Monday, January 30, 2012

Getting It Right

I really enjoyed this year's NHL All Star Game. I KNOW, I'M AS SURPRISED AS YOU. But really, I think the NHL has figured out what these things are about while the other major leagues are still flailing. What are they about? It's a simple sentence: "THIS IS ALL BULLSHIT, SO LET'S JUST GO OUT THERE AND HAVE A GOOD TIME."

All All Star Games, Pro Bowls, whatever, are just spectacle, or at least should be. They're excuses to put a bunch of famous players all on the same team, and that's all they need to be. Now, that's a fundamentally gimmicky concept...but that's okay. The regular season and the playoffs can be played straight. Set this weekend aside for just the fun.

It really feels like that's what the NHL has done. The teams are picked playground style, with captains going back and forth to pick guys to fill out their rosters. The most popular event of the weekend was the skills competition, where guys dressed in costumes and brought props. Teams are split up, so you can see forwards going up against their own regular season goalies (As we saw in the first goal of the evening). Hell, goalies are mic'ed up so that the broadcasters can hockle them during the action (or, in Lundqvist's case, give them warning when a scoring threat starts his shift).

The players are just out there goofing around and trying to do big, flashy plays. The scores get ridiculously high. Even the fourth line sounds like a Justice League roster. Drake sang between periods, for some reason.

In other words, the NHL embraced the idea that this was just a gimmick, and decided to pile a couple more gimmicks on top of it. That only worked, of course, because the ASG doesn't count for anything, and everyone acknowledges that. But god help me, it did work. It was big and goofy, and just fun.

Baseball, of course, is still mired in the idea that the ASG should count, to the extent that the new CBA requires players to either show up or get special dispensation from the Commissioner's office. This is nonsense, and the home field advantage rule is nonsense on stilts (why should two completely different teams get to decide that, exactly?). The ASG is a bunch of big name stars all on the field at once. DON'T OVERSELL THIS, GUYS.

The Pro Bowl certainly embraces that it doesn't matter, but the NFL forgets to make it fun, considering you end up with like, the 12 best QB in the league starting. It doesn't help that the two teams going to the Super Bowl obviously don't participate. But biggest problem is probably the sport itself- football plays are just too structured and rigid to generate the kind of flash and spectacle needed to make the Pro Bowl fun. Maybe Tebow changed that? I don't know, I didn't bother.

The bottom line is, any ASG is fundamentally a gimmicky spectacle, and all leagues would be wise to embrace that. Yes, players won't try as hard, and won't want to risk injuries. That's okay, embrace that. Let them just try to throw out a bunch of flashy bullshit, let them try to just act out on their petty rivalries or nutty theories. The NHL seems to get that, and good for it.

Of course, the reason the NHL gets it is that it's a second tier league, so it can afford to play around a bit more. It's got to try a lot more gimmicky stuff to drum up any interest. And the other edge to that sword is that the league ends up looking amatuerish in other ways. I was at the gym when the ASG started yesterday, but didn't quite know it, because the NHL app on my iPhone did not have the game time on it ANYWHERE. But for now, it's making the NHL try harder on it's big events. And that's making them a lot more fun.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Your 2012 Super Bowl: Patriots v. Giants


I was just saying how I wished this year's Super Bowl could have a shallow, one-word narrative that the pundits will run into the ground while obscuring any actual reporting or analysis for the next two weeks.


The Rise of the Player/General Manager

Death Blogger Mike's post on Dwight Howard reminded me of one of the most interesting trends in the NBA, and I'm calling it (okay, stealing the phrase from someone, I just can't remember who) "The Rise of the Player/General Manager".

This guy knows what I'm talking about. You've got the Heat and the odious MV3. You've got Howard demanding a trade because the Magic front office wasn't consulting him on other trades. You've got Kobe more or less running the whole show over in LA. It's the wave of the future, man.

I think it's kind of justifiable, too. The ownership obviously wants to keep the superstars happy, and you can often count on them to understand their own game and what compliments it. Not always, but they at least should have the opportunity to try, I think. Moreover, the NBA has max contracts and role players can usually be gotten for shorter-term contracts, so the risk isn't particularly dire. So I think you're going to see more of this.

You probably won't see it in other sports, though. First of all, baseball, the NFL, and the NHL just haven't clamped down on contracts enough to mitigate the risk. But I think the structures of those games auger against it, too. The NFL obviously has intense specialization in every position. The NHL has one highly specialized position and some important differences between forwards and defenders, as well as the shift system, which means a player is only on the floor for, at most, a minute or two at a time. Baseball has a pretty obvious distinction between batters and pitchers (half the pitchers aren't even expected to touch a bat anymore).

This all means that there's a lot of players in these sports who don't completely know what it takes to excel at someone else's job in the same sport. I'm sure there's exceptions- Eli Manning comes to mind, at least on offense- but for the most part, we're dealing with sports where the players have distinct roles in a larger system, and that means their ability to recruit for the other parts of the system are iffy at best. Put that together with the higher financial risk, and I think you won't get to see Albert Pujols orchestrating a trade anytime soon.

The NBA is obviously different, though. There's no division between the offensive team and the defensive team. I'd even argue that the differences between, say, a center and a point guard are of degree, not kind. And so, an NBA player just has a much better understanding of what his fellow players do- both because they do a lot of the same stuff he does, and because he works with them on every play.

And if the Heat continue choking? I don't think it matters. Players are always going to want more control over their destiny, and the structure of the game will always give that some justification. At most, the Heat's failure will just make the players change their tactics on it.

Giants @ 49ers

Jesus, the ref's explanation of the new OT rules sounded like Ben Bernake trying to explain fiat money to a Paultard.

Joe Paterno is Dead

I suppose the headline says it all.

I just don't have a lot to add to that. I take no glee in this, but I'm not exactly mourning anything, either. I tried taking a stab at a broader Penn State post a few times, but it was hard coming at it from an angle that wasn't already covered by a hundred thick-necked idiots who had already weighed in.

The one thing I will say is, if Paterno had held on for a few more years, the scandal might have been put in...perspective? It's not that it would fade, it's not that it should fade. But the wounds would've had some time to scab over, and people would have had less of a desire to spit when they say his name. They would have at least mentioned his career, though clearly no one would have said it all balanced out. Now, though, no one wants to hear about his career; they just want to curse at him.

I am not sure that this is a bad thing.

Anyway. Our thoughts are with his family.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Does Dwight Howard have a Mental Disorder?

Bill Simmons.  I said that name because if it's a name that makes you run screeching for a barf bag, I didn't want to waste your time any further.  I like to front my failures.  Something I learned in law school.  Now, for those of you still here, regardless of any trepidation, let me say that he did write at least one interesting article back in December about Dwight Howard and the trade rumors surrounding him:

Now, in that article Bill Simmons makes a pretty compelling case about why Dwight Howard should be seeking a trade to the Chicago Bulls.  Note, neither he nor I at this point are saying the Bulls need to make that trade or should be seeking it, just that of all the teams in the NBA, the Bulls are where Dwight could do the most damage, namely because they are the most talented team in the NBA in the depth department.

The Heat have more superstars, but the Heat aren't about to trade Bosh and [do they have anyone else besides LeBron and Wade?] for Dwight.  The Bulls, while having less superstars, do have about 6 guys in that B to A- range.  Hakeem Olajuwon proved in Houston that as long as Michael Jordan isn't playing, one Superstar surrounded by B to A- players can win, at least if you're the best center currently playing.  The Bulls could trade half those guys and still find 3 star caliber (I said star, not superstar) players to round out the starting 5 with Rose and Howard.  The point is, the Bulls are the only team that could trade away enough talent to get Orlando to agree to release Dwight without committing seppuku themselves.  Let's say the Bulls trade Noah and Deng for Howard, they've still got Boozer, Gibson, and Hamilton, with Asik coming off the bench in support.  That's a team that can beat the Heat and maybe win a title.  Again, I'm not saying this should happen, but if it did I wouldn't cry.

So what is the latest news on Howard?

Howard says he wants to play for the Clippers.  Specifically, he wants to play with Griffin and Paul.  Dude, I want to play with Griffin and Paul but I might have a better chance.  In what world does this happen?  It certainly doesn't happen by trade.  The Clippers already traded away Eric Gordon and picks to get Paul.  The Clippers already gambled away most of their talent and future prospects that aren't NBA dunk champs to get Paul and compete NOW.  So what is left?  What could the Clippers possibly trade to convince Orlando to give them Howard?  Chauncey Billups and DeAndre Jordan?  Are you serious?  Orlando gets more value out of just playing out the season with Dwight and offering a max contract in free agency, showing its fans they did everything they could.  The only way the Clippers get Howard is if Orlando just wants to get rid of Howard (hint:  they don't) and NO ONE ELSE is offering something better (hint:  they will).  Howard seems to be unaware of what a "trade" actually is:  two parties finding a mutually beneficial exchange.  The Clippers have nothing left to make a package with anything approaching the value of Howard UNLESS they trade Griffin or Paul, which would be unacceptable to Howard because those are the guys he wants to play with.

The only other way that happens is if he pulls a LeBron.  Go free agency and then sign with the Clippers when he is free and clear.  But guess what Dwight, someone's taking a pay cut.  There is a salary cap out there.  Maybe with Griffin's rookie contract they can make it work, but then Griffin is gonna wanna get paid or bolt when his years are up.

Looking at the rest of his list:  The Nets, the Lakers, the Mavs.  The Lakers MIGHT be able to swing him by giving up Bynum (1 for 1 is a bad trade, but maybe Orlando says fuck it), in which case Howard just improves the team in the same position as Bynum.  The Mavs would depend on them staying the same team as they are (same as the Clippers, not losing any talent).  The Nets would be the Magic all over again with different geography.  That team sucks and Howard on them makes them a playoff spoiler but not an NBA champion.

I don't know how Chicago doesn't make Howard's list, but more importantly, I don't know how he expects the Clippers to happen without destroying the very thing he's trying to accomplish.  It reminds me of the three best kids on the playground saying "well what if we made our own team and put all the scrubs on the other, that would be awesome."  On the playground the other kids just won't play, and in the NBA we have salary caps and oh, I don't know, rational self-fucking interest on the part of trade partners not just making the NBA Howard's sandbox for wish fulfillment.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The New York Yankees: The Song Remains the Same

So, the Yankees made some moves, and everyone is convinced that they've now punched their ticket into heaven, or whatever.

I'm less convinced.

These are good moves for the Yankaroos, of course. I think they're a better team for it, maybe the class of the League now. My problem is, over the last few years, being the best team in baseball has consistently proven to be quite a bit less than enough.

I mean, unless you missed my entire October and December, the St. Louis fucking Cardinals won the World Series. Before that, the San Francisco Giants, who, I'm pretty sure, were holding their bats by the barrel when they did it.

The MLB Playoffs are just too randomized. The game itself is too random- bad hops and blown calls and missed tags and lucky pokes and a hundred other things, but at least over a 162 game season, some rationality creeps in (not enough, though, which is why I advocate a 500 game season). In the playoffs, with 19 games AT MOST, that doesn't happen.

And I'm not bitching about that! That's what makes the playoffs exciting, anything can happen. If it doesn't help us determine who the academically "best" team is, well, who gives a shit? As I said before, arguing over that is what makes sports fun. It's not like any of this "really matters", so let's at least keep it exciting.

But to bring it back to what we're talking about, it means that the Yanker Sores should NOT, necessarily, be crowned already. Even if they've now become a better team than they were, even if they've now become a better team than everyone else, that doesn't mean they can win three out of five games against a team with "grit" and "heart" and "hustle" and "scrap" and a bunch of other euphemisms for "small slow white guys getting lucky".

They'll be good again. They'll make the playoffs again, and from there, they've essentially bought a lottery ticket. And this is different than every other year with the Yankees in no way.

The Greg Jennings Argument

I wasn't going to weigh in on this because, well, the title of this Deadspin post is right, I really DON'T have any idea if Jennings was down or not, and anyway, Doesn't really fucking matter, does it? Even if the call WAS blown, it wasn't enough to keep RAHDJAHS! from spending Super Bowl weekend watching old WWF videos and crying.

But goddamn, this is a wrong-headed post.

First of all, if that is "the definitive camera angle" (an assertion I'm not sold on, hence why I still have no idea what happened), and if that ball really is out there, then no, I don't buy that maybe his ankle was down or his calf was grazing the turf or whatever. I mean, I guess a doctor can weigh in if he wants (he won't), but that seems like the human body acting in a way pretty unrecognizable to humans.

Second, so, what is the point, exactly? That since instant replay won't get everything right every time for ever and ever amen, we just shouldn't bother with it? I mean, it won't, no one's claiming it will. But so what? "Better" is still pretty cool. It's totally making the perfect the enemy of the good.

(Blog Conquistador Mike thinks the guy's point is just that the ref's were doing the best they could, and everyone should calm down. That's enough of a possibility that I'm going to voice it right here. But I'm not sold. The tone is too mocking, too contemptuous of IR, and anyway, starting with "shut up" is usually a poor strategy for calming people down).

And that leads me to the third, most important thing: telling everyone to shut up about the play is idiotic. Why try to shut down the debate here? Arguing about this stuff is what makes sports FUN. Listen, I'm going to lay this out right now, and it's going to be one of the main ideas of all the bullshit I write about sports: If we're just going to accept the plays on the field as the final word on EVERYTHING, then sports fandom can just be one big accounting exercise. There'd be no reason to root for a different baseball team than the Yankees. No reason to follow any QB other than Drew Brees this year. Hope you like Crosby and Ovechkin, because if this is how we're going to view things, you like Crosby and Ovechkin.

But that is already not how we do things in sports fandom, and we're not going to change how we do things, either. We already find 100 different reasons to root for one guy and hate on another that have nothing to do with their ability and accomplishments. We already disbelieve our lyin' eyes.

I mean, some things ARE just facts. The St. Louis Cardinals really did win the World Series last year, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise right in the crotch. But was Holliday really tagged out at third in Game Six? Again, I will fight your crotch. Brett Favre has the most career TD passes. But is he the all-time best Q-KAAAAAKKKK, I couldn't even get that out, sorry guys. The point is, trying to force a definitive answer on some of this stuff makes sports a lot more boring.

Now, there's some evidence that this post is just contrarian pot-stirring, and that's fine. If I'm saying that debates make sports fun, I can't really say someone shouldn't try to rustle one up, right? But then again, if you're trying to get a debate going, you don't usually start with "shut up". The post is saying that since we'll never fully know the answer, we shouldn't bother arguing about it. But I think that's horseshit. It's fun- and maybe even necessary- to argue about it precisely BECAUSE we'll never fully know the answer.

One More Note About the NFL Playoffs...

Thank god the Ravens are still alive. Once the Steelers were knocked out, I was afraid there would be no player I could accuse of criminal activities in a bullshit and morally dubious attempt to discredit his entire team and justify my rooting interests (which are, in actuality, usually based on how pretty the uniforms are). Problem solved.

A Comprehensive Theory on NFL Schadenfreude

This is an easy one: There is a strong, direct correlation between the grandiosity of a player's "victory" celebration and your joy in seeing him defeated.

This is why the games this weekend were so awesome. There was no discount double check from RAHDJAHS! There was no Tebow-ing from Tebow (and I don't give a shit about his sincerely held faith, it's a fucking touchdown dance. You don't need to talk to Jesus every time you score like a potty-trained child calling his parents every time he successfully flushes. Anyway, Jesus, being Arab, is way more into football than football). I don't know what Brady and Manning's touchdown celebrations are- fucking some model and crying alone in a dark room, respectively, if I had to guess- and that's kind of exactly my point.

Now of course, there is a limit to this. Once you get to TO or Ochiocinco levels of insanity, it loops back around, and you'd be glad to see that again. For instance, I wouldn't spray fire retardant foam on the Milwaukee Brewers if they were trapped in a tire fire, but this is just delightful. But those kinds of celebrations are usually isolated and unique, one-time things done in the hopes of getting a viral video.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Tebus hath forsaken us.  Where is our Tebow now, God?

Honestly I'm not sure how to continue to exist in a world where there isn't a single professional football player remaining in the playoffs with belief in a higher power.  But God helps those that help themselves, so I will persevere, and I will read the sacred scriptures (or stats, whatevs), and I will find another plucky underdog that "all he does is (mostly) win".

Tebow as a starter this regular season:
Record:  7-4
Completion Percentage:  46.5
QB Rating:  72.9
TDs:  12
INTs: 6

Okay, so we need to find stats that meet or exceed that, right?  That's what we're talking about, isn't it?  On-field performance?  Our other two candidates:

Joe Flacco, regular season:
Record:  12-4
Completion Percentage:  57.6
QB Rating:  80.9
TDs:   20
INTs:  12

Alex Smith, regular season:
Record:  13-3
Completion Percentage:  61.3
QB Rating:  90.7
TDs:  17
INTs:  5

Here we go, two guys with better records, better accuracy, more TDs, and one with less interceptions.  I mean, I realize they may not have led as many come from behind victories where they single-handedly scored ALL of the winning points by themselves, but down the stretch they have actually performed better on the field and won more games, sometimes without the need for a come from behind victory because they played better football for the entire 60 minutes.  By any metric then we should happily embrace them as our new messiahs, and give them all of the acclaim and love we gave to Tebow...right?

I mean, that's why Tebow was such a star, right?  Because of his on-field play?  Because of his performance?  And if we love him for his performance we should love better performers even more...right?  I mean otherwise we'd have to admit we're totally hyping him up for some other reason, holding him up as an amazing player for something other than how he plays.  We'd never do that...right?

Just In Case... were hoping that the Patriots' victory last night would tie a bow on the Tim Tebow saga (figuring, probably correctly, that defenses are going to figure him out during the offseason), I'd like to point out...

...that the QB who dismantled the Broncos last night grew up outside of San Francisco, plays in Massachusetts, has a side job as a male model, married a foreign (female) model, fathered a child out of wedlock, and is coached by the most Machiavellian motherfucker this side of Rahm Emmanuel.

Oh yeah. The culture war skirmish around Tim Tebow is alive and well, baby. It's just entered the Sarah-Palin-Esque, We've-Already-Lost-And-Now-We-Just-Resent-The-Hell-Out-Of-It Phase.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Fuck this no baseball shit, I want some fucking baseball!

This brings up a good question, and I'll crowdsource it amongst this blog's three readers: Why do the teams start at different times? Seems like the competitive edge goes to those with more time, so why would any team give themselves LESS?