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.