I have to admit something. I watched more coverage of Hurricane Sandy hitting the East Coast than I did of the World Series. Part of this was superstition as it seemed that every time I turned on the Tigers, they proceeded to screw up. But part of it was also the sense of inevitable dread that emanated from the World Series starting during the third inning of the first game.
But it wasn’t just the putridness of the World Series. It was also the simple fact that it’s not every day that you get to watch a hurricane. More than that, how often do you get to see Anderson Cooper look like a bedraggled Chihuahua wearing a Karl Lagerfeld wig?
Maybe it would have been different if the Tigers had been at least somewhat competitive. Although it also begs the question, what would MLB have done if the Series would have overlapped with Sandy? Obviously the two cities competing weren’t directly affected by the storm but with the country’s largest media market, NYC, shut down by the storm, would it have even been worthwhile to play the games and lose the advertising dollars?
Ultimately it doesn’t really make a difference because the Series ended quickly and in a whimper. Sandy ended pretty quickly, too, but at least she let out a roar before fading away.
Tonight’s foreign policy debate promises a healthy dose of the Middle East and what each candidate thinks the other one should do or should have done with respect to places like Libya, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Romney will hammer Obama on Benghazi, completely ignoring the reality of the situation and the fact that a President should not be micromanaging things like security at a small consulate. Obama will talk about energy independence while choosing to continue ignoring our infatuation with the Saudis and their oil despite that country’s status as serial human rights abusers and traffickers in persons.
It’s too bad we can’t focus on some of the good things. Like the baseball diplomacy program that uses MLB players as ambassadors to baseball crazy countries in Latin America and attempted to use the game to thaw relations between the US and Cuba. Or how about the exchange programs where female American athletes travel all over the world to teach basketball and soccer clinics to young women in other countries?
We aren’t going to hear about any of that tonight. But we should.
Although both political candidates and baseball teams have spent hundreds and thousands of hours working on strategy and trying to put together the perfect roster to bring home a win in November, there’s just no way they can prepare for the intangibles, what Donald Rumsfeld would call the “unknown unknowns.” For the sports teams, there’s always the specter of injury as well as the impossible to predict quality of “getting hot at the right time.” In politics, the things that keep campaign managers up at night include supposedly off-the-record comments and the fickleness of the “undecided voter.”
Guess that means it’s time to spend another couple hundred hours on strategy.
Although I probably should be watching baseball, I find myself oddly enthralled by the Olympics. Ichiro’s chops as a Yankee? Nah, I think I’ll watch some women’s badminton instead. Fister putting a brief stop to the Tiger’s road woes? Hm, I guess I’m going to go for some ping-pong (table tennis, if you want to be stuffy about it). Rivalry weekend in America? Nope, women’s skeet shooting.
I’m not saying I’d want to watch these games all the time. I love women’s gymnastics as much as the next guy but I can only take so much of it. But at the same time, there’s something special about the Olympics. For instance, yesterday I was watching a British dude named Paul Drinkhall advance to the third round in men’s table tennis.
First of all, his name is “Drinkhall.” How awesome is that? That’s like a German guy named “Biergarten.” Or an American named “Applebees.” Second, this dude has little or no muscle tone, pasty white skin, horrible shorts and an equally terrible haircut but he’s an Olympic athlete. That, my friends, is badass. Badass in the same way as David Wells and his Churchillian physique somehow destroying opposing batters.
I freely admit that a lot of it is the novelty. It’s hard for the 162-game slog of baseball to compete with the instant gratification of a Moroccan/Uzbek flyweight boxing match. And once the new “Dream Team” really get’s going, baseball is going to find it tough going. I guess it’s kind of like the guy who has always sworn that he’d never leave his frumpy but faithful wife but somehow finds himself behind the wheel of a convertible with his 24-year old secretary. Sure, it’s cheating but really, what were you supposed to do? Odds like those don’t come up everyday.
So, I’d like to say that this was just a weekend thing and tomorrow I’ll be back to MLB. But we all know I’m lying. Can you blame me though? I mean, seriously, synchronized diving!!!
In football, instant replay makes sense. Even with a team of seven officials covering each play, sometimes you just can’t be in the right place at the right time to make the right call when 22 guys are flying around at super-human speeds. What’s more amazing is how often they get the call right despite those circumstances. When it’s unclear whether or not they get it right, though, instant replay is there to confirm or overturn the call. The game goes on.
Reviewing close plays in baseball is a little more contentious. Generally I’m in favor of the evolution of the game, especially in contrast to my friend, Mr. Lung, who would prefer that all baseball players wear wool uniforms and be issued a chaw of chewing tobacco prior to the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. But official review is one place where I’m not so sure.
The problem is, baseball is already a slow-paced game. If you open it up to review, even that flow gets messed up. Even the limited official review capacity that now exists for home runs seems ridiculous. Either you make all plays reviewable or none at all. Honestly, although I’m all for baseball’s future facing development, review is not an area where I think that makes sense.
Review does make sense in the American Democratic system, though. Last week’s Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act proved that. More surprisingly, John Roberts showed himself to be a model Chief Justice in his Constitutional application and limited justification in the majority opinion. For me, it’s telling that although most Republicans are angry that the law was upheld, they’re not angry at Justice Roberts. In fact, he basically made it clear in his decision that although he may not agree with the policy aspects of the law, that it met the necessary threshold to be held constitutional.
That’s one of the beautiful things about our sometimes maddening and often baffling system of government. Laws get checked at three points by three different bodies and only after that process runs it course does the law go into effect. Granted, the application of the same system to baseball would mean that individual games could continue indefinitely but that’s why the choice of arbiter is so important. The Supreme Court doesn’t hear every single case that comes up through the courts or face challenges to every single law passed by Congress. It only deals with the game-changers, events that can redefine precedent or application or laws that are unclear.
Football is similar. Coaches choose when to throw the challenge flag and generally save it for events that are unclear, that could change the complexion of the game or that seem completely erroneous to them. They don’t always win but they at least have the option to challenge the initial ruling.
That’s one of the big areas where review in baseball fails. Yes, it’s not awful to review homeruns to make sure they were fair or be absolutely certain that a fan didn’t interfere. I’m sure there are quite a few Baltimore Orioles fans who wish that review had been in place in the 90’s. But what about that phantom final out of Armando Gallaraga’s almost perfect game? If Leyland had been able to challenge the ruling, Gallaraga would have had the mark and we wouldn’t still be talking about it. But, if you start making plays like that reviewable, it’s not long before you have to start making called strikes, check-swings and everything else reviewable, too. The fact of the matter is, it just isn’t feasible and if you can’t do it right, you shouldn’t be doing it all.
Here’s how I’d call it. Review: good for football, great for government but bad for baseball.
Baseball as a sport spends a lot of its time playing catch up. It used to be the national pastime but arguably it has lost that title to either the NBA, the NFL or NASCAR. It hasn’t captured the world’s attention in the same way that soccer has and even cricket has more global adherents (although that is admittedly due to its huge popularity in India and Pakistan).
I think a lot of it has to do with the habits of baseball players. It’s easy to relate to NASCAR because they’re the children of former booze-running outlaws. Add in it’s rowdy, beer-swilling redneck fanbase and you have a populist’s wet dream.
The NBA has a different kind of allure. It’s a mix of the hard-scrabble blacktop game along with the finesse and graceful elegance of of today’s elite players. Is there any other league that has more marijuana violations than the NBA? I’m guessing no and that reflects an America that has also grown more lenient towards the “devil weed.”
Baseball? You’ve got PED’s and frat boys drinking overpriced beer. That’s the America we laugh at, not the America we want to be part of. We like our sports to have a bit of an edge. The reason people hate Mark Sanchez isn’t because he’s a sub-par quarterback with a questionable work ethic. We’d put up with that if he inspired us. But he spends more time posing for magazines than he does winning football games. Yes, I know he’s led his team to the AFC Championship game twice but I think we can all agree that it wasn’t so much that he led them as it was him following them there.
Baseball right now is kind of like Mark Sanchez. It doesn’t have the edge. It doesn’t make you believe. That’s why it’s fun to hate the Yankees but its so much more fun to hate the Heat. My solution? Bring back Manny and give him lots of weed.
Did Ken Kendrick cross the line on his Stephen Drew comments?
There are a lot of really terrible owners out there. Of course the one that has most directly affected baseball fans in the recent past is Frank McCourt and his incredible mismanagement of the Dodgers’ franchise. The fact that the man was able to exit with cash in his pocket just illustrates how wrong that situation was. But he’s not the only one. The Pirates have also been victims of poor ownership while the NBA’s Clippers were known almost as much for their tight-fisted owner as they were for their years of ineptitude and sub-.500 records.
Ken Kendrick, though, he cares about his team. See, Kendrick isn’t just an owner, he’s also the managing partner, responsible for the day-to-day decisions that make a baseball team profitable in the global sense of the term. And let’s face it, there’s a lot that goes in to making a baseball team profitable. As an owner, you have to manage your assets and liabilities in such a way that you keep more cash flowing in than is flowing out, not always an easy prospect in these days of overinflated salaries.
The best way to ensure that your team remains profitable is to win. Fans like to come see winning teams and winning teams can also charge more for tickets and merchandise. There’s a reason why the cost of Yankees’ tickets goes up year after year while teams like the Pirates and Royals stay relatively constant. There’s also a reason why the Yankees, despite their enormous payroll, are still one of the most profitable teams in the game. It helps when you can broadcast most of your games on your own television station but when you’re also selling out the stadium for every game, that makes a big difference.
Which brings me back to Kendrick. Arizona is not a huge baseball market like the coasts or Chicago. However, Arizona has had a good baseball team and a baseball team that brings people to the stadium. Hiring pitchers like Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling helped but as those days are gone, the D-Backs have to rely on new young talent to put butts in the seats. Talent like Stephen Drew. So, when Stephen Drew doesn’t play, the D-Backs don’t do as well and they also don’t put as many butts in the seats. This in turn makes the franchise less profitable, a fact of which the managing partner is very aware.
Drew’s 2012 salary is $7.75 million. He’s the highest paid player on the team and accounts for over 10% of the Diamondback’s payroll. He also hasn’t played a game for the Diamondbacks in nearly a year. As an owner, and especially as the managing partner, I imagine that would not sit so well. Sure, Drew had a pretty bad injury but he has the best doctors in the game working on him and if his boss says that he’s way over schedule for his return, well, I’m inclined to agree with him.
So, did Kendrick cross a line in his comments on Drew? In my opinion, no. He’s a frustrated manager who doesn’t believe his employee is acting in good faith and those actions are affecting the businesses profitability. Sounds like he has every right to be honked off.
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