Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Recovery via sports

I came down with food poisoning (or something that mimicked it) on Saturday in north Chicagoland.  Take my word for it:  You don't need to experience what I experienced.  You really don't.

I'm back in Lansing now and still not really myself, but...

1)  Here's Sam Miller of The Orange County Register, co-starring Jeffrey Loria.

2)  Here's a routine basket by Blake Griffin, co-starring Kendrick Perkins.

3)  Here's Patrick Kane, starring himself as Superman.
(plus bonus Corey Perry baby stick highlight)

4)  Here's Novak and Rafael, battering a poor tennis ball around.

5)  And here's Shaun White, being perfect.


I'm feeling better already.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Pizza is finger food

The off-season was made for re-connecting, I'd dare say.  During the season, you submerge yourself entirely in baseball.  Once the season ends, you come back up for air and hear about all that has happened in your friends' and family members' lives.

In previous off-seasons, I've traveled southeast and northeast.  This year, I'm in the midwest, visiting friends in Chicago (after previously going back to Maryland near the end of 2011).

Deep-dish pizza tonight, man.  Oh yes.  I'll have you know that I showed my Eastern roots -- I was the only one to eat my pizza without silverware.

Current reading material:  The Prevalence of Nonsense and Ernie Harwell's The Babe Signed My Shoe.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The things you learn from Bill James...

I am a Bill James aficionado; he has a great intuitive sense of what's interesting and what's important, and I'm fascinated by both.  For instance, from Chapter 1 of "Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame," page 5, there's this:

(remember, this is preceding the establishment of the current Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown)

*

The term, "the Hall of Fame," was an old one, having been used in baseball since about 1905, shortly after baseball developed a sense of its own history.  A pitcher who threw a no-hitter would often be described as "having entered the Hall of Fame."  A sportswriter who chose his all-time team would often describe it as his "personal Hall of Fame" -- for example, page 96 of the 1923 Reach Guide shows the "American League players in the Reach Base Ball Hall of Fame" -- in reality nothing more than a list of the league leaders for 1922.


In the early 1920s, organized baseball had approved a proposal to build a $100,000 baseball monument on the Potomac in Washington, D.C.  This monument would have listed the names of baseball's greatest players, and this was often described as a "Hall of Fame."

This sounds like a brilliant idea...

The Reading Phillies have an interesting notion for the Eastern League Home Run Derby this year.

While the derby's going on, there will be...

* a fanfest in the infield, with a bar at second base
* a Grammy-winner performing live music in front of home plate
* mascots making catches in the outfield, causing negative points to the home run hitters
* pink flamingos, an employee poised in a dunk tank, an employee suspended from a crane and a trampoline in the outfield

This is serious.  Okay, maybe it's not serious, but they're totally going to do it.

I love, too, how the R-Phils' GM is so enthusiastic in this video about the "balls sizzling over the head" of fans and a Grammy-winner.

Maybe if they cut back on the chaos just a little, or maybe a lot, there'd be no problem.  As it is, I'm thinking there's enormous train wreck potential here.

(On the bright side, the bar has been raised.  Your move, every other minor league home run derby.)

credit to Crossing Broad

Happy 94th birthday, Ernie Harwell

Today would have been Ernie Harwell's 94th birthday.

I grew up in the fine company of Chuck Thompson and Jon Miller, Joe Angel, Ken Levine and later Fred Manfra and Jim Hunter, calling Baltimore Orioles games on 1500-AM WTOP.

I did not grow up with Ernie Harwell, though I surely wish I did.  I was a Detroit Tigers fan, after all, despite my Maryland residence.  Ernie personified the same things that I admire in life:  respect and consideration for others, enjoyment of the grand ol' game, and a love for a good story.

When I was hired to work for the Lugnuts in 2009, my father sent Ernie a letter.  In it, he explained my love for the Tigers, my admiration for Mr. Harwell (I own his audio CD collection), and my recently-gained employment as voice of the team down the road in Lansing.  Ernie responded with a letter to me, writing that he enjoyed hearing from my father and he hoped we would be able get together one day.

And so we did, meeting on an off-day that summer.  It was not a very long confab, but the minutes brimmed with treasure.

The format was simple:  Ernie asked me a simple question about myself, I would offer my reply, and this would then trigger a magnificent story in Ernie's memory.  At times, he resembled Scheherezade, inserting an anecdote within an anecdote.  While painting the picture of his first game in the Major Leagues, for instance, he set about describing the bench-clearing brawl in his very first inning, idly tossing in the comment, "You know, that pitcher would later have his nose bitten off in a bar fight."  And then, as my mouth fell open, he was already off to his next story.

One thing I've found remarkable about life is that people generally praise in others qualities that they don't have in great abundance within themselves.  With Ernie, he had so many magnificent attributes and strengths of character, everyone found something to extoll.  People who did not have any real need to get along with anybody else -- well, they could not get over just how kind and caring Ernie was to everyone he met.  Those who did not read as much as they felt they should praised Ernie's literary acumen.  Those who did not trust others easily praised Ernie for how rock-solid trustworthy he was.  And so on, and so forth...

Whoever you were, you found attributes in great abundance within William Earnest Harwell that you wished you had, too, like his great balance of faith in humanity and in religion; or the love between him and Lulu, his wife; or the way he connected with all of his loyal listeners, so that they all felt as though they were his family.

Here's what I admired the most about Ernie Harwell:  I was not very long in his company, and I knew that he possessed a remarkable balance of confidence, dignity, and humility.  There have been many Great Men and Women in this world who accomplished a Great Many Things. I don't know if I would have enjoyed any of their company more than I enjoyed the warm, sensible, witty company of Ernie Harwell.

Whether on the radio or in person, Ernie was the finest of company to keep.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Angela Zhang is 17...

... and she may have discovered the cure for cancer.

I support Tim Thomas

The Boston Bruins went to the White House yesterday to be honored for their Stanley Cup title of a season ago.

Goaltender Tim Thomas, one of the team's two Americans, was not with them.  As he posted on his Facebook page:

I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.
This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.
Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.
This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT


Thomas and I do not agree in this regard, but that's fine with me.

(It's very difficult for me to see eye to eye with anyone who quotes the Founding Fathers.  They were distinct individuals with distinctly different philosophies.  Also, it's 2012 now.  I doubt the Founding Fathers had foresight to hold opinions on such modern matters as interstate highways, let alone stem cell research.)

I support his right to protest what he is opposed to, thereby drawing attention to the issues.  This was a peaceful, thoughtful protest.

Joe McDonald writes that Thomas's decision was the equivalent of snubbing the flag during the National Anthem.  That's ridiculous.  The flag is symbolic of our country as a whole.  A protest of the government is merely that, a protest of the government.  It is not required in the U.S. to agree with the actions of our politicians -- after all, we're a representational democracy; we elect our officials to serve the needs of the nation.  If we disagree with their actions, we have the right to show our opposition.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Joe Paterno

The lead sports story is -- has to be -- that Joe Paterno is dead.

I don't know about that whole idea that getting forced out at Penn State killed him.  I couldn't tell you it was so, and I couldn't tell you it wasn't so.  He was fired, he had lung cancer, he died.  One could reasonably connect the dots, but we don't really know for sure.  Let's say there was no Sandusky scandal.  Do we know for certain that he doesn't get diagnosed with cancer?  We do not.

I do know that he was a football coach at Penn State University (the school that never got around to designing football uniforms or a helmet logo) for 46 seasons and 409 wins, and I know too that he was fired amid Jerry Sandusky fallout.

There are two opposite reactions to his death:  praising his legacy and his strength, and excoriating the reasons that led to end.  Unfortunately, folks have generally chosen one or the other.

People are complicated, which means that their legacies should be complicated.  But we don't like complications, as a rule, so we choose to simplify matters down to their essence.  Good or bad.  Great or tarnished.  He can be both, you know.  It's not an either/or situation.

There's no need to ignore JoePa's unique accomplishments, same as there's no need to close one's eyes to the fact that a serial child abuser was sheltered under the auspices of his football program.  One does not mean that the other never occurred.

These are sad days in Happy Valley, and it's a full spectrum of sadness.

Spencer Hall is on point.

Losing

The great Washington, D.C., sports radio host Ken Beatrice had an axiom about football:  "More games are lost than won."

(He also didn't eat curly fries at Bernie Streeter's Arby's, though he was told they were very good.)

The two conference championship games yesterday were lost, not won.

AFC:  Baltimore played New England smack dab even, with Joe Flacco outplaying Tom Brady, but Sterling Moore knocked away a game-winning touchdown from Lee Evans...

And then Billy Cundiff hooked one to the left.

NFC:  San Francisco squared up with New York in an NFC nail-biter, but the Giants scored one of their two touchdowns in regulation thanks to a miscue by punt returner Kyle Williams...

And then Williams screwed up again in overtime, and that was all for the 49ers' season.

*

We are a people who glorify our winners far beyond the events of fortune and misfortune of a specific contest's circumstances.  If Scott Norwood makes a field goal in 1991, Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills' image changes.  If Adam Vinatieri misses a field goal in 2002, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick's legacy changes.

Such is the way of sport, eh?  You understand this going in -- at the end of each day, there will be a winner and a loser.  It's exhilarating and devastating.

But I believe it is a far worse matter to lose a game than it is a great matter to win it.

And the sun comes up, and the sun goes down.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Baseball Lingo: "majesty-arch"

It is with great honor that I hereby crown the newest synonym for home run, "majesty-arch," as coined by Bradley Woodrum on FanGraphs (in their NotGraphs section).

More significantly, watch the latest Yoenis Cespedes video and see what you think.

As someone who cherishes his Omar Linares baseball card, I'm eager to see how Cespedes performs in the Majors (and hoping he outperforms how the great Linares fared in Japan).

Friday, January 20, 2012

Baseball Lingo: "snakebite game"

Baseball lingo's my thing.  I love learning new terms and phrases to refer to different players, items and events inside the game.

Today, thanks to Bill James via Grantland, we learn...

"A snakebite game is a game in which the starting pitcher pitches well and does not allow an earned run, but is charged with the loss anyway."

What Shakespeare is to the English language, Bill James is to baseball language.

Formerly known as Fausto Carmona

There's a great story about Giants shortstop Jose Uribe, who first played under the name Jose Gonzalez, then asked to be known as Uribe Gonzalez, and finally decided that Jose Uribe was perfect for him.

He was, as one wag put it, the player to be named later.

Jose's real name was Jose Altagracia Gonzalez Uribe.

Cleveland Indians pitcher Fausto Carmona's real name is not, as it turns out, Fausto Carmona.  According to la policia en la Republica Dominicana, it's really Roberto Hernandez Heredia.  Also, he's 31, not 28.

Apparently, he is still right-handed.

The first thing, clearly, is to get visa issues sorted out.  But there are most definitely larger ramifications here:  If you're the Indians, you feel scammed, and I can't say I blame you.  A 31-year-old pitcher is viewed (and paid) in a very different way than a 28-year-old pitcher.

Meanwhile, if you're a Dominican player right now, you don't think people are going to give you second looks?  I have some friends from the Dominican on teams that I've broadcasted for, and now I really do want to ask them, man to man, "Am I calling you by your real name?" and "Do you know any guys who aren't going by their real name?"

It's an old joke in baseball when an older player has a birthday (I first heard it with Tim Raines), they'll say, "Yes, I'm 38 -- but I'm 28 in Dominican years."

So it would seem to me that if you're Dominican -- heck, maybe if you're any Latino player, because G-d knows that we Americans don't care a lick about different ethnicities and nations of origin -- you're humiliated by the ex-Fausto Carmona today and you're dreading that a ton of people, even well-meaning folks like me, will question whether your identity is a lie.

There's a Yiddish phrase, "shanda for the goyim," which refers to a Jewish person who shames us in front of non-Jews, particularly by conforming to a negative Jewish stereotype.  Bernie Madoff was a shanda for the goyim.

Ex-Fausto Carmona is the Dominican version of a shanda for the goyim.

What's worse to people in baseball, to be caught abusing PEDs or to be caught lying about your name and age?

I'd argue it's the latter.

If a teammate can't be trusted to tell you his real name, what else can't you trust him about?  It's a clubhouse betrayal.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Class Warfare and Sports Excellence

Read this Rob Neyer column, spun off from this Jorge Castillo article in the NYT, then we'll discuss things further...

*

Here's what caught my eye:  Once ballplayers in Puerto Rico were made eligible for the draft in 1990, they started receiving much less money to sign.  This, it is thought, is one of the reasons that Puerto Rican kids are not as good in baseball as they were before, termed by commenter Fraggin Judge as a lack of economic urgency (particularly compared to, say, young ballplayers in the Dominican).

We have long heard that inner-city kids see athletics as their route to fame and fortune, primarily chasing dreams of future basketball or football superstardom.  I have also read that the finest boxers were always members of the lowest class of citizens, whether they were Jewish, Irish, Black, Native American, Italian, Latino, German, or what have you, and I wonder if MMA fighters also come from the same challenging backgrounds and childhoods.

I would love to see a far-reaching worldwide study on athletes and their socioeconomic backgrounds.  It would be my guess that a large percentage of the world's finest athletic talents came from poverty.

Although...

You know, a life of luxury provides sporting advantages to the ambitious.  Aspiring athletes who come from wealth will receive the finest coaching, utilize only the best in sporting equipment, and compete on only the best of surfaces.  They also receive the benefit of being able to travel far to test their abilities against the greatest of competition.

So I wouldn't be surprised to see some of the finest athletes in the world come out of the higher classes of society either.

It makes sense.

Someone in the lowest class would strive to become an athlete because the slim possibility of success and escape tramples the reality of how few reach the pinnacle; it's the same reason so many people play the lottery.

Someone in the highest class would strive to become an athlete because of the fame and glory that go with it; and they can still land on their feet afterward if they fail to attain their goal.

But if you're in the middle class, you have the combination of other opportunities that are open to you and the knowledge that the road toward a sporting career is fraught with cautionary tales.  Is it worth it to sacrifice a decade of your life toward a potentially fruitless, embittering chase when you can just go to college, then maybe grad school afterwards, and ideally find yourself in a far more stable vocation to support a family?  Probably not.

Basically, what I'm saying is:  If we want sports to continue to provide a high standard of excellence, entertainment, and achievement, we need greater socioeconomic inequality.

A large, comfortable middle class.  Good for society.  Bad for sports.

Baseball movies

First, a confession:

I don't like Bull Durham.

I know, I work in baseball, I'm a huge baseball fan -- I'm supposed to like Bull Durham.  But I don't.  I like scenes in Bull Durham.  I like the baseball scenes.  I like the bus scenes.  I love this scene.

But I don't care about Susan Sarandon, I don't care about the love triangle, and I don't understand for the life of me how an undisciplined bonus baby with bad mechanics and limited command gets called up to the Majors from Single-A.  Eh, maybe it's a cup of coffee and he'll be back in Double-A the next season.  But, no, even that doesn't bother me so much as an ostensibly baseball movie being really about Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon.  Bupkis to that.

By the way:  In Single-A, 24-year-olds and 25-year-olds are ancient.  Even a 23-year-old who's played in the league for three straight years is too old.  Not too many Crash Davises down here.

*

I love Field of Dreams and The Natural.

I love A League of Their Own.  Tom Hanks is a genius, and so is Jon Lovitz.

Major League is funny the same way that Airplane! and Hot Shots! is funny.  It is roundly agreed upon that no one should ever admit to seeing Major League 3.  (I actually saw ML3 maybe two or three straight times on a flight to Israel -- yes, I was ready for the plane to land.)

Sugar.  Have you seen Sugar?  It's a top notch portrayal of a Dominican youngster in the minors, really first class, and there are parts of it where you're just about convinced that you're watching a documentary.  But then... it takes a turn on you, and you go whoa!  It's a turn that completely betrays any true baseball player in a way that steroid abuse or bat-corking never would.  Yes, I loved it, but be forewarned.  I came out of it with big questions about the seeming maturity and "happy ending" for our protagonist, though I also came out with a greater understanding for the experience of the poverty-stricken Latino Major League hopeful.

The Sandlot is a classic.  Rookie of the Year is cute.  Angels in the Outfield is terrific fun.

Now to Moneyball...

I saw Moneyball in a party of five.  Two of us were non-baseball fans.  Three of us, including me, were baseball fans.  The non-baseball fans loved it.  The two other baseball fans, excluding me, thought it was no good and in some areas downright insulting to a baseball fan.  (We also thought Scott Hatteberg, Carlos Pena, and Art Howe should be outraged with how they were each portrayed.)

Me, I thought Brad Pitt performed a fine biopic of Billy Beane in an eh baseball movie.  I really enjoyed it but have no need to see it again.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin

I believe that I read once that Martin Luther King, Jr. was born with the true first name of Michael, but later changed it.  (That's one of those things that interests me in life -- popularly held beliefs that aren't quite true, like discovering that "Silent Cal" Coolidge loved to talk.)

Dr. King's legacy is mighty and extraordinary; to touch on a tiny aspect of it still brings you to matters of great significance.

Desegregation, for one.

I was part of desegregating busing in Prince George's County, Maryland, bringing me, and later my brother, from our hometown of Greenbelt to John Carroll Elementary School in Landover for kindergarten and first grade.  (We would later go to Glenarden Woods E.S. from second grade through sixth grade.)

This might seem overly simplistic, but so be it:  When you're a kid, skin color is only a difference of curiosity, like hair color or eye color or voice.  You're different from the kids around you and you realize it, but other than the question of "Why?" it doesn't have any bearing on your life.  Some kids are nice and some are mean, some are quiet and some are loud, and as a kid you know that skin color has nothing to do with it.

When you're a kid, you are judged entirely on the content of your character.  That is, at its purest, are you great fun to be around?  Skin color doesn't enter into it.  Neither does religion, ethnicity, or socioeconomic class.  (Height, weight, athletic coordination, and cuteness don't enter into it, either, at least not until you get older.  Then, unfortunately, those get pretty important.)

And so I went through my school years in a mesh of wonderful diversity, but it was not hammered into us that we were sitting in multiethnic, multiracial classes.  We took it entirely for granted that our classmates came in all shades of skin tone.

My childhood was spent in that storybook post-racial society.  As an adult, I recognize that this does not exist elsewhere.  The more I travel, the more I witness racism, as well as sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia.

You know what, though?

I have no need yet for a true post-racial adult society.  I frankly welcome the conversations brought about by race.

I am no longer a child; I am a mature adult.  I can handle it.

Let us remember who Dr. King was and what he strived for, whether in the arena of civil rights or socioeconomic inequality, and keep moving forward.  I'll speak rationally about my perspective and listen to positions sculpted by alternate perspectives.

Then, while our children play together blissfully, we can work together to help uplift society around us.

I don't want to work for the Chiefs

Via Deadspin (which in turn is via the Kansas City Star) comes this must-read story:

"The Kansas City Chiefs Might Have the Worst Workplace in America"

Scott Pioli, Dictator.

(Really, if you think about it:  Kyle Orton makes a great henchman.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Broadcaster Nightmares

I suppose everyone in their passions and lines of work will have nightmares about things going wrong.

This is true, these are all nightmares I experience.  (One of them came about last night and inspired this post.)  They terrify me, and also make me feel so glad that I don't have, say, police officer nightmares or firefighter nightmares or military personnel nightmares or astronaut nightmares or zookeeper nightmares or hot air balloon operator nightmares.

*  I meet the new team for 2012... but I can't pronounce their names!  Oh no!

*  It's time to broadcast the game... but none of my equipment is set up!  Oh no!

*  I begin broadcasting... but I don't know who anyone is!  Oh no!

*  I arrive at the ballpark... but the game is already in the fourth inning!  Oh no!

*  We're in a rain delay for hours and hours... but they won't call the game!  Oh no!

*  I don't have a voice!  Oh no!

Okay, truth be told, I've never had a nightmare yet about not having a voice.  Being in a plane crash, sure, but never not having a voice.  Maybe if I had a better voice, I'd worry more?  Heck, if I had a better voice, I'd be a movie preview narrator or an audio book reader.

Ah, but that's the subject of a different post:  "Broadcaster Dreams."

(The #1 broadcaster's dream, always, is to be a professional athlete for the sport we cover.  We all peaked too soon.)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Shades of Gray, and Steroids


If it looks like everyone in the class is cheating on the exam and getting better grades -- and it especially looks as if the professor and the college know about this and either do not care or are perfectly fine with it -- why wouldn't you cheat?

But first, Rob Neyer.

I am an unabashed Rob Neyer fan.  I own his books, I read his columns and I would look forward to his interviews on sports talk radio.

Every year around Hall of Fame voting time, Rob Neyer writes columns like this, citing a writer belonging to the BBWAA, in this case Terence Moore of MLB.com, sharing openly that he would never vote for a player with any whiff of performance-enhancing drug use about him.

Rob's very last paragraph:

"For baseball writers like Terence Moore, life is wonderfully simple. Everything is on, or off. Yes, or no. Zero, or one. Black, or white. There is no room for nuance, no shades of gray. The word appears next to a man's name, and the thinking stops. How comforting that must be. How terribly comforting."

First, before we talk shades of gray, here are the black and white facts:

*  Steroids were illegally used by players from the 1980s through the 2000s.

*  They were highly effective.

This cannot be ignored.

The very best players in the game used PEDs:  Alex Rodriguez.  Manny Ramirez.  Rafael Palmeiro, of his 3,000 hits and 500 homers.

Eric Gagne used PEDs and became the game's greatest closer.  Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds used PEDs and became the game's greatest home run hitters.  Roger Clemens used PEDs and it revitalized his career to the point that he became the great pitcher he had been a decade earlier.

This is why I'm glad I'm not a Hall of Fame voter.

This was illegal use, and it made each of these players an unmatched great.  I cannot support that.

On the other hand, I have no doubt that their use of PEDs was implicitly encouraged by their team and Major League Baseball -- and maybe explicitly encouraged, too, who knows?  PED users earned enormous contracts and increased playing time at the expense of non-PED users.  If you saw that and you're a competing baseball player, why wouldn't you use?  My answer is:  Because you're ethical.  Or perhaps you don't want to do lasting damage to your body.

But -- come on!

The vast majority of baseball players do not care a lick about cheating or not.  They would use a corked bat if assured they could get away with it, they chew tobacco in the minors openly even though they it's illegal, and they figure out new ways to get a better (illegal) grip on the baseball on the mound and put wicked movement on it.

These are not the villains of the game.  This is your everyday player, from the utility infielder to the long reliever.

Everyone in baseball looks for an edge, and it's always been that way.  Baseball is not an ethical man's game.  Baseball is conniving and unscrupulous and underhanded, incorporating signs and sign-stealing... just don't get caught, or you'll get knocked down by a purpose pitch.

Rob cites a hypothetical example in which a veteran player used PEDs for a couple of days in the midst of a quick recovery, and that was it for the extent of his 18-year career.

It's a nice story, and maybe for a couple of players it's true.

Let's delve further:

What would a minor league teenager, who's never been away from home before, do when a respected guy on the team stops by and lets him know how he could get to the Majors quicker?

What does the veteran, at the tail end of his career, say when he's shown how PEDs can extend his time in the Majors a couple of more effective seasons?

This is what Rob Neyer means by shades of gray.  We don't know who used, we don't know why they specifically used, and we don't know how long they used.  Every case was different.  Brian Roberts isn't Andy Pettitte, who isn't Rafael Palmeiro, who isn't Alex Sanchez.

If every single player during the Steroid Era came out and told us exactly how much they used, we could actually get somewhere.  We could see which non-users performed best against users and we could see which users only started using after they already had gained Hall of Fame stats.

(This to me is the HoF argument for Bonds and Clemens; they belonged in Cooperstown well before they began injecting steroids.  Whatever you might think about their tainted seasons, their untainted seasons hold up extraordinarily well.)

But we're never going to get that information, and that makes the job for every Hall of Fame voter all the more difficult.  So what?  It should be a difficult job, filled with heavy thinking and analysis, to determine who receives baseball immortality.  That's a responsibility that needs to be taken seriously, and I demand that the BBWAA voters take it seriously.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Column of Controversy

Are you in the sports media?  Would you like to bring attention upon yourself?

It's surprisingly easier than you'd think.

You could...

* write an article badmouthing a city

* vote for zero people on your Hall of Fame ballot

* publish a book in which you speculate groundlessly about the sexuality of a team's star quarterback

* go on your sports talk show and make idiotic, inciting comments

* dump jealously all over a special sporting event because you're not included

* write a column as if you were there, even though you weren't

* come up with your own self-important catchphrases schticks and then run them into the ground

(And then there's this, a top-notch dissection of a columnist's work all during the year in which his local team won the World Series.)

See?  Easy.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

About that BCS Championship...

There were some terrific bowl games this year.  This, the last game, the most important game, was not one of them.

It was garbage.

Embarrassing.

This was the baseball equivalent of two terrible teams, one trying to bunt their way on base and the other one with the bat on its shoulder, trying to draw walks.  One of them has to win.  Fans lose.

If you didn't watch -- and I envy you if you didn't, because you're a wiser person than I am:

LSU punted.  Alabama drove down and kicked a field goal.  LSU punted.  Alabama missed a field goal.  LSU punted.  Alabama kicked a field goal.  Rinse, repeat, add in a meaningless late touchdown with a missed extra point, just to remind us how bad this game was.

Late-night host J.T. the Brick was on target:  The vaunted SEC can't play offense.

Tigers quarterback Jordan Jefferson was a mess, botching the option, dropping the snap, flipping one pass directly at a Bama linebacker.  The Crimson Tide played offense fine, until they got anywhere near the end zone.  Then they sent out the field goal unit again.

On the bright side, it was so bad, that the group of friends I was watching the game with turned it into a roast.  You had to laugh to keep from groaning.

Although we really should have just turned the channel.

Good riddance to you, SEC.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Barry Larkin and Tim Tebow

I was more or less ambivalent toward Reds shortstop Barry Larkin while he played.  I was a fan of Alan Trammell and the Detroit Tigers, and I was completely disinterested in the doings of the Cincinnati nine (except for their wonderful upset of the A's in 1990).

Barry Larkin was, though, the favorite player of my best friend, Kevin, and so I proudly presented him with all of my Larkin baseball cards for his birthday one year.

Today the Reds great was the only player voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.

I can disagree that there were no other worthy candidates.  I cannot disagree that Larkin's deserving of the honor.  He was the best N.L. shortstop of his era, a perennial All-Star, and one of the greatest shortstops in the history of the game.  Even better, he did this all in his hometown in front of all of his friends and family.

Barry Larkin earned his place in Cooperstown.

(Now about my boy Tram...)

*

I am a proud Tim Tebow hater.  I'm fundamentally biased against evangelicals, same as I'm prejudiced against fundamentalists in every faith, including my own.  I don't like people or teams who are yammered about constantly on ESPN and other sports forums.  And I don't like players who are given all of the credit while their teammates and coaches are ignored.

None of this is Tebow's fault; he was brought up to have the faith he has, he's a modest altruistic hard-working fellow, and a great deal of the rigmarole surrounding him has snowballed way beyond he could ever imagine.  He conducts himself terrifically wherever he goes.  Oh, and he keeps on winning big games when the spotlight's on him.

On Sunday, in his first career playoff game, the Steelers dared Tim Tebow to throw the ball and beat them himself.  He did.  He earned the win, knocking the defending AFC champs from the playoffs.

Victories and honors should be earned, not merely given.  Barry Larkin and Tim Tebow deserve all of the kudos and acclamation they're receiving.

(Hear what I'm saying, Blue Ivy Carter?  You have to earn it, girl.)

For both Barry and Tim, there are even better days ahead.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Narrative

If you didn't know, here's how I spend my year:

February - September:  working for the Lansing Lugnuts as their media/broadcast department

October - January:  traveling, applying to move up within the broadcasting field, working for the local radio stations, and doing a ton of creative writing

It's my ambition to broadcast during baseball season and put out books in the off-season.  So far, I've got the baseball down.  This is my writing time.

I don't, frankly, like nonfiction as much as I like fiction.  Nonfiction is gray and hazy in reality, no matter how much people want to make it black and white.  Nonfiction can be dull or interesting or both or neither.  It doesn't care.  It's simply life proceeding right along, and whatever happens happens.  There's no fade-out end to a romance after our two lovers get together; there's life every day afterwards, and then every day after that.

It's true that nonfiction can be turned into a narrative, and then we sculpt it however we want.  We can add in heroes and villains and morals, making things far more black and white.

For instance, there's no great reason that the NFL playoffs this year have to be interesting or well-played.  We just want it to be that way.  Jim Rome on his radio show today talked about how excited he was for the playoff weekend and how much he loved every game.  Well, of course:  It's his job to turn sports into a narrative.  Rome then specifically gave the storylines as he saw them.

(Personally, I'm far from enthused about any of the games.  It doesn't help that I think the Bengals stink, and the Falcons and the Giants aren't all that great, and the Texans stink, and the Lions have major deficiencies, and the Broncos stink... and I'm hoping that the Steelers are better than they've looked recently.  The NFL this year, for whatever reason, is a mediocre product.  There's the Saints and the Packers, and the Patriots and Ravens some of the time, and that's about it.)

But there aren't really storylines in games, aside from - perhaps - who won and who lost.  Everything else is created by folks looking down from the outside.

This was where Tony Kornheiser failed in large part on Monday Night Football.  As a columnist, he wanted to tell the narrative of each game.  Each night, therefore, he decided upon the headline and he stuck to it.  He'd talk Brett Favre the entire game, for instance, or yammer on and on about the greatness of Tom Brady.  It was true, and it was mind-numbing.  After a while, you just said, "Enough, Mr. Tony.  Enough."

The worst part is when reporters take it upon themselves to create the narrative -- taking quotes out of context, asking insulting/inciteful questions, and generally seeing what they can do to create a story.  There's always that player in the locker room who doesn't know any better and takes the bait.

Basically what I'm saying is:

I prefer watching sports and writing fiction.

I'm trying to write a novel right now.  It's an often frustrating process that goes in spits and spurts, and I'm blogging right now instead of working on it.

Eh, there are worse things.  I could be watching Tim Tebow play quarterback.

HoF talk

Look, it's very nice that the A's signed Coco Crisp and the Marlins traded for Carlos Zambrano, but the real  baseball talk going on right now -- amid NFL playoffs, NCAA bowls and hoops, NHL, and NBA -- is Hall of Fame talk.

I like this.

I enjoy reading all sorts of different baseball writers' Hall of Fame ballots.  (For example:  CBS Sports' Danny Knobler, Scott Miller and Jon Heyman.)

* Barry Larkin deserves to go in.  This is firmly agreed upon by all manner of rational folks, even those who might consider voting for Rick Santorum.

(Yes, I am among those who cannot understand why Republicans are falling all over themselves to support liars, bigots, and fools rather than someone who actually seems like a good choice for the nation's highest office.  I have great friends who are members of the GOP, and I am embarrassed for them.)

Seriously, Rick Santorum?

* Alan Trammell deserves to go in, according to smart people and also biased boyhood Tigers fans like me.

(By the way:  Would you like to read a poor column advocating for Larkin and against Trammell?  Here you go.  Apparently the fact that Alan Trammell was not demonstrably better than Hall of Famers Cal Ripken and Robin Yount is not enough to put him in Cooperstown.  Oh, Devon Teeple.  It's even worse to compare his stats to Tony Fernandez's stats and think that the two were equals.)

* Tim Raines deserves to go in, according to smart people.  They've convinced me.  He had a very nice career and were he to be elected, he would not bring down the HoF standard at all.  If you had to name the top leadoff men in baseball history, Raines has to be in the top five, right?

* Jack Morris is borderline.  Some smart people think he should be, most think he shouldn't.

Look, here's my problem with Morris supporters.  They all say, to a man:  Forget about the high ERA.  He won the most games of any pitcher in the 1980s and he pitched the most brilliant World Series game of our time in 1991.

Well...

1)  You can't forget about the high ERA.  It's part of his record.  It shows that he tended to give up a lot of runs.  That's like saying about a hitter -- forget about his low batting average.  Well, you can't.  It shows that he didn't tend to get too many base hits.  You can counterbalance it with stats showing a man's effectiveness, sure, but you can't make them vanish.

2)  Yes, Jack Morris did have the most wins from 1980-1989, but that's an arbitrary span.  Are you going to collect every single ten-year span and induct the winningest pitcher?  Who had the most wins from 1977-1986?  How about from 1973-1982?  (I'd love to find out and tell you, but I'm stumped by how to do so on BaseballReference.com.)

3)  Yes, Jack Morris was stellar in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.  That's great.  Hey, check out this World Series pitching performance.  Or this one from a non-HoF'er.

On this list of the best pitching performances in World Series games through 2007... Jack Morris rates 39th, right behind Josh Beckett beating the Yankees in 2003.

I somehow doubt that Beckett's going to Cooperstown.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Iowa Caucus is stupid

That's my opinion.

*

The sports scene yesterday was remarkable.

I know that the various talking heads on sports talk radio, whether on ESPN, Fox Sports or Yahoo, are considering the top news of the weekend to be the NFL axings of the Polians in Indianapolis (Tony Kornheiser's #1 story) or firings of various coaches in Miami, St. Louis and Tampa Bay (Dan Patrick's poll question).

Those don't rank anywhere for me.

Yesterday featured a tripleheader of magnificent college bowl games.  Michigan State vs. Georgia was fantastic.  Wisconsin vs. Oregon was awesome.  Oklahoma State vs. Stanford was the icing on the cake.

Unfortunately, none of them matter all that much.  MSU's win doesn't distract from the Big 10(ish)'s various failures.  Oregon's triumph merely cemented them as a fine bridesmaid.  Oklahoma State and Stanford was a battle for #3 in the polls and a showcase for Justin Blackmon and Andrew Luck's draft status.  (I'd take 'em both.)

The second best sports story of the weekend was the Cowboys/Giants play-in game on Sunday night, though that was more of a story for what it meant rather than the sort of game it was.  It was a bad game. For all of their fans, Dallas sure doesn't earn their allegiance too well.  Overhyped, overcovered, and their season's over early, again.

Hey, look, football's bad right now, whatever the reason.  There's virtually no defense in the college game -- except for LSU and Alabama, neither of whom has a quarterback.  In the NFL, the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans are playoff teams, and they're terrible.  The Bengals aren't too much better.

But hockey!

Hockey's great right now.

Did you see the Winter Classic between the Rangers and Flyers?  Marvelous.  Citizens Bank Park looked great.  The atmosphere was awesome.  Philadelphia took the two-goal lead, but New York swooped right back with three straight.  There was a penalty shot with under 20 seconds to go, and King Henrik stoned Danny Briere.

The Winter Classic was everything I love about sports.