Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category
My mother was pretty much the odd duck in our house when it came to sports. My dad, my brothers, and myself all followed the Yankees and Giants, while my mom liked the Mets and the Jets. Who knows how these things happen. Suffice it to say, the Yanks and G-Men have combined for nine championships as long as I’ve been around, and the Mets and Jets have one. It’s been tough for mom, but she’s stuck to her guns.
The Yankees and Mets play each other in interleague play, and they faced each other in the World Series in 2000, but there’s no rivalry here. And I don’t mean that in the condescending way that I would say, historically, there’s not a rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Socks. I just mean that the Yankees and the Mets play in the same city, and draw from the same population, but there’s no need for antagonism. Try telling that to my mother, though!
Anyway, the news hook here is that Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter in Mets history tonight. The Mets have famously had a ridiculous number of one-hitters, and an equally ridiculous number of pitchers who have left the team and then thrown a no-hitter. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that this is a pantheon night in Mets history. It’s just a big deal.
Johan Santana has always been an object of fascination and interest to me. After the 2007, there was a furious bidding war among several teams looking to trade for Santana, just one season removed from his second Cy Young award. The Red Socks were tossing out names like Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, and Justin Masterson. The Mets eventually won the sweepstakes by sending to the Twins center fielder Carlos Gomez and pitchers Phil Humber, Kevin Mulvey, and Deolis Guerra. The Yankees famously went through an internal soul-search regarding their top prospects that saw them withhold Joba Chamberlain, but offer Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera, and a few other players.
If you know baseball, you know that some of the names involved in the Santana sweepstakes went in one direction (Phil Humber threw his own perfect game this season; Jon Lester is Boston’s ace, and Ellsbury could be a perennial MVP candidate) while others went in another (who are any of the other guys in the Mets offer). My investment, of course, is with the Yankees prospects. It can’t be said that any of them panned out for the Bombers. Ian Kennedy, one bargaining chip, was traded away to Arizona, where he has prospered. Melky Cabrera was traded to the Braves for Javier Vazquez. Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, once merely the leading guns in a seemingly inexhaustible arsenal of powerful Yankees pitching prospects, have struggled with injury and mediocrity.
In this writer’s myopic opinion, when your team is on the losing end of one of these top-prospects-for-a-proven-star trades, there are two rooting interests, and one follows from the other. The first, obviously, is for the youngsters your team kept to exceed everyone’s wildest expectations, proving that your team’s front office shows a prescience and a savvy that other teams only dream of. The performance of the vet you lost out on is of little consequence if your own players excel, although if his stinking it up makes your own guys look better, tremendous.
Now, if that’s not the case, if your team’s prospects fail to perform, I think your relationship to that original sought-after prize changes. The more I saw season-ending injuries and +4 ERAs from Hughes and Chamberlain, the more I wanted Santana to succeed. For selfish reasons, of course: the hope being that the more terribly a trade is botched, the more it becomes an object lesson to be drawn on the next time. Stars are stars, and prospects are prospects, for a reason. Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.
However, comma, when my buddy Jonny texted me tonight letting me know that Santana had thrown a no-no, I wasn’t thinking of the Yankees. And when I came home and flipped on SportsCenter to watch the highlights, it wasn’t Brian Cashman that caused a few tears to come to my eyes. I was thinking of Jonny, and my dear friend Joe, and Kaitie, who is off in Europe on her honeymoon and who knows if and how she heard the news about her beloved Mets. And I was thinking about my mother.
I’m a Yankees fan. But I grew up in north Jersey, so I couldn’t help but grow up with the Mets, too. Their fans are my friends and family, and tonight, they witnessed a level of excellence from their team that they’ve quite literally never seen before. It’s a good night. The Yankees lost out on the great Santana, but maybe it’s for the best.
We live in uncertain times. Our leaders have divided themselves into dueling factions whose common enemy seems not to be one another, but rather the well-being of a populace that was duped enough by their snake-oil salesmanship and duplicitous doublespeak to cast a ballot, naively projecting their own aspirations and dreams onto the feeble promises of “change” or “a return to values” that the politicians managed to keep a straight face long enough to utter convincingly at a campaign stop. Our heroes can’t seem to keep a grip on the tenuous reins of admiration and esteem long enough to establish themselves as positive role models for our young people before they’re dashed against the same jagged reef of hubris that has been laying heroes low since the days of Greek tragedy. Any functionally thinking human with eyes to see cannot help but be embraced by a deeply penetrating sense of melancholy, remarkable not for its intensity but rather for its consistently gnawing chill of despair, which becomes the most distinguishable characteristic of a series of days and weeks that are made otherwise numb and seemingly pointless. There is, though, one thing we can cling to, one pillar of support and certainty from which, with the grace of whatever deity still bothers to cast a glance over the dregs of what was once her most wondrous creation, we might be able to rebuild a sense of optimism and, as impossible as it may seem, hope: it will always, ALWAYS suck to bu.
This is rich.
Apparently, a goodly number of former Penn State football players are pissed about their old school hiring Bill O’Brien, the New England Patriots offensive coordinator. O’Brien, apparently, doesn’t have sufficient, or any, ties to the Penn State program. In the real world outside of Happy Valley, having no ties to the Penn State football program is considered one of the more attractive items on O’Brien’s resume. Not so among several vocal members of the Penn State community, apparently.
I’ll be straight here. I know people that went to Penn State, and I’m sympathetic to their resentment at getting lumped in with the reprehensible monsters they once admired. However, comma, when the rest of us think of “the culture and tradition of Penn State,” we’re thinking “a culture of child rape, and of covering up and enabling child rape.” When we hear about the unique and special way of doing things at Penn State, we think about authority figures raping children and having their sins covered up. This doesn’t mean that everyone left at Penn State is evil, but it does mean that the “culture” and “tradition” of the place are rotten. If there were ever a time to run full-speed away from culture and tradition, or at the very least just keep your head down and shut up, now is it.
Here is Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun’s official position on Joe Girardi removing Phil Hughes after an inning and a third:
A short news story, noteworthy only because it involved a spat between two New York sports teams, ignited my imagination today, because it united three of my passions: the Yankees, literature, and poking fun at the Mets for being a bushleague organization.
Here’s the story: PNC Field, the former Lackawanna County Stadium and home to the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, is in need of renovations, so the SWB Yankees are in need of a temporary home for the 2012 season while their stadium gets repaired. A perfect location would be Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium, home of the Newark Bears. City and team officials were all about it; having the Yankees’ top minor league affiliate in town would attract many more fans than a season of Can-Am League baseball. And Newark is a part of the Yankees’ geographical base, so it would present an opportunity for fans priced out of the big league stadium to get a look at some still pretty good Yankees baseball.
Of course, Newark is also part of the Mets’ geographical base, so they were able to invoke territorial rights to veto the move. I suppose the Amazin’s weren’t interested in having two professional baseball teams in the tri-state that played better than them. Oh well. It would have been nice.
Should the AAA Yankees taken up residence on Broad Street, the Bears would have been forced to play all of their games on the road. I had a nagging feeling that I’d read the story of a displaced team of Newark ballplayers playing a season’s worth of road games before. And amazing but true, I had; in fact, I’d based the concluding chapter of my undergraduate thesis on it. The story is Philip Roth’s The Great American Novel. Here’s Wikipedia’s plot summary: “The Port Ruppert Mundys of New Jersey lease their stadium to the United States Department of War at the beginning of the 1943 season—to be used as a soldiers’ embarkation point—which forces the athletes to play as the league’s first permanent road team.” (There is, obviously, no such place as Port Ruppert. However, comma, remember that the original Newark Bears and the Negro League Newark Eagles played in Ruppert Stadium, named for the Bears’ owner, Jacob Ruppert.) Today’s Newark Bears could have become the real life Port Ruppert Mundys! I know you all probably didn’t write your theses about Philip Roth’s novels, but surely you can get excited about life almost imitating art!
The always delightful Joe Posnanski has a column up about what he calls the Hall of Not Famous Enough: guys who put up numbers in line with the average Hall of Fame player, but who garnered little to no HOF consideration. Read it, because it’s good, but I’m going to pull out a bit of Timmy bait:
[Jim] Rice is obviously the key here. There are 38 non-active outfielders with a 41.5 WAR who are currently not in the Hall of Fame. And while some of them have drawn some cause celebre consideration (Tony Oliva, Minnie Minoso), most have not (Cesar Cedeno, Ellis Burks, Augie Galan, etc.).
Jim Rice is a former Boston Red Socks outfielder who played from 1974 to 1989, and was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in his final year of eligibility, 2009. WAR, of course, being Wins Above Replacement, an advanced metric that calculates how many wins a player adds to his team compared to a AAA callup–quality player. It’s a popular stat, because it takes into account a player’s offensive and defensive contributions, and relates them to the most important stat of all: wins. When Mr. Posnanski writes that Rice has a 41.5 career WAR, what he’s saying is that over the course of Rice’s career, the Red Socks won 41 and a half more games than they would have if a guy like Joe Shlabotnik were playing his position. That’s a not insignificant number of games! There’s hundreds of guys in the league right now that would love to end their careers with a 41.5 WAR.
None of those guys have any illusions about getting into the Hall of Fame, either.
Here’s a quick sampling of some Hall of Fame outfielders you may know, and their career WAR, according to Baseball-Reference.
Stan Musial: 127.8
Willie Stargell: 57.5
Kirby Puckett: 44.8
Dave Winfield: 59.7
Babe Ruth: 172
Carl Yazstremski: 88.7
I don’t know who among Hall of Famers has the lowest WAR or the highest (although I can’t imagine anyone beating 172). I’m just trying to convey the range that’s out there, and it’s not an accident that I included Kirby Puckett, a fairly controversial HOF pick. Which brings us to Ellis Burks.
I pick out Burks because out of the guys mentioned in that Posnanski quote above, he’s the one I actually remember playing. You might, too. He bounced around the league a bit in his 18-year career, playing for the Socks, the Rockies, the Indians, and the Giants. Aside from a monster 1996 season when he led the league in runs, slugging, and total bases and finished third in MVP voting, Burks was a good but not great player. If he was on your team, you’d never think he was a waste of a lineup spot, but you’d also be pretty worried if he was your best hitter. In his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility, 2010, he received 2 votes, which means he won’t be on future ballots. Seems appropriate.
Except Ellis Burks finished his career with a 47.9 WAR, compared to Rice’s 41.5. Now, there’s all sorts of caveats about how WAR isn’t a perfect stat, and it’s not the be-all end-all of baseball statistics, and it’s also kind of arcane. Which is true! So let’s include some other more traditional stats. Burks had a higher on base percentage (.363 to .352), slugging percentage (.510 to .502), more stolen bases (181 to 58), and more runs scored (1253 to 1249), and he did it all in 882 less plate appearances. Jim Rice is a Hall of Famer, and he will be forever. Ellis Burks was deemed ineligible after one year on the ballot.
I’m not trying to hype up Ellis Burks because I think he’s so great. I don’t think he’s so great, and I think he doesn’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. Furthermore, I don’t think players that aren’t as good as Ellis Burks should be in the Hall of Fame, either. Here’s a fun thing. This is a group of older active players with a higher career WAR than Jim Rice.
Mike Cameron: 47.2
J.D. Drew: 47.2
Johnny Damon: 48.6
Bobby Abreu: 58.4
Andruw Jones: 60
Do any of those guys strike you as Hall of Famers? Damon, Abreu, and Jones are going to cause some sleepless nights for the voters when they become eligible. But Cameron and Drew? No way, right? I’m willing to admit that Rice was a better player than either of these guys, although Cameron has more stolen bases and Drew has a higher on base plus slugging. But just remember, five years after J.D. Drew and Mike Cameron retire, if things continue the way they’re going, they’ll have been responsible for more wins to their teams than Jim Rice was for his.
Regular readers of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun know that I hate the Red Socks, so I’m not going to kid around about my motivations here. The less Hall of Famers the Red Socks have, the better. However, comma, friends of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun know that I’m more or less a supporter of a more inclusive Hall of Fame, so if guys like Jim Rice are Hall of Famers, great! But that means that guys like Keith Hernandez and Don Mattingly and Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker and Dale Murphy should be in too. Which is great too! But if you think the voters see it that way, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.
I don’t know why Jim Rice is in the Hall of Fame. I never really cared about his career or looked into it that closely. I just assumed he deserved to be in and was just being punished by the voters for his reputation as a surly jerk. As the Official Roommate of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun, who’s lived in Boston just as long as me, put it, “By the time that 15th year rolled around, living in Boston, you’d have assumed it was Babe Ruth that was being snubbed.” But it wasn’t Babe Ruth being snubbed! It wasn’t even Ellis Burks!
No Gossip Girl post tonight, precious readers. Sometimes, something more important comes up. It’s rare, but it happens. Tonight is the first night of the Beanpot tournament, and my beloved Boston College Eagles are facing off against their ancient enemies, the terriers of boston university.
I was ready to write this long, poetic essay about the beauty of college hockey and the thrill of rivalry, but the puck just dropped, and you all know how my heart is just a roiling cauldron of hatred for bu. It fuels me.
We live in uncertain times. Our leaders can’t seem to make new promises fast enough to fill the void left by the ones they’ve already broken, while the natural cynicism that should overtake even the most dimwitted of casual observers hasn’t yet managed to rid us of the naive and foolish optimism that keeps us believing in a system that a child could tell you is irreparably fractured. Once sturdy cultural, political, and social institutions that even a generation ago served as sources of strength and certitude have today been revealed to be empty husks, flimsier than the paper on which our now seemingly irrelevant founding documents were printed on. Our discourse has been reduced to the sloganeering of a cadre of entitled, self-important blowhards spouting talking points over each other’s stentorian blarings, each side claiming to speak for a populace whose values they couldn’t come close to sharing even if they had the inclination to step down from their ivory towers long enough to observe the abject squalor in which the majority of their countrymen live. Even the nature of authenticity itself seems ephemeral, at best. As bleak as our world might seem, though, there’s one rock in a maelstrom of meaninglessness and despair that we can cling to, one thing that we can be certain of: it will always, ALWAYS suck to BU.
In the same week that this happens, we learn from the Chronicle of Higher Education that the NCAA wants to pass a rule to make it easier for corporate sponsors to use college athletes’ images in advertising.
Existing rules generally bar companies from using an athlete’s name, image, or “likeness” in advertisements, promotions, or other ventures. The proposed measure would allow corporate sponsors to feature game clips of current athletes in their TV ads, for instance, as long as the ads include the name of the athlete’s institution. It would also allow companies to publicize sales events at which college athletes would be present.
Don’t worry if you clicked through and didn’t notice the bit about college athletes being compensated. That bit doesn’t exist.
Now, I understand that the relationship between athletes, their schools, the NCAA, and the NCAA’s corporate sponsors is more nuanced than “athletes should/should not be paid.” It’s too long a discussion to have here, so let’s not get too far into it. (Although it’s always important to remember the story of Jeremy Bloom, the guy who lost his football eligibility because he accepted endorsement money as a skier.)
The fact is, the college athletes are “compensated” in the form of scholarships, room, and board. Outside of that, they don’t make any money from the licensing deals their schools arrange, they don’t make any money from the corporate sponsorships negotiated by their schools, they don’t make any money from the bowl games and the tournament appearances they lead their teams to. In addition to that, they’re forbidden from taking money from third-party boosters (witness Cam Newton’s plight above), they can’t make money from their fame in the form of selling memorabilia (witness the plight of Terrelle Pryor and his teammates), and they can’t make money from their skills in other sports (witness Jeremy Bloom.)
And they certainly can’t make any money from media uses of their likeness. But there IS money to be made there, so you know someone is going to try to make it. Witness this new NCAA proposal.
Just watched the LeBron commercial. Almost makes ya wanna like him.
—the Official Roommate of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun. Cleveland native, Cavaliers fan, former Witness.
As we all probably could have expected, Nike has a LeBron James–centered commercial to kick off the NBA season and the start of the next era in King James’s career. It’s called “Rise.” Here it is.
Let’s get a few things out of the way. The Decision was a dick move. But it wasn’t a dick move because of the spectacle, or because it represents everything wrong about sports in the ESPN era, or because LeBron James is an egomaniac. It was a dick move because it prevented the Cleveland front office from pursuing alternate free agent strategies, and because it ripped the hearts out of Cavaliers fans’ chests. But it didn’t rip fans’ hearts out because LeBron James owed them his loyalty; he just just owed them the courtesy of not being an asshole. So yeah, I wasn’t a big fan of The Decision. I wasn’t a big fan of last week’s “Hater Day,” either, when LeBron re-posted some of the more vitriolic and nasty Twitter messages he’s gotten. LeBron may have some unpleasant stuff cross his path on a daily basis, but a multi-millionaire that plays a kids’ game for a living is going to have a hard time gaining sympathy from a nation of plebs already predisposed to dislike him. It’s just a losing strategy.
One of the more resonant critiques of LeBron has been that he just doesn’t get it. How could he not have known that The Decision would be poorly received? How could he possibly expect us to feel bad for him that he gets some nasty messages on Twitter? Why doesn’t he get it? This attitude is pervasive, especially among the sports commentariat, so it’s no surprise that some writers (like NESN’s Mike Cole) would think that the new Nike commercial is just part of a pattern. Writers like Cole would have you believe that everything you think about LeBron James is valid, and he’s coming after you again. Simple as that.
Problem is, that’s not what this commercial is doing. LeBron’s not settling any scores here. He’s not trying to portray how betrayed he feels. He’s saying “Look in the mirror.”
(A caveat: Cleveland fans need not look in the mirror. Their hatred is justified. If Cleveland wants to hate LeBron forever, they should. I would never begrudge a fan base a valid uh, grudge. I mean, Cliff Lee didn’t treat New York nearly as bad as LeBron treated Cleveland, but I still hate that guy’s guts!)
As Lisa Simpson said, you can’t create a monster and then whine when it stomps on a few buildings. We’re all complicit in the LeBron James hype machine. We can complain about The Decision, but I certainly watched. So did a lot of people. We can complain about ESPN’s non-stop coverage of LeBron James’s free agency over the past two years, but we all watched. And every time there was a Michael Jordan comparison, every time LeBron was referred to as the savior of a star-crossed city, more of our own expectations and projections were heaped onto him. LeBron James looked like a good guy, so he became a good guy. We wanted LeBron James to lift Cleveland out of sports purgatory, so he became the guy that would lift Cleveland out of sports purgatory. The franchise down the road from his hometown was awful enough to win the draft lottery the season before he entered the NBA, so LeBron became the hometown hero.
LeBron James isn’t a hero. LeBron James isn’t a villain. And, like he says in the ad, LeBron James isn’t a role model. I’ve gotten into this a tad before on the blog. I just don’t think we should be holding athletes up as role models. Of course, it’s nice when star athletes are also great people. And of course, we shouldn’t tolerate star athletes behaving like savages. But we also shouldn’t hold them to standards of morality and goodness that we would have a hard time living up to ourselves, simply because they’re on TV more. These are guys that are just like us, except better at sports.
The Decision was a mistake. We all make mistakes. LeBron has a large ego. It’s exceedingly difficult to get ahead in the world of professional sports without one. LeBron appears to have turned his back on his hometown team. I’m sorry that Cleveland’s teams haven’t won a title in half a century. I’m sorry that for seven seasons, the best the Cavaliers could do to play with LeBron were guys like Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao. I’m sorry that the Browns have had some heartbreaking seasons, and have seen teams like the Rams, the Buccaneers, and the Saints win Super Bowls. I’m sorry that Jose Mesa couldn’t close out Game 7. Had any of a number of things far outside of LeBron’s control occurred over the years, it wouldn’t be such a big deal that LeBron left Cleveland, let alone the manner that he left.
I guess all of this is to say, I’m over being mad at LeBron. The most effective image in that whole ad, and one that I think should be the main takeaway for all of us, is LeBron tearing up the gym with a front loader. I think we should clear the decks and start over. I don’t mean looking past The Decision; that’s part of LeBron’s legacy forever. I mean start over in terms of our expectations and perceptions. LeBron James isn’t a savior. He isn’t a hero, and he isn’t a villain. He’s neither a goat nor the GOAT. He’s just a basketball player.
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