Seven offseason questions for baseball executives

November 10, 2011

Jerry Crasnick* wrote an interesting article over on ESPN.com today about seven major questions facing teams this offseason. He asked 28 baseball executives their thoughts. It’s a good read; I encourage you to go check it out.

* The most underrated writer on ESPN, and it’s not even all that close.

As always, Crasnick’s article gives me a great starting point for my own post. Here are my thoughts on each of the seven questions he raised:

1. Which free-agent first baseman, Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, will provide the best value over the life of his next contract?

20 votes for Fielder, 3 votes for Pujols, and five abstentions.

Um, what?

There was on point that was lost in the shuffle with all the talk of Albert Pujols having a bad season last year: Albert Pujols didn’t have a bad season last year. He had an ugly .245/.305/.453 line through April, but that was mostly because of a ridiculous .211 BABIP. That won’t happen again. Pujols will be Pujols.

And I get all the talk – Pujols is 32 and he might actually be older, because he was born in the Dominican Republic. Sure, Pujols may be older than 32. But Prince Fielder actually is fat.

Which leads me to the real inspiration for this post: a quote from an anonymous AL scout, dismissing concerns over Fielder’s weight: Fielder has “been fat since he was born, so he knows how to play with fat.”

Not only is that a dumb, meaningless thing to say, but that is some seriously dangerous logic coming from a scout. Let’s count down the ways that this quote is insanely stupid:

1. At first I thought that quote has meaning. It was certainly presented as a coherent thought. Don’t be fooled: of course he knows how to play with fat. He is either the first or second most coveted free agent on the market, and there really is no third place. But what in the world does that have to do with a free agent contract?

2. How exactly does someone play fat? The argument against being fat is that your joints wear down faster because you are carrying weight. Maybe Prince knows some sort of magical way to think the joint pain away. If so, I hope he reads this and calls me, because every day I age, I get a little sorer climbing out of bed.

3. Let’s play with that quote a little bit. If I’m missing something logically, let me know, but these all seem to be the same:

  • Mark Prior has been throwing in that motion since he was born, so he knows how to throw in that motion;
  • Rocco Baldelli has been playing with mitochondrial abnormalities since he was born, so he knows how to play with mitochondrial abnormalities; and most importantly
  • Cecil Fielder has been fat since he was born, so he knows how to play with fat.
Which leads me to my final point:
4. Krasnick points out that Fielder is durable: “since his rookie year, Fielder has appeared in 157, 158, 159, 162, 161 and 162 games.” Prince turns 29 this year.
Cecil Fielder was a part-time player until he turned 24. He played a full season in Japan at age 25 before the Tigers signed him. In the following four seasons, he played in 159, 162, 155, and 154 games.
In 1993, at age 29 just like Prince, he signed a 5-year, $36 million dollar contract with the Tigers. The contract made him he highest paid player in baseball in 1994 and 1995. Number of games per season from 1994 (when he turned 30) through the end of his career: 109, 136, 160, 98, and 117.
He had eaten himself out of the league by age 34 and inspired this magnificent quote on his baseball-reference page:
“If you’re ever running low on inspiration during your physical rehab, just think of Cecil Fielder and the endless hours he put in at the gym to become one of the best power-eaters of the 90s.”
So yeah, you might want to think twice about giving the already fat guy a boatload of guaranteed money. I take Pujols any day of the week.
2. Which free-agent closer, Joe Nathan or Frankie Rodriguez, has a better chance of regaining his former glory?
Um, neither. Have you seen these guys pitch lately? 13 scouts picked Nathan, 12 picked Rodriguez, with three undecided. I think we can assume the three undecided said something close to “Um, neither.” Perhaps Crasnick would have received more neithers/honest answers if he framed the question this way:
Which free-agent closer, the 37-year old who lost several miles off his fastball after Tommy John surgery or the headcase whose most notable accomplishment in the last two years was getting arrested for fighting with his own teammate, has a better chance of regaining his former glory?
Yeah, that sounds way better.
3. Which 2011 free-agent signee has the best chance of rebounding next season? Adam Dunn (.159 with 11 home runs), Carl Crawford (.255 BA, .289 OBP, 18 stolen bases) or Jayson Werth (.232, 69 runs scored, 58 RBIs)?
22 scouts went with Crawford, 5 with Werth, and one with Dunn. This seems easy – how can it be anyone but Crawford?
I don’t recall Werth ever being a very good player. Other than the Nationals front office, I don’t recall anyone else thinking Werth was a very good player. I’m just not entirely sure what Werth would rebound from, so he’s out.
Dunn built a career on two things and two things only: walks and home runs. He can’t hit home runs any more, so that leaves walks. He did walk last year – he somehow drew 75 while hitting .159 – but eventually pitchers are going to stop pitching around him. Home run hitters simply don’t have much value once they can’t hit home runs any more.* One scout compared Dunn’s potential 2012 season to Lance Berkman’s 2011 season, but I don’t see it. Berkman was a solid all-around hitter before a bad 2010 season; Dunn was not.
* See McGwire, Mark.
That leaves Carl Crawford by default. Crawford earned a spot on my fantasy baseball shit list after I wasted the ninth overall pick on him this season, but I still have to pick him for this question. I don’t know if he will rebound, but he is the only one of those three who has a chance to rebound.

4. Which vacant managerial job poses the toughest challenge: Boston, St. Louis or the Chicago Cubs?

Responses from the scouts: Boston 20, St. Louis 5, Chicago 3. I get the argument: Boston has a far more intense fanbase, while St. Louis will be less anxious after their World Series win and the Cubs are the Cubs – but I disagree. For me, it has to be the Cubs.

The Red Sox are still insanely talented. The manager doesn’t have that hard of a job. Besides, there’s a reason why managers tend to last five years or less: sometimes a team just needs a new leader. The circle of baseball life, if you will. It doesn’t even matter who the leader is.

Unlike the Cardinals and Red Sox, the Cubs suck. They had the sixth highest payroll in baseball last year and I couldn’t begin to tell you how that happened. I look at their lineup and it looks like the lineup of a team that would finish 71-91. They didn’t underachieve.

Then there’s the Theo Epstein issue. I like Theo and I hope he does well. But he came right out and told Ryne Sandberg that he wasn’t a candidate for the job. Cubs fans flat-out LOVE Sandberg. No other manager would draw anywhere close to as much fan enthusiasm.

So why didn’t Theo consider him? It has to be ego. I can’t think of any other rational explanation. Theo simply doesn’t want a manager overshadowing the work he intends to do to turn around the Cubs. And that is why the Cubs’ job will be the toughest.

5. Which lefty starter, 31-year-old C.J. Wilson or 32-year-old Mark Buehrle, is the better bet to perform over the course of his free-agent deal?

14 scouts voted for Buehrle, eight for Wilson, and six undecided.

Tough call. Buehrle’s the sure thing, while Wilson could be anywhere from great to terrible. I’d take Buerhle, but I could also see an argument either way.

With Buerhle, you know you’re getting a solid number two starter, nothing more, nothing less. And given that the Yankees lost Games 2 and 5 in the ALDS, I’d take the sure thing.

6. Which 2011 September-collapse team has a better chance of making the playoffs next year: Boston or Atlanta?

The scouts picked Boston and I’d agree. This team had no business missing the playoffs this year and they shouldn’t miss it next year. Furthermore, I don’t think Atlanta can win the NL East over the Phillies, so they’d have to rely on the Wild Card. The Red Sox, on the other hand, can win the AL East. Advantage: Boston.

7. Which young pitching phenom would you rather have: Yu Darvish, Stephen Strasburg or Matt Moore?

The respondents gave the slight edge to Moore with 13 votes to Strasburg’s 12. The other three respondents called it a coin flip between Moore and Strasburg.

Poor Yu Darvish. This is completely Dice-K’s fault. Dice-K flames out, and all of a sudden people forget how great Darvish is. Here’s a little secret: whoever gets Darvish is going to get a ridiculous bargain.

Now I’m not going to pretend that Dice-K wasn’t a really, really good Japan League pitcher. But in his best season, he finished with a 2.13 ERA and 200 strikeouts in 186.1 innings pitched. Darvish’s highest season ERA in the last five years was 1.88 ERA. Last season, he finished with 276 strikeouts and a 1.44 ERA in 232 innings. That’s insane.

I think Moore is going to be great. I hope Strasburg will be great, because he was awesome to watch before Tommy John surgery. But I’m going to be contrarian here and go with Yu Darvish. I think he’s being unfairly dismissed because of past Japanese flameouts. I have faith in the Yu!

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Rugby Sevens: The Best Sport You Aren’t Watching

February 14, 2011

Some sports are destined to never be popular in the United States. Most of the time, these sports aren’t popular for a fairly obvious reason.

Soccer (unfortunately) will never be popular here. Different pundits will give any number of reasons for this but all it comes down to is our short attention span. Most Americans just don’t have the patience to sit for 46 to 50 minutes at a time without a break or a goal to appreciate the beauty of the game.

Tennis isn’t manly enough and golf is too elite for us to care about more than four times a year. Volleyball is even less manly than tennis. Cricket makes soccer look like arena football; even twenty20, the stripped down one-day version of cricket is still about fifteen15 too long for the average American.

And no, I don’t believe anything I just wrote so there’s no point in arguing with any of it.* I just write what the average American thinks. Sure, much of this has to do with promotion of the sport from the powers that be; fans are followers and they will watch whatever sport ESPN decides to promote. But the general point is that most of these sports that are popular in other parts of the world aren’t popular in the United States because they don’t fit our taste buds for a specific reason.

* I can think of at least one big tennis fan that reads this site that will take issue with my not-so-manly characterization of tennis.

As you have probably gathered from the title of the post, there is one sport that I can’t fathom hasn’t become popular in America.

Rugby sevens is awesome, addictive, exciting, and any other similar superlative you can think of.

Rugby sevens isn’t rugby. Like soccer, rugby will never be popular in the United States. Rugby is even less popular than the sports above for two reasons. First, the play of the game is like soccer – a typical game lasts eighty minutes and there are no breaks in action. Second, Americans are protective of the NFL and rugby is considered a poor alternative. Although American football and rugby really aren’t all that similar, fans persist in comparing the two sports. Football fans cannot handle no forward passes and rugby fans seem to think pads make football sissy.

Sevens doesn’t suffer from these problems. Only seven players compete on each team (down from 15 in rugby) so the game is wide open and barely resembles an American Football game. Furthermore, a match lasts only fifteen minutes. If only they showed sevens on ESPN, you could flip this on:

Like you wouldn’t stay on that for the fifteen minutes a match took, even if you had absolutely no idea what’s going on. I barely understand what is going on in that clip, but I know one thing: I’d absolutely watch that over a random NBA or NHL game. At only fifteen minutes a match, it is a super addictive game. As soon as a match ends, two more teams run out for another match.

This weekend, Las Vegas hosted a tournament in the IRB Sevens World Series. The World Series consists of eight two-day tournaments staged around the world over the course of a season between sixteen national teams (the Hong Kong event is contested by 24 teams over three days). Many teams have significant followings – England, South Africa, and New Zealand among them.

Not many in the United States cared and/or even heard about it. A few games did make it on NBC during the prime 2:30 pm hour on Sunday. Of course you wouldn’t know it to look at their website, which hasn’t been updated since January 22. The website seems more concerned with the collegiate sevens championship in June, the next time that NBC will show rugby sevens.

The lack of coverage isn’t a case of the United States being bad at a sport either. Although the Eagles (as they are nicknamed) are not one of the top few teams, they finished 11th in the points standings and 10th last year. In the Australian Sevens last season, they even qualified for their first ever final before falling to Samoa. Currently they sit 11th in the 2010-11 standings. Certainly not great, but it’s not like they are getting dominated either.

Sevens has pretty much everything an American sports fan could want. It is fast-paced, there is plenty of contact, outrageous amounts of athleticism, and fans only have to pay attention for fifteen to eighteen minutes at a time.

Last year, the International Olympic Committee announced that sevens will be a part of the 2016 Summer Olympics. Now would be a fantastic time for sports channels to start promoting sevens. There is no reason why it couldn’t be a popular sport in the United States. I have no doubt that in 2016, American fans will briefly flirt with the sport, similar to what we do with curling every four years. In the meantime, do yourself a favor and watch a sevens tournament next time it is on. You may have to wait until June, but trust me on this one: it’s a fantastic sport.

 


Random Story Friday

February 11, 2011

For the second time in three weeks, I’m going to publish a random story Friday column. This might work out after all.

In case you didn’t catch the first edition, every week I look for headlines to give me ideas for a blog post. There are usually several that I want to write about, but I don’t think I can write an entire article about them. So I’m going to give you a few headlines from this week that I found interesting/entertaining/maddening but weren’t quite big enough for their own post.

1. Cards ask Fitzgerald for opinion on QB, he says Bulger

The Arizona Cardinals asked star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald his opinion on a quarterback for them to target in the offseason. This is a rare smart move from the Cardinal organization. Keeping their stars happy (or even willing to play) has never been a top priority. Fitzgerald is the face of the Cardinals’ franchise through good and bad. Ironically, the lasting image of the 2010 Cardinals season is Fitzgerald’s face as the 74th consecutive ball was thrown ten feet over his head.

Fitzgerald’s first choice is Philadelphia quarterback Kevin Kolb. Very reasonable. He was the guy that the Eagles were willing to turn their team over to before Michael Vick turned into a revelation. The Eagles are a far better franchise than the Cardinals; the fact that trusted Kolb bodes well for Arizona. So far, so good.

Fitzgerald’s second suggestion? Marc Bulger. I find this extremely hilarious.

Bulger is terrible. In his last three seasons as a starter (2007-09), he wasn’t just a below average quarterback – he was one of the worst starters in the league. In 2007, he finished 30th in the league among qualified starters with a 70.3 passer rating, ahead of only Brodie Croyle, Rex Grossman, and Kellen Clemens and just behind Trent Edwards, Tavaris Jackson, and Cleo Lemon. None of those six quarterbacks are still starters. In 2008, he finished 30th again with a 71.4 rating, just ahead of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Derek Anderson and just behind Gus Frerotte and Dan Orlovsky.

In 2009, Bulger had a 70.7 passer rating, but finished 24th in the league. Apparently the league got quite a bit worse on average that year. That season, the Rams finished 1-15 and Bulger was benched first for Kyle Boller and then for West Texas A&M rookie Keith Null. Null’s quarterback mentor? Ryan Leaf. You couldn’t make this stuff up. Those there quarterbacks were so bad that the Rams decided to jettison all of them this offseason. They drafted Sam Bradford with the #1 overall pick and brought in veteran A.J. Feeley as a mentor; Bulger signed a one-year deal with the Ravens to backup Joe Flacco.

I could go on, but I think I already made my point: Bulger sucks. He hasn’t been good since 2006 and, really, he wasn’t even all that good to begin with. The Rams went 6-42 in his last three seasons with the team. Fitzgerald just might be delusional. I laughed at the idea that Fitzgerald actually thought that Bulger would be an upgrade.

But this story keeps on giving. I stumbled upon this article from SB Nation, which notes that Ken Whisenhunt really likes Bulger. Then I realized that the Arizona quarterback situation is so bad that Bulger would actually be an improvement and I found it even more hilarious.

Starting quarterback Derek Anderson finished 30th in the league this season with a 65.9 rating, only beating out Jimmy Clausen (somehow Cleveland didn’t have a quarterback qualify). He actually regressed from his last season as a starter, the aforementioned 2008 season, when he finished last in the league with a 66.5 rating.

That’s not even the whole story: the Cardinals started four quarterbacks this season, each more preposterous than the last. After Anderson, the duty fell to undrafted rookie Max Hall, who was overmatched. Then the duty fell to rookie quarterback John Skelton, a fifth-round pick out of FCS Fordham, who was overmatched. Then the duty fell to Richard Bartel, a third-year undrafted player out of Tarleton State with no career NFL passes who signed with the Cardinals in December. He was overmatched.

To recap: I laughed at Larry Fitzgerald for advocating for a quarterback who last started in 2009 and was one of the worst quarterbacks in the league for his last three years as a starter. Then I laughed at the Cardinals because Bulger would actually be a huge upgrade over their current quarterback choices. Hell of an organization out there in Arizona.

2. Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan resigns

Fitting that the NBA’s version of Jeff Fisher resigns just a week and a half after the actual Jeff Fisher and the Tennessee Titans agreed to part ways. I never quite understood why Sloan was considered one of the best coaches in the NBA. Like Fisher, the problem with Sloan seemed to be that he was never really bad enough to fire – in 22 seasons with the team, he only had a losing record once.

But how impressive is that really? Sure, he made the playoffs in his first fifteen seasons with the team. That’s not easy to do, no matter who your players are. So I give him credit for that, but I’m still not impressed. He had Karl Malone and John Stockton, two of the NBA’s 50 greatest players, for that entire 15-year run. And he still couldn’t win a title.

The familiar refrain is that the Jazz simply ran into historically great teams. Their two best teams were the 1996-97 and 1997-98 teams; both ran into the Jordan/Pippen Bulls in the NBA Finals and lost. We can’t really fault Sloan for that. Nevertheless, I still don’t understand how he was considered a great coach. My favorite test for the MVP Award is “how good would the team have been without the player?” We can employ a similar test for Sloan – “how good would the Jazz have been over his career had another coach been in charge?”

My answer: just as good. Any halfway competent coach could have coached the Malone and Stockton duo to fifteen consecutive playoff appearances. The Jazz put up gaudy regular season records and continually choked in the playoffs. They fell in the first round seven times, and were the higher seeded team four of those times. What exactly was Sloan bringing to the table?

Although like Fisher, I think middle management everywhere can take a lesson from Sloan. You don’t have to be great at your job, just don’t be bad enough to get fired. Well done, Sloan…but I think you and the Jazz are both better off now.

#3. Harry Baals a big hit

You’ve probably already seen this, but the Fort Wayne government took to the web to ask for suggestions for the name of their government center. The runaway favorite is the Harry Baals Government Center, named after a former mayor named Harry Baals (seriously).

I have no comment on this, but I find it hilarious. And yes, I’m 26 years old.


The Doldrums of February

February 8, 2011

Now the winter starts to drag.

Football is over. Spring Training games don’t start for another three weeks. I’m still a month away from caring about NCAA Basketball and a solid three months away from caring about the NBA and NHL, if that even happens. The UEFA Champions League doesn’t start back up for another week. Even Deadspin decided to use this week to lose traffic with a site redesign.

It’s a good thing February is only 28 days – I think it drags more than any other month. It’s marginally warmer than December and January, but it is usually the first time that people really start to get antsy over the cold. It seems that once the Super Bowl is over, the thinking in cold weather states shifts to “alright, stop complaining, I know it’s cold…but let’s buckle down and get through these last few weeks of winter.”

Prior to the Super Bowl, it was okay if you wanted to stay at home and out of the cold on the weekend. At least you had important football games to watch. Starting this weekend, if you want to stay home, you’re just a lazy guy who doesn’t want to get off the couch. And so we wait for the NCAA Basketball Tournament or the weather to get warm, whichever comes first.

Even the Cleveland Cavaliers are cooperating with the season. The lead story on ESPN.com is the Cavs’ record-setting 25 game losing streak. I thought about writing about that today, but I don’t think anyone really needs that. It’s Cleveland. In February. And they are STILL third in the NBA in attendance. Everyone feels terrible for Cleveland. Not much more to say about that.

I also thought about writing another Green Bay Packers column. But I wouldn’t want to subject you non-Packer fans to that homerism. Then I planned to write my Champions League predictions, but it’s about a week too early for that.

So instead I’ll just complain about February.


The Luckiest Fan Bases in Sports

February 1, 2011

It is no surprise that sports fans tend to be obsessed with tortured fan bases. After all, rooting for a team is inherently masochistic. At the end of every MLB, NBA, and NHL season, 29 of 30 teams’ fans are frustrated. That number jumps to 31 of 32 for the NFL.

Of course, all sports fans know this going in, so it’s hard to feel sorry for them. That doesn’t stop fans from complaining about how tortured they are. It’s a badge of honor for fans of crappy teams – sorta like how when my family complains about how cold it is in Omaha, I get to say “you know nothing about cold! NOTHING!”

You can’t really blame these fans for wearing the tortured franchise tag with pride. At least they’re first in something. Residents of no other major city in the US get to complain to me about how cold it is, just like how residents of any other major city can complain about their teams to Cleveland residents. This seems fair enough.

Many fans from Cleveland, Buffalo, Seattle, and (fill in the tortured sports city here) like to argue that theirs is the most tortured fan base. A Google search of “most tortured sports cities” brings up a whopping 247,000 results. Every crappy sports city wants in on the action.

But what about the luckiest fan bases (or whatever the opposite of a tortured fan base is)? I couldn’t seem to find any lists ranking these cities. Apparently no one cares…complaining about our failures is way more rewarding than gloating about our successes. So I set out to write my own list of the luckiest sports cities.

Two quick notes. First, overall city-wide performances are important since not every city resident likes each sport equally (i.e. the rule that keeps New York from being #1 just because of the Yankees). So while two Super Bowl championships are a good start, 1 Super Bowl championship and 1 World Series win ranks higher in my mind. Second, these numbers are skewed somewhat towards recent history. I think of lucky sports cities as a fluid concept. Sports are about what have you done for me lately – yes, history is important, but that Super Bowl III victory isn’t doing much for the Jets fans these days.

I started by looking through a few lists of the most tortured sports cities to eliminate these teams from consideration. The first six lists I looked at on said Google search named the following as “tortured”: Seattle, Atlanta, Phoenix, Buffalo, San Diego, Cleveland, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Kansas City, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Houston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Cincinnati, Tampa, New Orleans, Calgary, Charlotte, Detroit, Denver, Milwaukee, Miami, Portland, Sacramento, Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, and Edmonton.

That leaves only 17 professional sports cities that are not tortured: New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, Dallas, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Nashville, Orlando, San Antonio, Columbus, Salt Lake City, Raleigh, Jacksonville, Oklahoma City, Memphis, and Green Bay. And seven of those have had professional teams for less than twenty years, so we can’t really count them.

Now we have only ten cities that supposedly aren’t tortured: New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, Dallas, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, San Antonio, Salt Lake City, and Green Bay. Of those, I’m going to toss out Green Bay, since it seems fair to group it in with Milwaukee as a city (and the Bucks and Brewers drag down the Packers’ three Super Bowl victories). Salt Lake City gets tossed too. Salt Lake’s only team is the NBA’s Jazz and while they’ve mostly been good for their entire existence, they have yet to win a championship. I just can’t name a city as a lucky fan base without a single title.

That leaves us with eight cities, but since the first of those lists came out in 2004, I went back to look at the champions in the four major sports since then to see if we should remove the tortured tag from those teams. Boston jumps back on the list because their teams’ performances in the 2000s might be the best run of a major sports city in recent history – certainly enough to erase 86 years of Red Sox misery. Chicago also gets back on the list, mostly because I’m not sure how they made it on in the first place for reasons I will explain later. Same with Miami.

I did not put Philadelphia and Detroit back on the list. Philadelphia, because one World Series win doesn’t quite erase all those years of sucktitude from the city’s other three teams. And Detroit stays off because, well, Detroit probably shouldn’t be on the list for luckiest anything.

So that leaves us with the eleven luckiest sports cities. In reverse order:

11. Indianapolis (1 Super Bowl win, 3-time ABA champion)

Talk about a city with major ups and downs. The ups tend to outweigh the downs, so Indy gets the #11 spot on this list. They fell ass backwards into not one, but two, professional sports franchises. And both franchises are fairly successful to boot.

The city’s first team was the ABA’s Indiana Pacers in 1967. The Pacers won an ABA-high three championships and made the finals on two more occasions. On the strength of their ABA performance, they fell into an NBA franchise when the ABA and NBA merged. They were unable to duplicate their success in the NBA, but did contend in the 1990s and early 2000s (and won one Eastern Conference final). Unfortunately, the Pacers’ down came in a nationally televised brawl when Ron Artest decided to charge into the stands and attack a doofy guy who didn’t throw a drink at him. That embarrassment alone knocks Indianapolis down a few spots on this list.

The Colts came to Indianapolis in an overnight move. They literally hijacked the team from Baltimore.* Really, the only shame of the whole situation is that it didn’t happen today, with our current 24-hour news cycle. The 15 Mayflower trucks that moved the Colts all took slightly different routes so that the state troopers couldn’t stop them…can you imagine the news helicopters above tracking these chases? Adam Schefter would spontaneously combust.

* Interesting sidebar: when the Baltimore Colts were flirting with a new home, Phoenix emerged as the favorite until owner Robert Irsay was blown away by a tour of the newly constructed RCA Dome. Instead, Phoenix got stuck with the Cardinal franchise five years later. Now that alone is enough to make Phoenix a tortured sports city.

After that, the Colts story in Indianapolis is pretty simple. They were terrible for their first ten years or so, then drafted Peyton Manning and have been one of the best teams in the league since then. The Colts won the Super Bowl in 2007, the first championship for the city in one of the four major sports leagues.

Indianapolis is the fifth smallest metropolitan area to have two or more sports franchises, and they are by far the most successful of the five. Milwaukee, Buffalo, and New Orleans are all named in the most tortured cities (Buffalo usually ranks near the top) and Nashville did not have a team until 1998. Buffalo’s NFL team and New Orleans’ NBA team are perpetually named in the list of franchises that might move. In short, the city has two moderately successful franchises when they barely have any business having two franchises period.

10. Dallas (5 Super Bowl titles, 1 Stanley Cup, 0 NBA titles, 0 World Series titles)

Tough call to have Dallas so low on this list with the Cowboys’ Super Bowl successes, but with the ineptitude of the other sports teams in the city, I couldn’t have them higher than #10. Dallas sports franchises really are the tale of two cities.

On one hand, we have the NFL Cowboys and their five Super Bowl titles. After the team won three Super Bowl titles in the 1990s, they held the record for most all-time Super Bowl titles until Pittsburgh passed them in 2009. ESPN.com ran a debate this week about which team really was “America’s team” – Pittsburgh, Green Bay, or Dallas. If someone can make an argument that your team is America’s team in America’s most popular sport, that’s a pretty good indication that your team is something special. Even if it hasn’t won a playoff game in over a decade.

But then we have the NBA’s Mavericks and MLB’s Rangers, two of the most historically inept franchises in their respective leagues. The run-and-gun Mavericks were actually decent in the 1980s, although they were beaten by the Showtime Lakers each of the three times that they made it out of the first round of the playoffs. And then they managed to make it through the entire 1990s without a winning season, including a staggeringly bad 11-71 1992-93 season. Mark Cuban’s money turned the team into a contender in the 2000s and they finally made it to their first NBA finals in 2006. They were promptly robbed of the title by the referees and the underdog Heat (or so Maverick fans say).

Historically, the Rangers are even worse. Prior to the 2010 season, the team had won one playoff game in their entire 40-year history (50 if you include ten years in Washington). That’s not one series win – that’s one game win. They were one of three franchises to never play a World Series game. In 2010, they finally broke through and won their first two playoff series and entered the World Series as the favorite against the Giants. They lost.

The NHL’s Stars have actually been fairly successful since they relocated from Minnesota in 1993. They won a Stanley Cup in 1999 and finished runner-up the next year. Of course, that doesn’t really count since no one in Dallas cares about hockey. Eventually someone will push Gary Bettman out and the Stars will move back to a northern city and everyone will forget about the Stanley Cup. Seriously, all seven of the warm weather cities that Bettman expanded to are in the bottom third of the league’s attendance. In twenty years we will all laugh about the time that someone thought it was a good idea to move an ice hockey team from Minneapolis to Dallas.

Aside from the Cowboys, Dallas is basically a warmer-weather Cleveland. Unfortunately for Cleveland, the Cowboys are the difference between the tenth luckiest sports city and the hands-down unluckiest sports city. Well that and “The Decision.”

9. Los Angeles (11 NBA championships, 6 World Series titles, 1 Super Bowl, 1 Stanley Cup)

Another city that gets on the luckiest city list based on the strength of one team. Fortunately for them, LA residents don’t have a problem jumping on a bandwagon, so the Lakers’ success is probably enough for all 12+ million of them.

Like the Cowboys, the Lakers are one of the few teams that can make a legitimate argument for the best team in their sport’s history. Unlike the Cowboys, the Lakers have never really had a bad stretch of seasons. Since they moved to Los Angeles in 1960, the Lakers have only missed the playoffs four times, won 11 NBA titles and 14 Western Conference titles. They have won the NBA title an unbelievable 22% of the time and won the Western Conference 50% of the time. Seven of Bill Simmons’ top 15 players of all-time played the majority of their careers with the Lakers. That’s lucky.

But the rest of the LA sports teams have been almost as bad as the Lakers have been good. By pretty much any measure, the NBA Clippers are the worst franchise in basketball. In 26 years in Los Angeles, the Clippers have three winning seasons and one playoff series win. They are the exact opposite of the Lakers, and it really bugs all 14 Clipper fans.

The Kings are the NHL’s answer to the Clippers. Since they entered the league in 1967, they have reached the final four in the playoffs only one time – in 1993, when they lost in the Stanley Cup final. And that includes eight seasons with the greatest hockey player who ever lived.

For their part, the Dodgers have won five World Series rings since they moved to Los Angeles in 1958. However, three of those came before 1965 and no Dodger fan younger than 22 has even seen the Dodgers make the World Series (11 different National League teams have made it since the last time the Dodgers did). On the plus side, they did get to witness Kirk Gibson hit the most famous home run of the past thirty-five years in the 1988 World Series. On the down side, that was the last time the Dodgers made a highlight reel.

The two Anaheim teams have done well recently for those Anaheim fans in the metropolitan area. The Ducks have somewhat unfairly made three conference finals (to the Kings’ one) since their expansion season in 1993. They won the 2007 Stanley Cup, although it’s unclear if anyone in LA actually cares. The Angels have the 2002 World Series ring to fall back on, but they were pretty terrible for the first forty years of their existence. I’d call it a wash though, since the Angels’ futility led to the Danny Glover/Tony Danza classic Angels in the Outfield.

But the biggest reason that Los Angeles is so low on the list is the lack of an NFL team. Both the Rams and Raiders moved following the 1994 season. Though seemingly every franchise in the NFL has flirted with moving to LA at one time or another, the city has been NFL-less since then. Eventually LA will get another NFL team and they will instantly shoot up a couple spots unless it’s the Cardinals that move. Pretty much any other franchise, including an expansion team, would be a trade-up from the Raiders and Rams.

8. Miami (2 World Series titles, 2 Super Bowl titles, 1 NBA title, 0 Stanley Cups)

How Miami made it on someone’s most tortured city list is beyond me. First, Miami fans live in Miami, so they can’t be that tortured. Second, as I’ve talked about before, no one in Miami cares about their sports teams. This season, the MLB Marlins finished 28th in attendance, the NFL Dolphins finished 16th, and the NHL Panthers are currently 23rd. Sure, the Heat are selling out their games, but it took Lebron James and Dwayne Wade to do that. With just D-Wade last season, the Heat finished 15th in attendance and averaged 300 more fans per game on the road than at home.

Miami is the opposite of tortured – their fans don’t really deserve any titles, let alone five. The Marlins have won two World Series titles in their first eleven seasons of existence. The Heat have one title in their 22 seasons and now have two of the three most popular players in the league. And in the year I lived in Miami, I met only one person who had ever attended a Panthers game, so the fact that they are consistently one of the worst teams in the NHL doesn’t seem to bother anyone.

Yeah, I admit that the Dolphins have come up empty since winning the 1973 and 1974 Super Bowls. They managed only one AFC Championship with Dan Marino at quarterback. But 14 of the 32 NFL teams have never won a Super Bowl; seven more have only won one. I’m sure it was frustrating for Dolphin fans during the Marino era, but the Dolphins probably don’t even crack the top half of long-suffering NFL fans.

Even if the Miami franchises weren’t all that good, I still wouldn’t call their fans tortured. If “The Decision” taught us anything, it’s that teams are only in Miami because that’s what players want. They get to live on South Beach and pay no state income taxes. Miami fans will ditch crappy teams in a heartbeat – they should never be mentioned in any tortured fan base discussion.

7. San Antonio (4 NBA titles)

San Antonio is this low because they have only one professional team. Yet no city comes anywhere close to winning titles at a percentage as high as the Spurs. They have won four NBA titles in 36 seasons – a solid 11% of the time. Sure, those titles have all come since 1999 and the Spurs perpetually came up short in the playoffs before that. But it’s still hard to feel sorry for a fan base that got to see three all-time greats in George Gervin, David Robinson, and Tim Duncan in their primes.

The Spurs have only missed the playoffs four times in 33 NBA seasons. Even in those seasons they got unbelievably lucky. They won the NBA Draft lottery twice. Those #1 picks? Robinson and Duncan. In the other two seasons, they drafted future All-Stars Alvin Robertson and Sean Elliott. That’s quite a track record.

6. Chicago (6 NBA titles, 5 World Series titles, 4 Stanley Cups, and 1 Super Bowl)

I know, I know, I can hear the Cubs fans whining too. Now I admit that just five years ago Chicago wouldn’t be anywhere close to the top of this list, but let’s start out with the good Chicago teams.

First we have the NBA’s Bulls. The Bulls were never good before Michael Jordan arrived and haven’t been that good since he left. Yet for those 13 seasons, Chicago won six titles (third most in NBA history) and saw some of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Every other city except Boston and LA would gladly trade their entire histories for those six seasons. I’d call that lucky.

The NFL’s Bears have only one Super Bowl win, but like the Bulls, what they lack in quantity they make up for in quality. Most analysts rank the 1985 Bears as the best Super Bowl champion in history. Granted, this is similar to the “what have you done for me lately” argument I made with the Dodgers, but the 1985 Bears were different. 25 years later, all football fans can name the cast of characters from the Super Bowl Shuffle – Jim McMahon, Walter Payton, The Fridge, Coach Ditka, and the like. The most recognizable Dodger from the ’80s is announcer Vin Scully.

MLB’s White Sox and NHL’s Blackhawks both ended long droughts of terribleness recently. The White Sox won their first World Series in 88 years in 2005 and the Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years in 2010. Neither team was particularly good in the years between their titles – the White Sox last made the World Series in 1958 and the Blackhawks last made the Stanley Cup in 1992. But as I said above, recentness matters.

Finally we get to the Cubs. 102 years and counting. Blah blah blah. Have you ever actually met a Cubs fan? They are much more content talking about how long it has been since their last World Series title than about their current title chances. Which makes sense, because the last time they even made the World Series was 1945. It’s not that painful to lose if you always suck. Losing four World Series in Game 7 like the Red Sox did…now that’s painful. So I would argue that it’s even lucky to be a Cubs fan. The fans can wear their pink and green hats and complain about how hard things are as a Cubs fan, all while not really caring all that much.

5. San Francisco Bay Area (7 Super Bowl titles, 5 World Series titles, 1 NBA title, 0 NHL titles)

The best thing about the Bay Area? Remarkably little heartbreak. The NHL Sharks have yet to make a Stanley Cup despite being the #1 seed several times. The MLB A’s lost five of six playoff series in the 2000s. The Giants lost the 2002 World Series; three months later, the Raiders lost the 2003 Super Bowl. But that’s about it. If that’s the only heartbreak that comes with 13 titles, then the city can’t really complain about much, World Series earthquakes notwithstanding.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the 49ers had one of the best dynasties in NFL history. 49er fans witnessed two of the best quarterbacks in history (Joe Montana and Steve Young) and the best receiver in history by far (Jerry Rice). They went five for five in Super Bowls – the only franchise that has won more than one Super Bowl without losing one.

Before the 49ers were any good, the Raiders also had a solid team, winning two Super Bowls in 1977 and 1981. They had a brief affair with Los Angeles in the 1980s and early 1990s, but moved back in 1995. Now Raiders fans just have to wait for Al Davis to die.

Prior to the 2010 season, the MLB Giants were the only Bay Area franchise that could be considered tortured. But they finally won their first World Series since moving to San Francisco to go along with the four Oakland World Series championships.

The NBA Warriors and NHL Sharks drag the Bay Area down somewhat – if they didn’t exist, the Bay Area could have probably cracked the top couple spots on the strength of 12 World Series and Super Bowl titles in the last 38 years. A 1975 NBA title is pretty much the only thing separating the Warriors and the Clippers. Since 1977, the Warriors have only made the playoffs six times. Unfortunately for the Bay Area, their fans actually care about the team. While the Clippers have approximately 14 fans, the Bay Area continually supports the perennial loser Warriors.

In 18 seasons in the league, the NHL Sharks have only missed the playoffs five times. In their third season in the league, they burst on to the scene as a #8 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. A year after finishing 11-71-2, they upset the #1 Red Wings in the first round (back when a #8 over a #1 meant something) and took the Maple Leafs to seven games before falling in the second round. Since then, their playoff appearances have been disappointing. They have five division titles and only eleven series wins. They have never made the Stanley Cup finals and have only made the Western Conference finals twice. Unlike the other expansion teams of the past twenty years, Sharks fans still care – they are one of only 12 teams to draw 100% attendance this season.

4. St. Louis (10 World Series titles, 1 Super Bowl title, 1 NBA title, 0 Stanley Cups)

St. Louis doesn’t have the multi-sport track record that the other teams on this list have. Instead, the city gets the #4 spot for its uncanny ability to buy low and sell high on sports teams.

The MLB Browns made only one World Series in the 53 years that they were in St. Louis (a loss in 1944). The city cut their losses and sent them to Baltimore in 1954. The Orioles did win three World Series titles…but let’s just say that being a Cardinal fan is significantly more rewarding than being an Oriole fan. For evidence, the Cardinals finished fourth in the MLB in attendance last year; the Orioles finished 24th.

The NBA Hawks were in St. Louis between 1955 and 1968. In those 13 years, they made four NBA finals and won one NBA title. The owners wanted to build a new arena (man, were they ahead of their time), but the city refused, so the team relocated to Atlanta. Since then, the Atlanta Hawks haven’t even made it back to the conference finals, let alone the NBA finals.

The NFL Cardinals were located in St. Louis between 1960 and 1987. Give the St. Louis fans credit – they supported the team for 27 years before attendance started to dwindle. This despite the fact that the Cardinals never won a single playoff game in St. Louis. The Cardinals moved to Phoenix; eight years later, the Los Angeles Rams moved to St. Louis. Four years after that, the Rams won the Super Bowl. Now that is a trade-up.

That would be enough luck alone to get St. Louis towards the top of the list. As an added bonus, the ten World Series titles for the Cardinals are the second most in baseball history. Although the Cardinals have never had a dominant dynasty, they tend to reward their fan base. Since they won their first World Series title in 1926, the longest they have gone without a title is 24 years (between 1982 and 2006). Every generation of baseball fans in St. Louis has experienced a World Series title. Only the Yankees can say the same among MLB franchises.

The NHL’s Blues keep St. Louis from breaking into the top three. No NHL team has toyed with their fans more than the Blues. Between 1979 and 2004, they made the playoffs 25 straight times. They qualified for exactly zero Stanley Cup finals. In fairness, Blues fans probably knew what they were in for: the team made the Stanley Cup finals in each of their first three seasons (1968-70). They were swept all three times. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make being a Blues fan any less painful.

3. New York (35 World Series titles, 8 Stanley Cups, 4 Super Bowls, 2 NBA championships)

Tough call on New York only finishing third, but for all the Yankees’ history, the other New York teams really haven’t done a whole lot. I’ve said before that every city has a second-class citizen when it comes to sports. Well, the New York area has two teams in each major league…they basically have a second-class citizen in every sport. So the problem with ranking New York is that New Yorkers can go one of two ways – a first-class route and a second-class route.

They could go the easy route and stick with the Yankees, Giants, Knicks, and Rangers. Those four teams have combined for 36 all-time championships. Although 27 of those came from the Yankees, the other three teams have each won at least two championships.

The significantly more difficult route leaves New Yorkers with the Mets, Jets, Nets, and Islanders. Those four teams have seven titles between them, four of which came when the Islanders won four consecutive titles between 1980 and 1983.

If we leave out NHL teams, it gets even worse. Both New York NHL teams have lackluster histories. The Rangers have won only one Stanley Cup (1994) in the last seventy years. Take away the years between 1980 and 1984, and the Islanders have never been to a Stanley Cup final. Even if you give the Islanders those titles, there’s no real evidence that there are any die-hard Islander fans – the team has finished in the bottom three in attendance in each of the last six years.

So that leaves 32 titles for the first-class citizens of the New York era and 3 for the second-class citizens. On the plus side for the second-class teams, the Mets’ last World Series title came in 1986 when they beat the city’s natural rival Boston with help from Bill Bucknor’s still-tough-to-watch error. On the down side, the Mets’ title was the only title for those teams in the last forty years.

I wasn’t entirely sure how to deal with New York because of this. Depending on which teams you root for, they could be the best sports city in the United States. They could also be one of the most tortured cities. I decided to split the difference and put them at #3 on the list.

2. Pittsburgh (6 Super Bowls, 5 World Series, 3 Stanley Cups)

As I mentioned earlier, the NFL Steelers are one of only three teams with a legitimate argument as “America’s Team” in America’s most popular sport. They have won an NFL-best six Super Bowls while losing only one. Their success to heartbreak ratio is probably the best in NFL history. Not a whole lot more to say about them.

The NHL’s Penguins one-upped the Spurs’ NBA Draft record. The Penguins have had the #1 draft pick three times in their franchise history. Two of their picks? Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux and future Hall of Famer Sidney Crosby. The third pick was goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who is now in his sixth season as the Penguins’ goaltender. Add three Stanley Cups in the last twenty years, and the Penguins have a pretty solid resume going.

Unfortunately, now we get to the MLB Pirates. The Pirates have actually won five World Series titles, although you wouldn’t guess it from their current state. In 1992, they were only 13 years removed from their last World Series title. They were the team of Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Ralph Kiner, and the Waner brothers. Second basemen Bill Maseroski hit the only Game 7 walk-off home run in World Series history in 1960. History was in their favor.

Then Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS happened. The Pirates led 2-0 heading into the ninth inning. A double, error, walk, sac fly, and single later and the Braves won 3-2 when the impossibly slow Sid Bream scored from second on David Justice’s single. Since then, the Pirates have had 18 consecutive losing seasons, the most ever in any sport. And it’s not getting any better: the Pirates clinched a losing season on August 21 this year.

Pittsburgh still gets the #2 spot on the list thanks to the Steelers and Penguins. In the words of Meat Loaf, “two outta three ain’t bad.”

1. Boston (17 NBA championships, 8 World Series titles, 5 Stanley Cups, 3 Super Bowls)

Who’d have thought this was possible ten years ago? At the end of the 20th century, the Red Sox had gone 82 years without a World Series title; the Patriots had never won a Super Bowl; the historically successful Celtics hadn’t won an NBA title in 13 years; and the Bruins hadn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1972.

And then Boston went on an unprecedented run of success in the past decade. The Red Sox turned into the Yankees with better PR. They spent a katrillion dollars on players and won the 2004 and 2007 World Series titles. Now the team is a perennial contender and the favorite to win the American League next season. With the Curse of the Bambino out of the picture, we can now focus our attention on the fact that the franchise has won the fourth most World Series titles in MLB history.

The Patriots built themselves into an improbable juggernaut in an era of NFL parity. Prior to 2001, the franchise did have two AFC Championships to their name. Aside from those, they were generally a team of losers. Besides the 1985 and 1996 championship seasons, they won only two playoff games in forty years. Amazingly, they then won nine straight between 2001 and 2004. The end result: three Super Bowl titles and one of the best four year runs in NFL history. Although Bostonians are still upset about the Tyree catch in the 2008 Super Bowl, they were the only team to have a winning record in every season in the 2000s.

Boston fans always had the glory days of the Celtics to fall back on – between 1957 and 1986, they won 16 of 30 possible titles. No other team in sports history even comes close to a run like that. But even that went dry for Boston sports fans in the 1990s and early 2000s. In 2007, that changed when the Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. They won the 2007-08 NBA title – their first in 24 years (their previous longest drought was seven years). They also narrowly lost the 2010 finals and are the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference this season.

As for the Bruins? They still suck. But three outta four is even better than two outta three.


Random Story Friday

January 28, 2011

Trying something new this Friday – I may keep doing it or it might just be a one time thing. We’ll see.

Every week I look for headlines to give me ideas for a blog post. There are usually several that I want to write about, but I don’t think I can write an entire article about them. So this Friday, I’m going to give you four headlines from this week that I found interesting/entertaining/maddening but weren’t quite big enough for their own post (and one of them isn’t even sports related!).

1. Marlins will be home team at Seattle

This story was simultaneously the saddest and most predictable of the week. The Florida Marlins are moving an entire interleague series from their home Sun Life Stadium to Safeco Field in Seattle because of a U2 concert. The Marlins will still be the “home team” and pitchers will bat.

Sadly, as a financial matter, it’s not even a particularly close call. Last season, the Marlins’ one home interleague series in June (against the Rangers) drew about 46,000 combined for three games. Their average ticket price is $17.

Sun Life Stadium can hold just over 75,000. The U2 concert is sold out, and ticket prices start at $50. Without even factoring in concessions and parking, the U2 concert will make over five times as much as the entire series. I’m not sure how much money goes where, but it looks like an easy decision.

I lived in Miami for a year. It’s a strange town when it comes to sports. Most multi-sport cities have a “second-class citizen” among their sports teams. Up here in Minneapolis, it’s the NBA Timberwolves. The pecking order here goes: Vikings, Twins, Wild, Gopher hockey, Gopher football, Gopher basketball, probably a few women’s club soccer teams, and then the Timberwolves. I’m not sure if this is good, bad, or inevitable, but it just is.

Miami is different. It’s really a no-sports town. There is just too much else going on for people to care about sports, both because of the fun stuff to do on South Beach and the fairly isolated ethnic communities that all have their own stuff going on. Sun Life Stadium is located 15 miles outside of downtown – if people are going to leave the party/beach scene of Miami Beach and South Beach, it better be for a good reason. Like going to a U2 concert. Watching your not-very good home team play a midseason game against an even worse team located 3,500 miles away does not qualify as a good reason.

I think the downtown stadium opening in 2012 will help. After all, it seems beyond logical that the stadium should be near public transportation for the Dominican and Cuban communities. Those two communities should be two of the Marlins’ main target audiences, but public transportation to Miami Gardens is impossible. It won’t solve the whole problem though. Eventually sports leagues will figure out that teams in Miami are always destined to fail (unless they get two of the three most popular stars in the league to join forces).

The best part of the article: the U2 concert is on June 29. The Marlins series was between June 24-26. How big of an ego does Bono have? Three full days isn’t enough to prepare for a U2 concert? That better be one earth-shattering show.

2. Triple-overtime game finishes with bizarre 38-31 score

I love this story. 18-8 Plano West faced off against the #12 ranked team in the nation, 26-1 Edward S. Marcus High School. After Marcus beat them by 13 earlier in the season, Plano West resorted to stall tactics to extend the game and actually had a shot to win in regulation and the first overtime before Marcus finally pulled away in triple overtime.

This is brilliant. Sure, many people will call this unsportsmanlike and skirting the rules of the game. But Marcus is obviously far more talented. Plano West cannot beat them straight up and there is no shot clock in high school basketball. The stall method gave them the best chance to win the game.

The stall reminded me of an article I read by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker about a year ago. He wrote about one of the most successful girls’ youth coaches in the city. The other coaches hated this guy because he employed a full-court press. This coach thought the other coaches were crazy because they were inefficiently only defending half of the court. And on and on it went.

Unwritten rules have never made much sense to me. Just win baby!

3. 108-3 girls basketball rout raises questions

These stories pop up once every month or so in high school basketball. They all follow the same framework. Team A is one of the best teams in the state and is made up of players who presumably came from an East German steroid factory. Team B has six total players, only one of whom had ever touched a basketball before the season. Team A destroys Team B by a ridiculous amount. Unnamed people are outraged at A running up the score. Team A pleads innocence because they didn’t mean to score so much and A’s coach feels bad because he’s been on the other side before. Team B is proud of his players for never giving up.

This story is basically the same. Team A is Utah’s Christian Heritage High and Team B is West Ridge Academy. Christian Heritage won 108-3, though they did slow up in the fourth quarter – they were up 84-0 after three. Pretty much all the checkmarks above are touched on in the story.

Christian Heritage’s coach had this to say: “I have been on the other side of this equation. It was very insulting when teams slowed the ball down and just passed it around. That’s why I’d rather have a team play me straight up, and that’s why I played them straight up.” Granted, there is a lot of disparity in high school sports. I still call BS here. Pretty sure that a coach with a team good enough to beat any team by 105 has never been on the opposite side of the equation. There’s not 210 points of disparity in Utah high school girls’ basketball. Just a hunch.

There were also the requisite “never giving up” quotes. Again, I’ll go ahead and call BS. Sure it makes for a feel-good story and all, but have these reporters ever met a high school kid? Maybe West Ridge’s players are the strongest high schoolers in the country. But how many 16-year olds are still giving their fullest down by 100 points?

Now I expect all the reporting to go down in this fashion. Most reporters don’t have the low readership that I have. They can’t afford to be as crude and insensitive as me, lest some obscure parent group call for their firing.

My real question is who are these unnamed people that are actually outraged by this? Judging by their website, it’s not West Ridge Academy – they are loving the national attention. I feel like this is one of those things that the media assumes that we are upset about, but no one really cares all that much. Let’s be honest: it’s not like the underdogs are ever in contention to win these games. In the big scheme of things, what’s different between a 108-3 beatdown and, say, a 99-12 beatdown?

And, no, this isn’t one of those life lesson things that observers like to attribute to these types of games. The only life lesson is if you’re not that good at basketball, you might get beat by a lot of points.

I also have a theory that which whoopings the media gets upset about are based on artificial lines we draw on scores. The winning team needs to hit triple digits and/or the losing team needs to not reach double digits. The 99-12 score above wouldn’t have made headlines and no one would have been outraged (at least not the national news).

So I guess I found this article interesting, but my main thought is who really cares? I assume the only people that do are insufferable parent groups, which brings me to my fourth, non-sports article…

4. PTC Calls for Child Porn Probe of MTV’s ‘Skins’

You’ve probably heard of the Parents Television Council. They are the fine folks that pop up and cry foul every time a butt cheek pops up on television. They also have nearly 1,400 Twitter followers so you may know them from that.

PETA certainly gets the award for “group that I agree with, but their methods are so out of control that I want that cat to get stepped on.” But the PTC isn’t far behind. I don’t intend on ever watching this Skins show. I’m a never-say-never kinda guy, but I’d put the odds of me ever seeing a part of this show at somewhere well below 1%. From what I’ve heard, the show portrays a lot of sex among teenagers.

I generally don’t really care what’s on TV. Still, I suppose I could get on board with taking said show off the air – that’s probably not the type of thing pre-teens need to have access to. But then the PTC proclaims this “child porn.” Child porn is an extremely serious allegation…whatever the show is, it’s not child porn. Now I want the show to stay on just to spite the PTC.

Don’t worry: that’s the end of my non-sports rant. Give me credit for keeping it to three paragraphs.


They Weren’t Who We Thought They Were

January 20, 2011

Interesting thought from ESPN’s Buster Olney yesterday:

The reputations of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro have taken huge hits because of their alleged or acknowledged links to performance-enhancing drugs.

Now evidence of drug use continues to mount against Lance Armstrong, one of the most beloved figures in American sports — with the latest story coming from Sports Illustrated this week.

The question: Should Armstrong be viewed in the same light as Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Palmeiro and other ballplayers linked to PEDs?

Of all the cases of the baseball players, Armstrong’s most resembles that of Clemens — in the face of a lot of evidence, Armstrong, like Clemens, has angrily denied use of performance-enhancing drugs, while attacking the credibility of his accusers. If Clemens and Armstrong have been lying, they are bald-faced, unrepentant lies.

And while Clemens has never had the warm and fuzzy image that Armstrong has, as the cyclist has helped lead the fight against cancer, the pitcher — like Armstrong — has done a whole lot of philanthropic work.

It’s a tough question.

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Before I talk about the Lance Armstrong vs. Roger Clemens question, I want to discuss Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers a little bit. This will make sense later. I think.

Favre and Rodgers had a rough start to the week on a personal level. For Favre, word spread that a masseuse named Stephanie Dusenberry became the fourth woman (by my count) to allege that Favre made inappropriate advances on her. No word from Favre on the allegations yet. Judging by my quick Google search, this story was picked up by various news outlets, but there’s not much in the way of opinion columns out there on the allegations.

Rodgers was caught in a flap after local television cameras caught him walking past an autograph-seeking cancer survivor named Jan Cavanaugh in the airport without even so much as looking at her. The story blew up over the span of a day and at least one prominent columnist, NBCSports.com’s Mike Florio, ripped Rodgers a new one for walking past her and praised Clay Matthews for taking the time to stop.

Sounds terrible…except that it was a big overreaction. Within a day, Cavanaugh appeared back on the local news and said she couldn’t believe how outrageously the scene had been blown out of proportion. Apparently the two were essentially on first name basis – Rodgers had signed things for her on multiple occasions, including just a week before, and simply didn’t see her. Rodgers probably could have nodded at the fans, but that seems like a small issue compared to the baby killer that Florio tried to make him out to be.* Cavanaugh was also holding a Clay Matthews jersey; that explained why Matthews graciously stopped.

* To his credit, Florio retracted his article a few days later. Columnists do this all the time, but I like that Florio had the courtesy to leave the article online. Most columnists would simply have tried to erase the article from existence and not bother admitting their mistake. Perhaps Florio knows more about Google Cache than most columnists, but I still like the move.

These stories are unrelated, but they came out at about the same time, so of course they are going to be compared. As everyone knows, Congress has mandated that Brett Favre be mentioned in every column about Aaron Rodgers. But these stories can tell us something about how we perceive sports personalities.

So why don’t columnists like Florio jump on the latest Favre allegations but quickly rip apart Rodgers? Simple – it just doesn’t fit with the persona that the media has for Favre. Favre is the good ol’ gunslinger from Mississippi. Chris Berman once said that “rooting for Brett Favre is like rooting for America.” Come on now, Chris, tell us what you really think.

The media did cover the Jenn Sterger allegations about two months after Deadspin first reported them. But there’s been at least three more women that have come forward since then that have received almost no media coverage. Poor Tiger Woods was on approximately 32 consecutive US Weekly magazine covers last year every time a random stripper made a claim that she slept with him, no matter how outrageous her allegations were. And yet Favre slips on by.

Tiger made the mistake of not cultivating an image. Sure, we knew he was on the Mike Douglas Show when he was two years old and that his dad pretty much bred him into a superhero golfer, but that’s pretty boring. The media needs something to sink its teeth into and it didn’t get that with Woods until his personal life fell apart. Now the image we have of Woods is a childish, perverted philanderer whose growth was stunted by an overbearing father. There’s at least a 99.99% chance that at least one of those words is false, but it’s still the image we have of him.

Favre did the smart thing – he took control of his image from the get-go. This is a guy who wrote two autobiographies before he turned 35. He cultivated an image as a red-blooded All-American tough boy who wrestled alligators, slung the ball 75 yards, and pulled childish pranks on teammates. All you need to know about his image is contained in the two video clips that are always shown of Favre – the boisterous young quarterback running downfield with his helmet in his hand after throwing a touchdown pass in Super Bowl XXXI and that of an old, gray guy gritting his teeth through consecutive start number 4,384. Forget about the stay in rehab for drug addiction and all the philandering rumors that were around way before Jenn Sterger came around; this is his image and the media has stuck to it.

That brings us back to Rodgers. It’s fair to say that Rodgers is firmly in the Woods camp. We know he has a good sense of humor from his press conferences, but little else about him. He has dated the lead singer from Lady Antebellum and is currently dating an actress from Gossip Girl, but strangely the media hasn’t really cared.

Every famous quarterback has a story: Favre, the tough ol’ country boy; Brady, the celebrity playboy; Manning, the aw-shucks goofball; Brees, the post-Hurricane Katrina savior; Roethlisberger, the rapist; and Vick the dog murderer trying to find redemption. Rodgers’ performance against Atlanta pushed him up among the top quarterbacks in the league, if he wasn’t there already.

But his story has not been written yet. That’s why a national columnist like Florio immediately jumped on a two second camera clip that didn’t even tell anything resembling a full story. Don’t worry, his story will be written soon, maybe even within the next three weeks if the Packers win the Super Bowl. Poor Florio just got overexcited and jumped the gun.

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So now back to Buster Olney’s Roger Clemens vs. Lance Armstrong question. Like many analysts, Olney focuses on each athlete’s use of steroids. Whether each athlete actually used steroids is irrelevant. The more important question is whether each athlete’s alleged steroid use fits in with our preconceived notions of said athlete.

Evidence seems to be stacked pretty heavily against both Clemens and Armstrong. Of course, there’s really no way to 100% prove that either one of them used steroids. Evidence may pile up, but as long as some obscure video evidence pops up from however many years ago, they can go on angrily denying steroid usage for as long as they want. But it doesn’t matter all that much. We and the media have already made up our minds on Clemens and Armstrong. We will go on thinking what we want to think about their alleged steroid use, and whether or not they actually used steroids will be irrelevent.

I think Olney hit the nail on the head with his second-to-last sentence: “Clemens has never had the warm and fuzzy image that Armstrong has, as the cyclist has helped lead the fight against cancer, the pitcher — like Armstrong — has done a whole lot of philanthropic work.”

Lance Armstrong is as close to an American hero as we have in the sports world. Because of Armstrong, 95% of Americans can name at least one professional cyclist, but less than 3% can name two. He is a four-time AP Athlete of the Year. He won a record-shattering seven consecutive Tour de Frances with only one testicle after his dramatic recovery from cancer. He is single-handedly responsible for the still-going-strong bracelet craze for every major cause. His own Livestrong foundation has raised $325 million to fight cancer.

His main accuser, Floyd Landis, is the antithesis of Armstrong. Landis won the 2006 Tour de France and immediately tested positive for doping afterwards. He proclaimed his innocence for several years and appealed to his supporters to raise over $1 million in legal fees in the “Floyd Fairness Fund” so he could fight his unjust cycling ban. It all turned out to be a George Costanza-like ruse. Landis admitted in 2010 that he doped all along. Also, he didn’t want to go down alone – he wanted to take down every other cyclist, including Armstrong, with him. In the last five sentences alone, he flagrantly violated pretty much every single American value. He is even a squirrelly, guilty-looking dude compared to Armstrong’s East Texan charm and good looks.

On the other hand, we have Roger Clemens. As a pitcher, Clemens dominated when he wanted to and stopped trying when he felt like it. He left his first team, the Boston Red Sox, on terms so bad that he still needs a large security crew just to enter Boston. In his later years, he earned a reputation as a diva and retired and un-retired more times than Brett Favre. Over his last two seasons, he showed up in July and worked out deals worth $12 million and $19 million for three months of work. Clemens’ version of three months of work consisted of pitching every five days and flying home on the team’s dime between starts. Also, he was famously accused of carrying on an out-of-wedlock sexual relationship with a 15-year old country singer. If you asked baseball fans to use one word to describe Clemens, it would probably rhyme with “bassbowl.”

Clemens’ main accuser is former trainer Brian McNamee. McNamee is not a likable guy either. Like Landis, he seems to be willing to sell out whomever for personal gain. However, his most important contribution to Clemens’ case speaks volumes about Clemens. McNamee kept the needles that he used to allegedly inject Clemens for eight years until turning them over to authorities in 2008. Maybe McNamee was always after blackmail material, but to most observers, the question was: how big of a jerk does Clemens have to be that his own personal trainer kept disgusting evidence against him for eight years? That’s not exactly something you do to someone you get along with or even respect in the slightest.

In sum: Armstrong could get busted co-running a massive sweat shop in Vietnam with a Mexican drug overlord, and he would still be loved by the majority of the American people. I could start a rumor right now that Clemens hunts kittens for his sport and most people would say “that sounds like something he’d do.”

We see this all the time in baseball. Everyone thinks Barry Bonds is guilty of knowingly using steroids because he has a reputation as a jerk. On the other hand, Andy Pettitte actually admitted to using HGH and fans forget about it because he has a reputation as a nice guy.

Rafael Palmeiro was raked over the coals for testing positive for steroids because he fell into that Tiger Woods category. Palmeiro was part of a long line of nondescript very good, but not great first basemen of the early 1990s that included Will Clark, Mark Grace, Fred McGriff, Don Mattingly, and Andrés Galarraga. All we really knew about Palmeiro was that he emphatically denied using steroids at a Congressional hearing. When he tested positive for steroids, that was it for his reputation.

Now are all these stories about Armstrong and Clemens actually true? I have no idea, but it’s still the public perception. As far as these doping cases are concerned, that’s all that matters. Like Favre, Armstrong and Clemens’ stories have already been written. People will presume that Armstrong is innocent and Clemens is guilty, for no other reason that we like Armstrong and dislike Clemens.

Is this fair? Maybe not. But that’s just the way it is.