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Brief chronicles of our sporting times.

About That Brawl Ten Years Ago Today



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Time flies like an Fernando Rodney arrow. Fruit files like a banana.

Did the fisticuffs between Alex Rodriguez and Jason Varitek really happen ten years ago today? Wow.

Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports’ Hardball Talk provides some useful background:

On July 24, 2004, the Yankees were cruising. They had an eight and a half game lead over the Red Sox, who were tied with the Twins for the wild card. They beat the Red Sox 8-7 the night before. A month before that they swept Boston in the Bronx. On this Saturday, New York was up again, 3–0 in the top of the third when Alex Rodriguez stepped up to the plate to face Bronson Arroyo.

A-Rod wasn’t yet the pariah he would become. Yes, a lot of people hated that he made the money that he made, but he had yet to be implicated in the PED story. He had yet to be caught cheating on his wife and dating pop stars. He had yet to strike narcissistic poses in glossy magazines and be on the outs publicly with his team. He was merely the best player in the game at that point who had maybe-a-bit-too-publicly forced a trade to a contender the previous winter. But heck, the Red Sox were actually the front-runners for him. Even struck a deal with Texas to acquire him, only to see it nixed by the union because A-Rod –selflessly! — had offered to rework his contract to make it happen.

But A-Rod had driven in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning of the Yankees victory the previous night and the Sox were a tad frustrated.

Here’s what I recall from that wild and crazy day:

  • I drove to Boston from Washington via Brooklyn because my first cousins Arlen and Curt had secured three seats for the game — I’m pretty sure it was a birthday present from the former’s father-in-law.
  • Driving through Westchester County that Saturday morning was an adventure. A ginormous storm had struck the Northeast the day before. Since I was listening to music and not the traffic report, I was unaware that the Saw Mill River Parkway north of the Taconic Parkway was flooded. (Oops.) With no exit ramp in sight, I crept filled with dread toward the two to three feet of water. Somehow, the brand new roadster made it through the pond without complaint.
  • I parked the car at Newton Corner, grabbed a jacket from the trunk — according to the Baseball-Reference box score, the gametime temperature was 65 degrees with a 12-mph wind — then rode the Green Line toward the ballpark.
  • It was my first (and still only) time watching a ballgame in Fenway.
  • I was delighted to discover that our seats were located three or four rows behind the Yankees’ on-deck circle.
  • Because we arrived early, several star players were still warming up. As the Democratic National Convention was kicking off nearby in two days, other recognizable faces were walking in front of the dugout, including a certain cable news anchor. While some of us shouted, “Hey, Jeter!” and “Sheff!” and “What do you say, Bernie?” I bellowed, “Wolf! That was a great interview with [Serbian president Boris] Tadic!”
  • This became a typical Bombers–Sawx game, meaning that it took forever to play (3:54). No less than twelve batters reached base via the walk. The Red Sox starter, Bronson Arroyo, left the game in the top of the sixth inning already having thrown over 100 pitches.
  • The Yankees were looking pretty good when Arroyo took aim at A-Rod’s left elbow. They had scored three runs while the Red Sox had been retired in order over the first two frames.
  • I wish I had some sharp insights into the fight but the only thing I remember was hearing A-Rod’s first “#### you” at Arroyo over the crowd noise.
  • The birthday cousin’s memory is a bit more intact:

[I remember] how fast the field filled with players and about three Sox players grabbing [David] Ortiz’ arm as he was trying to hit someone on the Yankees.  Oh, and the home plate umpire running away from the fight and Varitek and Rodriguez rolling around on the ground.

  • I took lots of photos of the brawl and immediate aftermath with a disposable camera but must have lost the darn thing somewhere between Newton Corner and Dupont Circle. (Sigh.)
  • The ballclubs exchanged leads in the fourth and sixth innings and the visitors took a two-run lead into the bottom of the ninth. Because I had to coach and play in a softball playoff game the next morning in D.C. and with Mariano Rivera coming in to shut the door and extend the division lead to nine and a half games, I said good-bye and headed toward the exit.
  • Hey, I wasn’t the only doofus who left early. The train heading west was packed with Boston fans looking despondent . . . until a passenger got up from his seat screaming that Bill Mueller had just cracked a home run off of the normally unhittable closer, resulting in an improbable 11–10 victory. For the remainder of the ride to Newton Square, the scene resembled a raucous celebration usually reserved for World Series–clinching victories.
  • In contrast, the car ride home was uneventful and surprisingly quick. I’m pretty sure I made the trek in no more than six hours and change.

Calcaterra continues:

The Sox won again on Sunday. They’d split the final six regular season games between them. New York, however, would once again win the AL East and then take a commanding 3–0 lead over the Sox in the American League Championship Series. Once again the Yankees looked poised to come out on top in this increasingly one-sided rivalry.

But, of course, Boston had different ideas. And in October 2004, the script to which we had become accustomed was flipped. The Red Sox would win the ALCS and the World Series. They’d win two more after that. And, some time between then and now, the feel of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry would forever change.

More here.

Tags: MLB

Kawasaki Goes Bananas



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Munenori Kawasaki has been known to march to his own drummer. In this recent SportsNet Canada interview, the 33-year-old Jays middle infielder claims to know the perfect remedy for extreme muscle tightness:

He did pronounce the “m” in “cramps,” right? Because I’m pretty sure a monkey goes no. 2 every now and then . . .

Tags: MLB

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Misremembering Mantle’s Final Season



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Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post has suggested that The Mick’s 1968 season, his last, was a sorry failure. In an attempt to contrast Derek Jeter’s going-away party with that of other Yankee greats, Vaccaro made the following claim in last Friday’s column:

You don’t have to wander very far to know how challenging that can be. Mickey Mantle long regretted how it ended for him, a 1968 season in which he could barely walk, in which he hit .237 and knocked four points off his career average, leaving him at .298.

Even author and former Yankee PR director Marty Appel, writing on this topic early last month, seemed to imply as much:

And Mick hit .237 that year, which didn’t make it any better.

(By the way, Appel noted “no one knew for sure, including Mickey, that it would be his final season.” He didn’t turn in his retirement papers until the following spring.)

Mantle wished he hadn’t suited up for the 1968 season — Yankees management had talked him out of retiring — but the 37-year-old still managed to appear in all but ten games, matching or exceeding his attendance record from the previous six years. Heck, he stole six bases in eight tries, pretty impressive for a guy we’ve been led to believe was playing with two amputated legs.

Sure, he may have posted a career low batting average in 1968 but it was by no means a precipitous drop from his penultimate season (.245).

Mantle was the most productive Yankee on the 1968 roster. Only Roy White’s 137 OPS+ was in the neighborhood of his 143.

If you’re wondering why his OPS+ in his final campaign is virtually identical to his perfectly cromulent 1953 season, note that 1968 is known to historians as the notorious “Year of the Pitcher.” Seven starters posted ERAs below 2.00. The AL batting champ was Carl Yastrzemski, the previous season’s Triple Crown winner, who hit .301. And yet, Mantle’s on-base percentage was a robust .385, second in the Junior Circuit to Yaz’s .426 and fourth-best overall.

Okay, I’m not naïve: Mantle didn’t look like Mantle in 1968. He limped, not quite the image a celebrity who enjoyed the limelight wanted to show off. This was the second year that he was anchored at first base and not patrolling the more familiar outfield. He wasn’t hitting for much power.

And yet The Mick remained an asset to his ball club, not an appendage. Suggesting otherwise by focusing on his batting average, a terribly flawed statistic, does his memory a disservice.

More here and here.

Tags: NFL

Punish Putin By Cancelling the 2018 World Cup in Russia?



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Rep. Peter King suggested as much on yesterday’s Face the Nation:

“This really is a game changer. That I think is the point that our U.S. and Western allies have to make clear to Putin: that the rules of the game have now changed,” King said. “He’s violated civilized norms and I think that we have to take very severe economic sanctions and also ones that are symbolic.”

He suggested the U.S. and Western allies should consider calling for the cancelation of the 2018 World Cup in Russia and denying landing rights to Aeroflot, the biggest airline in Russia.

Good luck with that. We can’t get the prime minister of the Netherlands to suggest Russia was involved, yet we’re going to mobilize support to cancel the World Cup? And announcing a boycott won’t work because who knows if the United State will even qualify for the 2018 event?

The only way this might work, however, is if the countries were to go after FIFA right now and award Brazil a do-over of sorts and allow them to host the Cup again in 2018. Maybe — just maybe — there’d be enough support from South and Central American countries to get it done. 

 

Tags: Soccer

Reveille 7/21/14



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Good morning.

Here are several links from the past week that will make your Monday at the office a bit more bearable:

This season, Street has had little margin to improve on this number, but he has nonetheless. His LOB%? 100%. If you get on base against Street — he does not allow you to score. You have to hit a home run to get across the plate — so far.

Here’s the thing, though. This is – if not entirely, then mostly — an artifact of luck. Street’s career LOB% is 77%, and if we know anything, it’s that LOB% will cause you to be eaten by a luck dragon. 100% is not sustainable. It’s not even close to sustainable. Yet it is a main factor in the ERA / RA9 success that Street has had over the past two seasons. Street has a career FIP of 3.20 and a career RA9 of 3.09. That’s a pretty decent expectation for his future performance.

It’s probably fair to project Street to be a good closer — albeit one with some potential injury worries — over the life of a contract that will pay him fairly, or perhaps a little bit undervaluing him. He’s got a $7 million option for 2015. He’s what I’d consider a good fit for Los Angeles, but not a cure-all.

The interesting thing here, of course, is that the Angels had to give up four prospects to get him [and a minor-league reliever]. . . .

In the end, the Angels gave up four prospects, three with some very real upside, for a year and a half of Huston Street. Huston Street is a relief pitcher, and relief pitchers are possibly the most volatile asset in baseball. Their performance swings wildly, and they are pitchers, which leaves them open to a host of injury possibilities.

All the Angels had to give up to get him was a good chunk of the top-end of their already-weak farm system.

  • Later this week, C. C. Sabathia will undergo season-ending arthroscopic debridement surgery on his right knee. While Yankee fans can’t be thrilled that four-fifths of their Opening Day rotation is on the shelf, GM Brian Cashman provided them with a silver lining when he acquired Brandon McCarthy from the Diamondbacks earlier this month. (In two starts since donning pinstripes, McCarthy has given up two runs in 12 2/3 innings, striking out 12 and walking one.) In the wake of the trade, Eno Sarris of Fangraphs postulated that McCarthy was due for progression toward the mean:

ERA does not tell the full story of Brandon McCarthy‘s season so far. Look across his line, and you see career-best strikeout (20%) and ground-ball rates (55.3%) paired with his customary excellent command . . . and then you see that he’s giving up twice as many home runs on fly balls as he has his whole career. . . .

Perhaps the 11 home runs he’s given up in the hitter friendly parks in Arizona and Colorado (versus the four he’s given up elsewhere) have a little more to do with the ledger standing as it does.

At least the Yankees and their home park — third-friendliest in the league to lefty power hitters — can hope so. They’ve got the rest of the (non-ERA) numbers on their side, it looks like.

 

 

That’s it. Have a walk-off week!

Tags: MLB

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Bending Over to Beat Cancer



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According to ESPN.com sports-business reporter Darren Rovell, a minor-league general manager will be singing soprano during an upcoming seventh-inning stretch:

Andy Milovich has offered to go this week where no man has gone before: A prostate exam in front of a full stadium of fans.

Milovich, the general manager of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Single-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers, offered to have the exam while singing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch if local 10-year-old Fallon Emery, who has brain cancer, gets 10,000 likes on her Facebook page before the game.

“It’s not like I would be getting it at home plate,” Milovich said. “I’ll likely do it from our radio booth and the fans will see me from the shoulder up.”

Milovich made the prostate-cancer-screening offer last Thursday night on the condition that the Facebook community page belonging to the ten-year-old local girl stricken with brain cancer received over 10,000 “likes.” As of late last night, that number had been exceeded.

More here.

Tags: MLB

Meet the 2014 NL WAR-Stars



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Yesterday, we revealed this year’s AL WAR-Stars. Well, it’s now the the Senior Circuit’s turn to shine.

You now know that WAR stands for “wins above replacement.” It’s a useful (not to be confused with “perfect”), all-in-one approximation combining both offensive and defensive performance, including baserunning. WAR also includes a defensive positional adjustment. (For those who need a primer, Alex Remington offered up an easy-to-digest yet pretty thorough explanation of Fangraphs’ version – which we are using here – a few years ago.)

As with the AL winners, the outfield consists of a left fielder, center fielder, and right fielder.

So who are the NL winners, as we get set for the second half? (Last year’s top dogs may be found here.)

1B: Paul Goldschmidt (3.6 WAR)

Never mind his fantastic numbers to date (.308/.400/.549), Goldschmidt is an absolute bargain. At the end of last month, Scott Lindholm of Beyond the Boxscore constructed a scatter graph plotting “FanGraphs dollar value (FG$V) on the horizontal axis and salaries on the vertical”:

Lindholm concluded:

The diagonal line is the boundary between producing more or less value than a player’s contract — players in the upper left are delivering less value than they’re being paid, and players in the lower right are delivering more value than their contracts. Salary data comes from Deadspin and are half of 2014 salary to reflect they’ve played around half a season. Data is through Wednesday, June 25th with up-to-date information available here. . . .

Since I made this chart Miguel Cabrera has overtaken Paul Goldschmidt as the player with the highest FG$V. However, if value is a criteria, then Goldschmidt is the best, delivering $16 million in value for just over $500,000 in salary. He’s already working on a restructured deal that pays him through 2018 with a team option for 2019, but if he continues to produce like he has, that deal will be re-negotiated.

2B: Chase Utley (3.1)

Utley has cooled off since having a monster April when he posted a .355/.408/.570 slash line but the first-half numbers remain quite respectable (.293/.349/.445).

SS: Troy Tulowitzki (5.2) 

When healthy, Tulowitzki is the best player in the National League. Despite playing in only 126 games last season, he racked up an über-impressive 5.5 WAR. Unbelievably, he currently stands at 5.2 WAR after his first 89 games of 2014. And while it’s true that he profits from playing in Coors (.417/.497/.748), only Hanley Ramirez has overall numbers (.275/.369/.467) that are comparable to Tulo’s road slash line (.265/.367/.463).

3B: Todd Frazier (3.7) 

Like Goldschmidt, Frazier is an incredible bargain. He’s arbitration-eligible after this season but, meanwhile, he’s costing the Reds a measly $600,000 for 17 doubles, 19 home runs, and excellent defense.

LF: Christian Yelich  (2.5)

If you don’t know the 22-year-old Yelich, a native of the San Fernando Valley and the 23rd pick of the 2010 amateur player draft, here’s one reason why you’ll want to get to get acquainted:

CF: Andrew McCutchen (4.6)

This is what Baseball America’s John Manuel wrote about then-high school senior McCutchen back in the spring of 2005:

McCutchen’s star has risen all spring, and he could go in the first 15 picks. Like [Chris] Volstad, he was an AFLAC All-American last summer, and while he struggled with Team USA in the World Junior Championship, he has followed up with a stellar senior season. McCutchen’s game isn’t all about tools, though his tools are plus across the board. That starts with the most important tool: the bat. McCutchen has quick hands and a compact swing, producing surprising raw power for his size and giving him the bat speed to lash line drives to all fields. His athletic ability, speed and frame earn comparisons to Mets prospect Lastings Milledge, but he’s more polished at the plate, earning 60 and 70 grades from scouts (on the 20–80 scouting scale) with 50 raw power. A former state champion in track as a relay runner, McCutchen has well-above-average speed and should have no trouble playing center field. The biggest question about him is his size and a perceived lack of durability, as some scouts wonder if he can maintain his bat speed over a 140-game professional schedule.

Dennis Green-esque analysis: He is who we thought he was.

RF: Giancarlo Stanton (3.8)

The league’s co-home-run king (21) is not on the trading block, insists Marlins general manager Dan Jennings. If so, Fish fans will get to watch Giancarlo for at least a few more months and perhaps even through the end of the 2016 season, when he will be eligible for free agency.

C: Jonathan Lucroy (3.7)

WAR doesn’t take into account a player’s clever political attack ad for All-Star Game reccognition, but in Lucroy’s case, maybe it should make an exception. Meanwhile, it’s reasonably safe to say that, had the NL won the All-Star Game, MVP honors would have gone to the Brewers catcher, who got the start behind the plate after division nemesis Yadier Molina fractured his right thumb. The Brewers catcher rapped two doubles in as many plate appearances.

So now that we’ve recognized the first-half standouts, let the trade deadline and division/wildcard race drama begin!

Tags: Sports Media

Meet the 40-Year-Old Mother of Two Who Is Now an NFL Cheerleader



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Good for her:

Kriste Lewis always dreamed of being an NFL cheerleader.

Well, her dream has come true: She recently made the Saintsations, the New Orleans cheerleading squad.

While that doesn’t sound unique at all, this part of her story is:

She’s 40 years old and the mother of two boys, ages 11 and 14.

40-year old mother of 2 earns spot on 2014 New Orleans @Saintsations roster http://t.co/sdqxFSHNxQ #Saints pic.twitter.com/LK5lkWVqu9

— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) July 16, 2014

“There were a lot of young, beautiful girls,” Lewis told ABC News of her competition, who ranged in age from 18 to 30. “It was a fear. I will not lie.”

Lewis also has a kidney disease, which she discussed with “Good Morning America” this week.

The rest here.

Tags: NFL

Meet the 2014 AL WAR-Stars



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The second half of the season is about to get underway, but what say we examine who were the Junior Circuit’s top position players through the All-Star Break, according to WAR?

As most of you know (and the rest of you really ought to catch up), WAR stands for “wins above replacement.” It is a useful (not to be confused with “perfect”), all-in-one approximation combining both offensive (including baserunning) and defensive performance. For those who require a primer, Alex Remington offered up a few years ago on Yahoo’s Big League Stew an easy-to-digest yet pretty thorough explanation of Fangraphs’ version of WAR — which we are using here.

Here are the AL’s top performers to date:

1B: Jose Abreu (3.2 WAR)

Writing at CBS Sports, Chris Cwik believes the odds are good that Abreu’s power stroke is here to stay:

What we have here is a pretty unique player. While there are a number of stats that scream regression, we also have some evidence that Abreu just hits the ball really hard when he makes contact. Both his approach and his average fly ball distance give some hope that he can remain an elite power hitter. Regression should be expected, as he’s on a ridiculous pace right now, but there’s no reason to think Abreu will suddenly turn into a pumpkin.

2B: Ian Kinsler, Robinson Cano (3.5)

Now a Mariner, Cano hasn’t exactly been crushing the ball — he’s hit only seven home runs — but is reaching base with greater frequency (.393 OBP). Meanwhile, Kinsler has been reborn in Detroit and James Krueger of Call to the Pen thinks he knows why: Kinsler loves the four-seam fastball and, lo and behold, he’s seeing more of the pitch at a frequency not seen since the 2009 season.

SS: Erick Aybar (2.9)

Aybar was a late addition to the AL All-Star Game roster. The 30-year-old Angel is having a solid season at the plate, and the advanced defensive metrics rate him highly.

3B: Kyle Seager (3.7)

There’s no bigger surprise on this list than Seattle’s Seager, who edged out division rival Josh Donaldson. Safeco Park may intimidate many sluggers, just not him. All but two of his 15 home runs have been hit at home.

LF: Alex Gordon (4.6)

A sore thumb convinced Gordon to pull out of the Midsummer Classic, a shame because he’s one of the more underrated outfielders in the game. Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan explains the principal reason why he’s so popular in Kansas City:

Alex Gordon‘s always had a great arm. Alex Gordon’s always piled up the kills. Between 2011 — 2013, Gordon led all outfielders in UZR’s [Ultimate Zone Rating] arm rating. He led all outfielders in DRS’ [Defensive Runs Saved] arm rating. He led all outfielders in assists, with 54. The next-best was Jeff Francoeur‘s 40. Gordon was drafted as a third baseman but he’s become an all-around star in left field. This season, Gordon has just five outfield assists, almost halfway through. The last three years, he’s finished with 20, 17, and 17. This season, Gordon’s also on pace for career-best arm ratings. Alex Gordon is showing the value of having a gun you seldom use.

CF: Mike Trout (5.5)

The All-Star Game Most Valuable Player (.310/.400/.606) may have finished runner-up in the AL MVP voting in the past two seasons but, barring injury, the Millville (New Jersey) Meteor will almost certainly run away with the trophy in 2014.

RF: Jose Bautista (3.1)

Only Trout and Bautista are repeat AL WAR-Stars. The latter’s .397 wOBA in an offense-starved environment is nothing short of eye-popping. On a related note, Will Leitch, writing in Sports on Earth, described what happened when Joey Bats took his swings during Monday’s Home Run Derby:

During Jose Bautista’s first-round display — in which he hit 10 homers, including two upper deckers in a row that were essentially hit to the same fan — the whole American League dugout went apesh-t. It was like their heads all exploded at once, and then reconstituted themselves so that they could explode again.

C: Salvador Perez (2.9)

Watch the 24-year-old’s cannon of an arm nail an unsuspecting Kevin Kiermaier at first base last week:

 

 

DH: Victor Martinez (2.5)

Baseball Prospectus’ Matt Sussman believes that V-Mart, who snuck past Nelson Cruz, is due for serious regression in the second half; still, the 35-year-old switch-hitter is only four home runs away from surpassing his single-season high of 25, accomplished way back in 2007.

The NL WAR-Stars will be announced tomorrow. Last year’s champions may be found here.

Tags: NFL

Wainwright Grooved Pitch to Jeter



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So this happened at the All-Star Game:

“Repoz” from Baseball Think Factory had predicted as much hours before Jeter’s plate appearance:

Someone in Commissioner Selig’s office forgot to alert Wainwright that #ThisTimeItCounts. If the Cardinals return to the World Series, the American League triumph in Target Field earlier this evening means St. Louis again won’t have home-field advantage.

Anyway, there’s a precedent for this sort of behavior. For example, Denny McLain and his catcher, Jim Price, conspired to groove pitches to Mickey Mantle in Tiger Stadium at the end of the center fielder’s Hall of Fame career.

More importantly: Am I the only one who had never heard the term “pipe shot” until earlier this evening? Nope, even Urban Dictionary doesn’t recognize the moniker.

UPDATE: In an in-game interview with Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews, Wainwright awkwardly attempted to walk back his comments, saying they were “taken the wrong way.” Um, okay . . .

Tags: MLB

Notre Dame Football Players Mentor Boy with Autism



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A nice story to confirm that not everything is wrong with college sports. Via “Autsim Speaks”:

TheMighty.com recently featured a blog post by  about her 10-year-old son with autism and his experience at football camp. The post was originally posted to her personal blog here. Read an excerpt of the touching blog below. 

So often we hear about fallen athletes — football stars who fail to exhibit even the most basic skills of humanity, individuals who consistently put themselves before anyone else, role model, who were once held up on a pillar, fall in a fiery spectacle of disgrace. What we should be be hearing about are the athletes who put others before themselves — football players who think beyond the field and recognize the power that their position in life has on those that struggle. As a society we should be shining a light on teams and coaches who push their players to do good. Teams that provide their players an opportunity to reach out into their own communities to establish relationships with kids that look up to them.

This past week I had an opportunity to meet the angels of Notre Dame football. The men that play under the Golden Dome are more than just superb athletes. Football is a way of life in South Bend, Ind., and the players are idolized by many local kids. Notre Dame has shown their strength and abilities on the field time and again and have demonstrated that they have what it takes to be successful collegiately and professionally. But that is not what impresses me about this team and school.

My son is 10 years old. He loves history and can tell you even the most remote fact about Ancient Egypt, regardless if you want to know it. He struggles in school and has attended more schools in his short life than an adult does in their entire life. He has problems connecting with kids his age and often this leaves him shy and discouraged. His heart is the same color of the Notre Dame dome – Gold.

The rest here.

Tags: NCAA

Stop ‘Body-Shaming’ Prince Fielder!



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Is Prince Fielder too “cubby” for the cover of ESPN’s Body Issue? New York magazine:

An early glimpse of ESPN’s annual Body Issue — which comes out this Friday — reveals that Texas Rangers MLB star Prince Fielder is on one of the covers in his full naked glory. It took all of one day for the body-shaming to start, with Twitter commenters slamming ESPN for putting a “plus-size athlete” on the cover and mocking Fielder for his physique.

In the issue’s interview, Fielder addressed his atypical athlete’s body:

A lot of people probably think I’m not athletic or don’t even try to work out or whatever, but I do. Just because you’re big doesn’t mean you can’t be an athlete. And just because you work out doesn’t mean you’re going to have a 12-pack. I work out to make sure I can do my job to the best of my ability. Other than that, I’m not going up there trying to be a fitness model.

I’m not sure pointing to “Twitter commenters” counts as proof of what New York is suggesting. Finding angry people on Twitter is quite easy, no matter the subject. If we wait a few days I’m sure we’ll find an equal number of of commenters who think it’s fine that Fielder is on the cover.

Exit question: After seeing the picture of Fielder, would any of the Twitter body-analysis experts dare to say what they’re tweeting to his face? Doubtful:

 

Tags: MLB

Report: LeBron Will Add $500 Million a Year to Cleveland’s Economy



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Bloomberg:

Landing LeBron James will mean millions of dollars in economic benefit to Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, Cuyahoga County officials said.

The return of the star forward to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers will have a $500 million a year impact on the local economy, with a boost from additional ticket sales and other spending, County Executive Ed FitzGerald said today. The 2016 Republican National Convention in the city will bring an additional one-time windfall of $200 million, he said.

“It generates real money for the local economy,” FitzGerald, a Democrat running for governor this year, said in an interview after a press conference in Cleveland.

If true, great news for Cleveland. The rest here.

Tags: NBA

RE2PECT, According to Deadspin



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Undoubtedly, you’ve either seen or heard of the new Nike “Air Jordan” advertisement featuring the tipping of caps to The Captain:

But did you know that Deadspin made an important, er, adjustment to the original video, which may be viewed by clicking here?

Hint: The modified version also features cameos from Dustin Pedroia (4), Stephen Drew (6), and Mike Napoli (3) in the bottom of the eighth inning of a game from June 28th.

Tags: MLB

‘King James’ Fatigue



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Clevelanders who are swooning over the news that LeBron James is returning to the Cavaliers should stop it. In 2010, fans pleaded with him not to leave. They wrote heartfelt letters and made emotional videos, thinking he would be swayed by the depth of their feelings. Here come the valentines again.

At CBS Sports, Gregg Doyel, who identifies himself as an honorary Clevelander, interrupts his welcome-home speech to make this clear-eyed sad observation: “Do you know why Cleveland needed this so badly? Because LeBron’s pretty much all we’ve got.” He isn’t, but that’s not the point. It’s that Clevelanders think he is.

In a certain light, as Kareem Abdul Jabbar observes, James is not so much the prodigal son as “the straying husband who abandoned his longtime partner to chase a younger, hotter, firmer slice,” and now “he’s coming home with a bouquet of roses in one hand and a diamond bracelet in the other, begging forgiveness.” Cleveland’s response? He’s pretty much all they’ve got.

It can be a fine line between passion and desperation. Cuyahoga County officials had plenty of the former to motivate them in their successful bid for the 2016 Republican convention, which dominated the local news last week until the James story broke. Note that their effort to win over decision-makers at the RNC was led by a Democrat, his party’s good servant but Cleveland’s first.

Congratulations to the hungry Clevelanders. In their itchiness to redeem their hometown’s rep, they found a way to beat out the competition in Dallas and elsewhere. Call it creative insecurity — a potent force that can be used for ill, however, as well as for good: It’s also fueling the city’s overreaction to James. Cleveland is taking too big a swing at a pitch that’s not even all that fat. King James, as they call him, is a great ballplayer, obviously, but hardly the great man you would imagine from all the gushing about his coming home again. 

Outside religion, the full-spectrum hero that people feel they need doesn’t exist, so they recruit the most famous face in the room to play the part. It’s not James’s fault that he’s been miscast in a role too big for him. After all, no one who is crowned king ever lives up fully to the ideal he’s supposed to represent, and we should cut some slack especially for those who never sought the honor but had it thrust on them.

The problem with that view in the case of James is that he has often signaled that he thought he deserved the exalted status conferred on him by Clevelanders in search of a king. Maybe David French is right and the poor boy from the mean streets of Akron has matured and found the light. I would like to agree with Rod Dreher and Ian Tuttle that he’s finally discovered the true value of home. But I’m not feeling it. What I’m feeling is LeBron James fatigue. Can’t we just let his inner life remain between him, his family, and God? His return to the Cavaliers makes them a better team, which should be enough. I can’t be the only one who’s had it with the narrative business already.

When James left the clouds of Cleveland for the sands of South Beach four years ago, I marveled like everyone else at the crassness of his exit, of his making a drama out of it by starring in a little show, “The Decision,” that aired in prime time on ESPN, where he announced to the world he would sign with the Miami Heat. Common courtesy, which of course he didn’t observe, would have been to inform Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert privately beforehand.

For his part, Gilbert wasted little time in posting to the team’s official website a diatribe in Comic Sans font, no less, later that evening. Fans joined in by burning LeBron James–themed NBA merchandise. The hatefest was on. What a circus: everyone acting like a jilted schoolgirl, except James, who acted like a [expletive deleted].

At the time, I was working in an office building a few hundred feet east of Quicken Loans Arena on Huron Road in downtown Cleveland. One afternoon during the run-up to the big night when we were scheduled to learn whether James had rejected our fair city or would reaffirm his vows to it instead, a crew from the Plain Dealer approached me across the street from the Q as I was walking to lunch. What did I think? Was I optimistic he would stay? No, I was optimistic he would leave.

He did. The city’s most draining energy vampire eventually fled. We could breathe again.

On my way to work the morning after “The Decision,” I stopped and watched as workmen tore down from Tower City a ten-story-tall billboard of King James shown with arms outstretched, looking like Jesus on the cross. It was a Nike ad captioned “We are all witnesses.” Seldom has the rivalry between organized sports and organized religion been so blatantly advertised.

Twelve years ago, when he was a junior at St. Vincent–St. Mary High School in Akron, James was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, under the headline “The Chosen One,” which, adapted (“1” instead of “one”), appears as a tattoo on his back — or did. Let me be generous and assume that he’s had it removed or, if not, at least regrets that he had it inked in the first place. They say he’s grown up and gotten over himself.

Out of respect for him, his admirers in Cleveland should follow suit.

Reveille 7/14/14



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Good morning.

Here are several links from the past week that will make your All-Star Game Monday at the office a bit more bearable:

  • Watch rookie sensation Mookie Betts delight the Fenway faithful as he turns on the jets against the White Sox infielders in a game his Red Sox would eventually come back and win, 5–4.
  • Via Danny Ecker of Crain’s Chicago Business, the Commission of Chicago Landmarks unanimously approved the Cubs’ request to erect several signs above the Wrigley Field bleachers and move the bullpens behind the outfield walls as part of the organization’s already-approved $575 million overhaul of MLB’s second-oldest ballpark.
  • Utilizing Inside Edge technology, Beyond the Boxscore ’s Bryan Cole is better able to evaluate Miguel Cabrera’s infield defense.
  • Also from BtB, Jeffrey Bellone attempts to determine LeBron James’s worth were he having similar success on the diamond:

By looking at LeBron’s final four seasons in Cleveland and his previous four seasons in Miami, we can compare his impact across the same number of seasons on each team. It is clear to see that his win share total in each season accounts for roughly 30% of his team’s wins. He had a greater impact in Cleveland, which makes sense considering the talent differences between there and Miami.

So, if LeBron is accounting for roughly 30% of his team’s wins based on win shares, what would be the equivalent in baseball?

The most obvious way to measure win contribution in baseball is WAR. Although, we can’t compare LeBron’s win share total to WAR directly because they measure two different things. Remember, WAR is wins above replacement, so it assumes a baseline of about 43 wins for a team of replacement level players. Therefore, in calculating the impact of a baseball player on his team’s success, we will subtract 43 wins from the team’s win total each season.

If we are going to compare LeBron James to a baseball player, why not Mike Trout. . . .

To be fair in comparing LeBron to Mike Trout, we would have to do so using the same winning percentage of their respective teams. If LeBron James played on a good basketball team that won 60% of its games, or 49 wins per season, using his win share total since 2006–07 (133 WS), that would equate into 33.9% of the team’s wins. Doing the same for Mike Trout, using a 60% team winning percentage, or 97 wins per season, his WAR, taking into account replacement level wins, would equate into 18.6% of the team’s wins. LeBron almost doubles Trout!

What this comparison shows us is that all of the craziness surrounding LeBron James is justified. On a 97-win baseball team, a player would need a fWAR close to 18 to account for the same win share percentage to win total as LeBron has averaged since 2006–07. For those of us who think in baseball terms, it would be like Mike Trout doubling himself, declaring for free agency, and having both him and his clone sign on the same team.

More realistically, the Astros have a 1–2 combination of factors that make them a fascinating team for the future. The first one is obvious: The farm system is loaded. They have prospects like George Springer already doing well in the majors, with others like Jonathan Singleton and Jared Cosart adjusting to the majors already. They have a host of younger prospects, like Carlos Correa, Delino DeShields, and Rio Ruiz. They also have Jose Altuve locked up, and he’s young enough to be a prospect.

The second factor might not get you excited just yet, but it’s just as important: They have hardly any long-term commitments. They’re a blank slate. They have $5.5 million committed to 2016, and that’s to Altuve and Singleton. They could sign Giancarlo Stanton to a deal worth an annual salary of $30 million and still have enough left over for Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. That might put them above $100 million, but not necessarily.

This is the sort of flexibility that allowed the Mariners to sign Robinson Cano to a crazy contract, while not caring that it was crazy. The Astros will be that kind of menace if they want to hop into the free agent market in the future. Even though they’re having issues with their TV deal, they still play in the sixth-largest metropolitan area in the country, and they have a newer, desirable ballpark.

  • Bruce Schoenfeld of the New York Times explores why the screwball, the off-speed pitch made famous more than a century ago by Christy Mathewson, is rarely thrown in anger today. After finding no proof that the screwball is harder on the arm than any other pitch, the author concludes that “the pitch has been abandoned by baseball without cause.”

After this er, generous strike-three call, Nick Punto got tossed for his two-handed spike of the batting helmet. Not that it mattered: Fernando Rodney’s response indicates that it’s the final out of the ballgame, a 3–2 victory for Seattle.

That’s it. Have a walk-off week!

Tags: MLB

Memo to Rox Owner: Shut Up, Shut Up, Shut Up!



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Via Bryan Kilpatrick of Purple Row, Rockies proprietor Dick Monfort has been replying to fans’ concerns about the team’s losing ways and it’s pretty evident that, between his brain and mouth, there’s no interlocutor:

After the Rockies’ owner attracted a whole bunch of negative attention with his recent interview with Patrick Saunders, and later, the surfacing of his “If product and environment that bad don’t come!” message sent to a Grand Junction fan, things went from bad to worse with the most recent leak of a Monfort email exchange.

Monfort, in response to an email from a fan criticizing the failures of Rockies management, told the long-time season ticket holder “By the way you talk maybe Denver doesn’t deserve a franchise, maybe time for it to find a new home,” according to CBS4’s Brian Maass.

This is . . . not good.

It is astonishing that a successful business executive like Monfort would badmouth a fan base that keeps showing up to ballgames even as the product on the field stinks. (As of this morning, the Rockies rank ninth in MLB home attendance, averaging 33,415 fans per game.)

Kilpatrick offers these helpful suggestions to Monfort:

  • Ditch the iPad. Now.
  • Put someone in the public relations or social media departments (both of which are excellent and shouldn’t have to deal with this mess, by the way) in charge of responding to fans.
  • Bring in — from the outside — an experienced baseball mind to give an honest assessment of the organization.
  • Get the hell out of the limelight.

And here’s the abridged version:

More here.

Tags: MLB

Even A. J. Pierzynski Doesn’t Deserve This



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Were the Red Sox right to jettison A. J. Pierzynski (.254/.286/.348) yesterday? Absolutely.

Has the 37-year old catcher long been recognized as an “acquired taste?” (Pierzynski’s skipper with the White Sox, Ozzie Guillen, said: “If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less.”) Most definitely.

Still, Boston signed Pierzynski to a one-year deal during the offseason with the expectation that he would handle backstop duties until the club’s highly-rated prospect, Christian Vazquez, was promoted to the bigs.

This is not the way a classy organization bids adieu to a 17-year veteran:

According to multiple sources within the Red Sox clubhouse, Pierzynski had become such a negative influence on the team that players approached both the Sox coaches and front office to address the problem. The common theme expressed was the catcher’s seeming indifference toward his teammates and the common goals of the same organization that had relied on an all-for-one approach when winning the 2013 World Series.

A microcosm of Pierzynski’s approach was mentioned by more than one of the backstop’s former teammates, who revealed his propensity to spend a significant amount of time looking at his phone while at his locker during games. In one instance, after a particularly rough outing in which the starting pitcher had been pulled early in the game, Pierzynski could be found staring at his phone while the pitcher gave off the appearance of being an emotional wreck just a few feet away. That incident paved the way for at least one complaint to management from a teammate.

The frustrations with Pierzynski among the Red Sox grew with the catcher’s indifference toward the perceived needs of the club. While it was understood that former Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia had some flaws in his game, it was noted in multiple corners of the clubhouse that the difference between the current Marlins backstop and Pierzynski was that Saltalamacchia was invested in his pitchers’ successes and failures, whereas Pierzynski had limited interest in branching out beyond himself. . . . 

It became obvious to those in the clubhouse fairly early on that this might be an oil-and-water situation. Pierzynski’s personality wasn’t conducive to the Red Sox’ way of doing things, saying what he wanted when he wanted without much regard for the greater good. From the dugout, he would yell across the field at the opposition, or ridicule umpires during replay challenges. It made many cringe. This wasn’t the Red Sox way, the one that a World Series run had been built on.

As a friend points out, “You know who else rudely stares at their phone these days? Everyone!”

I get it: Looking for scapegoats is a New England tradition that’s as old as the Salem witch trials. The Red Sox front office and its media enablers would like fans to believe that Boston’s suckitude in 2014 is about staring at one’s communications device just as the meltdown three years ago was a consequence of too much beer and fried chicken in the clubhouse or the manager’s use of prescription medication.

Craig Calcaterra of NBC Hardball Talk sums up the situation quite well:

Such a shocker here. I mean, it’d be one thing if Pierzynski had a nearly two-decade track record of being a low OBP guy with some pop, some fairly “meh” catching abilities and a prickly personality, but . . . oh, wait.

I just don’t understand why this always happens with the Red Sox. Every other team in baseball manages to cut players when necessary and not have it be a big deal. In Boston, there are always knives out when people walk out the door. How the story of him being DFA’d isn’t “Pierzynski wasn’t cutting it, we aren’t winning, we have this young catcher named Vazquez who we think can really be the future of the club and we want to get him up now” is beyond me.

More here.

Tags: MLB

Hold Your Breath, Yankee Fans



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Via George King of the New York Post, Masahiro Tanaka is leaving the Yankees to return to New York for a MRI on his right arm:

Tanaka had his worst start as a major leaguer Tuesday night in Cleveland, allowing 10 hits and five runs over 6 2/3 innings in a 5-3 loss to the Indians. Tanaka was scheduled to start Sunday in Baltimore — his final start before the All-Star break. He is 1-3 with a 4.25 ERA in his past four starts.

After the game, Tanaka said he “didn’t feel that bad” and thought location was his bigger issue.

“I think a lot of it had to do with command of my pitches,” he said. “I feel a lot of my pitches were right down the middle and pretty easy for the batters to hit.”

But on Wednesday there was enough concern for the Yankees to send the 25-year-old for the test.

On MLB Network this afternoon, King’s colleague, Joel Sherman, pointed out how much the Yankees, treading water in the standings at 45–44, rely on the 25-year-old import deep in games:

The Yankees have gotten from starting pitchers this year 33 outs after the seventh inning. He’s gotten 25 of them. I mean, nobody else gets outs late in games.

More here.

UPDATE: Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that Tanaka has been put on the disabled list.

Tags: MLB

All-Star Game Update: Too Many Players?



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Rob Neyer of Fox Sports certainly thinks so:

Look, nothing against Dellin Betances, and I’m actually thrilled for Pat Neshek, whom I’ve been following with great interest for some years. I’m just not sure if anyone had good pitchers pitching great for 30 innings in mind when they came up with the All-Star Game.

And unlike a lot of things we complain about, this really is a fairly new phenomenon. Yes, there have always been non-stars in All-Star Games. But they have not often been relief pitchers. In 1974, only nine pitchers pitched in the entire All-Star Game, and all of them were starters except two: superstar reliever Rollie Fingers and superstar reliever Mike Marshall. And there was just one more reliever on either roster: Detroit’s John Hiller, who’d finished fourth in MVP voting the year before. . . . 

Do Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar really belong on an All-Star team? Well, that all comes back to a question Bill James asked some years ago: “Who is the game for?”

Turns out it’s for nobody in particular, and for everybody. It’s for the fans, who get to vote in a starting catcher who’s played in 26 games all season and will spend the rest of this season recuperating from major elbow surgery. It’s for the TV network that gets to promote the last hurrah of the third-greatest shortstop in major-league history. And these days, more than anything it’s for the players, represented by the most powerful union in the history of organized labor.

Everybody wants to be an All-Star. Everybody wants to be described forever after as an All-Star. Last year there were 79 All-Stars. Think about that. At any one moment, there are 750 players on active rosters. Roughly 250 of those players are part-time catchers, utility infielders, fourth outfielders, and relief pitchers who don’t get to warm up during close games. That leaves roughly 500 players in key roles. So if you’re one of those players, you’ve got roughly a 1-in-6 chance of being an All-Star forever.

Meanwhile, Fangraphs’ Jeremy Blachman offers up a where-are-they-now? for the players who took part in the very first Midsummer Classic in 1933.

Here’s his rundown of the Junior Circuit participants:

American League
SP Lefty Gomez, New York — Deceased
C Rick Ferrell, Boston — Deceased
1B Lou Gehrig, New York — Deceased
2B Charlie Gehringer, Detroit — Deceased
3B Jimmy Dykes, Chicago — Deceased
SS Joe Cronin, Washington — Deceased
LF Ben Chapman, New York — Deceased
CF Al Simmons, Chicago — Deceased
RF Babe Ruth, New York — Deceased

Thanks, Jeremy! (#smh)

However. I did let loose a chuckle from one commenter’s astute observation:

Well, I know what they would say if they were alive today…

“HELP! HELP! GET ME OUTTA THIS COFFIN!!”

More here and here.

Tags: MLB

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