Thursday, October 26, 2006
1. A guy who's been in the organization most of his adult life, and who has turned the team into a contender, suddenly decides to leave for a divisional rival. This happens despite the fact that the team he's leaving has a glut of young talent, and the team he's taking over has a surfeit of decrepitude and assholishness.
2. A long-suffering franchise finally finds a manager who can lead it to two consecutive playoff berths. As far as I know, he's well-liked by the team and the city. And then they give division rivals permission to approach him?
There's got to be something I'm not aware of here. Did San Diego (the franchise or the city) want Bochy gone? Did he want out? Is he gay and itching to live in San Fran? Does he want a town with a better literary scene (please say it's this)?
I just don't get it. That would be like the Mets hiring away the most successful Phillies manager in history, Terry Fran... er, Charlie Man... er ... that dude who managed them in 1980!
That's your cue, anonymous Padre experts. Enlighten.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
But that's old news. Today, one of America's Least Valuable Voices uttered one of those inane sports cliches that makes me want to scream. It's the dreaded, "More than any other sport ..." qualifier. Some qualifiers edify. This one makes you stupider:
But we should remember it for Zumaya, who reminded us that, more than any other sport, baseball is less about superheroes and more about flawed and unforgiving humans.
I'll leave the grammatical analysis to Justin, because this sentence is so tortured I don't really know where to begin (did I count four different clauses in the same sentence?!? Does he think he's fucking Joyce?). Instead, I want to ponder the stated fact that "baseball is less about superheroes" and more about "flawed and unforgiving humans." I submit, readers, that this has to be one of the most meaningless, banal, retarded, inexplicably vapid things ever written anywhere, ever, in the history of the world, anywhere.
First of all -- without even worrying about the literal meaning of "superheroes" -- what is it about other sports that relies on superheroes? Or, more precisely, what is it about baseball that makes it less dependent on the great play than the one that was screwed up? Last time I checked, a two-run home run by the extremely awesome and somewhat superhero-like Albert Pujols is as important to the outcome of the game as an error by the very mortal Brandon Inge that cost his team two runs. If anything, a better argument can be made that an individual superstar -- particularly a pitcher -- can have a completely disproportionate effect on his team's success, compared to other sports. I don't really think that's the case, but I would be more prone to believe that than what Plaschke says.
But it's really the second part that kills me. "Flawed" and "unforgiving" humans? Who is he talking about? The players who make mistakes? Maybe Zumaya never forgave his dad for not buying him the red bike he always wanted, or something, but what the fuck does that have to do with his two-run error (which really didn't have an effect on the outcome of the game!)? Is Pudge Rodriguez's 0-fer so far in the WS a result of his steadfast homophobia? Please, please, please, please Bill Plaschke, attempt to help me make some sense of this statement. I don't think you can, and you wrote the fucking thing. Are you talking about the fans? I mean ... I'm just speechless. OK, that's a lie, but I am pretty flabbergasted.
On a related note: Bill Simmons, in the span of, like, three months, once said that more than any sport, football was a game of momentum, then later said that baseball was actually, more than any other sport, a game of momentum. I kid you not. Why do people still read this stuff?
(Author is aware of the irony present in that last sentence)
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Now we're at the Giants' goal line with 1:38 left in the first half. It's second-and-goal, Dallas holds all three timeouts, plenty of time to run the ball. Instead, the Cowboys' coaches call a short square-out. When you're at the goal line, the short square-out is the riskiest play you can call. Defenders are up at the line, so the cornerback is in position to break on the ball and intercept it; and in this situation the pass travels almost entirely sideways, giving the corner time to react. Dallas' coaches should know how risky the short square-out at the goal line is because three weeks ago when the Cowboys were at the Philadelphia goal line in the closing minute, game in the balance, Dallas' coaches called a short square-out that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Maybe, just maybe, the Giants watched film of that. So what do Dallas' coaches tell Bledsoe to throw? A short square-out, interception. Just to prove it was no fluke, when the Cowboys reached Jersey/A's 11 late in a game that was still contested, Dallas' coaches again called a short square-out, again intercepted, and this time it was returned for the icing touchdown. Afterward, did Bill "Mr. Personality" Parcells blame himself or his staff? Somehow he didn't get around to that.
Three Dallas notes: First, it's long been clear that Parcells is an egomaniac in both the casual and, perhaps, clinical senses of that word. Lately he's gone downhill to simply becoming a nasty person, spitting and snarling at everyone around him. What's Parcells going to do next, demand worship? When I look at Parcells, the phrase that comes to mind is "failed human being." Second, the deciding play of Monday night's game was a Terrell Owens blunder. Trailing 19-7 midway through the third quarter, Dallas had a fourth-and-2 on the Jersey/A 32. Romo put a perfect short pass into Owens' hands, and he dropped it like it was a live ferret. I wrote "game over" at that juncture. Third, Dallas did run one really sweet play -- a play we rarely see, and I don't understand why. Scoreboard reading 26-13 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Cowboys lined up for a deuce attempt. Everybody split wide, empty backfield; the Giants' defenders frantically spread wide to stop the wacky pass they expected; Romo simply went straight up the middle for two points. When you spread the field at the goal line, often the result is five offensive linemen blocking only five defenders in the box, and the odds for a successful quarterback sneak are excellent.
Not to toot my own horn, but while watching the game at the bar, I made that very comment about the square-out play; I didn't even know there were NFL offensive coordinators stupid enough to still call it within the 10. But I'm sure lots of people who know football did the same thing; anyone who plays Madden knows the square-out inside the 10 is retarded. But here's my question: Where the fuck is this kind of stuff from ESPN's "real" football guys, like Clayton or Pasquerelli? Easterbrook, in the span of two very long paragraphs, made a handful dead-on, incisive comments about the game and the people involved, but I can't remember the last time Clayton said anything incisive outside of, "Sean Salisbury, you are wrong."
So, what about the bill Congress just passed that eliminates habeas corpus for "enemy combatants"?
The facts: Congress just passed a bill, part of which revokes habeas corpus for foreign citizens deemed "enemy combatants." Our country can now, for the second time in its history (the other being the Civil War, when Lincoln suspended habeas corpus but did not eliminate it), legally detain human beings forever without saying why. They can revoke personal freedom at will.
Worse yet, the bill expands the definition of "enemy combatant." The term now means anybody who "has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States." It used to mean a person who had engaged in hostilities against the US, but now it pertains to "supporters."
Of course, that raises (not begs!) the question: what constitutes "support"? And at what point will the government officially adopt what until now has been the mostly implicit assumption of the entire neoconservative flag-waving, sticker-sporting movement -- that criticizing the government is supporting terrorism?
At what point will critizing the government get you thrown in jail? I can almost guarantee that Connor will call that a "breathless" or "ridiculous" statement. However, it's about a half-step from being a legal fact in America. Bush could extend the bill to apply to American citizens with an executive order -- it wouldn't even need to go through Congress. The federal government is currently considering charging a man who sold a satellite TV package including the Hezbollah channel with "supporting terrorism." That man, a Pakistani citizen, could now be kept in jail for the rest of his life without charges. Legally. Not in ten years, not in some mythical 1984 world liberals are painting to scare people. Right now, a man could lose his freedom for selling satellite TV in America.
My take, in brief: It's the single most flagrant affront to our country the Bush administration has perpetrated -- worse than the Iraq war, worse than the Patriot Act (though similar in spirit), worse than the incomprehensible deficit, worse than the unprecedented voting irregularities that helped them win two consecutive presidential elections.
It doesn't completely eviscerate the Bill of Rights. Not yet. However, I do think it's only a matter of time until the term "enemy combatant" will be used against Americans. And once you say that you can take away habeas corpus, the Bill of Rights becomes irrelevant. So does democracy itself.
Bush has consistently given himself and his administration powers the executive branch was never supposed to have under the Constitution. He now has a power no American president has ever had -- indeed, a power greater than that of every British king since the Magna Carta.
Without habeas corpus, the entire Bill of Rights becomes irrelevant. Who cares if you have freedom of speech if the government can legally imprison you for exercising it? If in a year or two, national columnists get thrown in prison for critizing Bush, how many are going to continue to do so?
The entire push to eliminate habeas corpus is probably a result of the many habeas corpus cases brought by GITMO detainees labeled "enemy combatants," including the Rasul v. Rumsfeld case. Essentially, the administration said and believed that it had absolute powers which it didn't. Now it does. And if Rumsfeld was claiming the right to detain any "enemy combatant" -- including US citizens!!! -- that long ago, do you really think this current bill won't soon be expanded to include you and me?
So, tell me again how "ludicrous" it is to call the Bush Administration fascists. They've clearly demonstrated their fascist ideals. I'm going to call them that as long as I can -- which, apparently, won't be long.
However, there is a difference from simply being an idiot -- which you clearly are -- and thinking everyone who follows baseball is similarly unendowed with brain cells. And I have no choice but to believe that you must think just that, after your pathetic explanation for what was so clearly pine tar on your left hand during Game 2. That is the only possible justification I can gather for the, "It was some dirt" line you foisted on the sports media, and thusly the ESPN-watching world, after another retardedly lucky, scoreless, and pine-tar-aided (if only for an inning) outing against the Cardinals.
My anger is not reserved for your red ass alone, Kenny Rogers. While pissing last night at a sports bar -- and activity I'm increasingly becoming a fan of, as it routinely exposes me to the daily sports pages, which I would not likely read otherwise -- I read an AP recap on the game that referred to the substance on your hand as "dirt" the entire way through. Unfortunately, the quotation marks in this case are only being used by me; the writer did not use quotes -- a nifty way, I've found, of indicating either irony or the author's doubt about the correctness of the term -- which forces the reader to conclude that this "journalist" did some "reporting" at some point in the "story" that would bear out Rogers' "explanation" and justify the non-use of quotation marks when referring to the "dirt." And, perhaps, this likely earnest fellow (his byline was on the page not hung over my pisser ... and, who the fuck am I kidding? The term "earnest" and "AP writer" can't possibly related) for some reason actually believed Rogers lame explanation, or somehow believed that the criteria for presenting information in sports recaps was somehow the same as the judicial burden of proof. If that's what he actually thinks, he should be fired, because there is nothing in the AP Sports Style Guide that refers to the presumption of innocence, or the outright regugitation of horseshit excuses that often come out of athletes' mouths.
Mind you, our erstwhile AP scribe is not alone in his guilt. Many of the reports have referred to the substance as dirt. This is in-fucking-sane. If you have seen or played in more than five baseball games in your life, you know what pine tar looks like. Stop condescending to me and state the obvious, Karl Ravech: "Boy, viewers, I have got to say that looks a hell of a lot like pine tar! And that does not look like dirt, not even a little." And then kick it over to Steve Phillips, who will tell us that he once signed a pitcher from the Dominican who used pine tar on his hands. Steve will fail to mention he signed said Dominican kid $10 million more than any other team was willing to offer. And then they'll send it to everyone's favorite androgynous sports journalist Tim Kurkjian, who will offer us another homoerotic anecdote regarding the relationship between Leyland and LaRussa, which is notable both for it's alliteration and it's ability to give me the creeps the more I hear about it.
But, first and foremost, fuck you Kenny Rogers.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
But I find, these days, that even the Neyer chats are making me enraged. Not because Neyer's saying anything particularly stupid -- even if I think he's wrong, he at least offers a legitimate reason or two for whatever he's saying, unlike certain former-MVPs who simply say "they can't discuss baseball with people who never played baseball" -- but because a good half of the chat goes something like this:
Diesel (Phoenix): Who is the best hitter in baseball right now?
Rob Neyer: I think Travis Hafner is the best hitter in baseball.
(Two minutes later)
Mutter (Jail): How the fuck can you say Hafner is the best hitter in baseball?!?!? Is it because you're a fucking Cleveland Indians homer? Obvs, Ortiz is the best hitter in baseball! The media never gives the Red Sox any respect! I will piss in your fireplace now!
Rob Neyer: Hey, Ortiz is awesome. So are lots of hitters. But if I had to choose one, it's Hafner, because he's better at [fill in statistics here that give creedence to Neyer's opinion, which are plentiful in this case]. But it's not like the difference between Hafner and Ortiz is all that big.
(One minute later)
Junge (Shea Stadium bathroom): Yor an iduit Neyer! Show some love to the Mets, who you never talk about, because you only like the Yankees and will only say good things about them! David Wright is way the best hitter ever, and he's awesome third base! I'm tired of the media never respecting the Mets.
Rob Neyer: I am a Kansas City Royals fan. I own a shirt that says, "Jesus Hates the Yankees." I routinely mock the adoration of Derek Jeter in my chats. I wasn't even talking about the Yankees; Hafner plays for the Indians. You are retarded.
(30 seconds later)
Anonymous (San Diego, b/w/o Tucson): Why don't you respect the Padres? Brian Giles is the best hitter in baseball, natch! Stop with the East Coast bias, dude!
Rob Neyer: (speechless)
(10 seconds later)
St (Claims to be from Philly, really from Tombstone): Your obvious oversight of Ryan Howard as the best hitter in baseball is not only an example of your glaring lack of respect for all Philadelphia teams, but also a product of the particular paradigm through which you view race in America, as a product of the insular, isolationist and anglo-centric sportswriting culture, through which you are incapable of appreciating the talents of a large, black man who you most likely fear wishes to have sex with your white daughter. Also, all sports writers suck because they don't write like Susan Sontag.
Buzzmaster: Sorry folks! Rob just decided to off himself by sticking his head into an oven! Next up is Scoop Jackson at 3 p.m. EST!
OK, I realize I got a little off track here, but the point is that it seems all these chats are anymore is an opportunity for fans to claim their particular favorite team/player/cheerleading squad doesn't get any "respect" or "love" from the media. And it drives me fucking crazy. Fans from St. Louis, who should be enjoying one of the most improbable World Series runs in recent memory, have spent the last two weeks completely bent out of shape because no one gave the Cardinals -- who almost suffered a late-season collapse nonpareil -- enough "credit" against the Padres and the Mets. Who gives a shit? Doesn't it make it more satisfying if your team beats the odds? But these people act like they're mortally wounded if Jayson Stark doesn't give their team "equal time" in the Useless Statistics column.
I realize I'm not really going out on a limb with any of this, but I felt the need to get it off my chest.
Monday, October 16, 2006
I disagree. I think they're the second-best team in the NFC right now, behind only the Bears. Before you say I'm wrong, consider the following:
First off, the Saints are 5-1 with their only loss coming on the road to the Panthers by 3 points. The Seahawks are 4-1 against almost exactly the same strength of schedule, and their one loss was by 31 points in their only real test of the season. They needed a 54-yard field goal to beat an overrated Rams team (thanks, Bill Simmons) and beat the Lions by a field goal as well.
Personnel-wise, they're very similar teams. Brees and Hasselbeck are basically the same quarterback: two Pro Bowls apiece, they both throw nice short and mid-range balls with decent accuracy but lack real cannon arms. Neither is very mobile (snicker). McAllister has as many Pro Bowl trips as Alexander and, while not as good, is probably the best running back other than Alexander during the last five-year span. He also played on much worse teams with much worse offensive lines. They have similar styles of play, are almost the exact same size, and while Alexander's credentials read better, he's more one-dimensional -- McAllister's a better pass-catcher. Alexander's also two years older and showing signs of wear. Joe Horn is like an older, slightly slower Darrell Jackson with much better hands. And the Seahawks don't have Reggie Bush.
Other things worth noting:
Total defense (NFC):
New Orleans 5th
Total offense (NFC):
Too bad the Seahawks have a cupcake schedule, or I'd say the Saints were a lock for home-field. As it is, the Hawks can lose to every good team they play -- Chicago, San Diego and Denver -- and go 13-3.
But come playoff times things will be interesting. And right now, New Orleans is clearly the better team.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
The story itself is good, very good, even. The writing is nothing flashy, and that's not a criticism -- Wayne Drehs is smart enough to know when he has a great story, and to get out of its way. The subject matter alone is enough, in this case, to spark and maintain reader interest. What sports fan doesn't want to read about high school football in the Arctic?
My problem is not with Drehs. My question is for the editors: what the fuck are you guys doing over there? Do you own a style guide? Do you have a copy desk? This story brims with fundamental grammar and usage mistakes.
I began to notice these gaffes in the first part, but only started copying and pasting once I got to the second half. A sampling excerpted directly from the story:
A flurry-filled fog fills the air, a cool breeze blows off the Arctic and assorted rocks, twigs and pebbles wash up on the beach.
A flurry-filled fog fills the air? Fills it so much that it necessitates repeating the word "fill" twice in the span of three words? Couldn't you use a synonym there, something more sensical and fitting, something like "clogs" (one of the handy synonyms provided by thesaurus.com -- I'm not asking for you to dig out the OED here, fellas). Or how about just going with simplicity, maybe even some alliteration : "Flurries fill the fog..." Maybe crank up the prose in a moment that seems opportune, with something like "A flurry-filled fog thickens the air"? I mean, isn't that what editors are supposed to do?
And that's not all - "assorted" has no reason to be in that sentence, and there should be a comma after "Arctic," since that sentence is a construction of three complete clauses and so doesn't fall under the serial comma rule. I haven't opened an AP style guide in three years and I know this.
Maybe I'm expecting too much; maybe that's nit-picking. But that's just the beginning.
Fewer jobs and greater aggravation manifest in teenagers as drunken act-out crimes such as "ghost riding," where teenagers steal a snowmobile, tie a rubber band to hold the throttle open and push the machine over a gravel cliff to its thunderous and exhilarating death.
The first half of that sentence is an absolute wreck. Beyond the fact that the link between fewer jobs and greater aggravation among teenagers is not made clear, there's a real problem with the way the verb "manifest" is used there. For one, the sentence as is literally places the crime within the teenagers, when actually the crime is an action which they perform. The problem lies in the stringing together of prepositional phrases and conjunctions -- a common culprit in problems of clarity -- such as "in teenagers as drunken act-out crimes such as...". It's exceedingly hard to tell whether "as" is used as a conjunction or as a preposition there -- I can't tell myself -- but in any case, it's easy to tell that the syntax is all fucked up. There's also an entirely different issue regarding the verb "manifest," which is almost exclusively used in the transitive (I actually can't find any definition for the intransitive form, so it may not exist), meaning that the sentence above has misplaced its subject and object -- it should read "Drunken act-out crimes such as ghost riding manifest the teenagers' aggravation..." and so on.
But that's all pretty confusing and esoteric -- not a lot of people understand all of that (although I would argue that editors should). More importantly, it's very easy to fix that sentence: "Greater aggravation among teenagers translates into ..." or "shows itself as..." or whatever. Yes, it takes away the erudition factor of using a word like "manifest," but it also prevents you from looking like an idiot to the small percentage of people who will realize that you're using it improperly.
There's also a serial comma problem there.
Inupiat teenagers who talk with their grandparents about the past hear about a world of sod houses and blocks of ice providing water.
The sod houses are providing water in that sentence, and the second "about" should be changed to "of," in the interest of clarity.
Beyond learning about competition, teamwork and striving toward a common goal, beyond having something to keep kids busy and off the summer streets, Nageak believes there are direct parallels between whaling, the cornerstone of the Inupiat life, and the sport.
Again, this sentence reads sloppily in a few different ways. But most importantly, it contains a dangling or misplaced modifier: literally, the sentence states that Nageak himself is "beyond learning about competition," etc., when in fact it's trying to say ... well, actually, it's not clear at all what or whom those first few phrases are intended to modify.
That sentence is remarkably bad.
Fotukava now lives with his aunt and uncle in Barrow after his Anchorage-based mother sent him north after several failed attempts to keep him out of trouble. In Barrow, he has spent as much time in the detention room as the classroom.
The first sentence strings together two prepositional phrases -- the "afters" -- in an awkward fashion that could easily be avoided by breaking it into more than one complete sentence -- i.e., "Fotukava now lives with his aunt and uncle. His mother sent him north from Anchorage after several failed attempts...". That construction also avoids the inexcusably bad adjectival construction "Anchorage-based mother" -- companies, not people, are based in cities. Even better, choose a conjunction -- because the first after, though used as a preposition, is probably intended to be a conjunction -- that conveys the link between the two clauses: "Fotuvaka now lives with his aunt and uncle in Barrow, because his mother sent him north from Anchorage after several failed attempts..." and so on.
The second sentence has faulty parallelism. Right now, it suggests that the classroom has spent as much time in the detention room as the boy has. It should say: "In Barrow, he has spent as much time in the detention room as he has in the classroom." Or, to be even more proper, "He has spent as much time in the detention room as he has spent in the classroom." Cutting words doesn't make a sentence better if those words are essential to its meaning.
Like everything else surrounding the topic, it depends who you ask.
No, it doesn't. It depends whom you ask, since the word is the object of the verb "ask," not the subject.
I really find this sort of thing inexcusable. Maybe you journalists and ex-journalists disagree, and think I'm being a pretentious English major (if I had to guess, I'd actually expect Connor to agree, since he's somewhat of a prescriptive grammarian). "As long as it's clear what he means," you might say. "Nobody even knows these rules, anyway, so readers won't notice," you might say (which is a statement addressing an entirely different problem -- the complete disregard for grammar in contemporary print media -- that depresses me).
But again, I'm not faulting Drehs for this. I don't think sportswriters should spend their time poring over the OED, or even the AP style guide (which has an excellent section on grammar and usage). I'm faulting his editors, because editors should know better. That's their job -- they edit. And maybe that's not the reality of contemporary corporate media -- maybe editors spend too much time on administrative tasks to actually care about the prose they edit -- but it should be. Somebody has got to care about the writing itself. Even if it's just the underappreciated and underpaid copy desk. There needs to be somebody on staff who knows something about the standards of prose writing and actually gives enough of a shit.
Because this kind of shit is inexcusable. This isn't some tight-deadline gamer with a missing "the"; this is a front-page (of ESPN.com) feature piece that obviously took months to write. The editors had the time to make sure it was tight and flawless. They just didn't do it.
I actually wonder what kind of editorial staff ESPN.com employs. I can't possibly imagine the errors outlined above -- most of which are fundamental, middle school-English issues -- would ever show up in the LA Times, or the Star, or even the Wildcat (actually, maybe the Wildcat...). ESPN.com probably has a readership the size of the ten biggest sports sections combined -- and they can't catch a dangling modifier? What the fuck is going on over there?
Jesus H., just hire me. I'd much rather do that than sit around grading 75 essays on abortion and bitching at Doyle on a blog.
(See how I tied the ending together with the title? I did that just for you, Patrick Finley.)
I am tired of people talking about "What the Yankees need to do." It's actually driving me a little crazy. Yes, there is lots to be talking about when it comes to the Yankees loss, not the least of which is that Joe Torre, who appears to be keeping his job this week, batted the reigning AL MVP eighth in the order. Something tells me that might come back to haunt 'Ol Joe in the clubhouse next season, provided the Yankees don't trump Joe's lineup-making stupidity by trading the reigning AL MVP.
(Aside: There exists some fairly strong data to indicate that a team's batting order doesn't really matter all that much when it comes to a team's ability to create runs. I've read it, I understand it, I may even dig it up if I can find it again for free [it's membership content on the venerable Baseball Prospectus]. Allowing that, batting A-Rod in the eight-hole is one of the dumbest, most inexplicable moves I can remember a manager making with a batting order in some time. It reeked of spite on the part of Torre, which is supposedly the kind of emotion 'Ol Joe is incapable of. Plus, he's lauded for how he handles superstars, which is the hallmark of his tenure with the Yankees. So, I am at a complete loss to explain what the hell he was thinking.)
Getting back to the point ...
The Yankees, honestly, don't need to do much. Get some more/better pitching, maybe, but the same can be said about almost every team in the major leagues (Tigers excepted). Anyone saying this team needs to get rid of A-Rod is saying something incredibly stupid (unless a trade exists in which the Bombers get value for him, which would be hard to believe). Could they stand to get a little younger? Yes, but that's not something they need to do to avoid having another letdown in the playoffs again, it's something they need to do to ensure they are among baseball's elite for the foreseeable future.
Yet, the sports world has been flooded — until yesterday, of course — with talk of what the Yankees need to do to stop this horrendous streak of not-winning-the-World-Series. The local scribes in San Diego and Minnesota have probably been doing something along the same line. And while I have no problem with sports writers, obstensibly "experts" on teams they cover, suggesting moves, it's the basis of their argument(s) that concerns me. The Padres need to get better for next season, not for the playoff series that just concluded. Beyond the fact that nothing can be done to change that result of the now-concluded series, I posit that concerning oneself with the result of a five-game series over the result of an entire season — a season in which, if we're talking about the Padres, concluded with our Friars emerging as the second-best team in the (albeit AAAA-quality) NL — is illogical and usually leads people to make bad decisions that will actually end up hurting the franchise in the long run. And, no, I don't believe that men like Kevin Towers, or Brian Cashman, or Terry Ryan read the newspaper, take notes, and act on what the writers are telling them to do. But GMs often do feel the need to make fans happy, and if the fans believe the tortured logic of sports writers with respect to "What the Team Needs to Do," then GMs are caught in a position where actually doing what's best for the team may run against what's best for the team in terms of ticket sales and other vote-with-the-dollar issues. So, the net result of all this "What Should They Do?" handwringing that comes about after a playoff upset can often be a worse product the following season.
So, in essence, the reason I'm saying all this is because I think, honestly, that we spend way too much time obsessing over what happens in the playoffs, even though we all know — even those who conveniently forget it when it's time to fire off a post-mortem column — that what happens in the playoffs is often a poor reflection of what should have happened in the playoffs, or what would most often happen in the playoffs, and it's really those last two things that GMs can actually have some effect over. You set yourself up to have the best odds possible, with the understanding that once the playoffs begin, there's no telling what's really going to happen.
• This is not a sabermetric argument. I fail to see how that moniker even came into the discussion.
• Do you sound as shrill in your own head when you write about sabermetrics as you do in my head when I read what you write? Calm down, dude. Also, were there to be a sabermetric triple crown, it would not include both OBP and OPS, because OBP is half of what constitutes OPS. I won't take any more of the bait, since I assume that's all it was.
• I actually think the White Sox were the best team in the AL last season, and in turn the major leagues. I also think the only reason the Sox didn't have the best record in baseball, considering their surfeit of hitting and pitching talent, is because Ozzie Guillen insisted on creating outs in front of one of the most potent middles of the order in the major leagues. That said, I understand how my term "total crapshoot" can appear to be flat wrong. In retrospect, using the term "total" is in fact an example of overstatement. But if you figure the White Sox were, on average, a 70 percent favorite to win each individual series, they still only had a 35 percent chance of winning the World Series (the 70 percent number is for the purposes of making an example, and is not based on anything real). So, what I'm saying is that no matter how much better an individual team is than the rest of the field, it's still a statistical improbability that it will win the World Series, even if it is a pronounced favorite over each team it plays in the individual series.
• Why the shit can't Tommy Lasorda see that the guy in the tree has a Cubs jersey on?
• John Kruk on Baseball Tonight: "And the Tigers did it without the longball!" As he says this, there is a clip of Alexis Gomez (!) hitting a home run. John Kruk is an obese idiot.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
I read your post and see a point there, somewhere -- if I had to paraphrase it, I'd say "the best teams don't always win the World Series" -- and yet I still have to wonder, what's the point? I'd venture a guess that most, if not all, baseball people would agree with that assertion -- just look at some of the World Series champions in recent memory, from that early '90s Cincinnati squad that swept the As to the spate of recent Wild Card-to-World Series Champs. Clearly many of them were not the "best" team in the league. The White Sox probably weren't the "best" team last year.
And clearly, this discussion leads us down the path of no return, the path of defining "best," and indeed of defining the purpose of the playoffs, and maybe even the purpose of sport. I certainly have no desire to pursue any of those.
As is often the case, I agree with you to a point, but I think you overstate your case. The playoffs, particularly best-of-five series, allow for a lot of variance. And the anecdotal evidence from these playoffs (it's far too small of a sample size to be significant, much less to prove anything, as you assert, but you're the stat guy, so you know that) supports your argument.
But I don't know if I'd say the playoffs are a total crapshoot. Last year's White Sox had the second-best (by 1/2 a game) regular-season record in baseball; the 2004 Red Sox had the third-best. And even when the winners are wild-card pretenders, I don't think it's really such a hugely improbable feat, especially in the shorter divisional series.
For instance, the Padres were probably better than the Cards, but not by much. Definitely not by such a wide margin that the Cards' series win is some kind of statistical injustice. Sure, you can choose your stats carefully -- road OPS and the like -- and you can point out the fact that the Cardinals swooned late. But you could also point out the fact that halfway through the month of August, the Padres were a sub-.500 ballclub from a mediocre division. Does a red-hot September somehow carry more weight than an ice-cold finish? And if so, why, unless you've invoking the same logic you argue against -- that timeliness dictates the value of a performance?
(On a side note, I think the Cardinals beat the Padres because the Padres don't have a Pujols or a Carpenter. The Cards had the best player and the best pitcher. They also had the best defense, thanks in large part to the Pads' infield injuries and Mike Piazza's lifelong delusion of being a catcher. Maybe that's reductive; maybe it's oversimplified. But you watched the games -- it sure seemed like that's what made the difference.)
Really, though, the Cards/Pads series is neither here nor there. My larger question is the same question I always pose to sabermetricians: so what? So there are other stats that may better quantify the value of a player to a team. So the playoffs can't be predicted on an abacus. So what? Of what use is that to a fan?
And what would you have us do about it? Give the WS trophy to the best regular-season team? Make VORP, OBP, and OPS the new Triple Crown? Give the Cy Young to whoever has the best WHIP and ERA+?
I doubt you're saying any of that. So what's the point of complaining about the playoffs being difficult or impossible to predict? Who said sports should be easy to predict? Sabermetrics isn't even predicated on predicting the outcome of a game or a season, so far as I'm aware; it serves to quantify a player's value, no? So who cares if Billy Beane says the playoffs are a crapshoot? Who cares if he's partly right?
Call me stupid, call me stone-age, call me anti-stat (though I'm not). I just don't see the point in this kind of argument, and what's more, it always sounds like sour grapes, whether it's coming from Billy Beane -- a guy whose team keeps losing postseason series -- or you -- a guy whose team just lost a postseason series.
Tonight, I want to discuss the playoffs, and those in particular belonging to baseball. Among the many fascinating things brought to light in Michael Lewis' Moneyball, which I believe is the single-best book on sports I've ever read (and, yes, I read both Breaks of the Game and Ball Four, among dozens of other sports-related books over the course of my life), is Billy Beane's attitude toward the playoffs. I will not repeat that particular philosophy here, because it is oft-discussed by those on the sports media universe, often tragically by people who haven't read the book or didn't really understand what it was they were reading (or somehow felt that admitting Beane had anything worthwhile to say would somehow constitute an admittance on his or her part that perhaps his or her "knowledge of the game" may not be as absolute as he or she likes to present it to the reading and watching public). Anyhow, when I first read it, I shook my head. Like others, I had been raised to believe that the best teams were the ones that performed in the playoffs, a group that was not to be confused with regular-season wonders who could win a lot of games in April, but crumbled under the weight of expectation and pressure and chilly autumn air and Tim McCarver's incessant prattle.
In the seasons that have transpired since my reading of that book (which included some time for a re-reading) I have come to believe that not only was Beane onto something, but he was unequivocally right. The playoffs are a total, utter, fucking crapshoot. This year's postseason has pretty much sealed the argument, as far as I'm concerned. Of the four teams remaining in the playoffs, only one the Mets could have been said to be the favorite in its respective divisional series. The Athletics, Tigers and Cardinals were all, as far as I can tell, underdogs of a significant order, respective to the implied overall quality expected from playoff teams (for example, when taking into account that all playoff teams are expected to be good-to-great teams, I firmly believed that the difference between the Padres and the Cardinals, as playoff series go, was equivalent in scale to the difference between the Reds and the Cubs in a regular season contest ... I hope this makes sense).
Yet, it is not simply the fact that three underdogs won that has convinced me of the absolute truth of Beane's assertion. It was the how. The Padres, while far from a redux of the Bronx Bombers, were a capable hitting team all season and a particularly excellent hitting team outside of Petco park this season (the Friars led all NL teams in road OPS). Yet, the Padres couldn't hit a Jeff Weaver fastball come playoff time. Am I to think think that men such as Brian Giles, Mike Piazza and Adrian Gonzalez are somehow "chokes?" I think that's patently absurd, my personal distaste for Piazza notwithstanding. Or how about the case of the Minnesota Twins, one of the better defensive teams in the Major Leagues on a consistent basis? Am I to believe that perpetual Gold-Glover Torii Hunter, a man who obarreledlled through an outfield wall during his minor league career to catch a flyball, is some kind of shrinking violet once the postseason begins? I believe anyone who says such a thing should be forced to say as much to Hunter's face. And, finally, what of the Yankees, a team that featured perhaps the single most imposing lineup ever assembled in the history of the game, one with two AL MVPs of the current decade, the probable 2006 AL MVP, the greatest hitter in the history of the Japanese Leagues, a leadoff hitter who had been central two years prior to the Red Sox's stunning WS victory, a veritable OBP machine in Bob Abreu and a host of other hitters who would all comprise some part of just about any other team's heart of the lineup? Yes, the Tigers' pitching staff is excellent my any measure, perhaps even better than last year's WS-winning White Sox staff across the board (that's only the case if you, like me, place a premium on high-K power pitching [and, yes, I realize that Kenny Rodgers is a member of the staff]) but you would have had to drug me to have me say with a straight face that it would have taken anything short of the Return Of Jesus Christ Himself to allow the Tigers to win that series 3-1 (and how!).
Yet, if we are to believe that playoff performance is somehow indicative of a team's actual ability, then we must re-examine just about everything we know about baseball. What is a 162-game season if it's not the ultimate test of a particular team's quality? Is one to tell me that the Cardinals' performance in four games against the Padres told us more than a month-long swoon in which they almost pulled off a collapse of historic proportions (and don't tell me that Jim Edmonds' return to the lineup made that much of a difference ... this was not 2004-grade Jim Edmonds in that lineup come playoff time)? I find myself incapable of believing that alone. When you add that to the improbable defeats suffered by the Yankees and Twins, I fail to see how anyone can come to a different conclusion without suspending disbelief completely.
Here's the bigger question: Does anyone really feel differently? I'm curious to know just how much I'm preaching to the choir here.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
ST. LOUIS – To make a long story short, Chris Young stands 6 feet 10 and is every inch an icicle.
I won't bother putting up anything else from the story, but I will say that it doesn't get much better from that historic low point.
Here's the addendum to Justin's original argument that I wanted to make before things got nutty on here: I think the reason most sports writers suck — particularly columnists — is because they're unwilling to follow some of baseball's most cherished cliches.
Don't try too hard. Let the game come to you. Just keep putting the ball in play. Don't try to hit a home run every time you're at bat.
In other words, it's high time that most sports writers let go of the idea that they're David Foster Wallace. Are there some very talented wordsmiths in the sports writing business? Yes, and most of them work for Sports Illustrated, or hardly write sports at all anymore (Halberstam comes to mind). But the truth is that most sports writers are fairly pedestrian when it comes to the written word, and only put their inadequacies in clearer relief when they try to make poetry out of a player feature or Game 3 commentary.
One of the reasons, I think, that Gammons is so popular both with people in the business and readers is that he's never tried to be something he's not; his talents are as a reporter and cultivator of "inside" sources. His writing has always been workmanlike, and that's fine. You read Gammons to find out shit you didn't already know (usually shit no one else knows), not to swoon over his prose.
I can say the same about Joe Poznanski of the K.C. Star, who many in the business feel is the country's best columnist. Ditto for guys like Bob Ryan and -- pseudo-local writer warning -- Greg Hansen. When there's a real take to be had, these guys adequately provide it. When there's insider-type information to be dispersed, they usually take care of it. And, the rest of the time, we ask them to not insult us by passing off some uninspired horseshit sentence fragments or facile touchy-feely crap as useful contributions to the daily fishwrap.
Also, it always helps when people are not serially wrong, like Jay Mariotti.
Who's the icicle now, Sullivan?
Friday, October 06, 2006
Three quotes will mark my final entry, as well, since the entire purpose of this thing was dialogue, and I don't need another individual blog.
* * *
But I don't need more sports channels than news channels. I don't want my newspaper to devote more space to sports coverage than it does to the arts (and by arts, I don't mean television). I don't need a ticker, a Barry Bonds beat writer, or one more fucking syllable about TO.
This shit is not that important, folks. There are wars and coups and political campaigns going on. Our country's going down the shitter. Sports don't matter.
* * *
And are you honestly saying that steroids are the only "real" issue to come up in sports in the last half-dozen years "that can be considered remotely important"???
What about race in sports? What about gays in sports? What about the continued futility of the BCS? What about Pat Tillman? What about Kobe Bryant's sexual assault case? What about the Duke Lacrosse case? The Pistons brawl and its attendant controversies? I can't believe I'm saying this, but what about everything to do with Terrell Owens? You're really trying to tell me that none of them are book-worthy? That Barry Bonds is the ONLY sports-related topic in the last six years on which an investigative book could have been written? Come on ... One of the best-selling books of the last year is about a guy's relationship with his dog, for chrissakes. Methinks some industrious sports scribe could manage to write a book about Kobe's rape trial.
* * *
I'm still confused. But that's clearly because I'm an idiot, as is everyone else who isn't you.
Truth be told, I'm taking pretty much everything you've said about me, my ability to argue and/or be consistent, and being a biter, as friendly shit talking. I cannot remember the last time we've had an argument where we haven't insulted each other's intelligence, in both senses of the phrase. I get the feeling you're not approaching it in the same spirit, even though I could have sworn that's what you were trying to get started with your overly strident original post in which you juggled overstatement and bromides with aplomb.
So long, new, virulent blog. We hardly knew ye.
As for the list of "issues" pertaining to sports, a metric ton of copy has been written about most of them, including a small army of books, with the notable exception of the Kobe case (though what is there that needs to be said that hasn't already appeared in magazines? I doubt much). Fine, you could say all the books suck, but since you obviously haven't read any of them, I fail to see how you could substantiate such a claim. As for the Sports Illustrated offerings on all of the subjects, I recall most of them being sufficient to the task. I'm sure they were formulaic, but then again I don't expect Truman Capote's corpse to claw it's way out of the ground and give me 450 pages on the Pistons-Pacers brawl.
I wrote my last post over the course of the entire afternoon, because I kept getting interrupted. I guess Blogger stamps posts based on when they're started, as opposed to when they're finished.
I still fail to see how this blog is a bad idea. We've managed to get Finley so riled up that he might fly up to Chicago just to throw Nick through a glass coffee table.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
You ask where the great pieces of investigative journalism are in the sports world. What the fuck is there to investigate, really? Woodward's book is selling like wildfire because it's about something important! The steroid stuff stands as the only real "issue" that's come up in sports, off the top of my head, in the last half-dozen years that can be remotely considered important. And there was a capably written book that did some prison-inducing investigation into the issue. And, frankly, if we're talking about whipping boys, is there a bigger one right now than Rumsfeld? Yes, I'm being facetious, but I think you're too quick to dismiss "Shadows" as 500 pages of Bonds excoriation. He was the central character in a book about a much bigger issue. In terms of writing, I bet "Shadows" holds up to Woodward's latest offering; I'll tell you for sure when I'm done with the Woodward book, but I can say that because I've read his older stuff and he's no fucking Hemmingway. But even if it doesn't, shouldn't a book about the bungling of the Iraq War, which involves more than 2,000 American soldiers dying, be more compelling than a book about baseball players using steroids and HGH?
I'm ignoring a lot, either because it's been covered by others or it's not really germane.
Heh. Germane. Germain. Funny.
I do take some exception, however, to your pitting sports writing against other forms of journalism, and then literature. Beyond the fact that (as you admitted would probably be the case) your argument is a little scattered and loses it's cohesiveness, I think you reach a little too far.
First, the state of journalism on the whole is pretty sad. We have saturated the market with media outlets, between television and the internet, not to mention the more traditional print outlets (perhaps the only area of the media that's actively contracting), and that has had distinct repercussions on the quality of the reporting and writing. This problem is just as pronounced in news reporting as it is sports, and while I agree that sports is generally facile and should be treated as such, I fear that most news outlets take the same approach to reporting on "important" issues as they do to those within the world of sports. You see this as an inappropriate elevation of sports' significance; I would posit that the opposite is the case, and people are treating the "important" with no more care than they do games.
Even the best of the SI features -- say, for example, the Darling twins piece from a few years back -- follow a formula. Introduce motif early on, reintroduce after each page break/subheading, come back to it in the conclusion (ideally in the last line). It can be done well, sure, but even then, it's formulaic. And formulas make for bad writing.
Beyond the fact that I think you're speaking a little too generally here, I also think you're making an unfair comparison between journalism and literature. Yes, both involve writing, and both should involve good writing. But good doesn't mean the same thing for one as it does the other. Journalism is a patently commercial enterprise, and in order to sell something you must have it appeal to the widest possible audience. Formulas exist because they are proven to be effective at getting people to read. While it would be nice to think there's a coming movement of creativity, the truth is that anyone who wants to be all that creative doesn't really have a place in journalism. If you want to break rules, go into writing books. If you want to write for a newspaper (or a magazine, or a major website), be prepared to exist within the confines of the tried-and-true. This works to the benefit of the reader, who can expect to receive a product of consistent quality and effectiveness when they expose themselves to a particular medium.
Literature has none of these constraints, nor should it. It is art, and should be treated and respected as such. And that also directly correlates with sales; the market is not really there for high-concept writing. People like mysteries, suspense, and cop thrillers. Students in grad school like Susan Sontag. It is a testament to our society that both can exist at the same time, so people can choose to read what they prefer.
Lastly: Of course sports aren't actually significant. But they are still important enough that we spent a half-hour talking about baseball and football last night on the phone when we could have been discussing ballot propositions and the potential ramifications of the Mark Foley case on internet privacy. We're both fairly intelligent, well-informed people. We probably spend more than half our time talking about sports. Are we so decadent ourselves? I think you're being a little breathless by bringing Rome into the conversation, my friend.
There's lots more to say, but I'll leave it at that for now.
p.s. Â Hunter S. Thompson had a column on Page 2 for, I think, more than three years.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
However, there are things that can ruin my baseball-in-the-morning buzz. Joe Morgan interviews on the ESPN pre-game show, for instance, have a way of making me instantly sorry that I am a fan of baseball, which is obviously the only sport that could ever hire someone as stupid as Joe Morgan to be the game's premier color commentator. Except for football, which has Joe Theismann. But Joe was surprisingly docile yesterday morning, perhaps because he was dreaming of a half-naked Tony Perez laying waste to a post-game spread after another 20-0 Reds victory back when baseball was not as mediocre as it is today. Or something.
But, alas, our good friend Ron Gardenhire did not allow me to progress much further into the day without hearing something dumb. During his insipid dugout interview (a phenomenon so incredibly stupid and unedifying that it may deserve a post of its own one of these mornings), he justified his team's willingness to let an erratic Barry Zito escape in the first inning by saying his team was just "being aggressive," and he saw no reason for them to stop being as such.
These are the kinds of comments that make me wish I could scald Ron Gardenhire's testes with a cafe doppio.
Mr. Gardenhire seems to define aggressive baseball as swinging at first pitches out of the strike zone, getting thrown out at second on a steal attempt with one of the AL's best hitters in the on-deck circle, and generally playing baseball with batshit desperation.
So, here's the question: Why exactly do people consider low-percentage plays to be the hallmark of an "aggressive" team? Why are sacrifice-bunting free-swingers who will attempt to steal uneccessary bases in the first innings of scoreless games considered "aggressive?" I think these people are stupid, because we have reams of evidence that every time you do something that causes an out, you cost your team 1/27th of a game, which means 1/27th of a chance to score. Yet those teams who draw a lot of walks, are patient, don't cause themselves uneccessary outs and try to hit home runs are considered "plodders," or teams that "wait for the three-run home run." I think these people are smart, because they very often score more runs than other teams, and very rarely play themselves out of scoring situations.
I mean, isn't scoring more runs by it's very nature more aggressive?
Please, someone, anyone! tell me where I am erring in this line of thought.