/sell merchandise, who could argue against the player deserving his share of those profits?  For a more concrete example, how much money did LeBron James make the Cleveland Cavaliers, and how much money did his signing with the Heat cost them?

This brings us back to Albert Pujols.  How much money has he made the Cardinals?  How much money will he make the Cardinals in the future?  After you figure that out... then you can figure out how much he deserves to be paid.

It's still not $300 million over 10 years.

Friday, February 11, 2011

FDR

Another remarkable story from "Baseball" that I couldn't imagine taking place today:

The story is told about a game at the Polo Grounds being stopped for 45 minutes so that President Roosevelt's speech to the nation could be put over the PA system.

On an unrelated note, Hosni Mubarak has resigned in Egypt.  I think this is a good thing.

Lou Gehrig

For the second time in Ken Burns' "Baseball," they've matched up a description with the actual event -- and the description was flat wrong.  The first time, it was the newspaper report of a game.  The second time, the one I just watched, was a radio broadcaster describing Hank Greenberg striking out on a low fastball.  He clearly didn't; the fastball was up above his letters.  As a broadcaster, this is comforting to me.


Since I have siblings who live in Delaware, let's honor Hall of Famer Judy Johnson for Black History Month, an outstanding infielder from the state.


You know the line "Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."  Here's the complete Lou Gehrig Speech, unabridged, from the website LouGehrigSpeech.com:


"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

"Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky.


"When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies - that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter - that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body - it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed - that's the finest I know.


"So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Plenty to marvel at

The Black History Month nod today goes to the fabulous pitcher Hilton Smith, overshadowed by Satchel Paige but superb on his own merits.

Interesting notes from Ken Burns' "Baseball" of the day:  In the Great Depression, the St. Louis Browns averaged less than 1,500 fans per game.  Worse, the Cincinnati Reds, Boston Braves, and Philadelphia Phillies all nearly went out of business.  The Braves eventually moved to Milwaukee and then Atlanta.  The Reds and Phillies righted the ship... and both made the National League playoffs last year, meeting in the first round.  Imagine an NL without them!

Link to enjoy:  Johnny McEntee, U-Conn's Trick Shot Quarterback.

Website to enjoy:  Did the Cavs Win Last Night?

An article that shouldn't have been written:  ESPN's Roy S. Johnson is impatient about college basketball's regular season and wants to get to March.

This is a pet peeve of mine - the national sports media deciding that there's nothing worth caring about except for everything NFL, college football, MLB, March Madness, and the NBA playoffs... which leaves this period in February "sports-light."  I'm a fan of the Tony Kornheiser radio show, but Tony was complaining about this the other day.  Trust me, if you're a sports fan, there's plenty to care about all year long, except for the day after the Major League All-Star Game.

In the NHL, the violent, high-scoring Bruins/Canadians game last night.

In the NCAA, the last-second Rutgers comeback against #10 Villanova.

Yes, there's plenty to enjoy, and the baseball season won't be long now.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Babe Ruth

In watching "Baseball," it occurs to me that Babe Ruth would have had a more difficult go of things if he were playing today.

After all, the Babe...

* went into the stands after a heckling fan
* jumped on top of the dugout on a different occasion and challenged fans to fight him
* punched an umpire
* threw dirt on an umpire
* corked his bat
* was suspended by his manager, Miller Huggins
* was suspended by American League President Ban Johnson
* was suspended by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis

I ignore his imbibing, his enjoyment of brothels, and his overeating.  I think he'd get along with those in today's society just fine.