I have just watched the Athletics blow a 7-3 lead all the way to hibernation for the winter, and as that last Royals run crossed the plate, it sealed the deal: Moneyball is dead.
You have seen the movie. Brad Pitt as the general manager of a baseball team. No money, no stars, just smarts — extreme smarts — and a willingness to buck baseball tradition and assemble a team no one – not even its field manager, in the Hollywood fable that also gave him an untrue-to-life beer gut and sour mien – thought would work. But it could work and it did work. By the numbers.
The numbers. WHIP and WAR and BABIP and CERA and DERA and all the Bill-Jamesian glut of incomprehensible statistics that have overwhelmed the game just as Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco and their butt injections rendered HR and RBI and BA essentially meaningless, and (along with Brad Pitt) made Billy Beane into a cult figure, a demigod, an F. Scott Fitzgerald character – The very rich, they are different from you and me. The Pitt/Beane version is The very knowledgeable about arcane baseball numbers, they are different from you and me. And Beane (and Pitt) got very rich playing on this.
To be sure, Beane has done all right by the Athletics, who are anything but very rich. Their small but passionate fanbase has held its own amid his repeated attempts to abandon the unloved Coliseum (or Mausoleum, as Bando, Jackson, Rudi and Tenace – ah, there were baseball players in those days — dubbed it) for presumably greener San Jose pastures, and he has with immense ingenuity parlayed the small budgets he has been handed into on-field success that the small but passionate ones have lustily cheered and magnificently appreciated.
As a conservative, a traditionalist, and a baseball fan for 55 years, I can say that I hate instant replay. I used to hate the designated hitter but eventually, grudgingly, accepted it so chances are pretty good about 30 years from now, I’ll get used to the game being taken out of the hands of flawed, mistake-prone umpires and placed in the hands of technology.
I always saw mistakes made by the umps as simply the “rub-o-the-green” — thems the breaks, boys and over 162 games, the bad calls tend to even themselves out. But the powers that be in baseball didn’t quite see it like that, so they built a huge “war room” in New York — the Replay Operations Center — with dozens of TV feeds for league officials to view a play and make the right call.
I am probably a little more gleeful than I should be when I report that the plot to destroy baseball via replay is not going according to plan. In fact, at this rate, the fans will be screaming for the wires to be ripped out of the ROC and by mid-season, the league go back to relying on human beings to make the right call.
I can tolerate the growing pains of expanded replay, the flaws in the challenge system, the awkward delays as managers decide whether to seek reviews, the debates over what constitutes a proper transfer, a proper catch.
But no one should tolerate calls that are blatantly incorrect after review — not now, not with a system that supposedly was designed to help baseball avoid egregious mistakes.
Something is terribly wrong when television viewers are getting better access to conclusive angles than the umpires at the $30 million Replay Operations Center in New York. And it happened twice Saturday, first in a game between the Yankees and Red Sox, then in one between the Braves and Nationals.
If it’s any consolation to Red Sox manager John Farrell, I spent Sunday trying to get a better explanation for Anna-gate from Major League Baseball, and none was forthcoming.
Farrell became the first manager to receive an automatic ejection for arguing a replay decision later that night, contending that the out call on the Yankees’ Francisco Cervelli at first base should not have been overturned because the replays were inconclusive.
The essence of Farrell’s argument is that the ball needed simply to enter first baseman Mike Napoli’s glove, not hit the back of it. The confusion alone over what qualifies as an out is embarrassing to baseball, but Farrell would not have been nearly as hot if not for the shenanigans of the day before.
Clearly, Farrell was still seething over the missed call Saturday — the one in which replay conclusively showed the Yankees’ Dean Anna had his foot off second base when he was tagged by Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts with one out in the eighth inning.
At least, the replay on FOX Sports 1 and other networks broadcasting the game conclusively showed that. No one is quite sure what the umpires at the Replay Operations Center were quite watching, but evidently their 12 feeds were not good enough.
The promise of this expanded replay was that it would be quick (90 seconds or less), and the calls would finally be correct. But, like football replay which came in making the same promises, the reality is quite different. What we found with replays in football was that even multiple angles and several minutes of examining tape, there were many inconclusive outcomes. The standard of “incontrovertible proof” necessary to overturn a call is, after all, arbitrary, and you end up adding a human element anyway.
5. Draft Day (2014)
It’s currently at 57 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes, so it’s not highly rated. But it is highly amazing that anyone at all liked this football-illiterate soap about a Cleveland Browns general manager (a sullen-looking Kevin Costner) simultaneously having girlfriend problems (with Jennifer Garner, who plays his team’s salary-cap guru), dead-dad problems and personnel problems on the biggest day of year for general managers.
Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner) trades three first-round draft picks at the annual NFL draft of top college prospects in order to move up six spots and select the hottest college quarterback in years. But then he worries he’s made the wrong decision because of a rumor that none of the jock’s teammates attended his twenty-first birthday party. Also he gets jittery because of a game in which the QB got sacked four times, though even a non-expert looking at the tape can see how the sacks were entirely the fault of poor blocking by the offensive line, not the quarterback.
In short, no one who knows anything about football can take this film seriously, and the romance between Costner’s character and Garner, is flat and tepid. Their arc? They’re having difficulties because he’s not very nice to her. But then he decides to be nice. The end.
Rhonda Robinson wrote earlier this week about the school district in suburban Detroit that dismantled the bleachers from the boys’ varsity baseball field so they would be in compliance with Title IX regulations after a complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The OCR had determined that the boys had better facilities, including better bleachers that had been paid for by parents on the team’s booster club. Rhonda wrote:
In an attempt to make everything fair and equal all it could do is bring everything down to the lowest level–in this case quite literally. The men and women that worked to rise above their circumstances, by building something better, were punished. Their work is completely destroyed. The moral of the story for the everyone-goes-home-with-a-trophy generation: When you expect the government to make everything fair then everyone becomes equally impoverished.
You have to actually read the OCR’s onsite inspection report to fully grasp the enormity of the federal reach into our local public schools and the extent to which their attempts to make everything equal have devolved into a mess that would be hilarious were it not so serious. Woe to the unfortunate school district that receives a visit from these federal genitalia counters with their clipboards and unhealthy interest in urinals and shower curtains. With respect to the availability and quality of the locker rooms, the genital counters who visited the Plymouth-Canton schools wrote:
All School athletes are permitted to use the locker rooms at the School, although some athletes prefer to change elsewhere. The school has varsity locker rooms for both the boys and the girls. The locker rooms are of nearly identical square footage and layout. The boys’ locker room has 236 lockers while the girls’ locker room has 218 lockers. The additional lockers in the boys’ locker room are larger lockers used for football equipment. Each of the locker rooms has eight showers of regular size, and one accessible shower; the only difference noted between the two shower facilities is that the girls’ locker room showers have curtains. The boys’ locker room has two toilet stalls, two urinals, and eight sinks. The girls’ locker room has four stalls and eight sinks. Both locker rooms have a whiteboard in the offices for coaches to use.
Oddly enough, the genitalia counters didn’t seem to have a problem with the disparate toilet facilities, which inadvertently gives us a glimpse into the insanity of these laws. Boys and girls are not the same. Girls cannot (in the absence of advanced gymnastic skills or large quantities of liquor) use urinals (trust me, I know this … I have a cousin who tried it once). The girls’ swimming facility used by the Plymouth-Canton schools has eight wall-mounted hair dryers — presumably because they recognize that women have different grooming needs than men (the guys are stuck with a few hand dryers, surely violating the rights of those with long tresses). And not to be all sexist or anything, but girls (especially those of the high school variety)
need want mirrors. It’s written in the female genetic code that there can never be enough mirrors when a gaggle of girls is present and performing grooming activities. No amount of genital counting and forced gender equality can alter these biological — and cultural — differences between the sexes.
These days, most professional athletes don’t do themselves many favors in the eye of the public. Take Alex Rodriguez, Richie Incognito, or Aaron Hernandez, for example. Most pro athletes tend to come across as spoiled brats who care more about their next paycheck than with connecting with their fans. Class acts in professional sports don’t come around often enough, but when they do, fans take notice. One true example of class is Tim Hudson.
Hudson, 38, joined the Braves before the 2005 season. A free agent this year, he signed a two-year, $23 million contract with the San Francisco Giants after the Braves declined to match the Giants’ offer. Over the weekend, Hudson shared an open letter to Braves fans with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His love for Atlanta shines through in this display of gratitude and emotion:
When I was traded from the Oakland A’s to the Atlanta Braves before the 2005 season, a childhood dream was realized. I grew up a Braves fan just a few hours south of Atlanta, and it was hard for me to believe that I was going to actually play for the Atlanta Braves and legendary manager Bobby Cox. My family was young. We had a toddler (Kennedie), a baby (Tess) and a baby on the way (Kade). We were welcomed into the Braves organization with open arms. Our son was born two weeks into my first season, and our journey began. The Atlanta Braves are really all that our children know about this crazy baseball life, and we are so thankful for this upbringing for them.
For 24 years, Pete Rose has waited. Since Major League Baseball handed down his lifetime ban on August 25, 1989 for betting on games, Rose has waited for his moment of redemption. Oddly enough, that moment may come soon, and if so, Rose has players like Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun to thank.
In an excellent article in USA Today, Bob Nightengale has suggested that, in the controversy surrounding Biogenesis and MLB’s suspension of over a dozen players for using performance enhancing substances, Rose emerges looking like a “sympathetic figure.”
It seems everywhere you turn baseball fans want players involved in the Biogenesis scandal to be punished, disgraced and even permanently suspended themselves. And then they ask how Rose is still on the outside when Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and others will only be temporarily suspended.
Joe Morgan, the Hall of Fame second baseman who’s also vice chairman of the Hall of Fame, doesn’t want anyone associated with doping to ever set foot in the museum. Yet, Morgan says Rose deserves to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“I think if you’re going to allow guys with PEDs on the ballot,” Morgan told USA TODAY Sports, “then we have to allow him to be on the ballot. Let’s face it, he’s been punished for 24 years. I think they have to take a second look at Pete now that this has come out.”
Hank Aaron, the home-run king before Barry Bonds, says he believes steroid users should have an asterisk if they are ever inducted but hopes Rose is one day in the Hall of Fame alongside him.
Rose is even drawing compassion from MLB officials as a result of his comments last week, scolding Rodriguez and Braun and telling them to admit their guilt.
“We have to get these people to understand that if you make mistakes, people will forgive you if you come forward,” Rose told USA TODAY Sports. “Don’t do like I did. Don’t do like Braun did. Don’t do like A-Rod did. I wish I had come forward a long time ago.”
It’s not hard to notice the glaring double standard. Rose bet on games and is the pariah of baseball, but A-Rod and the others used illegal substances to boost their performances and only face suspensions. Former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent blames Rose’s arrogance and lack of contrition for the difference in his treatment, but those suspensions are mere wrist slaps compared to Rose’s life the last 24 years. One can’t blame Rose for his cynicism.
“I made mistakes, I can’t whine about it,” Rose told a Pittsburgh radio station over the weekend. “I’m the one that messed up and I’m paying the consequences. However, if I am given a second chance, I won’t need a third chance.
“And to be honest with you, I picked the wrong vice. I should have picked alcohol. I should have picked drugs or I should have picked up beating up my wife or girlfriend because if you do those three, you get a second chance.”
Commissioner Bud Selig and the owners of each team are currently meeting this week in Cooperstown, and I wonder if Pete Rose will be a topic of conversation. He belongs in the Hall of Fame, and he deserves better treatment than he has received the last quarter century. I believe Rose’s moment of redemption will come one day. I only hope he’ll live to see it.
The last few months haven’t been a good time to be an athlete in the public eye. Think about the worst offender by far – Aaron Hernandez, the New England Patriots tight end who is in jail on murder charges. Or consider his college teammate — for the Florida Gators, the mortal enemies of my alma mater, UGA, I might add — Riley Cooper, who uttered racial slurs and went “f—ing nuts” after being denied backstage access at a Kenny Chesney concert and just happened to be caught on tape.
Let’s not forget Alex Rodriguez. It seems the
sports media whole world has fixated on the suspension that has stemmed from his alleged use of banned substances – one writer even compared him to the “party guest that won’t leave.” Last but not least, look at poor professional bowler Troy Walker, whose bid for a perfect score ended when he accidentally pressed the reset button before his last frame.
But my friend Britt Johnson posed an interesting question on Facebook today, so I thought I’d bring it to your attention: who’s the bigger idiot in sports this week: Tony Stewart or Johnny Manziel?
On Monday night, Stewart, a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion broke his leg in two places racing for fun at an Iowa dirt track – his second dirt track crash in as many weeks. He will undergo surgery to repair his leg.
The injury likely will end any hopes of Stewart making this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. With five races remaining before the Chase begins, he is 11th in the point standings, just five points behind 10th-place Greg Biffle. Stewart currently holds one of the two wild card positions due to his one win this season, which came on June 2 at Dover.
Heisman Trophy winner Manziel, who has already generated controversy since his amazing freshman season last year for having meltdowns on Twitter and not taking a summer QB camp seriously enough, is now under investigation for allegedly taking $7,500 to autograph helmets.
An East Coast autograph broker told ESPN on Tuesday that Johnny Manziel was paid $7,500 for signing approximately 300 mini- and full-sized helmets on Jan. 11-12 while he was attending the Walter Camp Football Foundation event.
The broker played two cell phone videos for ESPN showing Manziel signing white Texas A&M helmets and footballs laid out on a bed in a hotel room. The video does not show Manziel accepting any money.
On the videos, which the broker said were recorded without Manziel’s knowledge, ESPN heard Manziel say “you never did a signing with me” and that if the broker were to tell anyone, he would refuse to deal with him again in the future.
So in your mind, who’s the bigger idiot: Stewart or Manziel? Which athlete has potentially done the most damage to his career? Tell us in the comments section below.
During Wednesday’s game at Cleveland’s Progressive Field, the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers faced the second-place Cleveland Indians. Detroit had taken the first two games of the series with Justin Verlander besting Indians ace Justin Masterson in the 5-1 game. So game three of the series was a predictable grudge match as Detroit fans helped fill out the crowd at Progressive Field (Detroit is a quick 2 1/2 hour drive from Cleveland). By the top of the 9th inning, the game was tied at four and the crowd was raucous. I even texted a friend who was at the game to ask about the drunk guy who could be heard over Fox Sports commentators Rick Manning and Matt Underwood and over the teams chanting “Let’s go Indians!” and “Let’s go Tigers!”
And then the Indians fans began to drown out the Tigers fans with something completely different.
My friend, Pastor Jim McComas, posted this on Facebook:
“Cleveland Indians fans are chanting “Detroit’s Bankrupt.” If you can’t beat ‘em on the field, mock their city’s fiscal responsibility! #GottaLoveIt“
Sure enough, ever-optimistic Cleveland fans found a way to see the glass as half full in a city that has not been to the World Series since 1997 and has not won the Series since 1948. And has never won an NBA championship. And has never won the Super Bowl (at least Cleveland shares that “elite” status with Detroit).
DE-troit’s BANK-rupt! clap-clap, clap-clap-clap!
Twitter lit up over the chant. A guy named Camillo claims he started it with his “buddy George”:
Never thought we would be the start of a chant at an Indians game. Detroit's bankrupt thanks to my buddy George!!!
— Camillo Gaia IV (@BigCam07) August 6, 2013
Indians fans counter the "Lets go Tigers" chants with "Detroit's bankrupt" Hahahahaha that's hilarious #ClevelandRocks
— Kyle Hadding (@Kyle_Hadding) August 8, 2013
Some Detroit fans hit back:
Indians fans chanting "Detroit's bankrupt?" Nice. Low blows from the losers with the inferior ball club.
— Sammy McLean (@SammyMacAttack) August 8, 2013
Baseball may just be one of the last remaining apolitical spaces left in American life. Americans are divided by political party, race, religion, and culture more than any time I can remember in my lifetime, but baseball has blessedly remained a refuge, a place where everyone leaves those differences at the turnstile and simply enjoys America’s favorite pastime.
Tuesday’s All Star Game was no exception. Americans from all walks of life gathered for the annual event and immersed themselves in baseball’s time-honored traditions for a few hours.
I am a lifelong baseball fan. I grew up listening to the legendary Joe Tait calling the Indians games, beginning each game with “it’s a beautiful day for baseball!” — even during the most frigid spring games in Cleveland. My parents used to load the family into the Chevy Impala (and later the Chevette when gas prices soared) for the trip to the old Cleveland Stadium back in the days when you could buy tickets for a few bucks. Though I was still in elementary school, I still vividly recall the streakers and the near-riot during the infamous Ten Cent Beer Night game in 1974 (my dad grabbed the binoculars away from me during the streakers). I learned to keep score during long, sweaty Saturday afternoons at the stadium—a skill I would put to good use during the many years our sons played baseball (and “official scorekeeper for the Indians” remains my unrequited dream job).
Compared to other sports, with their time clocks and hurried pace, baseball is almost indulgent. There is time for long conversations, hot dog breaks, and leisurely strolls around the stadium. The traditions and rituals abound, beginning with the national anthem and proceeding through the obligatory ceremonial first pitch and 7th inning stretch. An unwritten rule of baseball etiquette dictates that political discussion only occur in hushed tones so as not to disrupt the jovial atmosphere. When we’re at a game together, I don’t care if you’re a Republican, a Democrat, or a Socialist. As long as we’re wearing the same team colors, we are compatriots on this day.
The 2013 All Star Game kicked off with American Idol winner Candice Glover (donning a National League jersey) belting out the national anthem as a giant flag, held by members of the military, covered nearly the entire outfield. I always smile as I watch the players lined up during the song, shifting and wiggling, trying to contain some combination of energy and adrenaline rush. These grown men are just larger versions of the wiggly boys we see on the tee ball field. During Glover’s perfect performance, soldiers and veterans saluted and the crowd stood in respectful solidarity, erupting into a cheer when the soldiers made the flag wave during, “Oh say! Does that star-spangled banner yet wave?” No Republicans. No Democrats. Go America! Play ball!
There is still time to head over to Amazon to place an order in time for Father’s Day delivery! I’ve linked the images below to help you out.
by John McPhee
“The Swiss Army has served as a model for less languid nations. The Israeli Army is a copy of the Swiss Army. … They are a civilian army, a trained and practiced militia, ever ready to mobilize. They serve for thirty years. All six hundred and fifty thousand are prepared to be present at mobilization points and battle stations in considerably less than forty-eight hours.”
This book, written at the end of the Cold War, gives a compelling view of the Swiss military system. The pastoral views in the Alps don’t reveal that beneath those mountains are bunkers stocked with munitions caches and that the winding roads all have bridges that can be blown to pieces at a moment’s notice to thwart an attack.
The book might provoke some intriguing thoughts and conversations about forced conscription, responsibility as citizens, what some like to call “military adventurism,” and the implications of heavily armed neutrality.
Former President Bill Clinton, who just joined Twitter this month, applauded the decision of NBA player Jason Collins to come out as gay.
Collins, a center for the Washington Wizards, wrote a lengthy piece for the May 6 issue of Sports Illustrated explaining his decision.
“I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand,” Collins wrote.
Many well-known names quickly rallied to his defense on Twitter, including Clinton.
“I’m proud to call Jason Collins a friend,” Clinton tweeted, linking to a longer statement at his foundation’s website.
“I have known Jason Collins since he was Chelsea’s classmate and friend at Stanford. Jason’s announcement today is an important moment for professional sports and in the history of the LGBT community,” Clinton said. “It is also the straightforward statement of a good man who wants no more than what so many of us seek: to be able to be who we are; to do our work; to build families and to contribute to our communities. For so many members of the LGBT community, these simple goals remain elusive. I hope that everyone, particularly Jason’s colleagues in the NBA, the media and his many fans extend to him their support and the respect he has earned.”
Jason Collins quietly paid tribute to Matthew Shephard, a young gay man who was murdered in 1998, when he changed his number to 98 in 2012.
— Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) April 29, 2013
It was obvious. Jason Collins is the only guy in the NBA not defending a paternity suit. #gaydar
— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) April 29, 2013
The stirring new movie 42 tells the story of how, in 1947 America, Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford) broke the unwritten rule about hiring black players and called up Negro League superstar Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) to join his team. Robinson would go on to win the Rookie of the Year award and later the Most Valuable Player honors on the way to a Hall of Fame career.
What are the conservative lessons about Jackie Robinson’s life to be learned from 42?
1) Merit is colorblind.
Rickey (a lifelong Republican) tells Robinson he is hiring him for one reason: Robinson (who then played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League) was a baseball phenom and Rickey wants to win the World Series. This is Moneyball before Moneyball: Finding untapped talent others are ignoring. Rickey had in mind not only Robinson but Roy Campanella, the black catcher who would soon follow Robinson into the big leagues, as players who could help him win the Series and make money in the process. Rickey says there’s no black or white in sports, just green. Manager Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni) tells the team, “I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a zebra. I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays.