Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dear Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports

A couple days ago I wrote that Ken Rosenthal had earned some mulligans with his excellent piece handing out the MLB individual awards. I also wrote that this was a good thing because he would use them up soon enough. Well, soon enough apparently means a couple days. Rosenthal wrote a piece congratulating the Brewers' owner for firing Ned Yost with 12 games to go, crediting the move for propelling Milwaukee into the playoffs. Wow.

First, I just want to make a basic observation about Ken's grasp of perspective, logic, and reasoning. He opens by touting Mark Attanasio's (owner of the Brewers) history spent as a senior partner in the money management firm, Trust Company of the West. Rosenthal calls it a "world of risk-taking and bold action." He even says Attanasio only saw the upside to the move. He says these things as if they were good.

Even if you were living in a cave, you would know from the cacophonous name-calling and finger-pointing coming out of Washington that the US economy is grinding to a halt. If you had picked up a paper and could read, you would know it is because of bold risk-taking and refusal to see possible negative outcomes. You would know it is such behavior of men just like Attanasio in his exact profession (his money management firm owns a good deal of mortgage-backed securities). Strange place to start an argument in support of his discretion. Even stranger time.

Oh, and all this congratulation for bringing in a man who was apparently too incompetent to coach third base for Boston. Again I say, wow.

On to the specifics of the article. This is would be an offensive article even if it were true, even if firing the man who had navigated the team through 150 games with 12 to play was the main reason the Brewers made the playoffs. But as numerous Brewer fans point out in the comments to Rosenthal's piece, it is simply and obviously NOT true.

Milwaukee lost 4 of the first 8 after the firing to the Cubs and Reds. Only when the schedule hit Pittsburgh did the Brew Crew start "surging." The surge included a finish against Chicago's AAA squad as the Cubs prepped for the postseason (having clinched the division and home field already). And still Milwaukee needed the Mets to play with both hands wrapped around a collective throat that was already choking on the Big Apple.

From all this smoke and on-field shrapnel, Rosenthal extracts the "bold" action made by the big money owner as the reason for the postseason berth. The truth is, managers come and go, and they perform to the specifications of the owner hence there is little profit in their defense or praise at the expense of players or the Pockets. Owners, on the other hand, usually only relinquish their considerable control at the incessant request of death or infirmity (and sometimes not even then if Al Davis is any yardstick). Get on his or her good side and you can laze around for years while getting fat off table scraps.

This is the height of unprofessionally transparent pandering to the power brokers. Ol' Kenny probably would argue that a cap on Wall Street CEO salaries at $10 mil would remove the incentive to innovate.

But like I said, this article would be offensive even if it were true because of the message it sends. First, it congratulates an owner for firing a manager who had led the team for over 90% of the season - a colossal injustice regardless the stakes or outcome. Second, it justifies and causes similar future firings by creating the perception of a public opinion in favor - in demand even - of such cowardly nonsense. Please show me the honor and integrity in that.

Ol' Kenny and the other coprophagous parasites like him who pass themselves off as journalists create and perpetuate a toxic environment by taking the easy road. These are grown men who are getting paid millions of dollars to play baseball and it is acceptable for their performance to suffer because they don't like their boss? I mean, I'm sure that Ned Yost was hanging guys by their thumbs for making errors and eating newborn babies in the pre-game, which is very horrible. But if firing the manager is the answer to poor player performance, then a very reasonable conclusion is that he caused poor player performance.

And guess what? If I'm an insecure-but-talented young athlete being judged overly critically for playing a game where failure 65% of the time gets you to the Hall of Fame and I can blame my failure on someone or something other than myself first, I'm gonna do it. You know what else? That's the right thing to do. Baseball is so dependent on confidence that doubting yourself is and should be the last thing you do. Instead of pointing out that perhaps this is not a state of affairs we want to perpetuate or condone, Rosenthal actually congratulates the power broker for making it worse, for saying it's never too late for the players to blame someone else for their failure.

But guess who's gonna break the next bit of headline news from the Brewers' camp. So it's all worth it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Dear NFL Analysts and Fans

Tony Romo is the most overrated player in the NFL. This guy is JT O'Sullivan behind an awesome offensive line and with playmakers falling out of his bandolier. It is maddening to hear analysts give the cursory 10-second acknowledgement to the earthmovers and proceed to spend 20 minutes drooling over Romo, his dimples, and the set of breasts he's dating this month.

Incidentally, the only thing more overrated than Romo's football career is apparently his romantic one; I mean, a soul mate? This is a guy who has rightly acknowledged that he's just out to have as much fun as possible because he'll soon be forgotten. Poor Jessica Simpson. Hope she hears another divorce attorney with those wedding bells.

But back to football. Can someone please tell me why everyone is so blind? And it's not even that we're blind, it's that we see and ignore. Every close observer of the game knows - knows - that a competitive team absolutely requires a competent offensive line. A great QB can make up for an average line, but not a below average one. Steve Young and Joe Montana did this to an extent, but those lines had their strenghts. Even more significantly, a great offensive line can turn an average QB into a great one.

That is exactly what is happening in Dallas. Romo has a good arm, maybe even a very good one. It is not great. He can throw deep and accurately, but I have not seen him make any Brett Favre or John Elways throws; throws where you wonder if that ball was really propelled by a human arm. I've seen JeMarcus Russell do it. I saw Jay Cutler make one. I believe Eli Manning has such a throw on his resme, it was pretty significant as I recall. Haven't seen any from Terrific Tony.

Romo is not exceptionally elusive, he does not have flawless decision-making, and he turns the ball over. Good lord, some of his turnovers are just hideous (like the fumble in the end zone a couple weeks ago). He throws Brett Favre-interceptions and gets away with it in the same way despite lacking even Favre's most humble credential. So he can throw deep and accurately, so what? He is a professional quarterback given ample time and a plethora of options. That's what a pro should do.

People believe Romo possesses something special because he is succeeding where those before him failed. But take a closer look. What does that really mean? It means he's better than an over-the-hill Drew Bledsoe and an under-the-hill Vinny Testeverde. And maybe not even that. Afterall, those guys did not have Terrell Owens, Marion Barber, or an offensive line with this much experience/cohesion.

Perhaps the most crippling flaw in Romo's game is his most glaring, which makes his exceptional reputation all the more confounding. He has yet to perform when something important, really important, is on the line. And I'm not talking bright lights and big audiences. I'm talking survival, I'm talking championships. I'm talking fumbling snaps on field goals in the playoffs. I'm talking letting an underdog march into your stadium and take the NFC Championship from you.

So what is Tony Romo objectively? He is a good QB who can steer a uniquely talented offense through games they should win and then wilts when resistance increases. Sure, he puts up obscene numbers and dates gorgeous women. Put most QBs in the NFL behind that Dallas offense and I bet the results are the same.

That is the thing about a great offense. If a QB knows he has time to throw and talent waiting to receive the ball, it's easy to be confident. Once a player has confidence, his natural ability and talent shines through. And let's face it, most QBs in the NFL have the necessary talent.

That is why I'd take Jake Delhomme, Drew Brees, Donovan McNabb, Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady over Romo. Shoot, I might even take David Gerrard, Jay Cutler, and JeMarcus Russell over Romo because those guys have more natural talent and have done impressive things in offenses that look junior varsity next to Dallas.

At the very least, I'd have someone else holding for me on my field goals.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Dear Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports

I must be in a charitable mood this week. First handing out accolades to Dayn Perry and now Ken Rosenthal? Yep, Mr. Rosenthal wrote not one but two really exceptional columns. The first column listed his picks for the MLB individual awards, which I assume were official picks since he seems like a dude who would have a vote that counts. The second listed things he got right and wrong over the course of the MLB season.

Like Perry, Rosenthal hands out his picks for MVPs, Cy Youngs, Rookies of the Year, and Managers of the Year. He also hands out Comeback Players of the Year and Executive of the Year as well as listing his top runners up for each category (another reason it would make sense that this is a reprint of his official ballot). I need not cover the individual picks because it would be a regurgitation of the Perry piece. Suffice it to say that he has sounds arguments for al his picks.

And that's not really the reason the column is exceptional anyway. I absolutely LOVE the transparency and accountability. If our government took a cue from Mr. Rosenthal, we would not be knee deep in Wall Street sewage. If all writers followed his lead, we might have avoided nonsense like Jeff Kent winning NL MVP in 2000 just because everyone hates Barry Lamar Bonds. Rosenthal had the marbles to shed the security of anonymity and he deserves a lot of credit for that, even if his picks had been garbage. Even more so since this is, as I've said before, a tough year with no clear cut winners (except Rookies of the Year and Joe Maddon).

Now the second column. I think I might have actually blacked out for a second from shock when I read this. A nationally-recognized sports journalist admitting he had been wrong?!? Tell all the dead lawyers to break out the parkas and sleds.

Almost the entire article was a revelation. I remember Rosenthal absolutely killed the Astros for acquiring Randy Wolf. To a lesser degree, I remember reading his critique of the Shawn Chacon incident. But Ken could have easily taken the easy coward's route since almost everybody thought Houston was crazy to be a buyer at the deadline. Furthermore, it's pretty safe to criticize a grown man who gets into a fist fight. But Mr. Rosenthal again showed some integrity and owned up to blowing both. I respect that.

And that second apology to Ken Williams really had to hurt. From all accounts, that guy is a bit of an ass and it really sucks to have to apologize to someone who will not accept it with grace. That's exactly what Ken did. Again, I respect that.

It wasn't perfect - I don't know why you'd go out of your way to apologize to an empty, vomitous parasite like Scott Boras. That smacked a bit of manipulation, but nobody's perfect and Rosenthal earned a slew of mulligans. That's a good thing because if history has any predictive value, ol' Ken will use every one of them.

But not this week.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dear Dayn Perry of Fox Sports

I have a rule: it's OK to frequently write critical editorials provided you acknowledge when whatever you are critiquing deserves praise. Otherwise, the criticism loses any validity since nothing is bad all the time, just like nothing is good all the time. With that sentiment in mind, the much-maligned Dayn Perry did an excellent job of handing out the MLB individual awards.

His MVP picks were Albert Pujols and Dustin Pedroia. As Perry says, there is just no debating Pujols as the pick in the NL. He put up dominating numbers in comparison to the rest of baseball, let alone the NL. I'd argue that MVP candidacy, as a general rule, should require that your team be in contention late in the season and the Redbirds were. But Pujols was so dominant (with a torn elbow tendon right?) that he'd probably be an appropriately rare exception to the rule even if the Cards had been garbage. As for Pedroia, I disagree but that's probably because I hate the Red Sox. He has been damn good for a contender and the Sox were not as offensively loaded on the field as they looked on paper. I'd vote for Justin Morneau, but, as Perry pointed out, every candidate is seriously flawed so Pedroia isn't a bad choice (I just threw up a little).

Perry's Cy Young picks were Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee. Stellar picks and arguments on both accounts. I'd just add that, although I generally agree with Perry that wins/losses are a horrible barometer of a pitcher's value, there is a pretty obvious exception. When a pitcher puts up an excellent winning percentage for a bad team, it is significant because that pitcher must typically perform at a higher level to win or avoid losing than one on a better team. Both Lincecum and Lee exemplify this exception, which is why I don't think the race is as close as Perry (and this is from someone who would have handed the award to Roy Halladay a month ago). That said, I don't think many of the voters firmly grasp baseball enough to see through Brandon Webb's gaudy win total. I think the Franchise might get screwed and that would be a travesty.

Trust me on this. I am a die-hard Giants fan so I have seen every single Lincecum start of 2008. Bias aside, there is no adjective or superlative to adequately describe him; his is more than the Freak and the Franchise. The most effective way to describe him without lapsing into a cantos about the kid is to describe the batters leaving the batters box. They usually look either confused or indifferent, sometimes they even smile. They are almost never angry; this tells me a very small number of pros expect to hit him and only when he is at a disadvantage.

But back to Dayn Perry. His picks for Manager of the Year are Lou Pinella and Joe Maddon. Again, no debating Maddon for the reasons Perry mentions. As for the NL, I wrote a longer piece on why I think the obvious choice is Fredi Gonzalez. While I still think he is the choice, I have to admit that managing the Cubs to the high expectations placed on them in the pre-season is almost as impressive as the job Gonzalez did. Toss in the injuries to Alfonso Soriano and the sub-par season from Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez (by their standards), and Pinella's job is actually more impressive than it first appears. I'd still go with Gonzalez, but much like Pedroia, I can't say Pinella is an unworthy pick.

The obvious choices for Rookies of the Year are Evan Longoria and Geovany Soto. I'm not sure I've even heard any other names mentioned by anyone; it would be a pretty egregious stretch, but both could turn up in the MVP discussion. Perry only gets credit here for not trying to be flamboyant by bucking the trend.

I'm the first to decimate Dayn Perry when he writes from the deep end, which he does with disturbing frequency considering that he rights for a national sports powerhouse. But he nailed these picks and it's not an easy year to do so.

Let's just hope the rest of the voters are as astute as this version of Dayn Perry.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Dear the Self-Centered and Rude

This isn't exactly a sports piece, although I guess you could say it is combat-sports-related. But one of the reasons I write is for catharsis and that isn't necessarily limited to one theme. True - almost all of the posts have been and will be about sports. Also true - no one seems to read them so who cares if I'm not totally consistent. If a theme is broken in empty cyberspace, will anyone notice? I say no.

Onward - it has gotten to a point where I think we seriously need to consider legalizing a limited amount of reasonable violence to settle certain disputes. I say this because of a scene I participated in while at the bank today.

I frequently use a drive-thru ATM at the Wells Fargo near my apartment. There is a 2-car lane that connects a public parking lot with a public street. Both lanes pass underneath an awning, at which point they are separated by a 3-foot wide concrete support. The left lane passes next to the ATM while the right lane does not and is meant as a conduit. The 2 lanes must cross a sidewalk before entering the street and there is just enough room between the sidewalk and ATM for one car to use the ATM while a second waits for pedestrian traffic to clear before entering the street.

Today, as I pulled in behind another car that had just pulled up to the ATM, there was a Porsche waiting for pedestrian traffic to clear (or so I thought) on the left side while another car had pulled up alongside it on the right. I could hear a string of expletives exchanged, but figured it was Monday afternoon rush hour so that was about right, even in SF. The car on the right drove away at which time I realized that the Porsche was actually parked in the left lane.

Now, the lady in front of me was taking her time and we (the lady and I) both pulled up after the Porsche had been parked there for a while (apparently long enough to provoke the exchange of expletives) so I figured he'd be gone before the lady finished her transaction. Wrong. He was still there when she finished so she was blocked in. Having just witnessed the heated exchange, she understandably decided to ask me to move, which I happily did.

I reversed enough to let her out but realized she wasn't moving. The guy in the Porsche was standing up in his passenger seat and berating her - yelling that the ATM was broken (though it now worked for us) and they would be blocking the way regardless had it been working. Remember, the lady had not said a word to this guy, she had asked me to move.

This was too much for me. Here was a guy who was sitting in a car that had blocked off one lane of a public thoroughfare. He could have gotten out and used a standard ATM while the driver (his girlfriend or wife) circled the block. They could have parked in a thousand other places that would have bothered no one, but would have required walking an extra 30 yards. Instead, they were too lazy and/or inconsiderate to pursue these options and now this mouth had the perverse audacity to curse out anyone he inconvenienced. Plus, this was some innocent lady who hadn't even said a word to him despite having every right do just that. I threw my truck in park and jumped out to enter the fray.

Now, it's difficult to get me really worked up and that's good. I am 6'3", 210 lbs., and have been known to do substantial and indiscriminate damage when adequately provoked, which is very rare. But this guy had me in the red. We had our own intellectual discourse that was peppered with profanity and, when it was clear he was not receptive to verbal reasoning, I resorted to a more visceral logic. I took off my sunglasses, looked him in the eye, and told him to calm the &*%! down because I was losing what little patience I had for egocentric, rude jackasses who mistakenly thought it was the World's responsibility to make their lives as convenient and pleasant as possible no matter the personal expense. I may not have been that eloquent. He got the implication and was soon backpedalling, apologizing for getting too excited.

Here's the great part though. I felt I had gotten through and the driver had returned so I had calmed a little and was returning to my truck. As soon as I was safely out of range and the key hit the Porsche's ignition, he threw a last "&*%! you" at me and they drove off.

And that is the thing - the entire spectacle had zero impact on that guy. Tomorrow, confronted with the same situation, he will do the exact same thing. This may seem like a small thing, but there is any interesting concept that we can borrow from racial studies. It is the idea that small, seemingly trivial insults and indignities accumulate over time. Eventually, they can provoke a permanent attitudinal change and/or single, catastrophic response. I am not a minority so I don't know if this is a valid analogy, but I think it is.

If it is, the freedom we give individuals like Mr. Porsche may very well be the real reason behind the decline in our civilization. We expect and demand tolerance for individuals who behave as rudely and profanely as possible and with total disregard for other people so long as they stay within the bounds of legality. These encompass a substantially larger, more repugnant spectrum of behavior than those of decency and are explored to their limits.

Even worse, the "enlightened" carte blanche condemnation of even minor acts of violence perpetuates and further erodes the level of behavior. I am not arguing that I should have been allowed to take a tire iron to the guy's head and should be allowed to do so whenever I feel someone has been rude. That would obviously be a far worse state of affairs.

However, what I am arguing is that, had Mr. Porsche thought that getting clipped in the jaw was a realistic consequence of parking where he did or spewing the kind of venom he was spewing, he would have thought twice and the world would be a happier, more pleasant place for it. I am also arguing that, because this scenario is almost totally unrealistic in our current society, Mr. Porsche has no reason behave differently. If he does not care about inconveniencing others and is not threatened by verbal confrontation and has done nothing illegal, there is simply no reason to put the interests - even far more legitimate ones - of others above his.

That is what it boils down to - should we tolerate individuals like Mr. Porsche and the selfish gutter into which they are dragging us? Or should we tolerate individuals like Mr. Porsche getting clocked every now and then when they step too far out of line? I vote for the latter and realize I'm in the minority. I realize this because, had I stomped that guy out, I would have been the bad guy and liable. I realize this because it was the only thought stopping me from doing just that.

But eventually our behavior will devolve to a level that demands some sort of drastic action be taken. I think we're already there.

Dear Mark Kriegel of Fox Sports

Mark Kriegel, welcome to the group. Meet Alex Marvez, who "reports" on the Cowboys much like Fox and CNN report on politics. This is Bill Simmons, who covers the Boston Celtics, Red Sox, Patriots, and probably the local Little League team if you listen to him long enough. I don't think the major airlines let him on their planes anymore. Somewhere back there is Buster Olney; he's at the bottom of a bottle because the Yankees season has officially gone over the brink. You can pick up your Dodger gear after we finish introductions.

Your stellar argument supporting Manny Ramirez for NL MVP has earned you a spot in the group of delusionally blind sports fans in journalists' clothing who somehow don't realize that the rest of the world watches the athletes and games they cover.

This nonsensical argument could be dispatched by pointing out that Kriegel argues for a manchild who quit and whined his way off his last team. That would be a team that had won 2 of the last 4 World Series, was a lock for the postseason, was paying him 8 figures, and allowed him to behave like a juvenile jackass as long as he hit. I have no love for the Red Sox, but Manny absolutely, 100% screwed them. I need not even mention the phantom leg injury and contractual implications re Scott Boras (who may in fact be the Antichrist).

This drivel could be dismissed simply by pointing out that Marky Mark argues for a man who will have played less than 60 games for a team that has merely tread water while its weak division fell away. And even so, the Bums are no lock for the postseason despite what the oddsmakers say. They have 6 games against my Giants and a quick scan of history will tell you that the contender often struggles against the spoiler in the rivalry.

Even a Giants' fan has to admit that Manny has been incredible since he arrived in LA, but it's not like the Bums have won 80% of their games since he arrived. If they had, maybe you could consider his short stint for MVP. But they haven't; they've been slightly better than average while Arizona's been awful. At this point, you'd be giving Manny the MVP as much for Arizona's failure as LA's success. Unless it's changed, that is not the definition of an MVP.

But let us pretend that none of the above precludes Ramirez from MVP candidacy. He still falls short. Barry Bonds won several MVPs while being an average fielder (and that's being generous) later in his career, but he put up inane numbers for entire seasons. You may not like to hear it, especially in LA, but Manny Ramirez is a worse fielder than Barry was at any point in his career. Manny is not very good when he tries, and he dogs it frequently.

Consider that he moves into a cavernous left field on a team that has very litle offensive firepower. It is tough to understate the significance of this; Kriegel omits it entirely. I watched Ramirez play a routine flyball into a crippling double against the Giants on Friday night. In that game, Manny essentially drove home the final nails in Greg Maddux's coffin. We all know how many games he helps wins with his bat, but we have no idea how many he helps lose with his glove since the media ignores this aspect of baseball almost entirely.

As for the rest of Kriegel's argument regarding the fan/media perception of the Bums before Manny arrived, etc. That is or should be totally irrelevant. If not, then the MVP should come from Boston, New York, or Philly every year since those fan bases freak out on a yearly basis and the media heralds the End of Days the moment one of those teams slips up.

Even with no clear alternative, the idea of Manny Ramirez winning the NL MVP is laughable. By suggesting such garbage, Kriegel simultaneously confirms his loyalty to Dodger blue while obliterating any journalistic credibility he may have had.

But at least he's got plenty of company.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Dear Baseball Fans Everywhere

I know his club probably won't make the playoffs and I know it's not a sexy pick (or award for that matter), but someone needs to be Fredi Gonzalez' advocate. He is the National League Coach of the Year and, although I see the argument for Phil Garner in Houston and maybe Tony LaRussa in St. Louis, it's not too close.

The most obvious argument is that Florida is 5 games behind the New York Mets for the wild card lead, almost certain to finish with a winning record, and seems to be finishing with a flourish (as evidenced by the sparkling new 8 game winning streak). All this after trading away Miguel Cabrera in the off-season. Sadly, the D-Train doesn't even deserve mention at the moment.

The second most obvious argument is the barely breathing horse that is the payroll issue. Usually, this is a tired subject. We've heard ad nauseam about small market teams v. the juggernauts. Then teams like Minnesota and Oakland came along and deflated the matter even further by proving contention does not have a $100 million price tag. However, the issue recaptures its significance in the Sunshine State. The Marlins check in at dead last with a $21 million payroll. They are the only collection of players who do not average 7 figures and it's not even close. Next up the rung is Tampa Bay's total of $43 million. That is not a typo; the Ray's payroll is double that of its Senior Circuit counterpart. Yet the Marlins resolutely contend almost as effectively as Tampa.

But the most important and impressive argument requires a bit more research. Only a bit. As in clicking on the roster link or googling the Marlins' roster. Unless you happen to be familiar with it, you must do this to truly appreciate what Gonzalez has achieved, coaxing these players into contention. The offense is one thing - it's young and unproven, but the talent is there with guys like Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, Mike Jacobs, Jeremy Hermida, Jorge Cantu etc. Of course, that's true of most offenses outside of the NL West (my poor, poor Giants). The difference is that, for whatever reason, Fredi got kinetic performance from the talent potential.

Still, the real proof of Fredi Gonzalez' 2008 masterpiece is in the pitching staff. I happen to be familiar with it since I play fantasy baseball and drafted Justin Verlander, Aaron Harang, Manny Corpas, and Joe Borowski. My own staff was, ahem, fluid all season so I picked up some of the Florida guys from time to time. Unless you were in a similar situation, you probably couldn't name 2 guys in the starting rotation. And I'm including Marlins' fans.

The murderer's row that has lead Florida to its current lofty perch, sitting on a record that is 12 games over .500, consists of Chris Volstad, Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco, and Scott Olsen plus some duct tape and chewing gum. I think that's 3 ligament replacements, a rookie, and Scott Olsen; not usually the recipe for 82 wins with 10 to play.

The bullpen is an collection of headliners to rival the starting rotation, but that's pretty much the case for every team. While Fredi has gotten decent innings from his guys, that's barely significant in comparison to his other monumental achievements. In fact, that the Marlins contend despite a less-than-stellar bullpen would indicate that Gonzalez has been able to minimize its negative impact through effective and efficient management. Another gold star.

There is simply no other manager who has done as much with as little as Fredi Gonzalez. Of course, the media is probably salivating at this point over the thought of giving the award to Lou Pinella in Chicago or Jerry Manuel in New York. Or (can you imagine?) Joe Torre for his first season of work after leaving New York! Talk about stories for weeks without having to do any actual work; that's the modern journalist's ideal. The fact that none of these 3 men deserve the award is just a minor little snag.

Kind of like integrity.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dear Alex Marvez of Fox Sports

Alex Marvez is a perfect example of why people loath teams like the Dallas Cowboys; Boston Red Sox, Celtics, and New England Patriots; New York Yankees and Knicks; Los Angeles Lakers; etc. I cannot deny that another important factor is that these teams tend to be very good; nobody wastes time disliking a bad team unless we're talking college sports. But equally important is that these teams have obnoxious fan bases with national spokespersons who masquerade as "objective" sportswriters. All seem incapable of objectively discussing their chosen team.

In Marvez's latest piece about the Cowboys' shoot 'em up with the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night, he writes that Tony Romo was the hero. I don't know if Marvez is a Dallas fan, but I have to assume he is. Only a Cowboy (and subsequently a Romo) fan could watch that game and come away thinking that Romo was the best QB on the field, let alone the hero.

True, Romo put up good numbers and made some very nice throws. It is also true that McNabb was sacked a bunch while Romo was not. However, I don't see how these facts argue in Romo's favor. They both point to who the real heroes were for Dallas - the offensive line. It's not as if Romo was nimbly avoiding pressure all day (probably a good thing since the one time he did so, he proceeded to throw an ugly and ill-advised pick); those throws were possible because he could sit comfortably in an intact pocket courtesy of his earthmovers. If the only qualification for a great QB was to sit unmolested and hit open receivers downfield, there would be more elite QBs.

What is also true is that, although McNabb's supporting cast has vastly improved, it is still inferior to the Romo's. I've covered the o-line, but look at the skill players. Westbrook is superior to Barber, but the receiving corps is a no-contest. DeSean Jackson may mature into a game-changer, but he's not there yet. That's Philly's only bullet. Lining up on the other side, we have Terrell Owens and Jason Whitten. I have no love for TO as a loyal Niner fan, but there is simply no receiver like him. I don't understand why, but Whitten is one of the best tight ends in the game. Either would be the Iggles' best option (other than Westbrook, but he cannot be the option every snap).

But here is the thing that really gets me. Anyone familiar with football knows what I just typed; it is obvious from watching the game. Yet Marvez - true to the rabid fan's nature - delusionally tries to convince us that we did not see what we saw. It's as if Marvez is writing back in the '20s before there was a computer and television in every home; back when only the people at the game would think he's nuts. Yet his editor allows it to go to print and nobody calls him on it.

So it's not enough that we have to watch these teams win over and over. We have to watch them win and then watch again as the fans get to choose how and why through the anointed mouthpiece. It's not the o-line, it's Tony Romo. The $100+ million Red Sox' are somehow scrappy. Kobe is a hero for playing through a pinkie injury. Manny is just being Manny until he isn't. Jerry Jones and George Steinbrenner are to be congratulated for their passion and forgiven their "eccentricities." And that's off the top of my head.

The Cowboys won that game despite Tony Romo's fumble and interception. Once he relegated himself to sitting in the pocket and hitting wide open receivers, Philly was in trouble. Give most QBs that kind of time with those kind of weapons and the result would be the same, if not better.

Or buy Alex Marvez' version. It comes with a Tony Romo poster and Dallas foam finger.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dear Dayn Perry of Fox Sports

Every year, as the baseball season winds down and the awards discussions rev up, a cadre of writers and personalities argue that the MVP need not come from a winning team. At best they are resolute; at worst they are condescendingly dismissive. Dayn Perry would fall into the latter category. He says it is "completely nonsensical to limit the MVP candidacy to players on contending teams." Really? Nonsensical?

I think I'm about to make a pretty good case that it is Dayn's argument that makes little sense. But I'm not arrogant or dumb enough to say it's nonsensical. Obviously there is some sense to it since it represents one side of a perennial debate, which wouldn't exist if there wasn't at least some sense to both sides. In this case, there is some sense to both sides but limiting the candidacy to contenders makes much more sense.

The strongest argument is that baseball, and evey sport, is about winning championships - be they wild card "championships," divison titles, league titles, or the World Series. Therefore, a player performing well on a contender has more value than a player performing at the same level or even above that level for a loser. It is simply harder to play for a contender. Ask Alex Rodriguez, or rather look at his stats. Even in Seattle and Texas, he really took off once his team fell from contention and the pressure to perform lessened (or at least abated). And he's not the only player. It simply makes sense that there is more pressure on contenders and that makes performance more difficult for 99.9% of us.

Furthermore, every contribution to a contender is more valuable than that to a club out of contention. If the reason the games are played is to win a championship, then even small contributions move a team in contention towards that goal. Contrarily, if a team has been eliminated (mathematically or otherwise), even large contributions do nothing to move the team towards the goal, which is unattainable.

This does not mean that the player absolutely must come from a contender every year. As I said, I see the other side of the argument - that modern baseball is a business so value is measured in terms of generating fan interest (dollars) and winning is only one factor. There is some truth to this, which is why an exceptional player on a losing team should win if there are no adequate choices from a contender. On this point, I agee with Perry - a stacked contender like the 2008 Cubs has no real MVP candidate because the depth of the team allows it to absorb injuries to any of its key players. No player is really most valuable to the team's winning percentage.

But these situations should be and have been appropriately rare (on this point Perry blatantly distorts the truth; the MVP has pretty consistently come from winning teams). To argue that winning is just one factor is to embrace, condone, and thus perpetuate the modern, me-first attitude developing especially in pro sports. If winning is only one of several equally important factors to a player's value, it makes perfect sense to care little about it because it is the factor least under the individual's control. If I am a supremely talented pro athlete and my value is equal parts individual performance and team results, then I concentrate on the first since the second is beyond my control. The result is a selfish athlete who has been taught not to worry about the team's success; you have a system full of J.D. Drews. And I have never seen a more boring, supremely gifted athlete than the elder Drew.

If you want the text book definition of an MVP, look no further than Barry Lamar Bonds. Hate him or love him, he put up exceptional numbers on a contending team that was utterly dependent on him to stay in contention. Steroids or not (and I only include the 'or not' because I am a loyal Giants fan), all MVP candidates should be measured against that standard as the ideal. Less exceptional numbers hurts, more support on your team is more damaging, and falling from contention is crippling. The scale slides accordingly.

Or listen to Dayn Perry. Make it all about the numbers and dollars. But keep your damn mouth shut about selfish, obnoxious players because you cannot create them and then whine when they arrive.


I do not like Ozzie Guillen. He seems to be a good manager and he certainly is successful, but I just think his act is tired. And yes, I believe it's an act - maybe to deflect pressure from his players, maybe he's just a media whore. I won't pretend to know, but I don't for a second believe the man is a frothing lunatic. Why would reasonably intelligent athletes enjoy playing for such a man? That assumes the Pale Hose enjoy playing for him and I sincerely believe they do. Anyway, my point is that regardless of how I feel about him, what ESPN does to Guillen is lazy, counterproductive, and a microcosm of ESPN's general approach to sports coverage.

I try to avoid all its tentacles as much as possible, but last night I caught a 30 second clip of Sportscenter. In my defense, I left my Tivo on Sports MTV in order to record the last 4 innings of the Rays-Sox game (not available on any other channel) and over-shot Carlos Pena's heroics. Anyway, I caught ESPN anchorman A gleefully reading Guillen's latest tirade re Lou Pinella, which is randomly peppered with expletives as is Ozzie's custom (this ensures it will makes the show). Gleefully is no exaggeration; anchorman A was literally giggling while he did the voice-over.

Of course, that glee will quickly become condemnation as the network bleeds the self-perpetuated story for the next day or 2. It's chattering heads will take to the airwaves to chastise Guillen for his behavior and language. Anchorman A will probably even get in on the action; at the very least his colleagues will. This is what ESPN does and it has become an unparalleled expert at the art of controversy fabrication. The network specializes in taking an absurd episode and turning it into 24-48 hours worth of superficial bull excrement.

Need proof? I offer the 180 from glee to reprobation. How can you introduce the story with laughter and then spend 24 hours on the attack? If the network continues to treat it like the nonsense it is, then the story dies when anchorman A finishes giggling. Of course, that would mean generating actual coverage so the personalities will instead tap their ample reserves of outrage and bile. Get your raincoat.

Furthermore, I know, you know, and ESPN knows that placing the clip at the fore of Sportscenter and spending however much time debating Ozzie Guillen will not stop Ozzie Guillen from repeating his behavior. On the contrary, it only reinforces his behavior by allowing Guillen to achieve whatever his goal is. Regardless of his motivation, the semi-sensical antics end if they serve no purpose i.e. his mug disappears from the tube and his name from the headlines. It does not take a genius to realize this. The only logical conclusion then is that ESPN has no interest in stopping him. I consider myself a pretty reasonable person and if something bothers me, right or wrong, I'm hoping it goes away. I am certainly not perpetuating it.

As is this case with disturbing frequency, you only need to remember a lesson learned as a child: ignore it and it will go away. Don't like what Rush Limbaugh calls thoughts? Ignore him. Don't like Jesse Jackson's -ations? Ignore him. Don't like Dan Brown's theories on Christ? Ignore him. What you certainly do not do is take to the highest tower and shout his/her name, metaphorically speaking (or literally but for various reasons).

That is really the bigger issue. The problem is not really the next 24 hours of useless coverage (I'm not actually positive that will happen but it sure made for a nice paragraph didn't it?), the problem is that ESPN's handled this poetic outburst in such a way to guarantee further outbursts. From Guillen and others. The same can be said re ESPN's exploitation of Chad Johnson (think he'd have changed his name if ESPN didn't give the Ocho Cinco angle so much play?), TO, and any other supremely gifted ego. These guys live to see their names and faces whenever and wherever they can so they are going to repeat any behavior that satisfies that desire.

If you want to get philosophical, which is always a nice thing to do at the end, you could argue that ESPN and its media brethren are indirectly responsible for the self-destruction of such athletes and personalities. Specifically re ESPN, it reinforces the obnoxious exploits by splashing them across its airwaves thus guaranteeing reptition in the future. Repitition naturally leads to more extreme behavior since stale doesn't play. The negative gets worse until it crosses a line. At which point, ESPN moves on to the next ego and the athlete is in the wind.

ESPN and the media would deny this, which is perversely funny. They spend every waking moment augmenting their power and influence while simultaneously denying they have any.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dear Mike Kahn of Fox Sports

Kobe Bryant is electing to postpone surgery to fix his injured rink pinkie because he would miss too much time "punching the clock" for the Lakers. Mike Kahn responds to this news with typical journalistic integrity - by kneeling in front of his chosen idol and lavishing enough praise on 24/42 to make him blush. The result is so ridiculous for so many reasons that I almost don't know where to begin. I am momentarily, as a friend said, suffering from the decision.

Forget that Monseigneur Kahn neglects to mention that nobody who punches a clock makes 8 figures and maybe Kobe should choose a different colloquialism. Forget it because, to a certain degree, Kahn is right; Kobe has matured and evolved, beginning with last year's tip and culminating at the Olympics. Basketball fans would be wise to remember China as the place where Bryant finally realized that sublimating his ego for the benefit of the team would translate into a championship with the right talent. Seeing him play lockdown D while scoring when necessary rather than fixating on jacking up 35 haphazard fades and turnarounds to get his 40 was like watching a more elegant, refined version of LeBron James. Which makes a 27-year-old LeBron a truly frightening proposition. Bryant deserves all the credit he is getting for his evolution as a player and, frankly, as a human-being (if we are to believe what we hear about him, both good and bad).

Back to Kahn. He is right to give Kobe a mulligan for his trivial ignorance because of his maturation. Kahn is even right to laud Bryant for deciding to play in pain because Kobe clearly is still a huge asset and playing in any discomfort deserves praise. It would be easier to rest/heal and Kobe is taking the harder path. However, Kahn goes several long strides further. Astoundingly, he starts with Kobe's decision to forego pinkie surgery, albeit on his shooting hand, and ends up re-writing the Shaq-Kobe Laker demise. The trip is truly impressive.

Kahn starts with a self-inflicted, mortal wound to his own argument - he points out that Kobe's injury affected neither his performance during the NBA season/playoffs nor during the Olympics and wonders whether the injury is purely cosmetic. He then proceeds to juxtapose Kobe's decision with Shaq's regarding his toe injury. I don't know the extent of either injury or the factors playing into the surgical decisions. But on a fundamental level, I can see a hurt toe on a 7'2", 350 lbs. man being a significant problem.

On the other hand (ugh), anyone who has played basketball well can tell you that the pinkie, even on your shooting hand, is not really necessary. Broken, torn, jammed, bruised, whatever - tape it to the ring finger and let's go. Obviously, Kobe Bryant is a more finely tuned shooter than I so my own argument would be seriously flawed; no one knows how such an injury affects his mechanics. It would be flawed except Kobe's own performance gives us a good idea how the injury affects him and it bears out the truth of the matter. Kahn acknowledges this. In print. In the same article. At the very beginning.

But it gets better, or worse depending on whether you're Kahn or his editor. He then implies that Shaq's decision was responsible for Bryant's knee tendinitis. It is a hilariously irresponsible bit of sophistry. Maybe the psychological stress of carrying a team played a role in the injury. Maybe it was significant. Maybe a psychological burden is that analagous to a physical burden. What I know is that Kahn is just as unqualified (probably more so) as I to make such a diagnosis.

The coup-de-grace comes when Kahn concludes by saying that the latest episode is somehow relevant to the split that landed Shaq in Miami, that Kobe is redefining the matter. Hmmm. Let's review the indisputable facts. Shaq and Kobe win several championships, Kobe has sex with some polished trailer trash, she accuses him of rape (utterly ridiculous, should be a crime to fraudulently accuse someone of rape), Kobe tosses Shaq's name into the police interview/interrogation, Shaq gets traded, Shaq wins another championship, and Kobe is still working towards his. There are many disputed facets that shift the blame one way then the other, but Kobe's decision on an entirely collateral matter SEVERAL YEARS LATER is not on the list.

This is especially true when you consider - and Kahn acknowledges - that Kobe has undergone a substantial transformation since the split. If anything, Kobe's latest decision only confirms the general consensus that he was the antagonist because it is another example of his evolution. Such evolution implies the old Kobe would have selfishly chosen surgery (a questionable condemnation in itself) , consistent with a petulant, insecure-but-ascending superstar who forces his running mate out for his greater glory. Again, I say it's irrelevant but it certainly doesn't argue in his favor.

Kobe deserves praise for his maturation. He deserves praise for the crucial role he played in reclaming the basketball world for America. He deserves praise for leading the Lakers to the NBA Finals, where he needed more help than his team could give him. He deserves praise for understanding that there is no weakness in that. He deserves praise for ignoring Shaq's latest bit of rap antics. He deserves praise for playing through injury, even to a pinkie. He deserves praise for a lot of things.

Instead, Kahn gives him a lot of praise for just one thing. He virtually drools over Kobe in reverance. And genuflecting in front of another man while drooling is not something to be done in public, even metaphorically.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Dear MLB Writer's Association of America

Or whoever votes for the NL Cy Young Award. It is ridiculous that all the Cy Young talk has been about Brandon Webb and CC Sabathia. Both are having great years, but both are trailing The Freak and right now he's disappearing into a cloud of dust while Webb's thrown a shoe and CC missed a couple strides.

OK, maybe I'm biased because I am a die-hard, break-stuff-when-they-lose-while-contending Giants fan. But the stats back up Tim Lincecum's candidacy more strongly than I ever could. He is leading the world in Ks with 225 and the NL in ERA with a sparkling 2.54 after last night's gem against Arizona. He now trails Webb's NL-leading 19 wins by only 3 and his 1.18 WHIP is within a couple walks or hits of everyone in the league except possibly Cole Hamels' 1.06 (but he's not in the discussion due to only 12 wins and an ERA over 3.00). To put an airtight seal on his resume, The Franchise checks in at 4th in IP with 198.2, which means he will break 200 IP unless he is shutdown for some reason.

The only argument left for Webb is his 19 wins; the rest of his numbers aren't even close. I think the bloom is off his rose due to the last couple disasters, especially the nationally televised implosion against the Bums. Sabathia has been awesome, but I don't understand the logic that he gets rated only on his finish because he switched leagues. All of a sudden he gets a mulligan on his slow start? That doesn't seem right. But the side you take in that debate is irrelevant because Lincecum's got CC beat either way. Compared to Lincecum's line, Sabathia offers 15 wins, 2.77 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 217 Ks, and 217.1 IP. Plus he has 9 - nine - CGs and 5 shutouts while Lincecum has none of either. However, Lincecum has only 20 fewer IP so Lincecum has put only an insignificantly heavier burden on his bullpen.

Here's where the argument gets a little complicated: when you look at Sabathia's NL-only argument. He has been phenomenal since the trade. Nine wins, 6 CGs and 3 shutouts have come since he donned a Brewer cap. He has a 1.42 ERA, 94 Ks, 95 IP in 12 starts, and an insane .99 WHIP. But here's the twist - if you take his NL-only numbers, you CANNOT look at them in a vacuum. You must put them up against Lincecum's NL-only numbers. That means Tim has 7 more wins, 131 more Ks, and 103.2 more IP. While CC's ERA and WHIP are significantly better than Lincecum's plus he gets points for his CGs and shutouts, that doesn't make up for the deficiency in Ks and IP.

The idea that Sabathia gets credit for his NL-only ERA and WHIP but his entire season's worth of the cumulative stats is not only unfair, but it is inconsistent and flawed logic. If Sabathia competes on his half-season, then he competes on a half-season of every stat and not just the ones where its helps his cause. You simply cannot say that the Ks, wins, and IP from Cleveland count but the hits and runs he gave up do not. Therefore, either way you slice it Lincecum has been better than Sabathia.

But even if you think it's still close, there's one bullet left to consider. And for this one, we can bring the other "contenders" into the picture i.e. Webb, Hamels, Ryan Dempster, Edinson Volquez, Chad Billingsley, Johan Santana, Ben Sheets, Aaron Cook, and as far down the list as you wanna go. Tim Lincecum pitches for the San Francisco Giants and HAS ONLY 3 LOSSES. Consider that. My boys in Orange and Black are led by Aaron Rowand w/13 HRs. Benjie Molina is the only player w/more than 70 RBI and he has 82. Only 2 players have scored more than 52 runs ALL YEAR. I love the Giants, but this is a woeful offensive squad (I still love watching them because they hit enough, run a ton, and pick it clean) as their 63-80 record attests. I'm serious when I say SF's offensive MVP this year has been Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow.

Santana (7 Ls), Sheets (7 Ls), Cook (9 Ls), and Dempster (6 Ls) pitch for offensive juggernauts. Hamels' (9 Ls) Phillie offense may have gone a bit cold, but the numbers still rank it as elite and it includes Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins. Webb (7 Ls) and Billingsley (10 Ls) pitch in front of offenses that spent half the year raking. Coincidentally, Webb has started to struggle as Arizona's offense has ground to a standstill while Billingsley has gotten red-hot after a couple weeks of having Manny Ramirez in the lineup. Only Volquez has faced a simlilar plight and he has 5 losses (plus his ERA, Ks, and IP prohibit him from being a serious contender anyway). In other words, Tim Lincecum has half as many losses as any serious challenger despite pitching in front of the worst offense (and team).

But what is really crazy is that I don't hear anyone outside of San Francisco even arguing for Lincecum. Everything I read or hear is about Webb and Sabathia. The race isn't even close but the guy who is running away with it isn't even being discussed. This is not the MVP award where your team should be good to be eligible to win it. This is the Cy Young where a bad team helps the player's cause and yet The Freak doesn't seem to be on ESPN or Fox Sports' radar.

Hopefully the people who vote are paying attention.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Dear ESPN's Eric Karabell

I know I'm probably typing to the deafness of cyberspace, but I just can't read this w/out being agitated into response.

ON JULY 30TH, YOU WROTE AN ARTICLE ABOUT SAFE CLOSERS AND SAID BOTH BRIAN WILSON AND GEORGE SHERRILL WERE AVERAGE, likely to lose their jobs at any moment. Quoting YOUR WORDS re Sherrill, “he is second in the bigs in saves, but his ERA and WHIP are below average.” Wilson was leading the NL in saves at the time w/29 so it would stand to reason that his awful WHIP and ERA earned him a place on your list, like Sherrill. In other words, you rated 2 of the SAVE LEADERS as just average BECAUSE OF THEIR PERIPHERALS. I wrote you an email pointing out that saves were all that mattered, etc. b/c I am a Giants fan and knew you were absolutely wrong ON JULY 30 about the importance of closers’ peripherals, specifically and especially w/regard to Wilson.

ON AUGUST 13TH, YOU WROTE THAT BRIAN WILSON WAS “VASTLY UNDERRATED THIS SEASON.” You even had the audacity to say you thought he was so w/out mentioning that 2 weeks ago you were the one underrating him. Not only that, you essentially re-printed the email I wrote you re Wilson CONCEPT-FOR-CONCEPT, you just used your own words. But your own words didn’t change the fact that you were voicing concepts and opinions diametrically opposed to your article of 2 weeks prior. Again, you left that relevant tidbit out.

ON SEPTEMBER 3RD, YOU WROTE AN ARTICLE ABOUT HOW SAVES ARE ALL THAT MATTERS, thus completing a TOTAL 180 ABOUT A FUNDAMENTAL ELEMENT OF BASEBALL in 6 weeks. Again, you did so w/out EVER MENTIONING that you were firmly in the opposite camp less than 2 months prior.

To any intelligent fan of baseball, this makes you look duplicitous and weak. Even worse, it makes you look arrogant and a little dumb b/c there’s a link to your archive on every page and any reader worth having will be interested enough to read your old work. You are effectively selecting-out the readers any responsible writer should want to attract since no reasonable person wants to read or listen to someone who makes bold proclamations in one direction one day and the opposite direction the next w/out ever acknowledging the contradiction.

I understand it’s only baseball, etc., etc. But all any reasonably intelligent person wants is accountability when necessary. And it may seem paradoxical, but the more trivial the matter, the more accountability he/she will expect. Baseball is impossible to predict and almost as hard to completely understand. That means no reasonable person cares that you get things wrong and no respect is lost by acknowledging these facts. You just ignore a fertile ground for topics i.e. Rob Neyer’s bit about being dead wrong so much he’s entitle to gloat when right. I’d love to read more by him but ESPN, in it’s eminent wisdom, makes you pay for his writing (which is why I use Fox Sports as much as and whenever possible).

If the American public can't expect accountability from those w/public fora (and it seems we CANNOT from ESPN or Fox or CNN or MSN or etc.), then what authority do you have to report on others' lack of accountability? And then the entire concept is lost since only those that can reach the public have the ability to hold those w/power accountable - those that NEED to be held accountable if future Enrons, Katrinas, or Steroid Eras are to be avoided