Thursday, December 27, 2007

It must be nice to be T-Pain

A few weeks ago, I posted in the comments section about an interesting piece I’d heard on NPR about how T-Pain was selling more ringtones than actual song downloads or CD sales, but it got lost amongst childish sniping on said comments section.

The music industry is, in a word, bizarre. It’s an age where Radiohead can sell a non-label-backed album for whatever price the consumer chooses, yet still be among the top illegally downloaded (ie free) albums. Even Jay-Z pulled his latest album, American Gangster, off iTunes because iTunes wanted to sell his concept album as individual singles.

But this T-Pain story just kills me. In short, the guy who has done “Buy U a Drink (Shawty Snappin’),” “I’m N Luv (Wit a Stripper)” and “Bartender” has now become the model of a music industry once-anomaly by being more successful in ringtones than he is in actual music sales. Sales have shown that consumers are four and five times more likely to download a 15-second clip of one of his songs at $2.99 and up than they are to download the entire song on iTunes for $0.99. Ringtone sales make up to 40% of record labels’ revenue today.

Stumped, but envious, of his success, those in the music industry found that his robotic, effect-laden voice actually sounded better on crappy cellphone speakers than it did over better speakers. To capitalize on a certain song’s success and to extend its shelf life, the record companies introduced special “ringtone remixes.” Therefore, buying a 15-second clip was, in addition to making a statement about yourself, actually a better bang for your buck. T-Pain’s guest appearances on far more commercially successful artists’ – Kanye and Chris Brown, to name two – were almost certainly done to help generate more ringtone sales, since the two mentioned artists are having no trouble selling their singles and albums on iTunes. In effect, T-Pain has become the first “Ringtone Artist.” Mos Def said the industry was “a better-built cell-block.” For T-Pain, it’s a better-built luxury cruise liner.

His sales and this story are both staggering, but before we anoint T-Pain as a revolutionary, it must be said that he’s capitalizing on a fairly new idea. If ringtones were around in the 60s, then you’d have to believe his numbers couldn’t be compared to The Beatles’.

Another good/fine (no, not that fine) example of this would be Mariah Carey’s (non-Christmas) top selling songs on iTunes – they are all from her most recent album. It’s not, say, Hero or Dreamlover, two songs that helped her become the biggest-selling artist of the 1990s. Just because a song is downloaded a lot today doesn’t mean it’s any more popular; rather, it’s just more readily available. The beauty of iTunes is that I don’t have to even put on pants and, bang, the new Lupe Fiasco album is on my computer. But people who love Mariah Carey already have all her CDs and don’t need to download them again on iTunes – even though iTunes and record execs would love you to. The Emancipation of Mimi sold ‘only’ 10 million copies thanks to a depressed CD-buying market, but had the benefit of extra digital sources to buy from that Mariah didn’t have the advantage of back then.

Still, to believe iTunes, you’d think her latest was the greatest – and be denying a significant period of non-digital history ever happened.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

An open letter to Pepe and Diesel

Dear Pepe and Diesel,

Psssst.. Come on back. It’s okay. I’ll even make the first move. Things will be good again, I swear. Ever since I took over the reigns at McKale Center in Tucson, the Arizona basketball team has become infinitely more likeable – by being everything Arizona is not.

Sure, we don’t have that freakishly gifted athlete that we can call on in the clutch to go up and slam home a put-back, sweeping the crowd off its feet, forcing our opponent to call a time out and letting our pep band belt out a couple verses of “Moondance.”

And, okay, we’re not particularly all that exciting to watch. Our offensive style is more UCLA and Washington State than it is Kentucky in the mid-90s or the Wildcats you’re used to. Aesthetics-wise, we’re a better fit for the Big East or Big Ten. But, you see, this is the way the Pac-10 is going, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing – we’re playing in arguably the best or second-best conference in all of college basketball right now. We plan on winning it again soon.

And, I know, our uniforms look different now. Our shorts look weird, they’re lacking trim and the ‘CATS’ is placed far too high up the sides, and our jerseys have an unnecessary and distracting stripe down the back sides, but just look past all that for a moment.

Because, you know what? I think, despite the lack of high-flying, fast-break basketball that made Arizona so appealing in the first place, you’re going to love us again. It may not happen overnight, and you may find some of our games ugly and choppy, but we’d love to have you on board again.

I know you’re tired of the Purdues and Seton Halls beating your more talented teams, and so am I. Perhaps more worryingly, you’re tired of us having too many assholes that are difficult to root for, like Marcus Williams and Chris Rodgers, and not enough true student-athletes to be proud of. And I know you may have had poor relations with Shakes and found him to be too under-achieving at times and too hasty towards the fans and media.

But I’m working on all of that, trust me. I really am. You think Chase Budinger will get a big head and pull a classic Arizona ‘phenom that doesn’t achieve all of his potential,’ like Williams or Hassan Adams? That’s not going to happen. I tell him every day that, with hard work, someday he’ll perhaps have the opportunity to be a good player in Europe. Jerryd Bayless is one of my favorite players to coach, but until he handles the ball better, he’s headed there too.

Plus, I don’t appeal to the crowd and all their “We want Bagga!” chanting. Hell, I’m dumbfounded as to why Daniel Dillon got a near-standing ovation when he entered the game last week! I’m going to make these kids earn their playing time and you can be damn well sure that they’ll play hard – or else I’ll threaten to cancel their Christmas, like I did last week.

The biggest difference between me and Shakes is our personalities, which is perhaps my biggest selling point to you. Face it, fellas, I’m you. I watch basketball, make funny and outrageous statements and have a few drinks – when was the last time you saw Shakes in the same local establishment you frequented? My weekly radio show has become a must-listen to simply because I don’t hold anything back. When asked if watching 17-18 basketball game films every day helps me become a better coach, I interrupted the interviewer and told him you’d be an “absolute psychopath!” if you didn’t. During a recent press conference, a media member’s phone rang, and I (semi-) jokingly fined him $500 or pro-rated it to his pay. When was the last time Shakes did any of that?

Finally, I think what I’m doing here is pretty significant. Already this season, we’ve battled against two teams that have far superior size and talent to us – Kansas and Texas A&M – and we beat A&M in one of the best environments I’ve seen at McKale in years. We went to Chicago and beat Illinois using our toughness, something Sean Singletary has been poking fun at us about for years. (An aside, Who the fuck is Sean Singletary anyway?)

Saturday night, we’re taking on a very, very talented team in Memphis – think A&M, but better. I’d appreciate it if you tuned in and checked us out. We may not win, but we may not lose, either. There’s a new king in town, and you’d have to be a complete moron like Laval Lucas-Perry if you didn’t see this thing out with me.


Kevin O’Neill

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

One wonders how many Mets fans can actually spell "xenophobia"

Newsflash: Mets fans think Omar Minaya's signing too many brown people Latin Americans

Why, just last week I attended a reception where one man, knowing I'd written a book about the Mets, approached me and said, "I still love the team, and Livan Hernandez wouldn't hurt. But how about adding an American or two?"

I mean, really? How about adding an American or two? It's official: I can't say things in sports rarely surprise me anymore, because I find myself being surprised an awful lot these days. And this, in so many ways, takes the cake.

How about adding an American or two?

I won't both pointing out the 12,000 incorrect assumptions being made by the Mets fans Pearlman cites. What's the point? There is no logical rationale for this kind of belief, so to argue with it is kind of like arguing with someone about their favorite color. And, frankly, I think we're all a little naive to think that there aren't more baseball fans who feel this way about black and hispanic players, fans who hearken back to the days when the game's best players were predominantly mustachioed white dudes with mullets and "blue collar" values. They feel a disconnect with today's non-white superstars, who appear more aloof and self-centered and lazy and cornrowed. And David Eckstein isn't lazy, they say to themselves; people need to write about Eckstein more, not overrated guys like Hanley Ramirez, over whom national columnists can't stop fawning.

According to Pearlman, the non-tendering of Paul LoDuca, a PED-fueled and philandering clubhouse cancer has served as the proverbial "last straw" for a lot of these bigots fans. One would think that a rabid fan base hungry to upstage the Yankees would embrace the casting off of an overpaid, underperforming asshole, but the fact that he's white and a loudmouth apparently means "character" to fans, and implicit in that is that LoDuca's non-white replacement is incapable of being a fiery leader.

Ever since Minaya got the Mets' GM job, there's been a lot made of his being hispanic. In a vacuum, there's nothing wrong with both acknowledging the novelty of seeing a non-white face in upper-level baseball administration, particularly since Minaya was (I believe) the first hispanic GM in the sport's history. When Carlos Delgado was a free agent a few years back, a lot was made of Minaya's effort to use his ethnicity — and, to a degree, the ethnic composition of the Mets' locker room — to draw Delgado to the team. If I remember correctly, Delgado bristled at Minaya's efforts and decided to sign with the Marlins, which resulted in a little bit of blowback for Minaya. But I never understood why people were upset by Minaya's gambit. Why wouldn't you try and use every available resource to land someone you desperately want? And who's really offended by the fact that Minaya might want to use the fact that he speaks spanish as a hopeful mark in the Mets' favor? Does some shine come off a contract that isn't negotiated exclusively in english?

But it's starting to make sense, now. Apparently, it's not racist if you're talking about hispanics, and it's not racist if you can couch it in positive terms ("We just want to see more Americans!") instead of negative ones ("Stop signing the brown people!").

I realize there's a danger implicit in drawing general conclusions from individual situations, but I can't help but think that Mets fans are the only ones who feel this way about the globalization of America's past time.

Blog-to-Blog Resuscitation

Today, it’s Three Guys Who Never Agree, as Pepe and Diesel have so graciously allowed me to enter their space for a college football discussion. A But what about the kids?? Part II, if you will…

Much discussion, amongst the media and amongst me and my friends and family, the last few days has centered on the latest round of the college football carousel, which has lost all kind of control ever since Tommy Bowden left his undefeated Tulane squad between the final regular season and bowl game. Ironically, Rich Rodriguez was his offensive coordinator then, and he has recently done the same, this time leaving West Virginia, his alma mater, for Michigan. Another non-stop discussion on the radio dial has been Atlanta’s Bobby Petrino “quitting” on his team “in the middle of the season,” which implies there was more than the actual three games remaining of a wash-out season. Because we apparently have nothing else to listen to, and it’s football, blowhards nationwide have overreacted to both of these instances, calling these men “quitters,” “traitors” and, perhaps most comically, “guys I wouldn’t want my son to play for.”

In my best Chris Rock voice, Can we please cut the fucking shit already?

An annoyance I have is our continual holding of athletes to a higher standard than everyone else, even though, time and time again, we are reminded of how idiotic this is. It’s now crept into us holding coaches to higher standards, as if these “leaders of men” are any different. We’re avoiding the idea that coaches, just like us simpletons, want to max out their potential and have the best possible life, just like we hope to. The only difference is their window to do that is exponentially smaller than ours, based on simple time frames, pressure and short attention spans.

Plenty has been said about Bobby Petrino, so it would be redundant for me to bring them all up here – these mainly center on the outside influences that destroyed the season before it began for Atlanta, an average to slightly above average team at best heading into the season if none of those things happened in the first place. Is it wrong for Bobby Petrino to leave Atlanta during the season to head for Arkansas? Perhaps, but it’s not necessarily his fault – if he wants to move to Arkansas, he has to get started right away. By staying for those three final NFL games to see out the season, he would have lost at least one season in Fayetteville, all because of the NCAA’s reluctance to push National Signing Day, which is the root of all the December coaching changes, back a little bit.

The gap between the end of the regular season and the bowl games is too precious to lose when going after those final pieces to the recruiting class, so schools like Michigan and Arkansas have their hands forced into “stealing” other teams’ coaches while the season is still going on. It’s the same reason why Arizona had to go and get Mike Stoops, even though he was the defensive coordinator in a national championship race at the time. But that’s the business timeline the NCAA has set up. The NBA doesn’t open the free agent market on May 1st for a reason, yet college football wants everything signed and sealed by February 6th with battles taking place well before that. Teams don’t have any time to lose.

Football, college and pro (and, who are we kidding, high school), is business - a fact that everyone acknowledges but fails to understand. Everybody thinks they can contend for a national championship, even though it’s proven every year that it is arguably the hardest goal to accomplish in team sports. There are far too many obstacles to overcome and, unlike the NFL, there are no equal playing fields when it comes to competitive advantages and disadvantages.

Which brings me to Rodriguez, who’s become the latest “traitor” on the paving the path to a successful career in coaching football. Nobody bats an eye when an assistant coach, who has a far closer relationship to players than the head coach and is often the one making promises, leaves to take another job, yet we all get up in arms when the head coach moves to greener pastures.

Whether you think Rodriguez’s career move is great or deplorable, you have to understand that the timing of his decision was neither his nor Michigan’s fault. College football has the longest offseason in sports, yet there’s little breathing room between the end of this season and the beginning of next. In fact, they overlap, and the loser in most cases is the end of this season, because next year, of course, is the year we win it all!

But what about the kids? they always say. Seems like one set of them is going to be neglected either way. They should be expecting it by now - it’s the nature of the beast for college football hires to be handled like this. But it doesn’t have to be, does it?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Yes, George, What about the kids?

The money-shot has, finally, been delivered in Bud Selig's two-year-long steroid porno. We've read the Mitchell Report — or allowed Deadspin to point out the most interesting sections — and we've seen the tedious press conferences by the author and the benefactor, who should have at least held hands at some point for posterity's sake. We may have witnessed the moment Roger Clemens, considered by some to be the greatest pitcher in the history of the game, became the next sure-fire Hall-of-Famer to see his shot at Cooperstown go down the shitter (it should go without saying that if Clemens isn't disqualified after the Mitchell Report, then Mark McGwire should be giving another nationally televised speech in the next couple of years, during which he can again not talk about the past). And we've become intimately familiar with the next wave of steroid scapegoats, a marvelous cross-section of baseball players that doesn't discriminate based on talent or active playing status.

None of this has made me care any more about steroid use than I did before, a position that's apparently quite popular if one is to believe that internet pundits and comment-writers constitute an accurate sample of sports fans. Yes, of course, I would prefer to follow sports without the knowledge that the men involved are actively partaking in sado-masochism to better entertain me and bolster their personal finances. But I've also never thought "fair-play" was an option in sports, and I take bemused pity on anyone naive enough to think that such a fantasy is attainable. I find it hard to believe that members of a society unable to convince people to stop murdering — even with the threat of the ultimate punishment looming should one take a life — thinks that any testing policy will significantly negate the desire to cheat, not to mention stop cheating among even a majority of those who have done so in the past. That doesn't mean you don't ban and constantly improve testing measures, it just means that you must accept the existence of impropriety in athletics just as you do in all other walks of life. It is enough to state unequivocally that cheating is wrong — something baseball didn't do until a few years ago — clearly state the punishment for cheating, and hope that you've convinced the fence-sitters that it's probably a better bet to drink a little more Red Bull and quit staying up so late before day games.

(Side note 1: Please, everyone, stop saying the "Steroid Era" — as obnoxious and sanctimonious a label as any in the history of sports — is actually over. Steroids haven't gone anywhere. Steroid users haven't gone anywhere. Steroids are still being taken by baseball players, maybe even a lot of baseball players. The horse is out of the motherfucking barn; this isn't like the "Cracker Era" in baseball, which was ended by Robinson's breaking of the color barrier. The "Steroid Era" in baseball will exist until an even better method of cheating comes around and makes steroid use passé.)

(Side note 2: I love — LOVE — that amphetamines didn't so much as merit a mention in Mitchell's report. For $20 million dollars over two years, you could at least be thorough.)

Anyway, what really got me — I almost did a spit take on my hamburger when I heard this at the bar during lunch — was Mitchell upping the sancti-ante my giving us the well-worn "What about the kids?!?" line. That kind of drivel is sickening in any occasion, but Mitchell using it to prop up baseball's criminal overreaction to decades of passive acceptance of PED use was about as scummy as it could get. Not that I should expect anything better from a former federal congressman, but every so often I'm still stunned at the gall of people who believe that pre-adolescents make for handy metaphorical human shields.

Now that I've calmed down, my almost paralyzing desire to break Mitchell's left orbital has subsided. But I'd still like to throw his own mealy-mouthed question back in his face. What about the kids, you cocksucker? Because I think that baseball's steroid "investigation" has set a far worse moral example for today's youth than anything F.P. Santangelo did with his ass, a needle and perhaps his closest personal-training buddy.

If we're to use the Mitchell Report as a moral guide, then the kids should believe there's nothing wrong with applying wide brushes when condemning individuals. The "list" — not the fake one released hours before the Mitchell Report which was, stunningly, to be found on the web sites of "legitimate" news delivery agencies (hear that, SAS?) — is presented as a context-less recitation of "users" everywhere it's to be found. Are we to believe that Paul Byrd and Andy Pettitte are both guilty of the same crimes, to the same degrees? Further, are we to believe there's equal evidence of the guilt of both men? Of course not. But Mitchell's use of names invited a situation in which all alleged users — and I'd bet the house that a not-insignificant portion of the men on that list shouldn't be on itare considered cheaters of the same magnitude and with the same amount of proof. Remember, kids, that it's OK to generalize provided you're doing it under the banner of righteousness.

If we're to use the Mitchell Report as a moral guide, then the kids should believe that it's OK to injure others based on hearsay and zealotry. Because, as far as I can tell, all Mitchell has to offer about Clemens and Pettitte, the two biggest names indicted by the report, is the testimony of a potentially jilted ex-personal trainer and his supplier. No corroboration, no lie detector test, no actual evidence of steroid use outside of the "sworn testimony" of two guys and the willingness of the rest of us to allow our suspicions to be so easily confirmed. Yes, there's some fairly damning, hard evidence about others that was uncovered by the Feds in various raids, but that's not the case with the two gentlemen who spent the most time on the ticker during Mitchell's press conference. I'm shocked, frankly, that Mitchell didn't take the now-popular path of talking to ballplayer's ex-mistresses and presenting their testimony without reservation. Remember, kids, that the ends always justify the means.

If we're to use the Mitchell Report as a moral guide, then the kids should believe it's acceptable let others take the punishment for a misdeed you participated in, provided you can cop to plausible deniability. Why haven't we seen a gigantic, explosive, above-the-virtual-fold columns condemning Brian Sabean's tacit acknowledgment of Bonds' steroid use (and encouragement, in the fashion of offering Bonds another contract after Stan Conte had made it very clear that Bonds was juicing), which was documented in the report? And Sabean wasn't the only one; I refuse to believe that most coaches, GMs and owners were in the dark about this shit. Men cannot simultaneously be intelligent enough to run massive organizations and dumb enough to not have a fucking clue what its employees are up to in the goddamn clubhouses. Mitchell made mention of "shared responsibility," and deserves credit for not cracking a smile when doing so. His report has laid this problem squarely on the players and given the administrators a token reprimand for playing dumb. Everyone knew what was going on, and the money men encouraged it by lavishing the users with millions of dollars and ridiculously long contracts. Remember, kids, that shit always rolls downhill, so just make sure that you're rich if you're going to do something wrong.

And, finally, if we're to use the Mitchell Report as a moral guide, then kids should learn to celebrate the ethics of the snitch. The parts of this report that weren't based on seized evidence were based on the testimony of those who had something to gain by implicating others in their crimes. It's nice to know that, should I ever be a part of a criminal conspiracy, I have currency with my captors so long as I'm caught first. Right after high school baseball players are handed a first-person testimonial about the dangers of steroids written by the remorseful hand of Jason Giambi on his personalized stationary, they should receive a concise explanation of "The Prisoner's Dilemma," and understand how the proper manipulation of game theory can likely one day emancipate them from punishment for misdeeds, or at the very least mitigate that punishment. Remember, kids, to rat early and rat often. Maybe one day, you'll be best known for destroying the life of someone much more popular and successful than you.

Just don't take steroids. We beg of you. Anything but steroids.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

(no subject)

I’ve spent much of the last week debating whether or not to continue our little experiment called TGWNA. Part of it is due to the creative apathy that’s beguiled me most of my life; my chief character flaw is an overarching desire to be lazy. Despite what may come across as a desire to shout my sometimes obnoxious views from the rooftops, I much prefer having the roof over my head and the heat on. Applying that metaphor to writing, which I once foolishly believed was what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing, I’ve found that it takes much longer to compose in my head and leave it there. The process of elucidating my thoughts through the written word is tiresome and frustrating, because my thoughts are often much less compelling in a physical form than they are in the ether.

However, the main reason for thoughts of pulling the plug is that this virtual space has become somewhat uncomfortable for me of late, and apparently my good friend and co-author shares a similar sentiment. I believe the current situation is endemic to the site’s underlying concept, which could be best summed up by the crude moniker, “argument blog.” At its inception, I never imagined this space would be happened upon — not to mention desirable to — people who didn’t know the site’s principals. This was really just an attempt to combat the post-collegiate diaspora that made personal contact among our group of friends more difficult; I wanted to recapture the bliss of the hyperbolic group arguments we used to impose on almost any space we occupied, often without thought to the mores of the particular environment or innocent bystanders within earshot.

But it’s become readily apparent a few times previous to this one that a virtual argument lacks many of the most endearing aspects of a live one, and amplifies its few regrettable characteristics. Namely, it’s impossible to smile when delivering a barb unless you’re willing to succumb to emoticons, an artifact of the internet age that I despise. There have been numerous intervals where I’ve been convinced that irreparable harm has been done to friendships over exchanges in this space, though thankfully that hasn’t actually been the case yet (I hope). If there is an overarching theme to this blog (besides sports) it is stubbornness. I can’t think of a single occasion where a point, however ancillary, has been conceded. As is often the case with impasses, something eventually breaks, and it’s usually decorum. Insults and aspersions are cast, people get pissed, and everyone begins to question how fun this really is. And if we’re not having fun here, then why the fuck aren’t we spending our internet time looking at Brittney Spears’ twat?

But reflection over the last couple of days has changed my perspective. A staple of my internet chats with friends has become “When are you going to write about this on the blog?” and it reminds me that I am no closer today to most of my friends than I was when I first registered the site on Blogger. This is, still, the easiest way for me to maintain friendships with people I see sporadically. And it’s still the only forum I’ve got to write when inspiration strikes. I may not do it as much as I used to or should, but I shudder to think what will happen to my brain if I ever cease doing it completely.

In short, I’m going to keep writing, though I can’t make any promises about how often.
As for the potential for explosive comments, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better to have more dialogue then less, even if that sometimes means I’ll get bent about something written. I’ll only request that everyone — myself included — keep in mind that insults and condescension are the hallmark of the intellectually incompetent. I single no one out, because I have been as guilty of choosing vituperium over testimonium, and it’s unfair to expect others to be respectful if you’re being an asshole.

Sorry about the length. I imagine this was a scintillating read.

p.s. – I may start writing about some non-sports things. Not often, but a recent Camille Paglia column really got me going.

p.p.s. – I also might write about soccer every so often.

p.p.p.s. – XOXOXOXO ☺

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Disagreeal

OK, I'll bite.

Sean Taylor -- Your whole point here seems to be, "I was wrong about Sean Taylor, but I'm not going to retract, because I could have been right." Which is fine, except that you were still wrong. And so were most of our commenters with their half-assed theories about his "bad life decisions." Turns out he just got robbed because he was rich.

I'm not even going to talk about race, for once. But, all due, your take on Occam's Razor seems off. First of all, I think you extend Occam's Razor well beyond its actual jurisdiction, which is scientific, and I think it loses a lot of its sharpness when used metaphorically to discuss a sports-related murder. But even beyond that, you're wrong that the simplest explanation is that his past led to the attack. The simplest explanation, logically, is that it was a robbery gone awry, because that doesn't rely on some overblown and mostly speculative beef stemming from a gun-brandishing incident that happened years ago. The simplest explanation is exactly what happened.

Forgive me if I don't care what a backup cornerback who was in Phoenix at the time thinks. I'll take the word of the experienced people who are paid to investigate these kinds of things, who all seem to say that it was a robbery. And it also doesn't matter to me that you and Anonymous #2 could have been right -- you weren't.

The Pats -- This whole greatest ever talk is retarded, and I'm sorry I was the one to instigate it on this blog. (Although, to be fair, I was far from the first person to bring it up in the sporting world at large.) I don't care if the Pats win the rest of their games by 50 points apiece -- they're not the greatest ever.

They're playing in the most mediocre NFL in memory, a league that has three -- I'll give you four if you really want to debate it -- legitimately good teams. Their division, against whom six of those wins will come, might be the worst NFL division I've ever seen. They should have lost the last two weeks, to teams that are currently 5-7 and 4-8, respectively. Both made the NE defense look terrible, despite starting backup QBs. They couldn't run the ball against either. They won because of suspect playcalls and extremely suspect -- I mean conspiracy theory iffy -- penalties.

It's asinine that we're even talking about this as a possibility, and it's just another sign of the inanity of contemporary sports culture, which rushes to beknight every good team or player as the best ever, even before they've actually accomplished anything. It's utter stupidity. It's like we've all joined the cast of the Best Damn Sports Show Period for their nightly list feature, "Top 20 All-Time Greatest NFL Teams Who Went 12-0."

Thankfully, I think the whole discussion will end soon, because if they play anything like they have the last two weeks, they won't beat the Steelers.

Instant Replay and Peavy -- I'm with you on both.

Wolf, Milledge, and Dukes -- Too early on all three counts. You're mistaking potential for results yet again.

Wolf -- Overall, yes, I agree that it's a shrewd move by a great GM. But let's not forget that this is a guy who's missed most of the last three seasons with various arm injuries, and wasn't that good to begin with. The reason it's a shrewd move has much less to do with the player Randy Wolf is and a lot more to do with how cheap he came.

Milledge -- So the Mets traded their second-best outfield prospect for a guy (Church) who will contribute almost exactly what Milledge would have next year (check their respective stats), as well as a defensive catcher they needed. (I know the value of a good defensive catcher is anathema to the stattys of the world, but it exists.) The only reason it strikes me as odd is because of Estrada. You're also neglecting the fact that Milledge is a notorious headcase who may never put it all together.

Dukes -- Speaking of notorious headcases, let's take a look at your rationalization of Dukes' character. He's "done some bad stuff"? His actions are "reprehensible for sure"? Excuse me -- dude didn't throw a rock through a window, or even take the Clear: HE THREATENED TO KILL HIS GIRLFRIEND AND HER CHILDREN! Then he sent a picture of the gun he was going to use! And that's just the latest in his string of sociopathic behavior. He's a horrible human being, and I don't care if he throws 150-mph fastballs or has a VORP of 872: he doesn't deserve a second chance. Sure, he'll get one. Of course he will, because he hasn't made the mistake of doing steroids and outlasting his welcome. But he doesn't deserve it. I'm actually just fine with saying that people who terrorize women and children don't deserve second chances, thank you very much.

Sure, maybe he'll be the MVP in four years. But that's far from a foregone conclusion. In fact, given the potential that he's actually shown in both arenas, it's a lot more likely that he'll be in jail by then. So let's hold off a bit before we say how much of a steal he is.

A note on comments: You'll notice that comments are disabled for this post. They will be for the rest of my posts from here on out. It's the only way I'm willing to continue doing this. Some of you offer some real and much-appreciated insight in our comments section, and to you I sincerely apologize. But I'm not willing to deal with the rest anymore.

The fact is that comment sections are almost invariably full of stupidity, snark, ad hominem, or worse. Look at any newspaper's website, or any prominent sports blog. What you'll find is a bunch of work-avoiding slackers trying to out-quip each other, readers getting into stupid arguments with each other, and just plain bad writing and thinking.

For instance, our own comments have recently hosted: ad hoc Sean Taylor conspiracy theories, implications that he was to blame for his own murder, people I hardly know taking shots at me, me taking shots at people I hardly know, and our resident Seahawks fan's continuing juvenile-hall smack about Donovan McNabb being fat and/or gay. Since our very first posts, it's served mostly to further arguments between friends that invariably get personal and create real-life tension. The semi-public forum only exacerbates this. There's just no point.

I'm sick of it. You want to disagree, maybe offer an opposing view? Fine. Start your own blog. Shit, ask to join this one -- I'd love to have more viewpoints to keep it fresh and make posts more frequent, and I'm sure Diesel would agree. We'll be happy to have blog-offs. Or you can e-mail us at our newly created blog address -- -- and we'll do mailbag columns. But either way, you're going to have to provide more than a few lines of facile smartaleckyness.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Cleaning house

Sean Taylor
It appears the cops are fairly resolute on this being a non-premeditated murder, which I suppose makes much of the speculation — mine included, featured right below this post — appear hasty and flat wrong.


I'm not going to apologize for what I said because I still feel there's logic behind it. Readers will, by this point, be familiar with my love of William of Occam, and his fine razor. The simplest answer, in this case, was that Sean Taylor's off-the-field history likely played a role in his eventual demise. I agree with many critics of the media's coverage that attempting to draw conclusions about Taylor — as a person, or in regard to his demise — based on his on-field behavior reeks of prejudice, and not necessarily in the racial sense (though it would be foolish to say that's absolutely not the case, either). But I disagree with those crowing "See! I told you so!" to those who stated the obvious in the early days after his death, which is that Taylor had a history of being both the alleged victim and perpetrator of gun violence. And that's not even getting into the break-in a week prior, the remnants of which involved what can only be construed as a threat of violence. I'll be curious to see how that situation is ultimately reconciled by investigators when it's all said and done, if it's to be reconciled at all.

I'm also going to say this — and I know I'm likely to catch shit for it — before being done with the matter of Taylor's death: I still have trouble buying it. It would make perfect sense for the perpetrators to represent their crime as a burglary gone bad, as a lack of premeditation serves as a mitigating circumstance when it comes to murder. Of course, it's not just the perps saying this; I would like to believe the police wouldn't simply buy into what's been confessed and leave it at that. But without getting all conspiracy theorist on everyone here, if this is a coincidence, it's a hell of a coincidence. And I'm not the only person who thinks so. But that's also largely irrelevant, so I'll leave it at that.

There are a ton of other issues that Taylor's death has brought up, however, w/r/t black athletes, the perception of black athletes by the media and fans, and the fairly shocking mortality rates for young black men that Taylor's death has suddenly made everyone aware of. I'm not going to pretend I'm capable or willing of attacking all with the correct gravity right now, but maybe I'll break them up and tackle them another day. I am going to say this, however: If you believe that race isn't an issue, you are allowing your desires to cloud your perception of reality. Race is not only an issue, it might be the issue. And I don't see why acknowledging that, or talking about it, is met with shouts, because it's that reaction that guarantees the "race isn't an issue" people will continue to be very, very wrong. I'm not saying everyone has to agree on the conclusions, only that the argument is worth having.

The Patriots
Two sub-par performances in a row against teams that strain to be considered mediocre (unless we're actually willing to grant that the Eagles' and Ravens' performances against the Patriots suggest that, perhaps, they're better than just mediocre ... perhaps they've been unlucky?). But, still, two wins. And what's surprising to me is that, amid the speculation and desire to assign the 2007 Patriots a legacy despite the presence of, potentially, seven more games to go, everyone seems to have forgotten how fucking hard it is to win a football game in the NFL.

That statement can serve as an age-old truism — I mean, there's a reason there's been one undefeated team in the history of the league, and that team had one of the weakest schedules in the league that season — or you can make it specific to this era. It's difficult to describe to people who haven't been exposed to the inner workings of a professional or college football team just how staggering the technology at the disposal of coaches is in the modern era. The days of the single game tape are long gone; teams have the opportunity to dissect teams using the standard two cameras (one sideline, one end zone) operated by the home team at each game, television tapes and advance scouting reports in addition to the sheer volume of information that fans have access to as well. There are no secrets in football anymore, especially when it comes to schemes. To top it all off, coaches generally spend about 80 hours planning for each game, which would cause one to expect some advancement in approach against a particular opponent as the season wears on.

The Patriots, at some point, were going to have these kinds of games. I'm a little surprised that they came in a pair, but the timing shouldn't really be a concern. Nor should the opponents; while the Eagles and Ravens are well on their way to incredibly disappointing campaigns, they're not the Dolphins, either. Both teams schemed well in an effort to exploit their strengths and the Pats' weaknesses. Both had the Pats on the ropes. Both looked like they might pull it off.

And they didn't.

I have no idea what's going to happen for the rest of this season, which is why I'm willing to wait before making any affirmative statements about the Pats' "greatness." But I will say this: If New England wins out, regardless of margins of victory of heart palpitations on the part of Tony Kornheiser, they're the greatest team in the history of the NFL. But I really have trouble believing that's going to happen. It's just too hard.

On instant replay
Twice this week, games with big playoff implications were decided by questionable calls. The Packers lost because of a pass interference call that cost them close to 50 yards that appeared to be a case of tangled feet, which does not constitute pass interference. The Browns lost when Kellen Winslow was ruled out-of-bounds on a game-tying touchdown reception, despite the fact he was clearly forced out of bounds.

The pass interference call wasn't reviewed, because you can't review pass interference. The Browns' touchdown was reviewed, but not to determine if it was a force-out, because that's not reviewable either.

What bullshit.

We're told that those plays aren't reviewable, because they're "judgement calls." The same goes for field goal tries, holding, and facemask penalties. What distinguishes these plays from non-judgement calls is not readily apparent to me. Does the term suggest that the definitions of the infractions are highly subjective? If that's the case, those definitions should be reconsidered. But I think we all know they're not subjective, they're just difficult to call consistently. And that makes sense; being a football official is very difficult, and expecting robot-like precision on the part of human beings is foolish. With all due respect to Seahawks fans, bad or missed calls are not indicative of anything more than human fallibility.

But doesn't the presence of instant replay indicate an implicit acceptance on the part of the NFL that referees might get it wrong sometimes, and that there should be a mechanism in place to allow aggrieved teams the benefit of an opportunity on the part of officials to correct their errors? I think that's a reasonable conclusion. And if that's the case, then shouldn't the most difficult calls to make be made available to a second look?

I sense that the league is afraid that including pass interference on the list of reviewable plays will somehow expose officials to scorn, or even worse expose the league's rules definitions as being more subjective than what constitutes obscenity. I guess it's nice to see that the colossus of American sports is so damn sensitive.

The hot stove

I know everyone's talking about Santana, but isn't that getting old (plus, he's not going anywhere)? No, the real story is that the smart teams are jumping in early and swinging high-risk, high-ceiling deals before the market gets further inflated at the Opryland Hotel bar. The Padres' signing of Randy Wolf is precisely the kind of free agent deal that mid-market teams have to make if they're going to stay competitive; the only way Wolf will end up being highly paid is if he earns the money. Yeah, I know, the Padres have an advantage because of PETCO when it comes to signing pitchers, but it has less to do with the specifics of this deal than it does the approach. The only "bargains" to be had are on players with red flags, as evidenced by the Nationals' swindling of the Mets and Rays for Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes, in addition to the aforementioned Wolf signing.

(Quick note on Dukes: If you think this was a bad deal, then you're confusing baseball with the National Honors Society. Dukes is a talented player who's done some bad stuff, on the field and off. He threatened the life of his girlfriend, which is reprehensible for sure. But he's not in jail for it either, which means he's still eligible to have a career. If you think Dukes should be punished for his transgressions, complain about the justice system, not baseball)

But I think the really interesting story is that its looking very likely that the Padres will lock-up Jake Peavy long-term. Peavy's willing to cut the Pads a discount — he'll likely make less annually that Carlos Zambrano — comes in return for a no-trade clause, which is understandable. And while I've often bemoaned long-term contracts for pitchers, I'm starting to soften a little when it comes to the elite guys. Peavy's on a very short list of hurlers who are near-mortal locks to be among the best five starters in the majors on a yearly basis, and while it's dumb to expect that he'll be anywhere close to this dominant in 2013, he should still be well above-average barring significant injury. And while the "significant injury" caveat isn't insignificant, it's probably not significant enough to make deals like these prohibitive any longer. At some point in time, you've got to take your shot, even if you acknowledge that the odds aren't the most desirable. Peavy's not only one of the pre-eminent players in the game, he also happens to play for a team whose best pitching prospect (Will Inman) projects to be a No. 3 in a perfect world. I happen to think that the Twins should strongly consider giving Santana the money he wants as well — this is a fairly recent conclusion for me as well — but the situation for the Twins and the Padres aren't exactly analogous. The Twins could afford to lose Santana, even without a massive return in a trade, because they are flush with pitching prospects and have Francisco Liriano returning from Tommy John surgery. The Padres, on the other hand, don't have anyone all that great coming up through the system, which means that Peavy's value to the team is even higher.

Guys like me are often accused of ignoring the forest for the trees when it comes to stuff like this, and I think that's fair criticism. I hate the idea of teams — particularly teams I like — signing irrational contracts, and those belonging to free agent starters are most often deserving of that particular epithet. In my perfect world, you would always have enough talent on the farm to allow free agents to walk, because free agents are almost always too expensive. But in an imperfect world, you have to accept that there are times when too much isn't really too much. Peavy's expensive, and if he gets hurt it will be a massive blow to the franchise's ability to compete. But it would probably be an even bigger blow to not have him, which means it's a deal you have to make.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

When the truth doesn't suit our bromides

Sean Taylor is dead, in case you haven't heard. The reaction from the media, I think, has been pretty muted, considering the nature of the murder and the talent level of the victim. But I guess that's what happens when the player in question hardly ever spoke with the media; in the absence of personal anecdotes, there's really not much to say in situations like these. Or at least that's the stance most media members have taken with Taylor's shooting and subsequent passing, sticking to the facts and editorializing little.

But what of those facts? Not of the shooting; those surrounding Taylor's life. Isn't there something to be said of the fact that Taylor's last few years have been a bit troubling on the "getting his name in the blotter" tip, even by the standards of the NFL? This guy's name has been linked with gun violence on multiple occasions, both as victim and perpetrator. This isn't to say he's a murderer or a gangster; it's just to say that the search "Sean Taylor+guns" would come up with a few more hits than "Bob Sanders+guns."

Mike Wilbon thought Taylor's backstory was relevant. Here's what he said during a chat, yesterday:

McLean, Va.: Will your opinion of Taylor change if this does not turn out to be a random incident (e.g. home invasion)?

Michael Wilbon: No ... people's opinions are shaped by the way they've grown up, the way they see the world, what they know about the world the person in question grew up in, etc. Sean Taylor isn't the only guy I know who fits his general profile. I've known guys like Taylor all my life, grew up with some. They still have shades of gray and shouldn't be painted in black and white...I know how I feel about Taylor, and this latest news isn't surprising in the least, not to me. Whether this incident is or isn't random, Taylor grew up in a violent world, embraced it, claimed it, loved to run in it and refused to divorce himself from it. He ain't the first and won't be the last. We have no idea what happened, or if what we know now will be revised later. It's sad, yes, but hardly surprising.

Unsurprisingly, Wilbon's catching some blowback. From Chris Mottram's Mr. Irrelevant:
This is ridiculous on so many levels, but the worst part is that it sounds an awful lot like Wilbon is suggesting Taylor had this coming. Sure, Taylor’s had some troubles in the past, but that’s like suggesting the slutty girl from high school deserved to be raped. See, the way it works is that crimes are not the fault of the victims.
Listen, I don't have an axe to grind with either of these guys, and I can see where Mottram's coming from. Wilbon's comments do seem a little chilly, especially now that we know the guy ended up dying.

We're supposed to be nice to the dead and dying, and "concern" ourselves more with that person getting better or ascending swiftly to the pre-assigned level of heaven in times like these. We tend to wait at least two weeks before suggesting anything negative about the deceased, and even then you must chase any statement with, "... may god rest his/her soul." It's proper form. It's also bullshit.

It's not Wilbon's or Mottram's job to comfort the family of the dead, folks. Reporters and columnists are there to let us know what the news is, and sometimes what their opinion of the news is. And Taylor's death is a sufficiently big story that people are allowed to call it like they see it. That's what Wilbon did. Taylor's been in trouble, and a good percentage of those situations involved guns. No, he wasn't Tupac, but it's so totally not surprising that he got shot. To say otherwise is disingenuous.

I also don't think that Wilbon — or anyone who cares to mention Taylor's history and the possibility that there's a connection — is saying Taylor "had it coming," an expression that implies the person deserved it. No one has a fucking bullet to the groin "coming to them." But to borrow Mottram's rape analogy, you needn't suggest the slut deserved to get raped to point out that sluts are more likely to get raped than girls who are in bed by 10 p.m.

I'm really wondering if Wilbon's going to be the only one to point out the obvious: That, despite alleged attempts to improve his life — and I love how everyone has taken statements to this effect as gospel — Taylor's past almost certainly came back to haunt him. We may not really understand (yet) what Taylor's past involves in whole, but a few well-publicized incidents give us an idea. A couple of years ago, he stuck a gun in the face of someone he had just beaten up over a stolen SUV, and subsequently was the reason someone went NYPD on a friend's truck during a drive-by. And from the scraps of information coming through about recent events, Taylor had reason to believe he was still a target, especially considering that a little more than a week ago someone broke into his house and left a fucking knife on his pillow. This shooting was not the product of some casual disdain, or a desire to separate Taylor from his wealth. Someone wanted him dead, or seriously fucked up, and dedicated no small amount of thought and effort to achieving that end. Murder like this doesn't happen by accident; at some point, Taylor or a close associate initiated a chain of events that led to yesterday's murder. You don't need to be McNulty to figure this stuff out.

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that outside of a few glancing blows like this one, we're not going to see anything substantive on this until REAL Sports or another investigative (and non-print) outlet decides to tackle the "Athletes and Gun Violence" story again, maybe even with a new perspective. But, like the Brian Pata/Darrent Williams situations proved, even the hardest-hitting outlets are loathe to dig into what it is that these young men did that made their murder such a priority for someone. Maybe one of them was a "senseless" killing — the more we hear about the Williams slaying, the more it sounds like he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time — but it's not possible that they all were. Pata was executed, and Taylor was stalked before being executed. Pata and Taylor did something to inspire these killings. If you're going to report the story, you need to be willing to address that issue. That is the story.

The fact that he responded to his SUV being stolen by hunting down some guy, beating the living shit out of him, and then putting a gun in his face tells us something about Sean Taylor's character. You don't brandish weapons in the process of disputes unless deadly weapons — and the violence associated with them — are a central motif in your life. The only way we can insult Taylor's memory is to accuse him of being stupid enough — after growing up in a Florida inner city — to think that he could simply walk away from that kind of past without it catching up to him at some point.

It is unfortunate that Sean Taylor is dead. It's tragic that his infant daughter will grow up without a father. I feel for everyone involved in his life, many of whom are not only dealing with grief but the kind of anxiety that springs from someone your age dying. And I certainly don't believe that Sean Taylor deserved to be murdered. No one deserves to be killed; murder always represents the grandest of injustices. I hope his killer(s) are found, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and never allowed to take the life of someone's son, brother and father. Who wouldn't share those sentiments?

But I, like Wilbon, am not surprised by Taylor's death in the least. I don't believe it's an inexplicable tragedy; it's merely a tragedy, and further proof to anyone dense enough to still need it that if you're willing to point a gun at someone else, there's a strong likelihood that you will find yourself at the other end of one at some point. Whoever killed Taylor that night did so not only armed with a gun, but what he felt was reason enough to use it. And to pretend that's not the case is to willfully ignore that which is right in front of your face.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Yo. It's me Aaron Rowand. I used to play center field for the Philadelphia Phillies, but I'm now unemployed. I doubt I'll be out of a job for long, but apparently I had to wait for some dude named Torii (what kinda name is that?) to get signed so everyone could figure out how much they were willing to pay me. They say I'm going to get paid less; not a whole lot, maybe 10 percent less overall. OK, that's cool, considering dude just got signed for $18 milly a year to play in that place by Disney Land. Heh. I like the tea cups ride.

Anyways, my only question is: Why is this Torii guy going to get paid more than me, exactly? Don't get me wrong, he seems like a cool guy and everything, and I've seen him on Sports Center robbing dudes of home runs and stuff, which is cool. But, hey, you might have noticed me on Sports Center a couple of times to, face-planting into fences. Alls I'm saying is that it's not like he's got a monopoly on highlight catches. He may jump, but is he willing to look like a fucking hockey player for the rest of his career? Yeah, I didn't think so. If he only knew how much the broads dug steri-strips.

So, if it's not the highlight catches, then what is it? As far as I can tell, I'm as good as the dude. Maybe better. My boy Diesel got me some numbers on this shit, and told me to paste 'em on here.

Aaron Rowand career OPS+: 106
Torii Hunter career OPS+: 104

Aaron Rowand WARP3, 2005-2007: 19.1
Torii Hunter WARP3, 2005-2007: 19.0

Aaron Rowand Age: 29
Torii Hunter Age: 31

Also, on defense, Diesel told me it's basically a wash. Hunter has a slightly higher "range factor" and "zone rating," I got a higher "fielding runs above replacement" figure, and we got the same fielding percentage.

Yeah, I'm like you: I don't have a motherfucking clue what WARP3 is, either (Diesel also said something about my VORP being higher than Torii's last season, but I told his geek ass to shut it already), but I think it's pretty cool that the stats are saying I'm better than the other guy who's gonna get paid more than me.

Hold on, that's not cool at all. That's actually really fucked up.

They Aren't What They Think They Are

You can come out of Sunday night's game and do what most people are doing, and continue to fellate the Patriots while slapping the Birds on the back for their moral victory, losing by only three to the Greatest Team In NFL History, Ever, quarterbacked by Tom He Just Plays Like a Champion (that's his Indian name). It's easy to do that, if it's the only Eagles game you've watched this year. It's easy to buy the idea that this is a good franchise that can sneak up on anybody, even the mighty, peerless Patriots.

Well, that's bullshit. I'll tell you what I take from the game: the Pats are not that good.

Let's get it out of the way now: how good is that good, exactly? They're the best team in the NFL this season. That's it. I'm sick of hearing all this other hype. I'm not convinced this year's Pats are the best team I've seen in the last three years, or in the salary cap era, or even that they're better than the '04 Pats. I've only followed the NFL for about 15 years, only really followed it for about ten, and they're not even close to the best team I've seen, much less the best ever. Who is? More on that later.

For now, let's discuss what happened last night. Not that you heard any of this from the announcers or studio analysts, but here's what happened. The Patriots went to the wire with a team that:

1. Was .500 going into the game, both this season and over the last three seasons combined. For those of you who remember the 2004 Eagles, know that this is not that team. This is not a good football team. This is a team that got embarrassed by the Cowboys and Giants this year. This is a last-place team.

2. Was playing on the road, in late November, in one of the hardest places to play in football.

3. Started A.J. Feeley at QB. Yeah, he played well, spectacularly except for a few bad throws -- even if those throws did cost them the game. But he's had enough NFL starts -- 20-ish -- to show exactly who he is and who he isn't. He isn't an NFL-caliber starting QB. Ask the Dolphins. And he spotted them 7 points right off the bat on a horrendous throw. A guy who's been starting all season doesn't come out and throw that ball on the third play. Now, I'm not saying Donovan McNabb would have won this game -- he wouldn't have, and there's no doubt in my mind, but that's a whole different post. Only that a pretty mediocre quarterback started in his place.

4. Started one third-string safety who was out of the NFL a few weeks ago (and got hurt during the game), and another who's 34 and banged up, against the best passing attack in the league. Both starting safeties dropped crucial interceptions that should have been caught pretty easily.

5. Was coached about as poorly as could be, offensively. The defensive game plan was great, and although I'm sick of Jim Johnson and his constant blitzing, the three-man front was brilliant. The no-huddle four-wide would have shredded a lot of defenses. But Reid and Morninwheg pulled all their usual bullshit, burning timeouts they'd need later, and -- in a move that would have given me a coronary if I weren't already expecting it, because I've seen the same thing so many times -- they called a deep pass pattern on the final drive, when the only reasonable gameplan in the world would have been to run the ball or throw short passes for two minutes and go for the tying field goal. Feeley made a bad throw -- LJ was open short -- but he never should have been put in that position.

6. Did not force a turnover, unless you count the turnover on downs when the Mastermind decided to go for it and the Second Coming threw a duck. Usually when a team loses to a lesser team, turnovers are the reason: a few freak fumbles, Eli Manning's three pick-sixes against Minnesota. The Pats dominated the turnover battle, including a pick-six two minutes in, and still barely won.

7. Got a grand total of 92 yards from its best player. That's 60 less than Westbrook has averaged on the year. It would be much more understandable if the Eagles were close because Westbrook blew up, but he was not much of a factor.

All that, and the Best Team Ever still needed a few breaks to win by three? Get the fuck out of here. A couple of things go the other way -- that inexplicable fourth-down offsides by the Eagles, which led to the Maroney TD; if one more safety was healthy, the Birds wouldn't have had linebackers on Welker all night; if they catch even one of those picks; if Feeley throws only one baffling interception to Samuel instead of two -- and the Eagles win.

(So right about now is when some of our faithful commenters accuse me of making excuses for the Eagles. But that's not what I'm doing here -- if I was going to do that, I'd mention how Brady false-started all game, stepping back and ducking his shoulders in an oft-successful attempt to draw offsides, but never got flagged for it, or how that Gaffney TD would have been reviewed if any other team in football scored it, or how, if you watch that fourth-down offsides again, it looks like a false start. But I'm not going to do that.)

What I'm saying is that there's a reason the spread was the biggest ever. The Eagles are a mediocre, banged-up team, and the Pats had looked like a great one all year. It was in Foxboro. The Pats had nobody injured going in. A historically great, healthy team at home against AJ Feeley? It should have been a massacre.

Except it wasn't, because the Pats aren't that great. Brady got rattled under pressure -- not that much pressure, either -- and started airmailing receivers or throwing what should have been interceptions. They dropped a ton of passes. Moss got jammed at the line and frustrated into irrelevance. Stallworth was invisible. They have no running game. Their linebackers can't cover for shit, so the middle was wide open all day. Their D-line couldn't get to Feeley. Their kicker missed an easy field goal.

So what? The Pats still won, right? Yeah, they did. And maybe winning -- even if it's close, even if it takes a little luck -- is the mark of a champion (barf). But I just don't want to hear it anymore about the fucking 2007 Patriots being the best team ever. The team I saw tonight wasn't even close to the early '90s Cowboys, as much as it pains me to use that hated franchise as a reference point. Or the Steve Young Niners. Those teams didn't need to play their best game -- no turnovers, a defensive TD, no key penalties -- to beat shitty teams at home.

The Pats' flaws were exposed today, and they are few but significant. They have no real running game. They have a bunch of geriatric linebackers who can play a mean fullback and tight end but can't cover anybody. Brady is human if you can ever get pressure on him (which rarely happens, because they have a great O-line, not that you'd ever hear it in all the Tom Brady fluffing). Outside of Asante Samuel, their secondary is pedestrian. Their D-line doesn't get much push. And if Brady sees pressure like he did tonight, you could be looking at Matt Cassell under center. He's been lucky so far, but look around the NFL and see how many starting QBs are hurt. One play could end all this history talk real quick. (Are you listening, Ray Lewis?)

If the Pats run the table this year, that says more about the sorry state of the NFL than it does about their greatness. I don't see it happening. If the Steelers or Giants don't get them, they'll still have to face a Colts team that ought to be healthier by then.

Either way, they're not the best team ever. Last night's game made that pretty clear.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sink or swim

It's no surprise that the term "witch-hunt" has been bandied about in our cliché-crazy environment when referring to the hysteria surrounding steroids and baseball. I've long thought that the Red Scare was the best available analogy, particularly in light of the "What about the kids?!?" pap that's been trotted out by dozens of supercilious columnists trying to justify their rending of Tommy Bahama shirts and well-worn 501s, but we're not here to discuss the relative merits of hackneyed terminology. We're here to talk about, instead, our weird perception of morality and justice as it pertains to athletes.

As tired and inadequate as the witch references may be in general, the concept of a witch trial is most appropriate when sizing up the situation faced by one Barry Bonds, he of the home run record and 1,000 moments of terror for sports writers. The crime Bonds is being pilloried for today is lying to a grand jury, when the opportunity for "immunity" was presented should he offer any testimony that would be self-incriminating. But, considering that what he said that day was going to become public knowledge, he was really faced with a witch's "water test": If he confessed to a crime everyone had already assumed him guilty of, then he would be finished. If he maintained his innocence — honestly or not — then he would face the punishment nonetheless.

If the body floats, it's a witch. If the body sinks, it's not a witch. Live guilty, or die innocent.

The prosecutor was already armed with evidence that Bonds was a customer of BALCO, and had in the process of his patronage obtained anabolic steroids and a series of other performance-enhancing drugs from BALCO honcho Victor Conte. He was also armed with enough evidence to indict Conte as it was; the use of Bonds, Jason Giambi and a handful of other professional athletes amounted to, at best, piling on, and at worst a dog and pony show for — supposedly — the benefit of those in attendance, and those in attendance only.

That last part is what we're most concerned with, at this moment. Grand juries exist to allow prosecutors to, in theory, test the viability of a case they wish to bring to trial. In reality, grand juries exist to strengthen a prosecutor's case by virtue of an indictment that is granted in a closed proceeding without the benefit of judges, the defendant, or lawyers for the defendant or any witnesses. It is not a stretch to suggest that what often takes place within a grand jury proceeding is nothing short of slander against a prospective defendant, which is why it's increasingly rare for a prosecutor to not earn an indictment as a result of these patently farcical proceedings. Evidence that wouldn't see the light of day after discovery is fair game in a grand jury proceeding, and there's no limit to what a prosecutor can do to witnesses that he or she would otherwise be given a severe reprimand for repeating in an open court.

A prosecutor can also offer immunity to any witness, which in theory — sorry if I keep using this particular caveat as a rhetorical device — obviates the need for any witness to invoke his or her Fifth Amendment right to not be compelled to self-incriminate. Bonds, like the other BALCO clients, was granted immunity in return for honest testimony, which in a lot of people's minds means that Bonds had no excuse to lie about his steroid use.

Bonds is a lot of things — megalomaniac, an asshole, selfish — but he's rarely been accused of being stupid. Nor, I suspect, are the members of his legal council. Anyone with half a brain could see the BALCO grand jury for the circus it was, and thusly had to understand two things about it:

1) It was a pointless exercise of prosecutorial power, and;
2) There was absolutely zero chance that testimony would remain secret.

Bonds, like every other athlete called to testify, had much more to worry about than the criminality of any actions they might admit to on that stand. Rarely are the users of "illegal" drugs like steroids convicted of anything more weighty than a misdemeanor; it's only ever the suppliers that need be concerned of serious jail time, and no one has ever accused Bonds of sharing his stash. But an admission to using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs was nothing less than professional suicide, and in the case of almost every BALCO client, that meant millions of dollars lost. Perhaps I am overly cynical, but I don't know many people who honor the "truth" — particularly when it's over such a petty crime, in the eyes of the law — enough to sacrifice that kind of money. In addition, Bonds stood close to the precipice of one of the greatest professional accomplishments any athlete could hope to accomplish, which meant he stood to lose both material wealth and athletic immortality. He had every reason to lie that day, seeing as the prosecutor's promise of confidentiality promised to be worthless, a belief borne out by the subsequent leak and publishing of that testimony in newspapers and The Game of Shadows, a book that virtually re-wrote the rules about yellow sports journalism.

So, why did anyone expect him to tell the truth on the stand? Where's the benefit? Furthermore, how is the "greater good" served by his telling the truth in this situation? Even if you believe Conte deserved to be locked up for his crimes, whatever Bonds said that day really didn't change things one way or the other. The player's "crime" didn't harm society; it harmed a game that had looked the other way for at least a decade as juiced ballplayers brought fans back into the seats and dollars back into the pockets of team owners (and, yes, the players themselves). The "crime" was against hopelessly naive fans who clung onto silly notions of athletic purity. And, if you really want to go left-field on this situation, Bonds' crime was against his "legacy," or "natural talent," or "respect for the game," ideas that shouldn't be uttered with a straight face. In truth, Bonds' only "crime" when it came to performance-enhancing drugs was that he shopped with the wrong distributor, or perhaps made his use a little to conspicuous. Perhaps that's a sign of poor forethought, but more than likely it's bad luck. Luck, and the fact that he was so unabashedly better than everyone else — even those juicing just as much — that the scope of every self-righteous, fame-hungry writer or federal prosecutor was aimed directly as his expanding head.

The real "crime" Bonds is being punished for — with this perjury indictment serving as proxy — is being unwilling to offer a lame, emasculating and humiliating "apology" like Giambi (who only apologized after the testimony leaked; had it actually remained secret, he would still maintain his innocence) so the rest of us could feel superior for a day before moving on. Because this proud, arrogant athlete didn't prostrate himself, he is everything that's wrong with the game and should be fitted with shackles. Worse yet, now, and only now, that there's an federal indictment — as opposed to just reams of evidence, two books loudly proclaiming his guilt and a general consensus among everyone that he used PEDs — he's suddenly untouchable, and will not be signed by a team this offseason even though he's still one of the 20 best offensive players in the league and without question the best remaining offensive player on the market. How fucking capricious and hypocritical is that, baseball?

If Bonds goes to jail — he almost certainly won't, by the way, because it's virtually impossible to prove perjury in this particular situation — he should be defiant on his perp walk. The only shame that should be felt is by those who think that what's taking place right now is anything except a travesty and embarrassment. Athletes who have killed people, or been party to a murder — hello there, Ray Lewis and Leonard Little! — received nowhere close to the self-congratulatory bile that's filled sports pages the last three years every time the subject is Barry Bonds. One wonders if the fan reaction to Pac-Man Jones the next time he steps on a field of play will compare to anything Bonds received last season on the road.

I'm not saying that what Bonds did was right — taking steroids or lying to the grand jury — nor should anyone "defending" Bonds have to say as much. But I'm not going to pretend that either infraction is anywhere close to deserving of the punishment he's already received, not to mention the punishment he possibly could receive down the road. Nor am I going to give the hyper-moralists a pass, particularly when almost every one of them have done things in their life to further their careers or contribute to their personal wealth — embellishing resumes, backstabbing co-workers, dodging taxes — that are no better or worse than what Bonds did. There are real criminals in sports that are much more deserving of our hatred, but most of them are lucky(?) enough to not be so good that the mixture of misdeed on their part and jealousy on everyone else's part proves potent enough to fire up a crooked trial.

I finish with a question: Do you really feel better now that Bonds has been ruined?

Blow up Boston!

No, seriously, please do. I hate that city's sports teams and their fans with the fire of a thousand suns.

Returning to the Phillies-free agents conversation, turns out marquee free agents are turning down $12 million dollars to play for the Red Sox. I don't know why. Playing in Philly obviously gives you the best chance of winning an MVP.

Also, the Eagles are 22-point dogs in Foxboro this weekend. You read that right. Biggest dog of the season, and in Eagles history. C'mon, Diesel, take the Pats with the points. I dare you.

Monday, November 19, 2007

It ain't just B anymore ...

I've found a mocha-skinned sister to love. Everybody, meet Jemele Hill, whom I had rarely read before today, when she wrote the single best piece of commentary I have ever read about Barry Bonds.

I should probably just stop there, since the Brothers Anonymous are probably flinging objects across their earth-toned living rooms already. But I can't resist observing that one of the precious few measured, logical, original, and convincing opinion pieces I've read about Bonds -- and the only readable opinion piece I've seen from ESPN in recent memory -- was written by a black woman. And, even better, she actually acknowledged her race and gender, and the role they play in her perspective, unlike pretty much any of her colleagues, ever (and by colleagues, I don't mean other black female sportswriters, or other black sportswriters, but simply other sportswriters). She obviously knew many of her readers (and, I would bet, many of her colleagues) would accuse her of playing The Race Card, and yet she discussed race, anyway. That takes grit.

(On the race card issue: it consistently baffles me that educated and intelligent people -- I've seen it used in the comments here -- still use that phrase, apparently ignorant of the blatant and sadly ironic racism inherent in suggesting that race is just a card minorities use to win arguments. Accusing somebody of playing the race card is the new race card.)

Are her race and gender why the column's good? No. Are they why her perspective is unique? Actually, yes, they probably have something to do with it. I originally wrote a cynical, sarcastic comment in this space, but that whole bloviating tone is really tiring, here and on every other sports blog I read. (And I'm sure a couple of our trusty commenters will take care of that for me, anyway.) So I'll just say this: that column is a great example of why I think sports journalism would be better off if it offered more minority perspectives.

Second place in the best-recent-Bonds-piece competition goes to McCovey Chronicles.

Later edit: This is sort of interesting. A little bit of digging on Ms. Hill reveals that, in a study done last year, she was the only black female sports columnist employed by the sample size of 305 newspapers. Is she the only black female sports columnist in America? Anybody know?

Friday, November 16, 2007

A few last words ...

I don't really care enough about this to do an extended back-and-forth. But a couple scattered observations as my last thoughts on it:

Michael Bourn is not that good right now. Look, he's not a younger Dave Roberts. He could be a younger Dave Roberts in a year or two -- but that's his ceiling, not where he is right now. He could also be Willy Taveras, or Doug Glanville, or Endy Chavez, or your typical fast, slappy, armless fourth outfielder. I think you and Dave Silver and every other prospect guy sometimes (often?) lose sight of that distinction, which is important.

The big difference between Victorino and Bourn is offense. Victorino's better defensively because of his arm, but that's just a bonus -- lots of CFs don't have great arms. The big difference is that Victorino has much more pop, and it's not even just a CBP thing -- he hit half his homers on the road. Bourn has zero power.

Jayson Werth is better offensively than Bourn -- even in your theoretical musical-outfield situation (which, by the way, I disagree with, because it makes no sense to be moving your best outfielder between positions every other night -- that's the kind of thing that sounds great in theory, but loses sight of the fact that we're talking about human beings here, and humans generally do better when they're playing the same position every night), it's not really a choice between Victorino or Bourn, offensively -- it's a choice between Bourn and Werth. And Werth offers a lot more of what they need: a corner outfielder with decent pop, a little speed, and a capable all-around game. If he rakes lefties and is replacement level against righties, that means he's better than replacement, overall. Worst case is you spell him sometimes with Greg Dobbs or some other role player. They'll probably pick up another outfielder, since uberprospect Greg Golson (yet another reason Bourn has little value to the Phils) isn't ready yet.

J.C. Romero -- How the fuck is Eric Gagne worth $6M and Romero's not worth $4M? That's the second time you've said that, and Silver said it too! That is about the least self-evident claim I've ever read -- explain that to me, because I don't believe it. You want to talk about what Romero did in Boston last year? Let's talk about Gagne's BoSox stint!

Also, you keep saying that Romero is somehow not that good simply because he was released twice. According to baseball reference, Romero was only released once last year, and the fact that he was released doesn't change the fact that he pitched extraordinarily well for the Phillies -- (and pretty well for Boston, too, but they have ridiculous bullpen depth, which I guess is why they waived him, so they could trade for the Mighty Eric Gagne).

Bottom line on Romero: they signed the best lefty reliever available for less than a lot of worse pitchers get. Yes, the deal is for 3 years, but he's only 31 (six months younger than your boy Gagne, incidentally, and without that whole history of catastrophic arm injuries). I know you hate free agent signings, but get over it. Not every multi-year signing is a mistake. I haven't seen a single other person mention it as some horrible signing -- some other people have wondered if he's really as good as he showed last year, but nobody else is blowing their stack about the humanity of it all as if it were Adam Eaton Part Deux. If Romero tanks -- which, again, is an if -- then he'll be about the fifth or sixth worst contract on that roster. It's a non-story.

The market price of free agents -- You're also talking all this small-market salary strategy about the Phillies. Wrong team. This isn't the NL West, where a ballpark the size of a soccer field, two great pitchers, and Kevin Kouzmanoff get you a shot at the playoffs every year -- they're competing against the Mets, the Yankees of the NL, which puts them in spend-or-suffer mode. Nobody's itching to sign with Philly for a hundred reasons, but they need to fill holes and compete now, so they have to overpay. I'd rather it be a little than a lot.

All this wait-and-develop shit is fine. In theory.

Myers and the rotation -- It's not any more "asinine" than it was last year, and your guarantee about them not making the playoffs with him in the rotation means exactly zilch after they did it this year while trotting out guys like J.D. Durbin to start. If they sign or trade for a starter like Wolf or Colon or Garland, like they keep saying they want to -- and if Eaton's shoulder doesn't require surgery -- that'll give them six. Which means somebody's going to the 'pen. I'd love to see Eaton banished, but I don't see it happening when he's making $8 milly. (For three more years. Kill me.) Who else? Derail a promising young starter's career (Kendrick)? Force a 45-year-old into a position change? Move Cole Hamels, the future of the franchise? If the following things happen, I think Myers will be the closer:

1. They acquire a starter.
2. Eaton is healthy.
3. Lidge struggles and/or they fail to sign anybody else for the pen.

The bullpen cost them too many games last year, and needs to be a priority. Which it is, as they've repeatedly said. Which brings me to the last reason we won't miss Bourn or Costanzo:

The offense is fine -- They've been one of the two best run-scoring teams in the NL the last two years. They don't need more offense from their outfield (and, for the hundredth time, Bourn wouldn't have provided it, anyway.) They need a guy like Lidge to shore up a train wreck of a bullpen.

To sum up, are they the greatest, most earth-shattering moves the Phillies have made in years? No. Do I think these transactions will single-handedly make them NL East favorites? No. Do I even think they'll be the most significant moves they make this offseason? I'm going to wait and see.

They're completely unremarkable moves (which is why I didn't write about them originally) that you and Silver are making out to be way bigger deals than they actually are. You might not hear Michael Bourn's name once next year if you don't watch the Astros. You sure as hell won't hear Mike Costanzo's. And the other guys we're discussing are above-average relievers. Romero and Lidge might flame out completely, but the organization's not going to miss Bourn or Costanzo all that much. These moves just aren't going to be difference-makers, one way or the other.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I like it!

For the first time in a long time, we're actually having an argument on the argument blog! Even better, good points are being made like fucking crazy. Word.

Pepe, I do see some of what you're saying, and you've made enough good points that I'll admit to saying there's some possibility this could end up working in the Phillies' favor. And I don't think anyone has to be worried that either Bourn or Costanza will one day make this look like a Larry Andersen/Jeff Bagwell deal.

However, that doesn't mean I agree with you ...

The reason I didn't mention Victorino is because I think he's got a capable — not great, but capable — bat for a corner outfield spot, whereas Bourn clearly didn't and Werth does only against southpaws (more on that in a second). You're right that Victorino is a better defensive outfielder than Bourn, but the FH's main advantage is his arm strength, which is better utilized in right field. Furthermore, the combination of Bourn and Victorino out there would probably be worth at least one win, if not two, defensively, since Bourn is a vastly better defensive outfielder than Rowand was last season (desire to run into fences notwithstanding) and all of the Phillies' pitchers are flyball pitchers, if memory serves.

Werth is as "perfect" a platoon player as you'll find these days. He absolutely kills lefties, but is right around replacement level for an outfielder against righties (here are the actual numbers). I love guys like Werth, because when properly utilized they're fantastic, low-cost weapons. He and Bourn would have been perfect platoon partners, as the latter evidenced a huge platoon split himself in 2007, albeit over a smaller sample size. In my idealization, Bourn plays CF against righties, while Victorino starts in CF against lefties with Werth slipping into RF. That's a very favorable situation for any team, and also gives the Phils the opportunity to rest the perpetually ailing Burrell whenever needed, since they'll have four OFs getting regular PT.

I guess the argument, at least to me, doesn't really rest on whether Lidge is good, great or otherwise. It rests on the relative costs and availability of replacements. Bourn may not be a great player, but he's a good player — think a younger Dave Roberts — who's essentially free for the next four years. Costanza is, as you suggested, a Kouzmanoff in a perfect world, which has value but perhaps not as much as the prospect freaks like myself would like to believe. Furthermore, the Phillies have a very real need for OFs, since Rowand most certainly is not coming back, nor should he be pined over at the price he's asking for. I see a ton of value in Bourn, not all of which is directly tied into pure performance. Costanza's potential value — even if it's moderate at best — only serves to tip the scales a little more in the direction of this being a bad trade.

Relievers can be had in this market, and can be had for better prices relative to their actual value, than equivalent OFs. I'm not sure Cordero is worth $40 million — actually, I know he's not — but Gagne is probably worth about $6 million a year, which is very affordable when you consider that Bourn costs virtually nothing. And I think that's the point Nate Silver was driving at — if the Phillies were going to spend an additional $15 million (I'm just throwing that number out) this offseason, there are probably better ways it could have been allotted. And, at the end of the day, the more major-league caliber players you have under your control for league minimum, the better off you are. Every one you trade away costs you not only that player but also the payroll and roster flexibility they afford (you could send down Bourn in a pinch, because he still has options left, for instance).

As for Romero, you're quite right to think that the Phillies needed to retain the best available left-handed reliever on the market. And had they signed him to a one-year, $5 million deal with performance-vested options in 2009 & 2010, we wouldn't be having an argument at all. But the chances of Romero giving the Phillies even one great year — and $4 million for a situational/one-inning reliever should pretty much guarantee "great" — are pretty marginal already (again ... he was waived twice last year! He did not turn into Mike Morgan in 33 innings, at the age of 31), which means the chances of the Phillies even getting a moderate return on those three years at $4 million per annum is a longshot at best. Is it the worst contract of all-time? No. It's not even the worst contract on that team. But I see it as more of the same from a front office that has consistently overpaid for average pitching, and paid for it almost every time. And that's why, in particular, news of the deal was received with much hyperbole on my end.

Stepping back from the specifics, part of the reason I am willing to afford a little leeway to the Phils here is because we've yet to see the extent of their offseason, which could end up providing a much more flattering context for these two early salvos. If they are making a real push at a title, then a wasted $10 million here or there is understandable, if not advisable considering the revenue that kind of success can generate. The timing would appear right, as well; the team's troika of superstars are all in their prime and fast approaching the period where diminishing returns are to be expected from all. If the Phillies follow this up with a deal for a good-to-great outfielder — I don't think such a being exists on the free agent market, unless Mike Cameron's drug suspension seriously impedes his ability to be as overpaid as his contemporaries — then it could possibly reap dividends. But make no mistake, there's no way the Phillies can come into this year with two legitimate OFs with past injury problems and one marginal OF who can't hit righties, and expect to be considered favorites in the NL East, not to mention NL.

Furthermore, the reaction from these two early moves must be to put Myers back in the starting rotation, because it's asinine not to. I don't care what he prefers, he's a legitimate No. 2 starter on a team that needs as many good starting pitchers as it can find right now. Go make a move for another reliever if need be — hell, if they're serious about making a run, I go get Gagne if he'll accept a two-year deal at $6 million per — but whatever you do, make it clear to Myers that he's expected to give his team 200 innings this year. I promise you, if Myers is still in the bullpen when the season rolls around, this team will not make the playoffs, because N.Y. and Atlanta are going to be better, and the Phils simply can't afford to keep that kind of asset in a diminished role.

If I'm the GM, I like my position better with Bourn (and potentially Costanza) and the saved cash than I do with Lidge, and I certainly would have done everything in my power to keep Romero's deal within two years — or three years if the third is a performance-based vested option — even if it meant losing him. I would have taken that money and taken a flier on guys like Gagne, Garcia and perhaps even Colon since it's possible all three will accept one- or two-year deals in return for the opportunity to re-establish their value on the market. Hell, I even strongly consider Cordero, but the apparent necessity of giving him at least four years probably scares me off. Then, I go after guys like Mike Lamb and Morgan Ensberg — both of whom fill needs while hitting, at the least, for better-than-average OBPs — because they'll come cheap and will appreciate the opportunity to play half their games in a hitter's paradise.

But perhaps Gillick has something else planned that will make his first two moves of the offseason make a little more sense. And, saying that, I'll save further criticism until Spring Training.

Though, that's not really a promise.