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.

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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!

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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.)

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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~!