Friday, December 27, 2013

The 2013 Washington Redskins Narrative, in Chapters

Pre-Week 1
*  The mood:  Enthusiasm and anticipation!
*  The status:  An undefeated preseason and relatively no serious injuries, except for draftee Phillip Thomas and corner/returner Richard Crawford.
*  Spotlight on:  The returning RGIII ("All in for Week 1" and "Operation Patience"), an improved Alfred Morris, a healthy Brian Orakpo, and rookie returnman Chris Thompson.

Week 1:  Philadelphia 33, Washington 27 (box score)
*  The mood:  Disappointment, but understanding.
*  The status:  0-1.  Destroyed early, came back and made a game of it late.  RGIII didn't look entirely healthy, but maybe he was simply rusty from not playing during pre-season.  The defense was buzzsawed by Chip Kelly's up-tempo Eagles.  On the bright side, the offense certainly woke up in the second half, didn't it?
*  Spotlight on:  The Eagles' Oregon Duck offense, which is now totally going to take the NFL by storm.  (Rick Reilly:  "This is a revolution.")

Week 2:  Green Bay 38, Washington 20 (box score)
*  The mood:  Déjà vu.
*  The status:  0-2.  Outscored 50-7 in the first half, without a first down conversion in the first or second quarters all season.  Not a single aspect of the team looks positive.
*  Spotlight on:  Robert Griffin III, not getting it done and not looking healthy.  The defense, which can't tackle or cover or stop the run.  Brandon Meriweather, stupidly/dangerously leading with his helmet twice, first knocking out starting running back Eddie Lacy, then knocking himself out of the game.  Aaron Rodgers, who looked like the greatest quarterback on Earth.  Jordan Reed, looking like a player at tight end.  The secondary - particularly rookies Baccari Rambo and David Amerson - who appear far from ready.  Penalties, penalties, penalties, especially on special teams.
*  League Perspective:  The Eagles lose to the Chargers, 33-30, look mortal.  The Seahawks destroy the 49ers in Seattle, costing Colin Kaepernick an eyebrow.

Week 3:  Detroit 27, Washington 20 (box score)
*  The mood:  Misery.
*  The status:  0-3.  No Reggie Bush for the Lions, but it didn't matter -- Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson made the necessary plays to capture Detroit's first ever victory in Washington, D.C. (or at least in a neighboring county).  Argh.  How did this season go down the drain so quickly?
*  Spotlight on:  Robert Griffin III, committing two atrocious turnovers in Lions territory, a fumble and an interception, ending key drives.  The lack of Alfred Morris, a non-factor in the second half, as the Redskins go pass-heavy.  Jordan Reed, stepping up, unseating Fred Davis.  London Fletcher, sitting down for significant plays; is he nearing the end?  DeAngelo Hall, who is - improbably - the most productive player on the team, thanks to recording his second defensive touchdown of the year.
*  League Perspective:  The Eagles lose again, this time to the Chiefs.  The Packers lose to the Bengals.  Both teams are 1-2, with the lone victory against the Redskins.  Yeesh.  The Buccaneers implode.

Week 4:  Washington 24, Oakland 14 (box score)
*  The mood:  A win!  Yes, it was a win against the Raiders, who were missing their starting quarterback and who lost their starting tailback and fullback to injury... but:  Just win, baby.
*  The status:  1-3, heading into the bye week.  What a glorious time to have a bye week.
*  Spotlight on:  RGIII, not great but good enough. Brian Orakpo, much maligned for his absence before stepping up to record two of the defense's seven sacks.  Ryan Kerrigan, who has two more sacks.  Barry Cofield, who has two sacks.  David Amerson, beaten earlier in the game for a long reception, providing the turning point with a pick-six for his first career interception.  The inept special teams unit, who have a punt blocked, record minimal return yardage, and allow a successful Raiders fake punt.  Roy Helu, Jr., in his first notable appearance of the year, replacing an injured Alfred Morris, vaulting a Raider, and scoring the game-clinching touchdown.
*  League Perspective:  The NFC East standings are also positive, with the Cowboys just 2-2 atop the division, the Eagles (bombed by Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos, 52-20) alongside the Skins at 1-3 and the woeful Giants at 0-4.  Skip Bayless remains convinced the Redskins will win the NFC East.

Week 5:  Bye Week, Glorious Bye Week
*  The mood:  Relaxed, energized, and ready.
*  The status:  1-3, 3rd place in the division behind 2-3 Dallas and 2-3 Philadelphia.  That's pretty good, considering how awful this Redskins season has felt.
*  Spotlight on:  It's Dallas Week.  Here we go.
*  League Perspective:  The Bengals lost to the Browns, but defeated the Packers and Patriots.  The Ravens lost to the Bills, but won at Miami.  The Colts lost to Miami but knocked off the 49ers and Seahawks.  Up is down, down is up, and the league has a ways to go before things steady out.  Thankfully, Tony Romo keeps everyone sane by continuing to throw killer interceptions.

Week 6:  Dallas 31, Washington 16 (box score)
*  The mood:  Impending disaster.
*  The status:  1-4, 3rd place in the division behind 3-3 Dallas and 3-3 Philadelphia, and staring directly approaching games against Chicago and Denver that threaten to drop the squad to a season-killing 1-6.
*  Spotlight on:  Well, positively, Jordan Reed looks good -- and hey, RGIII can run again!  Unfortunately, the special teams are a disaster on par with the government shutdown (losing long snapper Nick Sundberg and ace Bryan Kehl to season-ending injury makes things worse).  The offensive line is nearly as abysmal.
*  Thoughts on Robert Griffin III:  There is an enormous problem ongoing with the franchise quarterback -- he cannot throw.  Seriously, he has mastery over seemingly only two passes, a dump-off to a back in the flat and a play-action crossing pattern, and everything else he tries wobbles, sinks, sails, and flutters nowhere near his intended receivers.  It's bad.  Griffin seems to think the answer to this is to run more (and, horror of horrors, bait defenders to hit him near the sideline)... but this was exactly what ended his season last year.  If he can't throw, the Redskins can't score.  The defense has straightened out its woes, but the offense is now the sore spot.  In 2012, 30+ points was an easy proposition.  In 2013, even 21 points is a lofty goal.
*  Thoughts on the Redskins' season:  This is looking more and more like a disappointing 3-13 campaign.  On the bright side, with a last-place schedule next year, I fully expect the Skins to improve to 9-7 in 2014.
*  League Perspective:  The Texans are a disaster.  Tom Brady tombradied the Saints.  The Broncos were favored by 28 points against the Jaguars, but only beat them by 16.

Week 7:  Washington 45, Chicago 41 (box score)
*  The mood:  Whoa!  Another win!  Well now.
*  The status:  2-4, 3rd place in the division behind 4-3 Dallas and 3-4 Philadelphia.  There are worse places to be.
*  Spotlight on:  Rookie TE Jordan Reed, who looks outstanding; an increasingly dangerous Robert Griffin III; the awful special teams, which allowed a punt return touchdown for the second week in a row; the illegally dangerous Brandon Meriweather, who continues to target the opposition's receivers, head-first.  He's a menace.
*  Special Teams:  No, we can't stop there.  The Redskins' special teams cannot return a kickoff beyond the 20 (or the 18, even).  They cannot return a punt.  They cannot stop the other team from breaking off enormous returns.  They were helpless on a surprise onside kick (though the Bears were spotted for being off-side, saving the unit).  They nearly gave up a Music City Miracle-esque throwback on their last kickoff.  They are the worst.
*  Thoughts on Robert Griffin III:  This was a tremendous week for RGIII, showing mobility, arm strength, and electricity.  The sophomore season yo-yo is back rising up.
*  Thoughts on the Redskins' season:  Dare I say... maybe 7-9?  The defense, offensive line, and special teams give you no reason to believe in them -- but a Griffin at full strength, aided by Alfred Morris and Roy Helu, keeps the Skins in nearly every game.
*  League Perspective:  The Patriots learn a new rule.  Andrew Luck outduels Peyton Manning.  The Kansas City Chiefs are the least inspiring 7-0 team ever.  And, oh, Nick Foles was injured, Matt Barkley tossed three interceptions, and the Philadelphia Eagles lost to Dallas, 17-3, continuing to not revolutionize the league in the slightest.

Week 8:  Denver 45, Washington 21 (box score)
*  The mood:  At one point in the 3rd quarter, the Redskins led 21-7 and things felt tremendous.  As you can see, that was not the final score.  A loss at Denver was expected, but this came with all of the fun of falling off a cliff while getting punched in the belly.
*  The status:  2-5, 3rd place in the division behind 4-4 Dallas and 3-5 Philadelphia.  The NFC East continues to live down to expectations.
*  Spotlight on:  Robert Griffin III, who could not pass the ball, could not get away from the rush, missed wide open receivers, and was hit hard all game to the point that he was forced to leave; his yo-yo is back heading down.  On the bright side, Josh Wilson had a terrific punt return, Pierre Garcon played his heart out, and DeAngelo Hall collected a pair of interceptions, one for a touchdown and one that was just remarkable.
*  Thoughts on the Redskins' season:  We're taking it week to week right now, but that quarterback situation is at the crux of whether the Skins win or lose.
*  World Series Perspective:  Game 3 ended on obstruction, Game 4 ended on a pickoff.  The Red Sox are Cardinals are tied, 2-2, and it's been wonderful.

Week 9:  Washington 30, San Diego 24 (box score)
*  The mood:  Whew!  Well, all right, then!  When the Chargers trailed 24-14 in the 4th quarter, sure, it looked like the Redskins would cruise to victory.  And when the Chargers trailed 24-21, but had 1st and goal at the 1 in the last minute, sure, it looked like the Redskins were sinking to an awful defeat.  But then: miracle of miracles, overtime!
*  The status:  3-5, 3rd place in the division behind 5-4 Dallas and 4-5 Philadelphia.  There are worse places to be.  And with a Thursday night game against hapless Minnesota coming up...
*  Spotlight on:  Robert Griffin III, looking better and better, especially on 3rd down; Darrell Young, fullback touchdown-scorer extraordinaire; rookie David Amerson, interceptor of one pass, beaten for several others by childhood friend Keenan Allen, and then knocking Danny Woodhead out of bounds short of the pylon to save the season.  And, really, that's the main narrative:  Did this goal-line stand save the Redskins' season?  The players think yes.
*  Thoughts on the season:  If the Skins can beat the Chargers, maybe they can beat other averagely-qualified foes, too.  Is .500 too much to ask for?
*  World Series Wrap-Up:  The Red Sox won.  They deserved to win.  They've won three championships in a decade.  Oh, the stories we shall tell our grandchildren about fake "curses" and the like!

Week 10:  Minnesota 34, Washington 27 (box score)

*  The mood:  At one point in the 3rd quarter -- this is feeling like the Denver recap -- the Redskins led 27-14.  20 unanswered points later, and the Redskins were 3-6, having lost to a team that had only one prior win in eight games.  The mood is miserable.
*  The status:  3-6, tied for last place in the division with the previously pathetic New York Giants.
*  Spotlight on:  The newly atrocious defense, which could not contain Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, or backup tight end John Carlson, and Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier, a grade-A schlemiel, who kept calling timeouts to give the Skins a chance to catch their breath.  (It was ostensibly to conserve time so that when Washington tied the game, Minnesota could make one last game-winning drive.  Leslie Frazier clearly overestimated the Redskins' offense.)  Not to be outdone, the special teams unit continued to struggle, with Sav Rocca supplying his weekly shanked punt.
*  On the bright side:  "Thor: The Dark World" came out.  It was very fun.  Let's not think anything further about this football game.
*  But:  The Redskins were 2-5.  Then they won a game because of a last second goal-line stand, and they lost a game because of a last second goal-line stand.  This team could be 4-5 and they could be 2-7.  Is that an indictment of the Skins?  Or is that an indication that the NFL has achieved parity in terrible mediocrity?  My guess is the latter.  The NFL isn't great right now.  It's even a long way from "good."
*  Elsewhere in the NFL:  The Jaguars won!  The Bucs won!  The Rams destroyed the Colts -- in Indianapolis!  The Panthers edged the 49ers -- in San Francisco!

Week 11:  Philadelphia 24, Washington 16 (box score)
*  The mood:  Season over.  From here on out, the games are (relatively) meaningless.
*  The status:  3-7, last place in the NFC East.
*  Spotlight on:  Alfred Morris, running hard despite rarely receiving good blocking; Nick Williams, signed off the practice squad and turning the special teams punt-return unit into more of a joke than ever; the porous offensive line; Trent Williams, claiming an official swore at him; the defense, dominated by the Eagles for a second time; and Robert Griffin III, who led the offensive to 16 fluky points in the 4th quarter, giving hope for a massively surprising comeback, only to lob up an embarrassing interception to crush the fan base's hopes.
*  Weirdly:  Despite looking like a blowout through the first three quarters, this was yet another loss that was decided by one possession / one score, joining Week 1, Week 3, and Week 10.
*  Next up:  The Skins host the 49ers on Monday Night football -- this season has the possibility of getting a lot, lot worse before it gets any better.  3-13 remains a realistic final record.
*  Elsewhere in the NFL:  In two potential playoff contests, the Broncos convincingly handed the Chiefs their first loss of the year, and the Saints edged New Orleans.  Otherwise, the day was filled with routs.

Week 12:  San Francisco 27, Washington 6 (box score)

*  The mood:  Misery.
*  The status:  3-8, and feeling like one of the worst teams in football.  A Redskins/Texans game might well set the league back 20 years.  On the bright side, we get to wait a full year for Washington and Houston to get together.  (And Washington/Jacksonville's coming next year, too!)
*  Spotlight on:  The offensive line, which did not pass-block and did not run-block to any recognizable success; the FedEx Field field, re-sodded and still causing footing problems; Robert Griffin III, who continues to regress, struggle, and take enormous hits; Robert Griffin II, visiting the locker room afterward; Fred Davis, activated but unused, with allegations that he had blown off team meetings during the week; and Josh Wilson, the #2 cornerback, who could not cover anyone.
*  Nothing:  There are zero aspects of this current team that look even average, let alone above average, with the possible exceptions of placekicking and run defense.  This was reminiscent of the Jim Zorn teams... or at, the very least, the Mike Shanahan/John Beck team.  Ah, the road to 3-13!
*  Next up:  Another prime time contest! The Redskins welcome the Giants on Sunday Night football.
*  Bad company:  NFL teams that currently stink, a la the Skins, include Houston, Atlanta, Minnesota, Oakland, Jacksonville, Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, the Jets, and the Giants.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at one time winless and ticketed for oblivion, are now 3-8 and in pretty darn good shape after beating the Lions in Detroit.
*  Around the League:  Most notable of all the other games -- the Broncos were up 24-0 on the Patriots in New England, but lost in overtime.  It was remarkable.  There's no way that we'll be able to explain to our grandchildren, "You could always count on Peyton Manning to lose on the road, in cold weather, and in big games.  His little brother won on the road, in cold weather, and in big games, including two Super Bowls against the immortal Tom Brady.  But Peyton was still better than Eli.  Trust me."

Week 13:  New York (N) 24, Washington 17 (box score)
*  The mood:  Angry for all the wrong reasons.
*  The status:  3-9, but hang tight.
*  Spotlight on:  There was this one play.  Perhaps you've heard about it.  One official thought it was first down.  One official didn't.  The Redskins' sideline was told something that might or might not have been true.  The announcing crew was righteously upset.  It was, at the very least, highly confusing.  This is all well and good, but on the next play, Will Hill picked Pierre Garçon's pocket.  Downs, confusion, refereeing trouble, and all that don't count for a hill of beans when your top wide receiver turns the ball over on the potential game-tying drive.  There's a great deal of anger around these parts because of a season going wrong, especially after a loss to a division rival at home, but the Redskins sure didn't deserve to win this game.
*  Special teams entertainment:  Not to be outdone, long snapper Kyle Nelson sent a grounder back to punter Sav Rocca.  This team sure keeps you on your toes.  Road to 3-13!
*  Griffin assessment:  Sometimes RGIII looks fine, sometimes he throws a pass nowhere near his target.  Usually it's the last one.  More often than not, though, he's on the run because of phantom pressure or real-life pressure from a hard-charging Justin Tuck.  With how poorly the offensive line has played, Griffin is looking an awful lot like Patrick Ramsey or Jason Campbell, hearing footsteps without going through his reads.  I'm not even certain he properly knows how to go through his reads yet.  Defenses are flummoxing him.  Yes, this is looking like a Patrick Ramsey replay.  On the bright side, Jason Campbell's turned out all right, hasn't he?
*  Thank goodness:  for the Larry Michaels Highlight Show.
*  Around the League:  On Thanksgiving, Le'veon Bell made us all uncomfortable for loving football.  My gosh, this sport is a rotten, awful, violent way for people to earn millions of dollars.

Week 14:  Kansas City 45, Washington 10 (box score)
*  The mood:  Fire.  Mike Shanahan.  Now.
*  The status:  3-10, and falling off a cliff while punching themselves in the face.
*  Spotlight on:  The weather, which provided terrific pictures in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and Baltimore; the lack of any crowd in the second half (credit Dan Steinberg of the DC Sports Bog); the special teams coverage unit, which just kept on giving up massive return after massive return; the feeling that you were watching either a college team take on a high school team, a varsity team take on a j.v. team, or a professional team take on a group of guys who've quit; and the late insertion of Kirk Cousins for RGIII, feeling like a harbinger of what's to come.
*  Radio storyline:  At one point on the Redskins Official Radio Network, Chris Cooley - in reference to a Domino's Pizza ad - noted that Domino's had cleaned house, fired everyone, and worked hard to find a better way to make pizza.  He wondered, not so subtly, if that might work here, too.  Coming on the heels of a Dan Graziano story about how Mike Shanahan was ready to quit the Redskins after the 2012 campaign, and the question around Landover suddenly wasn't if Shanahan would leave, but when.  As this disaster dragged on, it was a marvel Shanny even made it to the fourth quarter.
*  Next up:  The Atlanta Falcons, who also stink.  That's a win, right?  Road to 4-12!
*  Around the League:  The Ravens and Vikings play the greatest final two minutes of a football game ever. The Patriots shock the Browns.  The Eagles score 28 points in the fourth quarter to continue the Lions' history of late-season unpleasantness.  And Matt Prater toes one up to stand alone.

Week 15:  Atlanta 27, Washington 26 (box score)
*  The mood:  Defeated but not despondent.
*  The status:  3-11, and facing the impending possibility of handing the St. Louis Rams the #1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
*  Spotlight on:  Kirk Cousins, getting the start, leads the Redskins to a strong second quarter (and 17 unanswered points after early 14-0 and 17-3 deficits); a touchdown in the dying seconds seemingly ties the game, but the Skins go unsuccessfully for two instead of kicking the PAT for overtime -- there, sportstalk hosts, debate that!  Also:  good gravy, seven turnovers, including five lost turnovers.
*  Storyline continuity problems:  Mike Shanahan, it was suggested by folks in the know, announced Kirk Cousins as the starter for the rest of the season (while sending Griffin to the pine for the rest of 2013) as part of a series of tactics to force Dan Snyder to fire him (and pay him the rest of the money due on his five-year contract).  Snyder did not fire him.  Interestingly, last week the Redskins' Official Radio Broadcast was crushing the coaching staff for a good, strong, complete 60 minutes.  This week, suddenly, hey! maybe Shanny and the crew should stick around a little longer!  Weird, right?
*  Next up:  It's Cowboys Week, and a Skins win would eliminate Dallas from the playoffs for a second year in a row.
*  Around the League:  The Dolphins, whom many thought would fall into disarray due to the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin story, defeat the Patriots to continue an unlikely playoff push.  Eli Manning tosses five picks.  The Chiefs throw Jamaal Charles screen passes, and the Raiders haven't figured it out yet.  The Cowboys collapse gloriously at home against Green Bay.  And Justin Tucker boots a miracle kick to rip the Lions' hearts out.

Week 16:  Dallas 24, Washington 23 (box score)
*  The mood:  Surreal, aghast helplessness.
*  The status:  3-12, and firmly on the way to 3-13.
*  Spotlight on:  The defense, which blew a two-score lead and made Tony Romo look clutch; the defensive line, which mustered zero pass rush when it counted and was excoriated by Doc Walker on the team's homer radio broadcast; another special teams punt coverage breakdown; London Fletcher, in the final home game of a terrific career, but looking like retirement is really a good idea right now; Kirk Cousins, throwing another interception, playing relatively solidly... and then throwing his last three passes nowhere near a receiver to stymie even the faintest hope of a comeback.  Against a 30th-ranked Cowboys defense, that's what the offense manages?
*  Congratulations:  Pierre Garçon, breaking Art Monk's record for receptions in a season -- though I think all of us agree, with no slight to Pierre, that it would have been better if he had come up just short.  There's no redeeming this season.
*  Next up:  The end of the year, and probably the end of the line for Mike Shanahan and his staff.
*  Do the Redskins really think...:  that folks around the league have watched Kirk Cousins these past few weeks and are jumping out of their boots to offer a 1st round pick for him?  I can't imagine that would be the case, unless those people around the league really like high-character quarterbacks who throw interceptions every weekend.  (If that's a valuable commodity, heck, trade Cousins and Rex Grossman!  It'll be draft pick city around these parts.)
*  Nothing comes easy for Tony Romo:  He conducts a game-winning touchdown drive to beat the Redskins and briefly save the Cowboys season -- and then we learn that his year is over.  What a star-crossed life.
*  Around the League:  Peyton Manning breaks Tom Brady's record for passing touchdowns in one season (ignore the man behind the curtain).  Cam Newton makes Peter King look foolish.  My gosh, Rick Reilly was right all along about the Philadelphia Eagles.  And Navorro Bowman saves the 49ers season (while sending Candlestick Park off with a bang).

Week 17:  New York (N) 20, Washington 6 (box score)
*  The mood:  Finality.
*  The status:  3-13.
*  Spotlight on:  Kirk Cousins, looking far from worthy of a 1st round pick; a miserable all-around effort on a miserable weather day; Mike Shanahan, offering salary cap excuses as the reason for why his team went from 10-6 to 3-13; four more turnovers; the end of the coaching staff; the end of London Fletcher's career; handing the overall #2 pick to the St. Louis Rams.
*  Next up:  The playoffs for 12 other teams.
*  Around the League:  The Cowboys get knocked out on the final day of the season again, and the Chargers use a wealth of unlikely events to slip into the playoffs (and break the Steelers' hearts).

It started with "enthusiasm and anticipation," but now we bid a firm good riddance to this Redskins season.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Objectives and Character: Ender's Game and Richie Incognito

The end goal of a head coach or manager is a championship. Winning is success.  As such, everything the head coach/manager does is orchestrated in order to win, from team drills to film study to game management.

The character of a player is important, although "character" inside a locker room setting needs to be better defined.  In a sporting landscape, character traits that are esteemed are: toughness, work ethic, energy, a team-first/me-second attitude, competitive, and an intense unwillingness to lose or give in.  And talent.  My gosh, yes, talent, which can sometimes even replace or override any of the other traits to a certain extent, at least for a temporary period of time.

"Character" in a life setting means something much different.  A person with good character in life is law-abiding, mature, understanding, open-minded, altruistic, kind, considerate... heck, we could go right down the Boy Scout Oath: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, brave, clean and reverent.  (Defining "reverent" has tended to get the boy scouts in trouble, though.)

If a player is, say, an alcoholic, or a homophobe, or a misogynist, or a religious bigot, or a dog-torturer, his teammates and head coach are willing to overlook it.  A player can have ten kids by nine women living in eight states, and it won't affect his play on the field.  If, however, he doesn't return from an ankle injury quick enough, he becomes a liability and cannot help his team win.  A player who would play on a broken leg is far more valuable, even if he eventually ends up injuring himself so severely that he'll never walk again.  Life outside of sports does not matter; family does not matter; all that matters is life leading up to game day.

You can start to understand the disconnect between the world inside and outside the locker room.

Let's speak in greater specifics.  A football team is at its best when it is physical, close-knit, and fired up.  Coaches do their best to get players' blood roaring leading up to game day.  Any quote of degradation or disrespect becomes bulletin board material, designed to provoke motivation.  Playing with a chip on your shoulder is a good thing.  Playing angry is even better.  If the coaches can convince their players that there is someone gunning for their jobs, the sense of urgency and panic motivates even further.

The most important rule to all of those concerned is that everything said and done within the team setting remains absolutely private and confidential -- it must not be spoken of outside the locker room, particularly in public.

Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito was asked by his coaches to toughen up teammate Jonathan Martin.  Consequently, Martin left the Dolphins.  This has led to a storm of reaction that spread far outside the sports landscape and became a part of national conversation, linking the events to bullying and hazing, among other larger matters.  The players are upset because Martin "broke the code," telling the public about what happened inside the locker room.  Martin is upset because of how he was treated -- and keeping this in-house was not going to heal his life one bit, the players and their code be damned.

The disconnect between those character traits favored and despised between the outside world and the world of sports is bridged by two audiences:  the team ownership and the fan base.  Both want their team to be as successful as possible, but neither wants to be embarrassed by those players comprising the team.

Richie Incognito has been suspended by his employers.

In the book "Ender's Game," recently released as a movie, the main character is Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, a boy who is trained to lead the military in a climactic war to save Earth.  In order to cultivate the right character traits, the military makes certain that the boy is bullied, that he has no friends, that he seeks his own solutions to end problems forthright, and that he does not learn compassion.  He is raised to win, to do whatever it takes to win, and not to think of the loser.

Football's culture is much the same.  The loser does not matter.  The loser's health does not matter.  Heck, even the victor's health doesn't matter.  Everyone dies in the end -- and soldiers and football players die earlier than the rest of us.  All that matters is winning:  through hard work, through camaraderie, through tricks, through rehearsed execution, and through violence.

Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin's world is not too far removed from Ender Wiggin's world.  Thankfully, Ender lives in a fictional setting.  Earth is not really under attack.

Football, however, is largely fictional, too.  The goals and achievements have been manufactured for sporting entertainment and release.

But its ethical problems posed are deadly serious.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Memo to Broadcasters: What is the point?

Let's contrast two columns.

The first is by Ken Rosenthal, an appreciation of retiring broadcaster Tim McCarver.  Ken appreciates Tim's preparation, his passion, and his partnership.  (Ken does not appreciate the incessant criticism presented in reaction to Tim's broadcasting.)

The second column is by Joe Posnanski.  It has a misleading title, referring to the meaning of MVP, because Joe gets bored and immediately shifts to what he really wants to talk about:  poor broadcasting.  Joe appreciates stories, like Matt Carpenter's underdog journey to the Major Leagues.  (Joe does not appreciate hearing incessantly about stats, like Matt Carpenter's batting average in his first eight postseason games and his last eight postseason games.)

This is slight paraphrasing, but you understand.

In a sense, both columns are about broadcasting -- what makes a good broadcast and what makes a poor broadcast.

They differ in this respect:  Ken Rosenthal understands everything Tim McCarver does in leading up to a broadcast.  This is what he praises, the act of preparing to go on the air, and all that goes into collecting necessary information.  Joe Posnanski cares about what is actually shared on the air, what the broadcasters are actually saying.

Joe is right.

This is not to slight Ken Rosenthal's central theme; diligent preparation is hugely important.  A good broadcaster must do his/her homework.

But the true point is the broadcast itself.  If the broadcast is not delivered ably, concisely, and entertainingly, the listener is put off.

A broadcast must enhance the game -- dabbing in the context to show why the competition has meaning, spinning the narrative, making the audience feel smarter, telling insightfully what might happen, describing dutifully what is happening, and then artfully and concisely summing up what has just happened and why.  If a statistic is shared, the broadcaster must take pains to explain what that statistic means and why it was important enough to impart.  All of that homework prepared all day (and all week, and all season) long must be developed toward a positive purpose.  If it is not improving the broadcast, the time is being wasted.

These are not new lessons for broadcasters, but it does not hurt to hear them time and again.

It should be pointed out, too, that Joe Posnanski wants stories with his broadcast; other listeners/viewers prefer stats, or opinions, or analysis, or entertainment.  Not every taste can be appeased... but not every taste should be ignored, either.  There is plenty of room for description, analysis, statistics, laughs, and a great anecdote here and there in every broadcast.

Tim McCarver was at one time a terrific broadcaster, analyzing the game to great acclaim.  Not many have the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues.  A far scarcer few will ever come close to compiling his broadcasting resume.  He is now stepping away, and I wish him well.


Friday, October 18, 2013

PROBLEM: Baseball playoff games are ending at 11:30 p.m. (or later)

11:30 p.m. seems late, doesn't it?  Very late.


CAUSES:

* Baseball playoff games are starting at 8:07 p.m. (or later).

   This is because of TV networks.  If it was up to the team, these games would start at 7:05 p.m., as was the norm all season.

* Commercial breaks are long.

   TV networks again.

* The games are all lasting three and a half hours or thereabouts, an unusually long duration for a baseball game.

   You might think that this is a perfectly natural length for a game and conclude this is merely a baseball problem instead of a playoff baseball problem, but you'd be wrong.  The majority of baseball games all season were played in under three hours, most closer to 2:20 or 2:30 or 2:40 in length.

* The course of action is slower than usual.

   This is the same as the NBA, where a half-court style predominates in the postseason.  When each pitch (or possession, in basketball) could determine advance or elimination, each team understands that each moment counts.  Quality at-bats are valued more than ever.  Pitchers cannot simply groove fastballs; they have to focus more on every pitch they make.


BUT, ON THE BRIGHT SIDE...

* These games have been fantastic.  What a tremendous postseason of high-quality baseball!


Monday, October 7, 2013

Cooling Off: The Government Shutdown and David Price

You may have heard about an Annenberg survey noting that an overwhelming majority of Native Americans support the Washington Redskins name.

Well... here's the rejoinder to that survey, indicating its results are pretty definitely weighted/biased.  

(Hat-tip to Johnny Shryock for this; he's the spouse of the talented Azie Mira Dungey of Ask a Slave fame.)

The true point:  It's all about context.  This is the delightful thing about living in Michigan's state capital, where I have friends on both sides of the aisle -- whenever anything controversial happens, I can ask both sides about it and come to a reasonable conclusion about the true story, rather than the story believed by emotional letter-writers and editorialists and pundits.

Unfortunately, emotions and noise take center stage in attention-grabbing ways.  This leads to political theater and "symbolic moments," such as the parading of veterans to the shutdown World War II memorial last week.  In the end, it makes everything worse.

*

After his Saturday night loss to Boston, David Price tweeted out:


There is a "cooling-off" period following games (about 20 minutes), providing the players time to blow off steam before the media stampede into the clubhouse.

For fans, 20 minutes isn't nearly enough.  Chances are, they'll still be steamed about a defeat for days afterward (and, if Bucky Dent and Bill Buckner are any indication, for many years afterward).

For players, though, it has to be enough.  Somehow, they have to bite their lip, grit their teeth, and answer the media's questioning as classily as they can manage.

Price blazed off that tweet hours after Tampa Bay's defeat.  He shouldn't have.  He realizes this now.


(The "if I offended you..." is always a great way to phrase an apology, right?  If my fist happened to do any damage to your face when the two collided, then I am very sorry.)

The Tampa Bay Rays have lost two consecutive games to the Boston Red Sox, with Boston's offense crushing Tampa's star pitching staff.  Things were bad enough.

If either you or I was on the inside of Tampa Bay's clubhouse, with friends to inform us, perhaps we could come up with reasonable conclusions here, too:  David Price did not have command of one or more of his pitches; or he was good but made a few mistakes; or he and Jose Molina did not call the right pitch sequence, etc.

This is all overshadowed now because of the Rays ace's emotions.  The conversation shifted.  The spotlight burned down upon him, and questions exploded outward to expose his foolishness:  Does it take Major League experience (Tom Verducci never played) or Major League success (Dirk Hayhurst's career was abbreviated by injuries) in order to critique an obvious failure on Price and his teammates' part on their way to defeat?  Does it matter to David Price that his much-admired manager, Joe Maddon, never played higher than Single-A?  Does Price realize that "nerds" brought the Tampa Bay organization from pitiable to powerhouse?  Does the Vanderbilt product understand that his alma mater is noted for its scholarship far more than its athletic achievement?

It's all baseball theater.

The media loves it, just as the media loves a good World War II veterans parade at the shutdown memorial, but there are no solutions here, only more ineffectual emotions.

For the government, the solutions come behind closed doors.

For David Price, keeping his emotions behind closed doors in the cooling-off clubhouse is a good place to start.  For his team, that solution comes between the white lines, back home, under the catwalks at Tropicana Field.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Washington Expos and the Baltimore Browns

I am a Marylander - born in Washington, D.C., raised in Greenbelt, 30ish minutes away from Baltimore.  This is important, especially when it comes to the inconsistency of franchise histories.

Behold:

  -  The original Washington Nationals/Senators moved to Minneapolis and became the Minnesota Twins.  Several of the best players in the history of the franchise, then, are considered to be Walter Johnson (Washington), Harmon Killebrew (Washington/Minnesota), and Kirby Puckett (Minnesota).  The two teams are connected.  (Note:  A second Washington Senators team later moved to Arlington and became the Texas Rangers.)

  -  The original Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis and became the Indianapolis Colts.  The top two quarterbacks in the history of the franchise are Johnny Unitas (Baltimore) and Peyton Manning (Indianapolis).

That would seem to set a precedent, wouldn't it?

Well:

  -  The original Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Baltimore Ravens.  Their Cleveland history was erased and retroactively added to a brand new expansion team, awarded to Cleveland and also named the Browns.

And you know what?

The precedent was destroyed, and I love it.

The Baltimore Ravens are not the Cleveland Browns.  Joe Flacco's best days should not be placed alongside Otto Graham's best days.  John Harbaugh and Paul Brown may be placed next to each other in statements on championship-winning coaches, but no more than that.

*

This brings us to the current Washington Nationals, formerly known as the Montreal Expos.

With the Baltimore Ravens/Cleveland Browns in mind, I hereby demand that the Washington Nationals/Senators' history be taken away from the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers and placed into the current Nats' record books.

The current Nats, after all, were meant to evoke the historic Nats, right down to the curly red W.  List Stephen Strasburg next to Walter Johnson.  Put Ryan Zimmerman next to Goose Goslin.

The Minnesota Twins?  They started life in 1961, the same way the Baltimore Ravens hatched in 1996.

Set the Montreal Expos by themselves in the history books - and keep Bryce Harper's stats away from Tim "Rock" Raines and Andre "Hawk" Dawson.



Interestingly...

Interesting, Part 1:

This graph, titled "The Politics of Sports Fans."

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Interesting, Part 2:

Playoff play-in games, such as the one that Texas is about to play against Tampa Bay tonight at 8:07 p.m., count as part of the regular season statistics.  (8:07?  Ah, TV.)  Witness the 1951 New York Giants season stats, if you doubt me, which include Bobby Thomson's Shot Heard 'Round the World.

The next few days of baseball schedule:

Tonight - Texas at Tampa, loser eliminated.
Tuesday - Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, loser eliminated.
Wednesday - Texas/Tampa winner at Cleveland, loser eliminated.
Thursday - NLDS starts
Friday - ALDS starts

This is the closest baseball can get to having the frenetic, multi-team, heart-pounding, season-on-the-line schedule of the NCAA Tournament.  This is Game 7, followed by Game 7, followed by Game 7.  Each game from tonight through Wednesday arrives without a tomorrow for the losing team.

Catch the fever!

Chip Kelly and Steve Spurrier

Is it...
         1) too early?
         2) too easy?

In 2002, Steve Spurrier took a five-year, $25 million contract to coach the Washington Redskins.  He had revolutionized college football offensively with a wide open passing game that brought him great success and acclaim at Duke University and the University of Florida.

Spurrier's Redskins opened with a 38-7 preseason romp against the San Francisco 49ers -- preseason, yes, but confirmation to his supporters that his "Fun 'N Gun" would work in the NFL.

Well, it didn't.  Under the ol' ball coach's watch, the Redskins were unable to protect their quarterback -- whether Patrick Ramsey, Shane Matthews, or Danny Wuerffel -- and a 7-9 initial campaign sank to 5-11 in 2003 before Spurrier resigned to rejoin the college football ranks.

Surely this is what Chip Kelly sees when he looks in the mirror.

His 2013 Philadelphia Eagles, pushing the tempo in the style of his flashy 2007-2012 University of Oregon Ducks, hid their style before a grand Monday night showing in a 33-27 season-opening victory against (coincidentally) Washington.  Rick Reilly was breathless in his praise.  (All aboard the bandwagon!)

Since that opening triumph, the Eagles have:  lost 33-30 to San Diego, lost 26-16 to Kansas City, and lost 52-20 to Denver.  At the very least, we now know that Philly is a last place team in the AFC West, right beside the Oakland Raiders.

The Eagles have piled up yards each week, but meaningful points haven't accompanied those yards.  The offense's key players are getting increasingly banged up.  The defense, a poor unit to start with, has been tested all the more due to the offense's pace - and they've failed.  If Philly loses to the hapless New York Giants next Sunday, which could easily occur, there's a brewing disaster in the City of Brotherly Love, with a fanbase known for its impatience.

It's still early yet for Chip Kelly.  There's no shame in getting routed by Peyton Manning's Broncos.  Perhaps we should wait for 2014, with Kelly installing more of his own players and revamping the defense.

But we've seen college coaches fail in the NFL before, whether Spurrier, Nick Saban, or Barry Switzer.

Things are turning sourly familiar in a hurry in Philadelphia.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Finish line in sight

We enter the final series of the 2013 season with perhaps one playoff spot on the line:  the two American League Wild Card slots, to be determined between Tampa Bay, Cleveland, and Texas.  (There is something satisfying about having a 2nd place contender from each division isn't there?)

The current standings:

AL East AL Central AL West
BOS 96-63
DET 93-66
OAK 94-65
TB  89-69
CLE 88-70
TEX 87-71

The National League is pretty straightforward and decided, though the Pirates and Reds are still shaking out who gets home field advantage in their Wild Card elimination game.

NL East AL Central AL West
ATL 93-65
STL 94-65
LA 91-67
Washington
PIT 91-68
Arizona
NY Mets
CIN 90-69
San Diego

I list these standings because there is an argument that today's current set-up is making baseball far more exciting than it would be in other seasons, pre-Wild Card.  Is that true?

It is true that the addition of the Wild Card(s) has engaged more cities.

As for drama...

From 1876-1968, there were no divisions.  The National League was solely and entirely one undivided league.  The American League, starting in 1901, was just the same, with the top team from each league making the World Series at the regular season's conclusion.

If that held true for this season, then:

American League
Boston Red Sox:  96-63
Oakland Athletics:  94-65, 2.0 games back
Detroit Tigers:  93-66, 3.0 games back

National League
St. Louis Cardinals:  94-65
Atlanta Braves:  93-65, 0.5 games back
Los Angeles Dodgers:  91-67, 2.5 games back
Pittsburgh Pirates:  91-68, 3.0 games back

A Boston/St. Louis World Series would be a lot of fun, but the Cards are by no means assured of winning the pennant.  Drama?  Combining every team into one league would end an AL and NL postseason, but it would certainly add drama in spades.  Imagine, too, if the Athletics could creep within one game of the Red Sox with two games remaining!

*

From 1969-1993, the American and National Leagues were divided into East and West Divisions.  Restoring those divisional separations:

AL East

Boston Red Sox:  96-63
Detroit Tigers:  93-66, 3.0 games back


AL West

Oakland Athletics:  94-65
Texas Rangers:  87-71, 6.5 games back


NL East

St. Louis Cardinals:  94-65
Pittsburgh Pirates:  91-68, 3.0 games back


NL West


Atlanta Braves:  93-65
Los Angeles Dodgers:  91-67, 2.0 games back

Not too much tension to be found here, though a Braves/Dodgers race for the division crown would be fun.  (Yes, Atlanta used to be in the NL West.  The Braves and Giants had the last great divisional race in 1993, each team winning more than 100 games.)

*

Well, that was a fun exercise.  I'm not sure what we learned from it, except that it's a nice thing for Tampa, Cleveland, Texas, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati that the wild cards are around.

Let's head to October!








And now it's time for... "Let's Bother the Braves!"

Contestant #1, August 6:  



Contestant #2, September 11:



Which led to this great smile:




And this one, too:




Contestant #3, September 25:




Brian McCann, tell us what you really think.

*

Further notes:  Domonic Brown was put on notice in June.  Hope he doesn't try anything against Atlanta.

*

Throwback links:  Bill Hohn vs. the Atlanta Braves!  Bill Hohn fist bump!

*

19,558 was the listed attendance in Atlanta last night, checking in at 39.6% capacity.  A comment on Tropicana Field crowds should be inserted here, but there's only so much outrage to go around.

*

UPDATE:  Chipper Jones... winner!


Monday, September 23, 2013

Professionally Speaking

I hereby invite you to visit my new (as of this afternoon) professional website:

JesseGoldbergStrassler.com

(Yes, I know - I left out the hyphen.)


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

New Year's Greetings

There are, counterintuitively, two Jewish New Years.

Rosh HaShanah is the commonly known New Year, translating literally to Head (Rosh) of the (Ha) Year (Shanah).  This year's Rosh HaShanah began the night of September 4th.

But - and here's where it gets slightly strange for gentiles - Rosh HaShanah is observed on the first day of the seventh Jewish month, Tishrei.  Can you imagine celebrating New Years on July 1st?

The first Jewish month is Nisan, sometimes spelled Nissan.  (Not that Nissan.)  It stretches March/April of the Gregorian calendar.  What else could the first day of the first month be considered, if not the start of a new year?

*

As a Jewish baseball fan, the parallels between the Jewish calendar and the baseball calendar have always struck me.  I celebrate the national pastime's New Year arrives with Nisan every April:  Opening Day of the new season.  This is also the time of Judaism's big Spring holidays, Passover and Shavuot.

The dog days of baseball are during the heart of Summer, those weeks between July 4th and Labor Day when the heat mounts and the only respites can be found at the pool, the beach, or a ballpark water fountain.  Coincidentally, this is also the time of year with a paucity of Jewish holidays.

But then, arriving with Tishrei and Rosh HaShanah, baseball's second season makes its own dramatic advance:  the playoff berth battles of September, followed by the postseason showdowns of October.

In these Autumnal contests, there is the feel of a new year at work, with 100-win and 88-win teams meeting on equal ground.

There are other similarities.  At Rosh HaShanah services, Jews wrap themselves in prayer shawls (tallit).  At the upcoming baseball games of significance, fans will also wrap themselves up tightly - the weather is getting colder.

In Rosh HaShanah and its fellow High Holiday, Yom Kippur, Jewish tradition holds that the book for the new year is being inscribed and sealed with all that is to come, both positive and negative.  In September and October, baseball teams inscribe and seal their own histories - be they memorable or humiliating.

This is a new year, capitalized or uncapitalized, whether you are Jewish or gentile, baseball fan or not -- for this is also the start of the school year.  The leaves might start changing, falling, dying soon... and yet Autumn is somehow also the time of growth and renewal.

Welcome to the Jewish year of 5774 and also the 111th postseason for baseball fans.

May it be a sweet one for you and yours.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Lugnuts' season is over... long live the season!

Reading notes from my recent work:

- Every other sport is getting faster, but baseball is getting slower:  My column for The Good Point
- The Top 5 Lugnuts Games of 2013
- The All-Time Lansing Lugnuts Roster

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My final day in the Lugnuts' office was last Friday, which means that this blog now transitions into a far less Lug-centric arena.  That said, I (and Slavko) posted rarely during the 2013 season.  Why?

1.  The season is a busy, all-encompassing life.  It is tough to find the time.

2.  It was a poor season, and I don't want to post about negative matters.  For Major Leaguers, baseball is their livelihood.  They have reached their pinnacle.  Now, if they play poorly, their jobs are on the line.  This is not the case for Minor Leaguers, who are all working toward something bigger and better. High error numbers in April and May mean nothing as long as the player(s) work to improve, as - most notably - Emilio Guerrero did.

3.  I am still learning what I can and cannot say.

About this...

I am not Jim Bouton or Dirk Hayhurst.  I cannot truly speak my mind and my experiences to you.  The clubhouse is a private setting; should I go around telling stories, I would not last very long in this industry.

Here, I'll tell you one story:  In 2012, about two hours before a home game, I went downstairs to the clubhouses to distribute starting lineups to each team's coaching staff.  Directly up the ramp from home plate, I discovered three Dayton Dragons playing hacky sack.  I joined them.  It was awesome.

I can't, however, tell you stories of misconduct or private behavior or who said what about whom.  I will not gossip to you about my family, and a baseball team is its own sort of family.

I don't mind telling you that I think Seth Conner is a fantastic person, as is Aaron Munoz.  Dwight Smith, Jr. is likable and dedicated; Kevin Nolan is a prince.  Santiago Nessy has worked hard to learn English; so has Carlos Ramirez.  Ryan Schimpf has the intensity of a football player; Christian Lopes burns with a different but equal intensity.  Ben White's work ethic is unquestioned, and it comes accompanied by charisma.  No one works himself harder than Ian Kadish, except perhaps Arik Sikula.  No one works himself harder than Arik Sikula, except perhaps Ian Kadish.  Though he might struggle early, no one is more equal to the task of bettering himself than Justin Nicolino, except perhaps Jake Marisnick or Kevin Pillar.  Clayton McCullough is revered as a manager.  Daniel Norris has a golden arm and a marvelous mind.  Do not forget about Roberto Osuna.

Let's leave off there.

*

It is no longer the season.  I shall be writing more, on any topic that interests me.

I encourage you to check out my Baseball Thesaurus, if you haven't already.

I am now working on a Football Thesaurus.  If you can talk football and think you might be of assistance, contact me at jgoldstrass at hotmail.com.

Here's wishing you a fine Tuesday~!


Monday, August 26, 2013

10 Lugnuts Who Should Be Proud of 2013

This year has been disappointing for the Lugnuts as a team, filled with losses.

Still, here are 10 players who should be proud of their efforts nonetheless...




10.
 In 2012, infielder Shane Opitz batted .225 for the Lugnuts, finishing the season with a troubling series of errors.  He began the 2013 season on the Lugs' Disabled List. Once activated, the Coloradan enjoyed a career breakthrough, tearing into Midwest League pitching to the tune of a .370 average and earning a promotion to Dunedin, where he's batting .310 in 59 games.


9.  Infielder Gustavo Pierre entered his third year in Lansing in 2013, having batted .187 (with a slew of errors) in 2011 and .252 last year.  After a rocky April, Pierre delivered a sizzling .391 May to capture the Midwest League's Player of the Month honor and his first call-up to the Florida State League.  While Gustavo was in the Lugnuts lineup, there was no one more dangerous, more impactful, or more exciting.



8. 
 21-year-old Jorge Flores may have been a 2012 Northwest League Postseason All-Star, but a slow start left Flores with a .201 average after April, and he played only 10 games in May. As the weather warmed, however, so did Jorge, batting .276 with an .836 OPS after the All-Star Break and receiving a promotion to Dunedin.




This is the first of two much larger head shots... ready yourself.


7.  Justin Jackson played for the Lugnuts in 2008 and 2010 as an infielder, but a career change moved him to the pitcher's mound this year. Consider the move a success, with Justin moving up to Dunedin following 22 appearances with the Lugs.




6. 
 Ben White's line in 2011 with Vancouver:  1-1, 7.00.  In 2012 with Vancouver:  4-7, 5.73.  This year with the Lugnuts:  8-8, a deceivingly high 4.06 ERA, and the surprise leader of the starting rotation.  White tossed a seven-inning shutout at West Michigan and provided the Lugs with consistent innings and solid work. This year was a huge step forward for the Temple signee.



5. 
 Make no mistake, Arik Sikula was a fine pitcher in 2011 with Bluefield (2.97) and in 2012 with Vancouver (2.45).  This year, Sikula has been better, posting 18 saves and a 2.02 ERA, limiting the opposition to a .194 average, and locking down the 9th with an ever-improving arsenal.  Dunedin will enjoy having his services next season, with New Hampshire not far away.



4.  Last year, Dwight Smith, Jr. batted just .226 in Bluefield before struggling to a .175 average for Vancouver. Drafted 53rd overall in 2011, the results were disappointing. This year:  No worries, showing off power, speed, discipline, and the ability to play all three outfield positions. Consider the young prospect back on track.


3.  Sidearmer Wil Browning was signed as a nondrafted free agent last season out of the University of Louisiana-Monroe... and immediately commenced dominating opposing hitters with a 1.14 ERA between three levels. This year, more of the same, earning an All-Star nod as the Lugs' best reliever followed by a deserved promotion to Dunedin.


2.  Admit it:  You didn't know Emilio Guerrero's name before this year started.  It makes sense -- The young infielder batted just .239 in the 2011 Dominican Summer League, followed by a meager 2012.  This year, Manny Acta's nephew has been a revelation, slamming seven HRs, stealing 17 bases, tying the franchise and league records with a 6-hit game on Aug. 16, and establishing himself as a prospect to watch.


1.  Check out this column, titled "Is Daniel Norris a bust?"  It was understandable at the time, but Norris refocused with pitching coach Vince Horsman, adjusted his mechanics, improved his fastball command, and began to dominate.  (In August alone, he has a 0.75 ERA, allowing two runs in 24 IP while K'ing 29.)  Down the road, Daniel Norris may well look back upon 2013 as the season that turned his fortunes around.


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My first book is out and available!

Have you purchased your Baseball Thesaurus yet?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Santiago Nessy and Fred Merkle

First, check out our most recent Around the Nest, talking with the voices of the Toronto Blue Jays' Minor League system about such top prospects as Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, A.J. Jimenez, and more.

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Superman is baseball.  Batman is football.  My column for The Good Point...

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Over 200,000 people have watched that video.  It has garnered attention from Deadspin, Huffington Post, ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC Sports, CBS Sports and more.

Chris Hawkins thought he had a walk-off single. Instead, because Santiago Nessy did not run to second base, a certain base hit turned into a fielder's choice.  It was 2013's version of Merkle's Boner.

Here was Santiago's reaction three days afterward.

Oh, I know, there's no sugar-coating -- this was a win that turned into a loss.  But...


The Top 5 Silver Linings to Santiago Nessy's Play

1. A Test of Character -- Santiago recovered to belt his first two home runs of the seasons and play fine defense against Lake County.  If you thought this would throw his mental game into a tailspin, you were wrong.

2. A Story to Tell -- The baseball season is long. A crazy moment like this simply fades away into a series of great anecdotes over time, especially since Santiago has done so well at handling his teammates' gibes and jokes.  If you can laugh at yourself over a play like that, and Santiago seems like he can, there is nothing that can happen from here on out that will top it.  I hope.

3.  It's For the Kids -- Every single coach in America, of all ages, can now drill into his/her players the importance of keeping their heads up and running the bases.  Talk about a valuable nationwide learning experience!

4.  We Remember You, Fred Merkle -- Baseball loves its history like no other sport... and, hey, look, a play called "Merkle's Boner" that took place when the Cubs were good!  That's funny!

5.  The Spotlight Finds You Everywhere -- If ever Minor League players thought that they played on forgotten islands, existing outside of the realm of national attention, far far away from home and loved ones, this was a reminder that even a Monday night Midwest League game's non-finish can reach the nation and be talked about on ESPN alongside Dwight Howard and the Chicago Blackhawks.  That's an important lesson to keep in mind.

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The Top 1 Stupidest Reaction to Santiago Nessy's Play

1. Release Him! -- Ha.  Haha.  Hahaha.

The Toronto Blue Jays are not going to release Santiago because of one play.  He's 20, a top prospect catcher who can throw and hit for power, and if he continues to develop, he figures into their future plans.  Period.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hero time

This was how the 2013 Midwest League All-Star Game ended...




Your hero:  Lugnuts outfielder Dalton "Pony" Pompey!

It was a dramatic game, too, with the Western Division rallying in the ninth against the dominating Eastern Division closers for Fort Wayne and South Bend, Roman Madrid and R.J. Hively.  Box score

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Now we're 2nd half-bound!  My All-Star Break was spent relaxing, bowling, mini-golfing, and visiting Potter Park Zoo.  In just a little while, however, I'll be on a bus to Bowling Green, Kentucky, as the Lugnuts embark upon their second semester of 70 games.

Put the key into the ignition, and start 'er up.  Two more postseason berths remain available in the Eastern Division -- and, more often than not, the hottest team in the second half walks away with the trophy at season's end.


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Have you purchased The Baseball Thesaurus yet?  Bring yours to the ballpark and I'll sign it for you.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Breakout Player Alert: Kramer Champlin

This is 6'6 Lugnuts pitcher Kramer "Champ" Champlin.

He's taller than this in real life.

Background of a Champ:  Kramer went from Olympia High School (WA), where he also played quarterback, to Western Nevada College, where he threw a no-hitter in his first start, to Arizona State University, where he led the Sun Devils in complete games.  He was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 33rd round of the 2011 draft, proceeding to pitch in the Gulf Coast League and Northwest League in 2011 before spending all of 2012 in Lansing.  He began this season on the Lugnuts' Disabled List.  Once he came off the DL, Champ was relatively reliable in his initial relief outings, excepting a four-run outing on May 6th and surrendering five runs on May 29th.

The Breakthrough Occurred...  when May turned June.  On June 3rd, Kramer twirled a perfect inning against Great Lakes.  Two days later, he tossed 2 1/3 perfect innings against Fort Wayne, earning a spot-start on June 8th at West Michigan.

This was the only baserunner Kramer allowed in that game:



The final line:  7 inn., 1 hit, 0 runs, 10 K's, earning Kramer the honor of MWL Pitcher of the Week.  After all, in that week's span, Kramer Champlin had faced 32 batters -- and retired 31 of them.

Here's Ben White interviewing Kramer and catcher Seth Conner about the game.

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How has Champlin become so effective?  From our simplified view in the broadcast booth, he's using every pitch, pitching from ahead (in consistent 0-1, 0-2, and 1-2 counts), and then finishing the batter off without nibbling around.

From his perspective,

 - He's using his change-up more.
 - He's changed his delivery of his slider, giving it far sharper break.
 - His control, especially of his fastball, has been much better.

If this keeps up, watch for the Blue Jays to offer Champ a new challenge before too long.


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