JoPo, Baseball and Phish; Or the impotance of the rare occurence.

This is a response to a fun piece written by Joe Posnanski. It isn’t a rebuttal per se because I agree with him; rather it is a tiny addendum. * If you didn’t read it, or bother to click the link provided, basically JoPo demonstrates one of the great wonders of baseball. If it happens in the game you’re watching, chances are very good it has happened before. The treat for so many baseball fans is its incredible long history. So when I see a player hit a home run from both sides of the plate in the same inning, it probably happened before. JoPo is right of course, but I think there is more to it than just a connection between two odd events. By bearing witness to a special occasion that has happened in the past, we get connected to that past and it makes the history of the game all the more meaningful. No other American sport holds us in the same way and its why baseball will always matter. It may not get the television ratings of other sports or be the weekly event that football is, but baseball does something very few other cultural events can do it not only makes the past more relevant but it brings us together as well. One of the great joys of talking baseball to my father is hearing about the players I never saw, the stadiums I never visited and the pennant races that are legend. A big reason for this, apart from the revered place baseball history has in our culture, but it also is relatively recognizable to us. Yes, players are bigger, faster, stronger, but they are not the mutated specimens of football or basketball. I’ve encountered athletes from pretty much all sports and the only ones that didn’t make me feel like a child were the baseball players. (Granted I never met the likes of Frank Thomas, but he was also a starting tight end from Auburn.) Also one of the things I hear my dad talk about is how much basketball has changed, how it isn’t the game he once played. Baseball as touchstone also relies on the game itself changing very little over the course of one hundred plus years.

*It’s kind of odd calling a 1,000 word essay ”tiny.” However, compared to JoPo, it truly is a drop in the wordsmith bucket. Also, I find it terribly interesting that I can read an Internet tome from JoPo and be engaged, entertained and informed. Yet I get two paragraphs into a Bill Simmons piece and my eyes glaze over.

I feel that, while it probably has happened before in baseball it still is special. JoPo seems to be discounting that fact and I think he misses a key point.** Yes, there might have been another occurrence of a strange event, like one pitcher starting back-to-back World Series for different teams, or the third baseman loses the ball in his shirt, it is still awesome that I get to see it. The best comparison I can come up with is from the realm of the Grateful Dead and Phish. Among Dead Heads and Phish Heads there is a certain collectors mentality. We love to count the songs we’ve seen, remember the setlists from shows we’ve attended and trade shows that we think are worth sharing. The great thing about all of these activities is that they are very individual pursuits, yet we can all appreciate the significance of a rare moment, or spectacular performance. I am one of the few people to have seen Phish perform Spock’s Brain (Blossom 6/20/95, overall great show but SHITTY Weekepaug Groove), which would be even more awesome if it were actually a good song. It is a great moment in a show when the band plays something that they haven’t played in years, even better than seeing the premiere of a song. Like those episodes from baseball, a song that hasn’t been played in five or ten years makes the fans cheer wildly, congratulate one another and feel a connection between the band and their fellows that I don’t think fans from other bands get to experience. A new song or new moment, doesn’t bring the past with it, it doesn’t have that connection which sparks memory and curiosity. As much as I love Bruce Springsteen, I don’t think a bust out of Mary Queen of Arkansas would make the crowd go wild. More to the point I don’t think many Bruce fans would be know that it had be X amount of performances since he last played it and it was an especially poignant moment in the concert.

** Also, it is probably more accurate to say the JoPo goes WAY OFF into a another line of discussion, and sort of loops back, but well I’m staying here.

And while this is a salient point in most sports, I think because of the frequency of baseball games, the way it becomes a part of every day life throughout the summer, each individual game, each individual play, is unique unto itself. I wrote a while back about this, about how a pretty much nothing game in the middle of the week can still be a special time. Football isn’t played enough to capture that kind of moment and basketball and hockey don’t hold our collective imaginations nor do they get inside that rhythm of life like baseball. Again, Dead and Phish shows are very much like that. (Especially if you’re traveling around the country going to shows night after night.) I’ve seen Phish 44 times and listened to countless Dead shows and yet I never get bored and can point you to a good, great and out of this world version of a number different songs. As the Professor likes to say from the Deadpod, “You wouldn’t know it by the set list, but it is a rocking show.” In much the same way, I’ve seen countless baseball games, yet each one is ultimately its own happening. The game has that historic presence that connects us to the past and yet still provides meaning to us today. Yes, I know it’s just baseball and the meaning I truly gain from it is minuscule compared to so much throughout my life, yet it provides something that I can keep to myself, I share with a friend and pass on to my son and daughter. It provides joy. Or to put it another way: It’s only baseball, but I like it, yes I do.

#WorldCup #USA Game One: Winning Raffle Ticket.

It wasn’t the prettiest of goals. It shouldn’t have been a goal at all. Robert Green stops that ball the other 99 times he sees it. However it was a fair goal and all those English tabloids whimpering that Green cost them the game weren’t watching. The USA played toe to toe with England the entire match, both with chances to win and both benefiting, overall anyway, from great play by their respective keepers. The only difference was the error by Green and the helplessness of Howard. The goal by Gerrard was pretty much unstoppable, not Tim Howard’s fault at all. Overall, he was the man of the match for the USA, but props have to be given to the American forwards and offensive players in general. They kept possession relatively well and kept the pressure on England’s back line the entire game. Speaking of back lines, what was supposed to be a great weakness of the USA for one game at least looked pretty solid. We’ll see if the age factor of the US defense comes into play as the tournament progresses. All in all, a point from England now makes it a one win situation for the US, though I hope they make it easy on themselves and us and win the next two. They even have an outside chance to win the group which would be phenomenal and probably set up an England v. Germany showdown that can only end badly for the English which would tickle me pink, if for no other reason than to taunt my English pals for the next four years or so.

As far as coverage of the game was concerned, I can’t complain. We got one of the top announcers of English football, Martin Tyler and I can’t recall his American counter part, but they seemed ok together, if not a little stiff. Tyler though probably took a little getting accustomed to for American audiences. He doesn’t shout, he doesn’t constantly chatter and he has such a cool, calm delivery that at first blanche might come off as uninterested. After listening to him for a number of years I can say that is far from the case. He let’s the game do the talking. His pace and excitement match the games events and even then you won’t catch him screaming “GOOOOOOALLLLL” which I can only thank god for that. Also the American’s in the audience who didn’t like his commentary on Dempsey’s goal should really just shut up. My guess is this is the first soccer match you’ve watched in four years and it would be nice if the jingoistic nationalism so prevalent when the US plays international sports could be absent for at least a part of the tournament. Seriously, it was the equivalent of Buckner letting it go through his legs; what is Tyler supposed to say, “great goal!?” Well that would be a lie. In fact his line of, “sometimes when you buy a ticket you win the raffle,” was a perfect summary of what happened. Now, a couple of “real” goals against Slovenia, along with NO early game lapses, would be the perfect continuation of an already good start. Go USA!

Series Win! But Losers All the Same.

I would really like to say it was a good home stand for the White Sox, but seeing how they eeked out only two wins from five games I just can’t bring myself to do it. The non-existent White sox offense wasted an awesome effort by John Danks, only giving up three hits and two earned runs. That proved too much for the anemic Sox bats that pulled to within one in the ninth on Paul Konerko’s solo home run. What I find just incredible however is the rumble from some fans who called Konerko’s home run a waste, and too little too late. Let’s see, Konerko was the first guy up in the ninth, no one on base and he got a great pitch to hit. No, those folks are right; he should have hit a single and let his team mates drive him in with their deft situational and clutch hitting. Oh, wait they haven’t done that all year and after Paulie’s dinger, they rest of the inning went 1, 2, 3. Look, I’m sure Konerko would love to have guys on base every time he hits a home run, but if they can’t get there, don’t blame the guy for hitting the ball well. If there is one universal about baseball players, even pitchers, they love to hit the ball hard. Hell, I love to hit the ball hard. If given the pitch a batter is going to crush a ball as hard as they can, no matter what the situation and a guy can’t be faulted for doing so.

I got to take in the Thursday game with my pal AJD and it was, as always, a great time. To quote Stephen Fry, “there was a breeze and we shot it; there was fat and we chewed it.” Good thing too, because the game was pretty boring, rainy, and a little cold. Jake Peavy looked like the April Peavy and the Angels pretty much teed off. We did get to witness an interesting sociological phenomenon and a late inning rally from the Sox that fell just short. The other interesting part of the evening was when we switched our seats to right behind home plate. We were still in the upper deck but the sounds and sights of the game were markedly different from our seats down the first base line. We could hear the pop of the glove on pitched balls, read the strike zone at least in and out and we got much better reads on batted balls. It was a great way to see the game. As the attendance drops throughout the summer I’m sure AJD and I can take advantage of those seats again.

The Marlins came in for the weekend and it was amazing to listen to talk radio on Saturday and Sunday (morning, alas) and hear how positive two wins can make a fan base. Sure, Buerhle looked great and Floyd finally had a good outing, but let’s face it: The National League teams suck. Winning two of three from them just isn’t that impressive and when Freddy Garcia looks like the Freddy we were kind of expecting, a two game winning streak isn’t enough to get me thinking about a run at the Twins. Thankfully all talk on sports radio was surrounding the Blackhawks and very little with the Sox which is probably for the best. As the Hawks journey to the Stanley Cup, taking hockey into mid-June, the Sox can descend into obscurity without so much as a blink from the media or casual fans that are only looking for Bears training camp. It means I can sit in prime seats for less, not have to wait in line for food and use relatively clean bathrooms for the rest of the year.

Measuring Heart

Inspired by a tweet to @keithlaw that said you can’t measure heart.

110 * (C+ASG + {ASR*2.5} + [H5G + {H5R*1.5}/2] + DP + {DS*2} + Dv + {DvS*2} + Pluck)-(Tin + $D + DOG)]-AROD= Heart

It has come to my attention that there is no statistical measurement for heart in the game of baseball, or any game for that matter. I don’t know how this oversight could have possibly gone on for so long but I’m ecstatic to be the first to offer a formula for finding the heart of a ball player. In order to do that, I needed to invent a few new statistics. I’ve kept the new stats on the basic arithmetic track for two reasons: 1) the people who love to talk heart also like the basic arithmetic stats or counting stats and despise any thing that remotely smells of advanced math (and by advanced I mean 6th grade and above) 2) I can’t do advanced math (and by advanced I still mean 6th grade and above) partly because I’ve never been much of a numbers guy and partly because I’ve followed Phish for about twenty years. Above you can see the formula needed to measure heart and while it may look like something from “Numb3rs” it really is quite simple. To wit:

In order to make it a little easer to speak about and compare the first thing to define is 110. Normally in such cases the value of 100 is used, but since anyone who is anyone knows a player with heart always gives 110% so the value is a nod to that mathematical impossibility. The rest of the measures are listed as they appear in the formula.

The Positives

C= Captain. Any player who is recognized as a captain or leader on their team is given a 1. An “official” captain with a C on their uniform is given a 2.

ASG= Ass Slaps Given. Is there a more emphatic way to congratulate a teammate than an ass slap? I say no. However, it is the very intimate nature of giving the ass slap that let’s us know if a person has heart. The more slaps the more heart.

ASR*2= Ass Slaps Received. Of course to a true leader and spirited individual, slapping ass is relatively natural. It is also important to see how ones teammates (and manager) feel about the player in question, so how many times one’s ass gets slapped is key to determining the respect and loyalty of others. It is so important that this value gets multiplied by 2.

H5G= High Fives Given. Giving out and receiving high fives is relatively easy. I high five complete strangers when the White Sox do something good. So it is just a simple count for giving high fives and it is made into a gross high five total divided by two. More on that in a moment.

H5R*1.5= High Fives Received. If you are the recipient of a high five, you have probably done something good for the team. Now, to keep it simple I didn’t want to get into high fives for hustle, high fives for bunts, etc. So, if you’ve done something good and teammates are high fiving that is what a H5R is, because of this H5R are weighted a little more than givens by a factor of 1.5. However since slapping hands is not nearly as meaningful as slapping ass, high fives are divided by two.

DP= Dirty Pants. An ode to the term “Dirt Dogs.” Obviously if a player gets dirty, he is willing to go any lengths, grind it out, and any other cliché that you can use in order to express effort. Getting one’s pants dirty on a baseball diamond is relatively easy so…

DS*2= Dirty Shirt. A textbook slide will get your pants dirty, but a dive or head first (and pretty stupid) slide shows how determined you really are. Because of this extra effort a dirty shirt (or more precisely activities that soil one’s shirt) are multiplied by two.

Dv= Dives. Diving for a ball is an especially important part of demonstrating heart. A player who throws his body around isn’t demonstrating that they were in a bad position to field the ball in the first place, rather that they only care about making the play and doing what’s best for the team.

DvC*2= Dive into Crowd (crash in wall). While diving is a spectacular demonstration of heart, nothing solidifies ones reputation for having heart like going head first into the seats or crashing into a wall in order to make a play. (See Rowand, Aaron) Also since this a relatively rare occasion a modifier of x2 is used.

Pluck= This is the ability to get under an opponent’s skin, to jigger the rules, to perform a good deke. (See Pierzynski, AJ.)

The Negatives

There are of course a number of factors that take away from a players heart score. Again I wanted to be sure that none of these stats had any relation to other more traditional statistics and were things that demonstrated a lack of heart, or at the very least were common among players who universally are regarded as having no heart.

Tin= Tirades. Exploding into a tirade is a sure fire way to demonstrate you do not have any heart, especially if that explosion is directed at the fans or the press. The more the tirade has to do with something personal, not really related to performance the worse it is for your heart score. For example, complaining about your rotten performance, no increase, complaining about fans booing n=2; calling out the reporter who dared to question your commitment to the team n=4 and so on.

$D= Salary Demands. Anyone with any heart at all does not talk about money, getting paid, cashing in etc. The only people with heart are those that play for the love of the game.

DOG= Dogging it. Not running out a ground ball, not hustling to cover a base, taking a ball on a hop as opposed to diving are but a few examples of dogging it all of which demonstrate a lack of heart. Of course one’s attitude and manner can demonstrate an intrinsic lackadaisical attitude and in effect be evidence of a DOG score, regardless of on field performance. (See Ramirez, Manny)

AROD= Alex Rodriguez. All numbers are negated by AROD because it has been widely demonstrated and reported that Rodriguez has no heart, even if he is the best player on the diamond.

So, let’s use a couple of real world examples of the Heart formula. First, Paul Konerko from a recent game v. the Royals:

110 * (2+1 + {2*2.5} + [10 + {15*1.5}/2] + 0 + {0*2} + 0 + {0*2} + 0)-(0 + 0 + 1)]-AROD= 3.107

Paulie (nicknames should probably be part of this equation as well) does pretty well on the heart chart. He is a recognized captain on his team, high fives a lot and even manages to get in a few ass slaps here and there. What is hurting his score is that he’s not much of a diver and therefore doesn’t get dirty also on a pop up he ran very slowly, even for him, therefore earning a DOG. Still not bad.

Next Alex Rodriguez from a recent game v. Oakland.

110 * (0+4 + {3*2.5} + [15 + {15*1.5}/2] + 1 + {2*2} + 2 + {0*2} + 1)-(0 + 0 + 0)]-AROD= 0

Arod does pretty well. While not recognized as a captain on his team, he scores very high on the ass list, both giving and receiving. Also with Nick Swisher on your team, you’re bound to get a lot of high fives and Arod clearly benefits. Also in this particular game Arod got his pants AND shirt dirty and dove twice, though not into the stands, He also engaged in a bit of pluck, earning a point there. Arod has been pretty good about money and clubhouse tirades and if he dogged a play I didn’t see it. So he earned a 4.207 raw score. Being Arod negates all of that and he has a zero heart score. Fool proof.

There are of course a number of other factors that could be brought in, but I think this is a good start. We could always see if this could help determine why so many players that are considered to have a lot of heart are also white, but that would probably just be a coincidence and have nothing to do with the people who are experts on heart. We probably can’t unravel the mystery of the preponderance of players with heart who also have a good relationship with the media, again a mystery unable to be verified. Even so join me won’t you? Start counting ass-slaps and high-fives and watching for dogged plays so the next time when someone says, “you can’t measure heart,” you can respond and say, “Oh yes I can!”

odds and ends

A post I meant to put up after the world series, but better late than never.

First and foremost, congratulations the New York Yankees for winning the World Series. For the first time in a long time I was genuinely interested in the Series, even if I didn’t have a horse in the race or able to watch a lot of the games. Enter Twitter. Tweeting, while watching or not was a great way to experience the games. It was almost like chatting, but with a much bigger and well-known bunch of reporters. It’s a shame that more reporters don’t get involved like this because this is the future. If the media is the link between the fan and the players and they have greater insight than the rest of us, then they need to get on the stick. Waiting for the morning paper to share one’s pithy comments or insights about the game is about 12 hours too late. Also if reporters continue to have better access to the players and executives, and I hope that they do, then again the rest of the industry needs to get on board with the new technology.

Speaking of the Yankees and the World Series, it’s nice to have the big, bad Yankees back. There is just something sweet about having that team that most of us just don’t like, the big bully on the block that we root against that gives us all something to envy and rail against at the same time. I wish it would get a little nastier to tell the truth. I’m thinking of when asked what his goals were as the new Manchester United manager were, Sir Alex Ferguson responded, “to knock Liverpool off their fucking perch.” It has been game on ever since. And incidentally, Sir Alex has almost done it, one more championship and Manchester United takes Liverpool’s place as the winningest team in English history. Along the way, we all hate MU, as it should be, fucking bastards.

I also know that there are those who will whine and moan about the amount of money that the Yankees spent, but I don’t want to see a salary cap any time soon. While it might provide a more level playing field, it also means that every team becomes more or less the same. Sure a team might put together a decent run, but in the end it can ultimately be interchanged with another team. And what fun is that? Also, this is a rich person’s business, if an owner feels that the cost is too high, and then get out. Going back to European soccer for a second, and looking at market size how in God’s name does Manchester United compete with the big London clubs? Or how does Barcelona compete with Real Madrid? (and the rest of Europe for that matter, year in and year out) The answer is better run businesses. I know the comparison isn’t perfect, but if a shithole like Manchester can become a world power in the most popular game in the world, then why can’t the same be done here for a city of roughly the same size of Manchester? (City proper, 500K, entire region 2.5-3M) There are some fixes that would help baseball, but seeing how attendance rose the entire decade, profits as well, it’s not like it is in dire shape.

Some Thoughts on Sports Media

Those that know me, and I’m guessing that most of those reading this do, know that I enjoy sports. I enjoy sports media* almost as much as the actual events, I think in part because so much of it is pretty awful. This is particularly true here in Chicago, especially when considering everybody’s favorite team the Bears.

*I am loathe to call it sports journalism. What most sportswriters do is not journalism. They watch games (albeit from better seats than me) review what happened and offer their thoughts on what we all saw and make predictions for the next game. Unfortunately, they have become more sarcastic, pettier and more predictable in the last ten years. Also there seems to be a strong strain of gossip culture emerging in sports, thanks Deadspin.

To live in Chicago is to live with the Bears and their fans, which also include all members of the media. There is no hint of objectivity when it comes to Bears coverage and most of the people covering the Bears are as bad as the drunken fan at the end of the bar, believing that every win is proof of a Superbowl run and every loss is the end of the season. The worship of Mike Ditka is fodder for a whole other blog. What is even more galling about Bears coverage is how the writers generally tow the party line and suck up to everyone, coaches, players and front office. The most glaring example in recent weeks was the discussion of Cedric Benson, former Bear now playing for the Bengals. Benson did not have a good stay in Chicago, to say the least. Since being in Cincinnati he has really turned things around, somewhere in the top ten running backs in the league. Leading up to last weeks game he made comments about being blackballed by the Bears, made some less than flattering remarks about the coaching staff and the like. What did the media do with this juicy story? Investigate the allegations of blackballing? No. What the Chicago press did was parrot what the Bears front office said, in effect, “We didn’t blackball Cedric.” As a matter of fact the press took it even further. In two separate stories, the writers used this logic, “the Bears did not blackball Cedric Benson because Benson did not play well for the Bears therefore they did not have to blackball him.” As you can see this is a great fallacy, one doesn’t necessarily equate to the other. Yes, he played poorly for the Bears, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t speak poorly of him. The writers stuck with their logic and as far as supporting testimony, they interviewed “a member of the Bears front office.” Surprisingly that front office person also said they didn’t blackball Benson. It would have been nice if they would have talked to other front offices and see if there was anything to Benson’s claims, but that would have required effort and actually working against their favorite football team.*

* What is even more hilarious about the press coverage of the Bears is that sometimes the players, coaches etc. get mad at the media for asking relatively softball questions, especially if it is questioning a bad play or decision or prying into personal business, like you know, dating Paris Hilton.

An even sadder state of affairs is the Chicago sports radio landscape, especially now that the Bears are in full swing. All Bears all the time, unless the Bulls and Blackhawks are doing really well or really poorly. If the indoor sports are mediocre, don’t expect much from the local gabbers. Even the hosts get tired of talking football, but instead of moving on to other sports, they veer off into various directions, most of which are inane, ill-informed or just plain boring. The greatest offender, at least of late, is Dan McNeil and his Danny Mac Show on 670 WSCR. When he isn’t talking sports he tends to discuss his colleagues in the media and quite frankly how much he doesn’t like them. He does a particularly “good” job of ripping his former airmates on ESPN, especially Harry Teinowitz. I don’t necessarily like the guy either, but it has gotten old really quick. Speaking of Harry and his show “The Afternoon Saloon” all I can say is meh. They don’t offer much in the way of insight, entertainment, or even confrontation. It really is like a stop by a tavern, where most of the conversation is banal at best. Finally, the great hope of Chicago radio is Boers and Bernstein, 1-6 on 670 WSCR. They can be funny, informative and offer strong analysis. Unfortunately more often than not they are reduced to the lower beings of their nature, namely beating up their callers, which they cherry pick for the most insane callers. Case in point, Bernstein wanted to know why they didn’t keep a caller who wanted to argue that the Bulls would win 65-70 games this year. The only reason to have that caller on is to tell him how crazy he is. Unfortunately they do this far too often. It degenerates to a forum where the hosts are constantly telling the callers how dumb they are, in effect lording their wisdom over the audience. They don’t seem to get that by yelling at the callers, calling them stupid, is in effect calling all of their audience stupid. After a half hour of this, it just gets old and not worth listening too. I could mention the other big show, Waddle and Silvy, but what’s the point? It is even more tepid than the “The Afternoon Saloon” but credit must go to Mark Silverman for at least asking tough questions to guests and being the most interactive of the radio cohort in Chicago.

The internet, especially social media is really the future of sports media, unfortunately, not many in Chicago seem to get it. The Score basically have one feed to promo their shows on Twitter, and they don’t seem to do much on Facebook. Silverman is a demon on Facebook, commenting during games, bantering back and forth with other fans and sharing in the experience in general. The other folks in Chicago who are really good are the beat reporters for the respective baseball teams, but I have to say Joe Cowley covering the White Sox is the best. He makes some great jokes on Twitter as well as covering the games and developing stories in real time. It’s too bad he seems to have taken a break during the World Series. Speaking of the Series, it has been awesome to watch while logged on to Twitter. The quips, predictions and insight from some really good national writers has been great, especially Joe Posnanski. I think JoePo is the best example of how games are going to be covered. What I want more of, and Cowley does pretty regularly, is the press using their credentials to get more inside information, like injury updates, breaking news during the game and the like. So far the Series coverage has been lacking in this department. Of course there’s more to discuss about the internet and sports media, but I’ll leave the dark side alone for now.

Deadspin Dead?

Is it just me or is Deadspin really falling behind? I don’t check the site every day, but even after a couple of days the top stories are the same, or practically the same. When one does check out a story, it usually is just a link to another story. The headline is what passes as commentary. Kind of a shame really.