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The Fall Classic

In MLB on October 22, 2013 at 9:06 pm

By Chris Hallenbrook

The World Series is baseball’s ultimate showcase, not only for the talent, but also for the history of a game that embraces continuity with its past in a way that few sports can match. Toward that end, this year provides an ideal matchup, not only because the Red Sox (est. 1901) and Cardinals (est. 1882) have both played in their cities of origin for over a century, but also because of their October history together, having met in three previous fall classics that have woven together the fates of generations of fans in Boston and St. Louis.

1946 – Cardinals in 7. Stacked with Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr, as well as Hall worthy players Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky, this Red Sox team inaugurated decades of “woulda, coulda, shoulda.” Ted Williams was hit with a pitch in an October exhibition game, and played the World Series with a swollen elbow that held him to a mere .200 batting average. In Game 7, with the Red Sox down 3-1 in the top of the 8th, DiMaggio laced a two run double off the wall that missed going out of Sportsman’s Park by mere feet. Trying to leg for third, DiMaggio went down with a hamstring injury. In the bottom of the inning, Enos Slaughter would fly through the stop sign to test the arm of DiMaggio’s replacement, scoring all the way from first with the game, and Series, winning run (Pesky didn’t hold the ball. Leon Culberson was no DiMaggio, and Slaughter admitted he wouldn’t have tried it if the Little Professor was still in the game). For my grandfather, a 14 year old coming of age in postwar America, Slaughter’s Mad Dash was the first time the Red Sox broke his heart.

1967 – Cardinals in 7. This was such a watershed year for the Red Sox that losing the Series couldn’t ruin The Impossible Dream. The Sox had been so bad for so long that many thought the young Dick Williams was in over his head when during spring training he brashly declared that “we’ll win more than we lose.” A Yastrzemski triple crown/MVP campaign and a Jim Lonborg Cy Young season later, the Red Sox inched out victory in a four team pennant race on the last day of the season. The Red Sox were fantastic in that Series, with Yaz posting an other worldly 1.340 OPS and Lonborg allowing 1 run in 18 innings during his first two starts. But a 101 win Cardinals team featuring Roger Maris, Orlando Cepeda, Lou Brock, Steve Carlton and the legendry Bob Gibson were too much for the Sox. Lonborg made a valiant effort in Game 7, but working on two days rest he just didn’t have enough left to truly compete with the dominance of Gibson. My father, a 22 year old private just home from Vietnam, would watch The Cardiac Kids come just short, blissfully unaware that he wouldn’t live long enough to see their Idiot cousins finish the job.

2004 – Red Sox in 4. By now you surely know the story of the team affectionately known as the Idiots. (If not, go watch the “Four Days in October” episode of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series.) The Varitek vs. A-Rod midsummer brawl. The 0-3 deficit. The Steal. The Bloody Sock. The Slap. The Comeback. The New York tabloids running headlines such as “Hell Freezes Over” and “The Choke’s On Us.” Momentum may only be as good as your next day’s starting pitcher, but this Red Sox team rode a wave of emotion (and solid pitching) to the franchise’s first World Series title in 86 years. I was a 17 year old high school senior, and within a week my classmates were wearing t-shirts that read “Now I can die happy.” My grandfather celebrated his first Red Sox World Series Championship at the age of 72.

2013 – This is the story that is yet to be written. Will Carlos Beltran add to his portfolio of post-season heroics? Will Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha remind the world that pitching wins championships? Or will David Ortiz add to the legend of Big Papi? Perhaps Koji Uehara will put a fitting capstone on one of the greatest seasons in the history of relief pitching. The only thing we know for sure is that with these two franchises, and these two teams, each winners of 97 regular season games and each fresh off a 6 game LCS triumph over a championship caliber opponent, it will be a Fall Classic in the truest sense of the term, and two fan bases will always remember where they were when “it” happened, whatever “it” may be.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @CHallenbrook.

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Dear Ben, I’m Sorry

In MLB, Uncategorized on September 26, 2013 at 3:31 pm

By Chris Hallenbrook

Dear Ben Cherington,

I’m sorry. This past offseason every time you made a major addition I criticized you for overpaying for aging, mediocre ballplayers. I was entirely convinced that your judgment was shot and that thanks to your inability to be bold the best the 2013 Red Sox could hope for was a return to the .500 mark. Well, so much for that. Here’s the rundown of this past offseason, my complaints and why I was wrong.

Shane Victorino – Coming off a pedestrian .255/.321/.383 season with the Phillies and Dodgers, it seemed utterly insane to be giving him $13 million a year for 3 years at the age of 32. I still think the contract was too rich, but his contribution to the team far exceeds his massively improved .295/.353/.453. He has been crashing into walls in right a la Trot Nixon despite playing with pain most of the season. In fact, since August the career switch hitter has been batting exclusively from the right side due to a bad hamstring, and has continued putting up big numbers and delivering the key hits despite not having faced right-handed pitching from the right side of the plate since his days in high school. He’s a gamer.

Mike Napoli – I put Napoli in the same boat as Victorino this past offseason, namely a declining veteran who should have been signed on the cheap, not for top dollar. But as with Victorino, he’s been a grinder, playing through plantar fasciitis, playing in more games than he has since 2010 and producing more than his .258 batting average suggests. Despite slumping across the summer months, he was white hot in April and May, helping the Sox to a badly needed quick start, and is now hitting well over .400 for the month of September. Talk about playing your best when it matters most.

Johnny Gomes – To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to this acquisition because I didn’t see him doing anything notable. Boy, was I wrong about that. Sure he’s only hit .238, but he has been a valuable fourth outfielder, ably filed the holes when guys got hurt and oh yeah, he has hit four pinch hit home runs with a .515 batting average in over twenty pinch hit appearances. He embodies the main cause of the Red Sox’s turnaround, which he articulated a month ago when he remarked that “Heart and hustle are two things you can’t fake. Bring those two things every single day and the baseball gods will reward you.”

Ryan Dempster – Oh yeah, I just loved bringing in a 36 year old pitcher whose career ERA versus the AL East was over 4.00. I’m pretty sure I wanted to have your sanity checked after that one Ben. And admittedly, I’m not too sure I’m willing to take this one back given his 4.46 ERA. Then again, the man eats innings, which is always a plus, and you turned Jose “Iggy” Iglesias into Jake Peavy, who has had nothing but filthy stuff since joining the Red Sox, so it all comes out in the wash.

The Bullpen – As Matthew Perry tells fantasy baseball owners “don’t pay for saves.” I used to say that Theo Epstein needed an Assistant General Manager in Charge of Shortstops. You need an Assistant General Manager in Charge of the Bullpen (or at least closers). Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan have done nothing for this team, and cost assets including Jed Lowrie, JJ Reddick, Mark Melancon and other prospects. Melancon is especially galling as you gave up on him after only one year despite the fact that relievers are notorious for their ups and downs, thereby allowing all Red Sox fans the joy of watching him post an otherworldly 1.38 ERA in 68.1 innings (and counting) for the Pirates. That said, you pulled Koji Uehara out of nowhere and watched as he retired 37 consecutive batters in one of the most dominant closing performances since Dennis Eckersley played in Oakland (further proving Berry’s point).

So all in all, you were right and I was wrong. What do you know, maybe you are more qualified for the job than I am…nah, let’s not push it. I’ll just stick with saying “I’m sorry.”

Confused and Grateful,

Chris Hallenbrook

PS – all stats were as of the end of day on 9/19/13

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @CHallenbrook.

Now It’s Time For The Main Event?

In MLB on August 2, 2013 at 8:45 am

By Jonathan Danielson

After starting  the season like an after-work recreational softball team, the Los Angeles Dodgers have finally started playing like everyone expected they would, given their Opening Day payroll of $239 million buckaroos.

The first pitch at Dodger Stadium for the 2013 season.

The first pitch at Dodger Stadium for the 2013 season.

Since the emergence of Yasiel Puig’s ego, the Doyers have quickly taken a “commanding” 3.5 game lead in the division (“commanding,” given this is the NL West we’re talking about), and are really facing no competition until October. The D-backs save games as well as congress saves money, the Rockies can’t stay healthy, the Padres are too young, and the Giants are trying to explain to all their fans that bad years sometimes happen in baseball.

"But the Giants have almost always won a World Series since I started watching them."

“But the Giants always win since I started watching them in 2010.”

The Dodgers are finally what everyone thought they’d be, however, that doesn’t mean things aren’t still going to be interesting for them down the final stretch. Remember back in April, when Zach Greinke finally beaned Carlos Quentin one too many times? Remember how Quentin bum rushed the mound and broke Greinke’s collar-bone?

Then, remember when the Dogers/D-backs tit a tat finally boiled over when Ian Kennedy went up and high on Greinke, thus igniting one of the best basebrawl of the late 1980’s.

"No Mark, you're supposed to stop taking the juice when you retire."

“No Mark, you’re supposed to stop taking the juice when you retire.”

Well guess what? After a bizarre inter-division deal at the trade deadline, Kennedy’s now throwing pitches for the Padres, and like all great grudges in the history of the sport, you can guarantee nobody’s forgetting what happened just because he’s now in a different uniform.

You thought things were intense before with the Dodgers and Padres, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Now, technically, this doesn’t mean anything’s going to happen the next time these two teams suit up against each other (or anytime after that for that matter), but given how ESPN and all the other media outlets covers the Los Angeles sports market like flies on a turd, this is going to be the biggest thing since the 2012-2013 Lakers didn’t ascend to heaven on golden chariots.

Seriously, just you wait and watch, because when Kennedy finally pitches against the Dodgers for his new team, it’s going to be the only thing you can.

How The MLB Can Kill The Juice (And How They Need To)

In MLB on July 23, 2013 at 10:58 am

By Jonathan Danielson

In case you missed it, yesterday Milwaukee Brewers outfielder, Ryan Braun, became the Lance Armstrong of Major League Baseball. After getting caught taking PED’s two years ago (then getting off on a technicality), Braun went on a vigilant  campaign of denials, lies, more denials, and then vengeful attacks on the credibility of people threatening to hold him accountable.

Braun lied to the league, his fans, baseball fans in general, and  single-handedly ruined the life of the poor bastard responsible for taking his urine test.

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However, because of MLB’s PED policy, Braun, like others before him, only proved one thing: In the MLB, cheaters do prosper.

For all the cheating, lying, then more lying, Braun only received a 65 game suspension without pay. From his standpoint, it was a no brainer; by confessing to cheating and taking the suspension now, he doesn’t have to take it next year, where he certainly would have received a 100 game ban. Instead, Braun only misses out on the $3.85 million he was due for the rest of the season rather than nearly the ten million it would have cost him in 2014. He gets to sit back and rest his hurt hand while his team continues tanking for better draft picks. Oh, and did I mention he’s still going to make nearly $10 million next year, even after everything he did?

That would almost be criminal, if there weren’t other circumstances to compare it with.

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“I crap ten million dollars.”

The MLB needs to do something to not just catch cheaters after they cheat , but discourage them before a needle over goes into a butt cheek. They need to stop the cancer before it spreads, because let’s be real, right now their current policy of

[Let out horses. Close gate.] 

isn’t cutting it. Instead, there needs to be a hard rule and no exceptions. A rule  every player knows, from little league until the day they get drafted until the day they get called up to the big boys. A rule with no and’s, if’s, or but’s.

The MLB needs to establish a “One-And-Done” zero tolerance program. Simply put, you get caught taking PED’s,  congratulations, you’re banned from baseball. Your contract is void, you owe the team everything  from the offending year, and that’s it.

Granted, will “One-And-Done” fix all the seasons a player probably cheated before getting caught? Nope, nothing will. However, if a player is banned, at least the league, the clean players, and the fans get to wipe their hands clean and move forward. Because of baseball’s guaranteed contracts, at least the cheating player won’t still make the $100 million dollars left on their contract when they come back.

Unfortunately, the MLB doesn’t have the cojones to implement such a plan, especially when they’d be fighting the most powerful mafia player union in the world to implement it. While “One-And-Done” might sound logical, fair, and sound, it simply won’t make it in the current landscape. Concessions will need to be made.

Instead of “One-And-Done,” maybe the MLB could take these four humble options into consideration:

1. Eliminate 50 game suspension for first offense, 100 games for second offense, lifetime for third. Exchange with one calendar year suspension for first offense, lifetime ban for second offense. 

2. No more guaranteed money, and allow teams to “option-out” of contract with suspended player. If a contract is negotiated when a player is hitting a juiced up .315, and 40 homers, that contract was negotiated under false pretenses. A team should have the right to terminate that contract and have first right to renegotiate.   

3. Lifetime ban from the Hall-of-Fame after first offense. You cheat, you don’t get a bust. 

4. Cheating player has to repay all money earned during season which PED abuse occurred.   

Now aren’t these new rules perfect? Aren’t they so much more strict and will stop everyone from cheating?

Because everyone always follows the rules.

Because everyone always follows the rules.

These rules won’t do anything, just as the current rules aren’t doing anything. They’re a joke, and even after implementing them, more Ryan Brauns would only slip through the cracks and continue to steal unearned MVP’s from players who followed the rules.

Let’s face it, cheating players will always pay the fees for that competitive edge, to hell with a 50-game ban or not. It’s no big deal to them, because even after they’re caught, they’ll still get paid or just get another contract somewhere else. They’ll just keep playing and making more money, and they’ll use all that money to wipe their tears away after their feelings are hurt from everyone booing them.

"I again just want to apologize for making so much money."

“I again just want to apologize for signing a $16 million a year deal.”

While “One-And-Done” won’t solve everything, and won’t fix the records or awards a player earned while cheating, it at least  won’t let a cheating player continue making the amount of cash they possibly would have if they continued playing  baseball. They won’t be able to profit from it with big league contracts waiting at the end of suspensions. Instead, they’ll just make Pete Rose-type money from constantly signing balls in Vegas for drunk tourists. While that might still be a lot to you and me, it’s nowhere near the amount they’d be making if they were still in the league, and it wouldn’t be worth the same risk of taking PED’s. There would be no more guaranteed dollars at the end of only two months at home.

“One-And-Done” isn’t perfect, but let’s face it, a measly 50 games (or in Braun’s case, 65)  isn’t doing anything at all. And until the MLB wants to get serious about cheating, Braun and other players will keep laughing all the way to the bank.

Hall of Fame DH?

In MLB on July 12, 2013 at 10:30 am

By Chris Hallenbrook

With the Designated Hitter having now existed in the American League for 40 years, it is evident that it is not some passing fancy that baseball purists like Crash Davis can simply wish away. Since the position is here to stay, David Ortiz breaking the all-time record for hits by a DH raises the question: is there such thing as a Hall of Fame DH?

For the sake of reference, let’s begin by laying out the resumes of the two best everyday DHs the game has seen, Edgar Martinez, who this year received only 35.9% of the vote for the Hall of Fame this year, and David Ortiz. (Slash lines are batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage.)

Edgar Martinez was so good as an everyday DH that after he won five Outstanding Designated Hitter Awards, Major League Baseball threw up its hands and named the award after him. His career numbers: .312/.418/.515, 309 HR, 1,261 RBI (Stats junkies claim RBIs are overrated, but for a DH, driving in runs is the primary job. As a result, RBIs are as important to this analysis as any other accomplishment.) and 2,247 hits.

David Ortiz .287/.381/.551, 420 HR, 1,391 RBI and 1,953 hits (statistics are as of the end of day on July 10, 2013)

This first hurdle for arguing that either of them are Hall worthy is the worn-out old claim that since DHs don’t field, they only play half the game and therefore cannot ever rank among the game’s all-time greats. Interestingly enough, one never hears it said of American League pitchers that since they don’t hit they only play half the game and therefore shouldn’t be eligible for the Hall. Now there is not perfect symmetry to those claims, but I hope it shows something of the absurdity of diminishing a player’s accomplishments at their primary task due to rules that they don’t control. More seriously, let’s consider the case of Brooklyn Dodgers catcher and deserving Hall of Famer Roy Campanella. With career totals of .276/.360/.500, 242 HR, 856 RBI and 1,161 hits, Campanella didn’t make Cooperstown on his bat. It is of course necessary to remember that his MLB career started at the age of 26 due to the color barrier (he joined the Dodgers the year after Jackie Robinson did), but the point is that he is a Hall of Fame defensive catcher, not a Hall of Fame hitter. One doesn’t have to be an all-time great both offensively and defensively to be an all-time great.

So on principle an everyday DH should be able to join the immortals in Cooperstown, but do either Martinez or Ortiz meet the threshold? Let’s compare them to some other Hall of Famers. Legendary Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew hardly generated controversy by entering the Hall with totals of .256/.376/.509, 573 HR, 1,584 RBI and 2,086 hits. Both Martinez and Ortiz have much better slash lines than Killebrew, with Martinez having over 150 more hits and Ortiz likely to pass Killebrew’s hits total by this time next year. Martinez’s hit total also stacks up nicely with other no-doubt Hall of Famers, including Eddie Mathews (2,315).

A more recent player whose best know skills are quite apt for this discussion is Jim Rice. Jim Ed is in the Hall of Fame primary based on being a fearsome slugger who dominated his era and whom Commissioner Giamatti called “the Hammer of God sent to scourge the Yankees.” His stats? .298/.352/.502, 382 HR, 1,451 RBI and 2,452 hits. Both DHs under consideration can compete with his slash line (Martinez beats it on all counts), Papi has more homers and will likely surpass Rice’s RBI total in 2014, while Martinez ended his career only 205 hits shy of Rice’s mark.

Now some challenge whether Rice, elected in his final year of eligibility after a major push by the Red Sox organization to convince voters that his accomplishments measured up with those already in the Hall, should have been put in the Hall. Personally, I don’t think that matters as at the end of the day he is in the Hall. But to assuage those critics, let’s turn to Reggie Jackson, who we all agree is a no-doubt Hall of Famer. He’s in Cooperstown with a slash line of .262/.356/.490 that is inferior to both Ortiz and Martinez on all counts (albeit with 563 HR, 1,702 RBI and 2,584 hits, all of which dwarf both DHs). What is particularly telling is where Jackson made his nickname. When Mister October played in October the totals were 77 games, .278/.358/.527, 18 HR, 48 RBI, 78 hits (1.01 per game) and 2 World Series rings. For Señor October it is 66 games, .283/.388/.520, 12 HR, 47 RBI (that is one fewer RBI in 11 fewer games), 69 hits (1.05 per game) and 2 World Series rings. Ortiz’s postseason numbers thus compare very favorably with the most famous postseason performer in the history of the game, a fact that cannot be ignored in any Hall of Fame debate.

I could keep the examples coming all day to show that Martinez and Ortiz, who has a legitimate chance of joining the 500 home run club in the next few years, stack up with guys already in the Hall, but I don’t want to belabor the point. The bottom line is that calling a DH half a baseball player doesn’t make sense. The position is part of the fabric of the game now. It is time for the voters to wake up to the fact that this is the 21st century and vote in the man from whom the Most Outstanding DH Award is named for, and brace themselves for the fact that a second everyday DH, perhaps even better than the first, is getting ready to slug down Cooperstown’s doors.

The System (Mostly) Works, Part 1 of 2

In MLB on May 12, 2013 at 1:06 am

By Chris Hallenbrook

May is still young, but already it has been a bad month for MLB umpires. From the Harper ejection (which was proper) to Tom Hallion and David Price sparing in the media to two horrendously blown calls on back-to-back nights, umpires have been the story of the past week and a half, and whenever officiating is the story that’s a bad thing. However, despite the screams you hear, the sky isn’t falling. In fact, I’m going to argue that the system is working quite well. Now, the aforementioned examples fall into two distinctly different categories: player-umpire interaction and getting the call right. Accordingly, in this piece I am only going to handle the ineptitude of Angel Hernandez and Fieldin Culbreth. The other two incidents I’ll return to next week.

Let’s start with the home run that wasn’t. This should have been an easy call. Despite Hernandez’s protests to the contrary, instant replay was exceedingly clear that the ball struck above the yellow home run line. In fact, that the call needed to be reversed was so obvious that the decision to rule it a double smacks of the old “we won’t overturn our colleague even when he is so obviously wrong a small child would have made a better call” mentality that Major League umpires deserve credit for having largely eradicated over the last decade or so. Unfortunately this was no small botched call, the home run would have tied the game in the 9th, and in the absence of the HR the Athletics failed to score, thus falling 4-3 to the Indians. As a result, the screaming has reached an occasionally hysterical pitch, with Buster Olney (or “ESPN Insider and Senior Baseball Writer Buster Olney” as ESPN insists on calling him five times a day as if it is his legal name) going so far as to make the ludicrous suggestion that the game be replayed from the time of the home run. Yes, MLB rule 4.19 covering protests does in fact allow for replaying a game if the blown call significantly damages a team’s chance of winning, and yes this call falls under those criteria. But here’s the problem, as is well known the same rule states that the umpire’s judgment calls cannot be protested under any circumstances. This is done with good reason because every game is so rife with difficult judgment calls that the ability to play a game under protest as the result of them would lead to never ending cries for the commissioner’s office to intervene. Furthermore, which side of the yellow line the ball hit on is clearly a judgment call, so the question in this case is not how to right the wrong, but how to minimize the number of mistakes that are made. Could the introduction of an instant replay official in the booth a la NCAA football or a centralized war room in New York to handle all replays NHL style lead to fewer problems? Possibly, and these options are worth considering to reduce the duration of reviews. But it is hard to see how either system would have helped in this instance as all the information needed to change the call was available and the bigger problem seems to have been Hernandez’s refusal to use his eyes, indicating that MLB should discipline him, and do so publically as is done with players and managers, in order to send a clear message that such mind-numbing ineptitude will not be tolerated.

As for the Houston pitching change that should not have been allowed, this isn’t the crisis it’s been made out to be. Yes, it was a clear misapplication of the rules, and as such it was subject for protest. Mike Scioscia did tell the umpires that the game was being played under protest, and therefore if the Angels had lost the game the league office would have reviewed the game to see if the impact of the mistake warranted the game being replayed from that spot. Now, you may be thinking to yourself that you don’t remember the last time a game was replayed after being protested. That is the point. When it comes to administering the rules as written, the umpires almost always get it right, and when they don’t it usually does not change the outcome of the game. Accordingly, this is an isolated incident that does not indicate a need to change the system, especially given the discipline the umpires received. As the crew chief, Fieldin Culbreth was ultimately responsible for the mistake, and he has been suspended for two games and fined. The other three umpires on the crew were also fined for not saying, “um, boss, what the heck do you think you’re doing?” It is thus unlikely that MLB umpires are going to forget this rule anytime soon.

So all in all, these two blown calls lead to a lot of hand wringing, but little alteration of the current system, at least on the basis of these specific calls, is necessary.

If A Little Bit Of Something Is Good…

In MLB on May 6, 2013 at 6:41 am

By Jonathan Danielson

If you might have noticed, I’ve been a little MIA from the site lately. With the new job, and trying to write a second book, and trying to rewrite the first book, and trying to have a stable marriage and healthy relationships with friends and family, I finally put a few things on the back burner for a while. I had to take some time for myself, and because of that , blogging about sports for hobby was the unfortunate causality.

Oh, and I purchased MLB Extra Innings for DirectTV. That means I have access to every game by every team on every day of the week. I figured if I little bit of something is good, then a lot of  it has to be great, right?

Remember when this was charming? Technically, me neither.

Remember when this was charming? Technically, me neither.

See, I decided to throw down for the MLB package because I decided that this year would be the last year of only watching my favorite team (the Arizona Diamondbacks) the handful of times per season they play nationally televised games, or the few series each year against either team in my local northern California market.

And so far, besides the infuriating league-leading ten blown saves, it’s been pretty great. It’s like I get to go to Chase Field every night and watch my favorite team play. I get to witness, firsthand, this brilliant  plan Kevin Towers had of trading away one player who currently leads the league in home runs, and another player who has the highest batting average in the league so far, for a utility man, a few prospects, and some Cracker Jacks.

"Because I think Cracker Jacks are delicious."

“I pulled the trigger because I think Cracker Jacks are delicious.”

To be fair, it’s only May, and there’s a lot of baseball to be played to get a true, long-term assessment of the deal, but after the first month it’s looking like Justin Upton will turn into the next Barry Bonds (hopefully minus the juice), and the D-backs are going to be the next Pittsburgh Pirates.

But I digress.

My point is, besides life and work, I’ve been watching a lot of baseball lately, and that’s where I’ve been. Oh, and what do I do when D-backs aren’t on? When they have a few days off, or they play an early afternoon game while I’m at work? Well, I tune over to the A’s game, because I try to root for at least one team in my market, and due to my Arizona bias, I’m obviously not going to root for the Giants.

Oh, and what do I do when the A’s aren’t on?

Well, I’ve watched a few Red Sox games lately, because I’ve been fascinated with how the team has responded to the tragedy from a few weeks ago. Nothing too much though.

Oh, and I’ve watched the Dodgers lately because nothing’s better than watching a train wreck. Same thing with the Angels. Oh, and I’ve watched some Padres games too, because I grew up liking the Padres before the Diamondbacks even existed. Oh, and the Astros because I want to see how they’re playing in their new division and new league.

I’ve watched a couple Cubs games too, because this may be the last year we see Wrigley Field how it currently is, or if Ricketts follows through on his half-ass threats, it might be the last season of Wrigley Field all together. Oh, and I’ve watched the Orioles because I want to see if they can repeat the same success from last season. And the Rangers to see how they do with the loss of Hamilton. And the Brewers because they’ve been pretty hot after such a sluggish start. And the Indians to see how Terry Francona’s working out. And the Braves because they’ve been amazing so far. And Toronto, because trades don’t always make you good. And the Marlins because I don’t know why. And the Rays because I really don’t know why.

Not even people in Tampa go to watch Rays games, and I'm not certain if I've missed one yet.

Not even people in Tampa watch Rays games, yet I’m not certain if I’ve missed one yet.

I guess my point to all of this is this; as a baseball fan, MLB Extra Innings is incredible. I have never watched more baseball in my entire life than I have during the first month of the 2013 season.

As a human being though, I realize I am slowly dying inside because of it. Like, my soul and stuff. Like, day-by-day I grown weaker, and I haven’t seen the sun in I don’t know how long. Like, I get anxious when I don’t have eight games up on one screen at once. Like, my spirit is about to break.

Like, quite frankly, I don’t know how much longer I can go.

"My first hit of crack was awesome!"

“My first hit of crack was awesome!”

There isn’t really a joke or comment or anything to be made by this article, except maybe a not so sudden cry for help. This first step to addiction is admitting you have a problem, and maybe that’s what I’m doing. Maybe I should apologize to everyone I’ve hurt this past month, and everyone I may hurt in the future.

Maybe that’s what I need to do.

I don’t know what to do, but I know I paid for this thing for the whole season, and I know that means that I’m in for one long summer.

Why Are You Still Watching ESPN?

In Media, MLB, NBA, NFL on May 1, 2013 at 5:55 pm

By Jeff Gibson

Some people would consider it a character flaw I possess— the second anything becomes popular in America, I lose all desire to follow the masses in their blind passion for consuming mass-marketed garbage. Take Twilight, American Idol, Uggs, McDonalds, Sarah Palin, Bud Light lime, etc. Some people, like my girlfriend, claim I need to watch a movie/show before I dub it awful, or slip on a pair before I “hate”.

I wonder how they get people to buy this stuff. Courtesy zimbio.com.

Well, if you want to call it “hating” then I’m most definitely hating. I’m not sorry I can spot poop when I see it and smell it from eight feet away. I can judge it without having to eat it. I’m not a baby that has to put everything in its mouth to know what’s poop and what isn’t.

But I’m in my late twenties. I’ve got grey hairs on my chin.

What I’m saying is that it takes time to learn to spot poop. We’re not born knowing most marketing campaigns are designed to trick us. And that’s why marketing campaigns for poop are so profitable when executed correctly. Meaning, the least intelligent audience with the most disposable income is selected for consumption. Teenagers.

Jeter being mistaken for Robert Pattinson. Courtesy withleather.com

Well, unless you consider professional sports. But there are “teenagers” in professional sports. Most people call them bandwagon fans. I call them Yankees fans, Red Sox fans, Celtics fans, Heat fans, Giants fans, Patriots fans. Like poop, they’re easily identifiable. They’ve got on brand new gear, but didn’t wear a glove to the game and spend every inning gossiping about the cute boy wearing an Affliction t-shirt that went home with them last night. Or they’ve got a blue and white Giants hat on, flat-billed of course, and when you ask them if they’re wearing it to be ironic, they mug you and claim they’ve been a Giants fan their whole life. You smell poop. So you ask them what they thought of JR Phillips. You try players a bit more well-known. Robby Thompson? Royce Clayton? Alright alright. An easy one. Will Clark.

“You think you’re smart because you know all the coaches, bro?”

Poop again.

You shouldn’t be surprised to learn I hold zero respect for All-Star games, in any professional sport. They’re popularity contests. And who are the voters? The same “fans” who don’t even know three players on their favorite team but will spend their entire welfare check on an authentic Patriots jersey of a player their team will waive next season. Did I mention they’re not even from Boston? Nor the East Coast?

Even if these “fans” are informed, they get shafted by the mainstream sports entertainment outlets who interview “experts”, aka “reporters” on their own payroll, to provide pre-chewed fluff to boost ratings. Touting the same players over and over and over again. Even my girlfriend knows who Tim Tebow is. And she can throw a football farther than him.

Pop-quiz. How do you profit off of two bored individuals bombing a marathon and killing innocent people? Or a gay basketball player fighting to simply be himself publicly? Ask ESPN, their ratings skyrocketed after these events, after they dubbed cowards pointing cameras and pundits spouting hate “heroes”. No, heroes help others. These selfish people earned profits for your corporation — maybe I should have included this network in that opening list up above, right between Sarah Palin and Bud Light Lime. The same network that allows one of their reporters to ask Golden State Warrior guard Steph Curry, arguably the best player in the history of the NBA to get shafted out of an All-Star appearance, whether the team can compete in the playoffs without their “All-Star” David Lee. How misinformed can you possibly allow your staff to become before a player calls you out on it? Can’t prove it either, see ESPN doesn’t like to leak anything online that proves how awful they are. At least they inspired Curry, judging by how he played the following game.

I have a better acronym for this broadcasting network. BS.

I wonder how they sell this stuff. Courtesy usatoday.com

At least with Twilight, American Idol, and all that other BS, there are myriad alternatives. In the sports broadcasting world, there are few to none.

TNT, CBS, NBC, FOX, ABC (nope, owned by Disney, same parent company as ESPN). If you think these networks are decent alternatives then that’s like believing the Angels lineup is dangerous. Hint: you’re misinformed and watching too much BS. But it’s not your fault. Just like it’s not teenagers’ fault they buy into the misinformation, the garbage dubbed entertainment (in middle school I owned a KORN t-shirt, seriously). They don’t know any better. But come on, not all of us are still teenagers. Are you? (Put the vampire fan fiction down).

We don’t have to continue this nonsense.

You can start by turning the channel away from BS and other networks that show clear biases in their sports coverage even though they claim otherwise. It won’t be as easy as telling your girlfriend you’re not going to the new Twilight premiere, but let’s face it. If you’re a real fan of your team, then you’ll tell the networks they aren’t important if they’re going to tell you that your team is not important.

If you’re at a bar and BS is on. Ask them to change it to a local channel. Support your local affiliates and your local affiliates will support you, eventually. It may take some time and energy, but seriously, when was the last time BS aired the Oakland A’s? Or the Golden State Warriors? The Colorado Rockies? The Sacramento Kings? The San Diego Padres? The Seattle Mariners? The LA Kings? The Arizona Diamondbacks? The Portland Trailblazers? The Oakland Raiders? And when they did, they had two broadcasters covering the game that couldn’t tell the die hard fans the difference between Jamarcus Russell and Marcus Allen, before touting the BS’s favorite to win for the duration of the game.

Joe Buck wondering why his microphone is made of wood.

If you’re a fan of the teams listed above, maybe it won’t take much energy at all. You don’t need some network based out of Maryland to tell you which teams are good and which aren’t.

Highlights? Please, you can find highlights on MLB.com, NBA.com, NFL.com. Are you that lazy, that truly American, where you have to have highlights spoon-fed to you? We’re not the society depicted in WALL-E, not yet. Hooray for the internet!

Heads-up. Cable companies won’t make it easy. Most sports television packages come with local and ESPN together, without an either/or alternative. So write to the cable companies, call them and tell them to stop supporting the BS. Stop hiring Joe Bucks and Tim McCarvers to spout out nonsense to more informed viewers (demand the local broadcasters get to move networks with their teams, especially for the playoffs!). You’d think the local companies would want a package that excludes the bigger companies, that way they could hold a bigger share of the market, in turn growing, possibly becoming a powerhouse sports network the West Coast desperately needs.

But I’m no business savant. I’m just a fan.

All I know is BS is BS.

And I’ll never root for Boston.

The Whiplash Red Sox

In MLB on April 28, 2013 at 9:12 am

By Chris Hallenbrook

One of the great things about baseball is the unpredictability of it. You can watch games your whole life and yet never know what you are going to see at the ballpark on any given night, and on any of those nights you may see something you have never seen before. In recent years, no team has embodied that unpredictability quite as vividly as the Boston Red Sox. All of two years ago, in the sunny spring and summer of 2011, all seemed well on Yawkey Way. In the offseason Theo Epstein had signed free agent speedster and all-around Red Sox killer Carl Crawford away from the Rays and traded for slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, making the Red Sox a near-consensus pundit pick to face the Phillies in the World Series. Then, the infamous September of chicken and beer struck, and an inability to win on consecutive days led to an MLB record collapse as the Sox led the Wild Card race by 9 games on September 3rd and still failed to make the playoffs. Then, in the blink of a eye, Terry Franconca was scapegoated was fired quit in one final act of being a good company man, Theo Epstein fled to a more desperate fan base accepted a new challenge with the Cubs, Bobby Valentine was brought in as the new sheriff in town, and having all the talent in the world led to the worst Red Sox season since 1965 and an unprecedented waiver-wire trade that blew up the team and dumped a quarter of a billion dollars in salary on the Dodgers. Just like that, a team that was slated to compete for championships for years to come looked like it was ready to be dead and buried for just as long.

All of which brings us to the 2013 edition. After an offseason of overpaying for aging mediocrity, the Red Sox were picked to finish dead last by ESPN the Magazine, Sports Illustrated and most staffers at The Boston Globe, and had the makings of a squad that couldn’t take candy from a baby. And yet as of the end of the day on April 26, the Red Sox have been in first place every day this season, setting a franchise record for longest stretch in first to start the season and own a 16-7 mark that constitutes the best record in baseball. Once the dizziness goes away from all these mad swings, the question left to ask is: how on Earth have they done it?

1) Pitching. Talk about Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. Last year this pitching staff absolutely killed the Red Sox, with the starting rotation posting a hideous ERA of 5.42. Josh Beckett pitched his way out of town over 127 and a third ulcer-inducing innings, Jon Lester looked washed up at the age of 28 and Clay Buchholz had us all wondering if he would ever live up to his potential. This season? Buchholz seems to have finally put it all together, starting the season 5-0 in five starts with a 1.19 ERA, which is akin to Bob Gibson’s 1968 season for the ages. Jon Lester has returned to ace form, with the Sox winning all his games. In Lester’s case the turnaround is made all the more impressive given that even in his best seasons he has been shaky at best in April with a near 4 ERA to compare to this year’s 2.27. The change since the return of pitcher whisperer John Farrell has been so remarkable that if I didn’t know better I’d think that last year was just an act to get Bobby V fired. But whatever it is that caused the turnaround, with the Sox two home grown studs throwing like aces, Ryan Demptser making a mockery of claims that he couldn’t hack it in the American League, and the bullpen answering the bell on a nightly basis (it is amazing how much better your bullpen is when your starters can actually make it to the 7th inning), last year’s Achilles heel is this year’s juggernaut.

2) Hitting. While pitching has been the driving force behind the resurrection of the Red Sox, the offense has certainly made the pitchers’ lives easier. When David Ortiz went on the DL to start the year, Sox fans were understandably worried about where the firepower was going to come from in the post-Gonzalez era. But as it turns out, such fears were unnecessary as Mike Napoli has been white hot, Jacoby Ellsbury is reminding us of what we can do when healthy and overall the Sox are scoring runs as though they were the ones who stole traded for almost every good player the Miami Marlins had.

3) Grit. I’m not going to try to argue that tenacity and wanting it more will always prevail over talent, but it is undisputable that baseball is so physically demanding that mental toughness is essential to long run success. We have yet to see how this team holds up after a long losing streak or after a rash of injuries, but we do know a couple of things. One is that this team was utterly unfazed by David Ortiz starting the season on the DL and averaged a healthy five runs a game in his absence. The other is that when bombs struck at the heart of Boston, these guys rallied to support the city and the people that has supported them for so long. The day after the attack they had a “617 Boston Strong” jersey in the visiting dugout in Cleveland and looked like they wanted to cry as they stood on the foul line for a moment of silence. They’ve channeled that emotion on the field, winning their first four and eight of eleven since the marathon bombings, all while telling Boston “this is our f-ing city…stay strong” in the words of Big Papi. I’m not saying that this will carry them into October, but if history has taught us anything it is to never underestimate a team that is playing with emotion, with purpose and with pride.

Can it last? I have no idea. In general terms it takes two months to get a feel for the true nature of a baseball team, and as the 2011 Red Sox showed, you can never truly know before crunch time. There is plenty that can derail this team, including injuries (I lose sleep over Papi’s Achilles), age (Victorino, Napoli and Dempester aren’t exactly in their prime) and regression to the mean (Napoli isn’t going to drive in 27 runs a month and Buchholz isn’t going to finish the season with a 1.19 ERA). That said, I think I speak for all Red Sox fans, especially those of us who hail from Boston, when I say that between the wild ups and downs of the past two seasons, and the moral support they’ve lent us and our city these past two weeks, come what may we will simply fasten our seatbelts and enjoy the ride.

Every Brawl is a Dumb Brawl

In MLB, NHL on April 13, 2013 at 5:14 pm

By Kevin Wolfman

At the risk of saturating this blog with excess coverage on one specific, ultimately minor, sporting event, allow me to follow up on Jonathan Danielson and Chris Hallenbrook’s coverage of the Padres-Dodgers brawl. Hallenbrook writes that this was “the dumbest brawl in years.” I’d like to take this (correct) assertion one step further: Every brawl is a dumb brawl.

Okay, except this one.

Okay, except this one.

Defenders of baseball’s bench-clearing, fighting sub-culture claim that these shenanigans are just “part of the game,” as inextricably tied to the national pastime as peanuts, crackerjack, and old, wrinkly managers wearing player uniforms for some unfathomable reason. Hitters who get beaned with pitches must “stand up for themselves.” Catchers who get run over at home plate must “defend their territory.” Managers who spit in umpires’ faces are “standing up for their boys.”

Here’s what they’re all really doing: making idiots of themselves.

No, fighting and brawling are not “part of the game.” They are distractions from the game. They turn what is supposed to be an athletic competition based on tremendous skill, cohesion, and discipline into Friday night at the local nightclub. They lose teams lots of money, lose players lots of dignity, and reduce a great game to a pathetic testosterone-soaked spectacle of immaturity. If fighting and brawling were “part of the game,” they would be in the same part of the rulebook as hitting, fielding, pitching, catching, and baserunning. They’re not. Case closed.

But what about “tradition,” you say? How about just let go of your lame traditions already? “Tradition” has always been, and always will be, the last gasping defense of someone who’s wrong. Stupid, hateful things aren’t acceptable just because they’ve been around a long time.

To answer Jonathan’s question from Friday: Yes, the Dodgers should be allowed to sue Carlos Quentin for damages. He injured Zach Greinke, their $147 million investment, by charging him in a threatening manner (assault) and knocking him to the ground, breaking his collarbone (battery). If something like that had occurred on the diamond in a public park, Quentin might possibly be on the hook for criminal charges, let alone civil ones. But since he did it on television while wearing a professional uniform, that makes it okay? No, that makes it worse. Obviously.

Fighting/brawling doesn’t score runs. It doesn’t get players on base. It has no productive function at all when it comes to the objectives of baseball. All it does it make grown men look like petulant, overgrown, tobacco-chewing toddlers in tight pants. Come to think of it, if actual toddlers fought each other like this while playing tee-ball, we’d put them on timeout and confiscate their toys. So let’s start holding our professionals to the same standard we apply to tykes who quite literally don’t know any better. If Carlos Quentin and his MLB brethren want to act like children, we should treat them like the brats they are.

And yes, this applies to every other sport, too. Don’t even start on hockey.

Pictured: Not winning the Stanley Cup.

Pictured: Not winning the Stanley Cup.

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