RG3, LCL’s and being PC

Just a brief word on the raging debate regarding last Sunday’s wild card playoff game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Washington Redskins. It perfectly illustrates my Jan. 4th post regarding my perception that current sports media coverage is missing the boat.

Firstly, RG3 (Robert Griffin the third) was hurt weeks before this game. He had a strained LCL (Lateral Cruciate Ligament). We knew that. He wanted to play in this game. His coach wanted him to play in this game. I’m sure 99% of Redskins fans wanted him to play in this game. So he played gallantly, and aggravated an already existing injury. Then he was removed from the game.

That’s what happened. That’s it. No debate requested, none required. But almost immediately upon his removal from the game, the steady drumbeat of second guessing and post incident analysis began. The comments, spoken, typed and twittered, poured in. “RG3′s career had been placed at risk by his ‘win at all cost coach’, Mike Shanahan.” “The world famous surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, should not have cleared him to play.” “Dr. Andrews did not clear him to play”. On and on it continues. This is not sports. This is politics. Could I make a more disparaging comparison? Such commentary would more appropriately be aired on Entertainment Tonight, not a media platform purportedly delivering serious sports content.

But this has become so standard, that nobody even notices anymore. When everything turns grey, red only lives as a memory in the minds of those old enough to remember times when such a color actually existed. As generations proceed, grey is all that is needed, talked about, or promoted. “Red is for losers” becomes the prevailing attitude. Well, I say a nice splash of red would do us all a bit of good. That’s not popular, or PC (politically correct), just a pesky little piece of truth.

Being relegated to side note status by national media, the Seahawks, a very young team, with a rookie quarterback, making his first playoff start as an away game, withstood a furious first quarter barrage, and rallied to win a very, very compelling game. Incidentally, Sidney Rice made an unbelievable sideline catch to convert a third down during a crucial drive. Co-incidentally, Marshawn Lynch, having previously aborted a scoring drive by fumbling near the end zone, made a remarkable one handed fumble recovery and ensuing run, to sustain another scoring drive. Oh, and there is much more that can be said along these lines.

Now I ask you, which story line is more compelling? Grey or red?

Fair or Foul?

Is Everything Just Ducky?

As we begin a new year, presumably with a clean slate, it may be an appropriate time for sports enthusiasts, such as ourselves, to ask the question, ” how would I like sports to be?” With a focus on professional sports, and to a lesser degree, college athletics, here are my top 5 decidedly subjective, partially unedited, yet wholly endorsed, answers for 2013.  

 

 #1) I would like sports to be less of a soap opera.  There is sport, you know, the actual playing of the game by athletic competitors, and then there is all the other stuff which seems to dominate sports coverage across all media. This “other stuff” includes, the personal lives of the athletes and their spouses, controversial quotes or sound bites coerced out of the same, financial and contractual analysis to excruciating levels of minutiae, draft analyses, draft projections, player injury analyses, player injury recovery projections and……..do you get my drift? Can we focus on the actual game being played, and enjoy the freedom that we feel as we gain reprieve from the worries and concern of modern society, or do we need to drag all the sensations normally associated with courtrooms, accounting firms, and dental offices into the experience? Sports are to be played, are they not? 

#2) I would like college athletics to not be entirely hypocritical. The leaders of our institutions of higher learning, academic and athletics departments included, might want to consider enrolling en masse, in a basic ethics class. There they would learn to debate interesting topics such as whether it is ethical to give an injured college football player pain blocking medication so they can resume play immediately and without regard to that nasty little side effect known as a heart attack. In addition, they can sincerely ponder the worth of perpetuating a system that spouts the ideals of learning and intelligence while routinely graduating athletes who are wholly unprepared for any type of life outside of athletics or worse, who are functionally illiterate.

 #3) I would like brutality to be eliminated from every major sport. I’m not talking about eliminating contact altogether, just the kind that leads to long term impairment, disability or death. Sorry boxing, there’s no justifying saving a sport where the objective is to deliver blunt force trauma to your oponent’s brain. Football has a lot of work to do, but the game could survive such a transformation. Hockey, ditto. Baseball, you’re doing ok, but could do better by eliminating collisions at home plate and creating severe penalties for beanings. Basketball would do better to adopt the european style of play which focuses more on precision and teamwork. We like sports, which are contests of skill and athletic prowess, not brutality, right?

 #4) I would like to see sportsmanship in sports. Is it wise to taunt your opponent? Why do athletes routinely belittle their opponents? Have they themselves never been on the losing team? Have they themselves never allowed a goal, a basket, a touchdown? I hold coaches primarily responsible here. What do you stand for? Stop the nonsense and help your players grow up. 

#5) I would like the economics of sports to come back to reality. 5 Year contracts for 100 million dollars? 10 year contracts for 200+ million dollars. A wise informant once warned, “follow the money”. Money is not bad. Money is not the root of all evil. But it certainly is a corrupting influence. I get my fill of corruption every time I watch the evening news. Sport, believe it or not, like music, sculpture, dance and painting, is an art form. Must we drag it into the gutter of everyday life? Let’s preserve our inspirations. Lets allow sports to help us rise above our individual and collective weaknesses. It can do that.

The Sabermetrics All Time Top 25 Baseball Players

Did you see the movie Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt? Did you know that the movie was based on the book  Moneyball, by Michael Lewis? Did you know that the book and movie were illustrating the early days of SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) analysis as applied to baseball players? To grossly oversimplify, which is always fun, the then newfangled approach, allowed the 2002 Oakland Athletics, with a payroll of about 41 million dollars, to level the playing field with the 2002 New York Yankees and their approximate 125 million dollar payroll. “Sabermetrics”, as it has come to be known, utilizes many statistical formulas and approaches in an attempt to better quantify a player’s value.

 Chief among Sabermetric Stats is “WAR” or Wins Above Replacement. As defined by leading Sabermetrician web site FANGRAPHS.com, WAR is roughly defined as, “an attempt by the Sabermetric baseball community to summarize a player’s total contribution to their team in one statistic. Expressed in wins format, for example, player X is worth 6.3 wins per year to their team while player Y is only worth 3.5 wins per year”. That said, following is a list of the top 25 baseball players of all time ranked according to their lifetime accumulated Wins Above Replacement (WAR), as provided by FANGRAPHS.com. The results, to me, are somewhat surprising.

PLAYER                WAR                             PLAYER                               

1)Babe Ruth          178                             14)Frank Robinson    116

2)Barry Bonds       168                              15)Mel Ott               116

3)Ty Cobb             164                              16)Alex Rodriguez    114

4)Willie Mays        163                              17)Rickey Henderson 114

5)Hank Aaron        150                             18)Jimmie Foxx         112

6)Honus Wagner    150                             19)Mike Schmidt       111

7)Tris Speaker       143                             20)C. Yastrzemski     109

8)Ted Williams       140                             21)Nap Lajoie           108

9)Stan Musial         139                            22)Joe Morgan          108

10)Rogers Hornsby 135                            23)Eddie Mathews     107

11)Eddie Collins     134                            24)Al Kaline              102

12)Lou Gehrig        126                           25)Cal Ripken Jr.       100

13)Mickey Mantle   123

Notable players not in the top 25: Joe Dimaggio (#28), Ken Griffey Jr. (#40) and more

 

 

Ichiro traded – The end of an Era

Ichiro Suzuki’s recent trade from the Seattle Mariners to the New York Yankees is, amongst other phenomena, a significant statement about current culture. Having watched The Mariners, and Ichiro, avidly since his inaugural 2001 season, his departure leaves me with a mix of feelings that blend into an overall mood best described as “bittersweet”.

Ichiro Suzuki Image from UsaToday

The “sweet” includes memories of watching our new Japanese right field import exceeding my and our wildest expectations, as he blazed his way to Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in 2001. Mariners fans, stung by back to back to back losses of Randy Johnson, Junior, and Alex Rodriguez from 1998-2000, were despondent and could muster scant hope for 2001 Mariner success. But we had not seen Ichiro yet. We underestimated Ichiro. Then manager Lou Piniella underestimated Ichiro. He openly worried that Ichiro might not be physically capable of pulling the ball. Sportswriters, statisticians and scouts all committed grievous errors in their assessments of the unique talent that is Ichiro. The fact that he brought his unique talents to the MLB stage while the steroid era was in full swing, so to speak, renders his sudden impact and excellence all the more remarkable. He slashed and burned. He led, yes I said led the 2001 Mariners to a record tying 116 wins that season. He was the catalyst. He was the consistent one. He proved durable and real, not the steroid inflated players with steroid inflated statistics to be found widespread throughout the league. And all this was ours without the seemingly obligatory accompaniment of DUI’s, allegations of domestic abuse, or other sordid variations of behavior. You see, Ichiro carries himself with pride and dignity. Remember them?

Now for the bitter. Why is it that the Ichiro previously described, was not afforded the respect he so obviously deserved, as he entered the twilight of his career? I don’t remember Baltimore Oriole fans openly calling for the benching of Cal Ripken Jr. during his last years. For that matter, the Mariners own Edgar Martinez was revered despite a dramatic slump in late career production. Edgar was not vocal. Edgar did not speak English particularly well. Frankly, I don’t care if Ichiro was “hard to get to know”. Maybe he didn’t trust people in general and media in particular. Sounds like he’s a sound judge of character to boot. So now he’s gone. He packed up his class act, and joined expatriate Mariners Raul Ibanez, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, Freddie Garcia and Michael Pineda, on the New York Yankees. You know what I say? Good for him. I say “GO GO ICHIRO!”. And don’t stop till you get that ring you’ll be wearing at your Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Thanks for everything, it truly has been a pleasure watching you play.

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Oh, and the statement about current culture referenced in this post’s introduction? Grace has left the game. It’s definitely “what have you done for me lately” across the board in this country. Is that really what we want? Is that how we would like to be treated? I’m just asking.