Concerning Grantland…

In June of 2011 a website entered my life that has become almost as viewed as the ubiquitous Facebook.  That site is Grantland.com.  Grantland’s tag is “Sports and Pop Culture from Bill Simmons and our rotating cast of writers.”  Anyone who has read Simmons, or listened to one of his podcasts, knows that his two loves are sports and pop culture.  He will sprinkle in cultural asides while writing about sports at a whim.  It would seem then to be an extension and expansion of Simmons’ brain on the web.  Slam dunk right?  Well not necessarily.  Below are Pros and Cons of the Grantland site.

PROS

Chuck Klosterman

Klosterman, one of my favorite writers, now has a permanent home on the web.  His pieces are usually a critical analyses of pop culture, such as a breakdown of the Led Zeppelin song “In the Evening.”  However, he also has a unique take on sports.  He questions the time out rule of the NBA in an inaugural piece.  His large themes of perception and reality are a breeding ground for numerous pieces.  It doesn’t hurt that he is a consulting editor either, so signs point to more articles in the Klosterman vein.

Jonah Keri

Keri, the Grantland baseball writer, has really blossomed as a journalistic star.  Statistics and baseball are Keri’s bread and butter and he has opened my eyes to the SABR revolution.  I’m still a novice, but thanks to Keri I now understand WAR, FIP, and VORP a little bit more.  In addition, Keri is writing really amazing stories on this year’s postseason.  Keri also has an active Twitter account (@jonahkeri) that I highly encourage everyone to check out.

Continuity

Many pieces put up on Grantland depend on when the author completes them.  However, what separates Grantland is that there are numerous segments that occur weekly, or even daily.  “About Last Night” is a quick recap of what occurred the night before.  It is basically the half dozen points brought up on SportsCenter without Herm Edwards yelling at you about the Carson Palmer trade.  Other regulars include: “Grading the Trades” (daily movie/tv news), “Youtube Hall of Fame” (editors/writers favorite Youtube clips), “New Songs of the Week” (self-explanatory), and “Trailers of the Week” (also self explanatory).  It is nice to have this continuity and allows frequent visits to the site.

Podcasts

I’m obsessed with podcasts.  The interviews conducted in many of the ones I listen to are top notch.  Grantland has amassed a collection of podcasts and dubbed them “The Grantland Network.”  Like the various topics covered on the site, the podcast does the same.  A few favorites of mine are the Jonah Keri podcast, Men in Blazers, and the tentatively titled Jacoby podcast. The Jonah Keri podcast has the aforementioned Keri as host where talks baseball with team specific beat writers and bloggers.  The Men in Blazers is a discussion of the English Premier League.  The two hosts, Roger Bennett and Michael Davies, bring British wit and unabashed homerism to discuss soccer.  The Jacoby podcast is one I almost hate to enjoy.  In it, David Jacoby breaks down any and all reality TV happenings with the eye of a sports critic.

CONS

Advertisement

I find it odd to advertise a website.  It seems a bit “go-daddyish” to me.  I cannot articulate it very well, but there is something bizarre to me about it.  In addition, the ad creates an not credible vibe to me.  It is clever, yes, but necessary? No.

Humor

People enjoy reading things that make them laugh.  As Mac in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” states, “everyone loves comedy!”  However, when it is sprinkled into almost every article it can get tiring.  In the “About Last Night” section, for example, the author will give a point or two about the sports event…and then add a zinger.  Don’t always need that thanks.

Bill Simmons

My largest problem with Grantland is its creator.  Simmons’ MO, for a long time, has been “the voice of the fan.”  As such he writes things that I can relate to.  However, at times, when he writes as an analyst it falls flat.  His critical analyses of plays and games over include the words “I’ve seen him play, I’ve watched the games.”  This is no basis for an argument!  Do what has made you successful Simmons, keep the fan’s voice at heart.

Grantland is an amazing website.  I check it everyday and read every article when I can.  This is a fresh take on sports and the culture at large (something us Americans have very close to heart).  All that is needed are a few tweaks here and there.

Joe Posnanski, Pressure, and Foolishness

 

It never seems to fail. Around this time every year, the MVP discussion starts and inevitably mainstream baseball fans will systematically eliminate certain players by the same ageless criteria. “Oh, he plays for a 4th place team? No way he can be the MVP”. The problem with this logic is that it is so inherently flawed that it makes my brain literally hurt.

Thankfully, we have Joe Posnanski to set the baseball world straight. In his latest piece on his blog at SI.com, he attacks the myth of “pressure” and dismantles the argument that a player can only be valuable if he plays for a good team. Joe writes:

“Seems to me that if a college golfer shoots the lowest score, he’s the most valuable player of the tournament even if his team finished 26th. Seems to me that if an individual wins the 100-meter, 200-meter and long jump, she’s the most valuable track athlete even if her team is no factor in the overall standings. Or, in another track scenario, the fastest runner in the 4×100 relay is the most valuable runner in the race, even if his teammates run like Molinas and the relay team finishes last. Seems to me that if person on a quiz team answers the most questions, she is the most valuable player even if the rest of her team happens to be filled with dunces and the other team happens to win.”

Apologies for putting such a large chunk into the post, but that is pure genius. It is everything that I have tried to get across to people in arguments. The last line is the most important — when thinking about an INDIVIDUAL award, why do we care about the level at which a player’s teammates perform? As I’ve argued to many people before, baseball is largely an individual sport. Of course, you play and win as a team, the collective efforts of nine. However, each play in baseball is an individual act: a pitch, a swing, catching a fly ball, stealing a base, making an error, striking out. Every single play in a baseball is the result of what one person does. Jose Bautista doesn’t hit for Adam Lind or Edwin Encarnacion. He wasn’t throwing pitches for Jo-Jo Reyes or Brett Cecil. So why is he punished in the voting for the MVP award because his teammates are not nearly as good as he is?

And to touch on the other point that Posnanski so eloquently tackles, how is he any less “under pressure” than Curtis Granderson? In the Bronx, Granderson plays for a team that boasts at least one MVP candidate, a Cy Young candidate, and at least three future Hall of Famers. If he doesn’t hit, someone else will. If Bautista isn’t carrying the Blue Jays, who on that team is capable of doing so?

But what really irks me the most is that fans seem to forget everything they know about actually playing the game when they talk about professional baseball. Most of us played at some point. So naturally, we know that playing for a bad team (which the Blue Jays really aren’t, but they play in the AL East — another reason not to penalize Bautista for his team not winning) sucks! It’s not as fun and that fact in itself makes playing the game more of a challenge. Aside from that obvious point, when no one on your team is getting the job done, every at-bat, every pitch, and every ground ball become a little more difficult. Obviously I’m not a professional, but I played for a college team that went 5-25 last year, so I know how hard it is. When you score maybe two runs a game, if you come to the plate with a runner in scoring position it suddenly becomes the most important at-bat of the game. I don’t know who defines that as a “no pressure” situation, but I say that they are bat shit insane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baseball Folklore-ism. Is It Lost?

In the 1932 World Series, Babe Ruth did one arguably one of the most infamous things in baseball history; he called his shot.  Now there is TONS of speculation surrounding this event, but regardless of fact or fiction, it is one of the most famous baseball stories out there.  Stories like these turned George Herman Ruth into Babe.  Baseball and its past have had a love affair almost since the word “go.”  It is what makes the game great.  Even casual fans have an understanding of the history of the game.  This is not necessarily so in the other major sports leagues.  The 1941 MLB season (Ted Williams’ .406 average and Joe DiMaggio’s 56 hit streak) is just as hotly debated as the 2011 ball season.  This is just one example of how the past is very much alive in baseball circles, and the mere mortals that have played the game have turned themselves into titans.

 Boston Red Sox's Jarrod Saltalamacchia Watches The Flight Of His Two-run, Broken-bat Home Run Off Cleveland Indians'

On August 1, 2011, Boston Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a broken bat home run that was a FUCKING BOMB (only a touch of homerism there) against the Cleveland Indians.  The ball sailed past Pesky’s Pole at the Fens after Salty’s bat had broken in two pieces.  Now this is a beastly achievement, but after the end of the week who will remember it?  Can it be argued that Saltalamacchia’s blast should be mentioned in the same breath as Ruth’s?  True, the Babe hit his in the World Series and called where it was going.  But Salty used man strength to drive a ball out after his bat was destroyed.

Here is the point: Both acts are heroic and the act itself turned both men into titans.  Yet, the event that happened in 2011 will not be remembered after seven days; the 1932 event is still remembered.  What has happened to myth building and the folklore-ism of baseball?  It seems to me (and it is possible that I’m in the minority) that baseball events have become less special.  Salty’s homer will not be remembered.  Adrian Beltre’s home runs off his knees will not be remembered.  David Wright’s unreal barehanded catch will not be remembered.  Has the steroid era destroyed our ability to tell myths?  Perhaps it’s social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress, that has destroyed the myth-making ability.  I am unsure of the answer.  All I know is that Babe Ruth has gone down in history and all Jarrod Saltalamacchia has is a large toothpick in his trophy case.

Yes, I was actually upset that the U.S. lost the World Cup yesterday.

 

 

With this goal, soccer in the United States took another critical blow. It seemed that maybe, just maybe, our women were winning enough people over that the World Cup buzz may have been able to last past their seemingly imminent victory over Japan. It was in the news, it was on the TV, and people tweeted about our women to the tune of 7,196 tweets per second. For one day, American soccer was the main attraction — which was no small task on a day that featured Sunday golf at the British Open and a Red Sox vs. Rays nightcap. But missed opportunities and an uncharacteristically awful penalty kick showing put soccer right back in the realm of irrelevance.

But here’s what I’m really trying to say: I was truly upset about the loss. It hurt. When the U.S. missed their first three PK’s, it left me feeling sick to my stomach. I wasn’t just embarrassed at the sight of the Japanese women celebrating what should have belonged to America, I felt for our girls. For Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and Hope Solo. I actually cared. And when I woke up this morning, I still cared.

Soccer means no more to me than it did yesterday. I’m never going to watch the MLS or the English Premiere League, and I think that stance holds true for most Americans. But one thing is for sure — nothing gets me more amped up than the Red, White and Blue. The Stars and Stripes could make me care about ballroom dancing if world supremacy was on the line. As much as the U.S. Women completely and totally let the Cup slip from their open grasp, I hope people remember what they did, and how they did it. And I hope it makes American fans thirsty for more, because I want the men to be in the same position come 2014.

Besides, how could you not root for any team that includes Alex Morgan, who is not only a phenomenal player, but she…well I just leave you with picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Lights” Go Out (in lieu of Other Cliched Titles)

Tomorrow (I hate time-stamping this) Friday Night Lights, the critically acclaimed TV show comes to an end.  There has been a lot of buzz on the internet about the closing of this show, as well as many discussions with lovely ladies at my place of work, about the legacy of this show.  For me, without a doubt, Friday Night Lights, was a fantastic, fantastic show.  Yes, the football aspects of the show provided great drama in and of itself (for having such great success, coach Eric Taylor always seemed to be winning a lot of last second games), yet the triumph of this show was the relationships between the characters.  In some weird way, the viewer, no matter who they were, could connect to a character in one way or another.

My “special bond” was with Eric Taylor, head coach of the Dillon Panthers and later the East Dillon Lions.  Kyle Chandler’s character was a great Xs and Os guy, but he was a champion of relationships and morality.  In Coach Taylor, I saw the best of my heroes and the people that influenced me.  When Coach Taylor would talk to the team after a hard practice, I would see my baseball coach (Big Guy), a man who would appear hard, yet I could sense his desire to make all his players great.  I saw my grandfather and dad in Coach Taylor when he would console one of his players when a family tragedy strikes.  Yet, Taylor was not super human; we were able to see his emotional side.  At times, life would make him stumble.  His greatness would shine through when he was able to pick himself up.  In my view, a vulnerable hero make him all the greater.

So Long Friday Night Lights, it has been a fantastic run.

84 All-Stars

I’m sure you’ve all heard the news by now — 84 major leaguers can now call themselves All-Stars this summer (or just over 11% of all active big leaguers). There’s no doubting that this is somewhat of a mockery. Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game has, for the most part, a proud history. Players are supposed to want to be a part of it. So when 16 players were replaced on this year’s roster, people were a little upset. There were outcries from all angles, with everyone tossing in their two cents on what a civil unjust it was for players to pull out with nagging injuries. Frankly, it’s all a little crazy.

The trouble started in Milwaukee, where the MLB experienced the ultimate PR disaster: a tie. In 2002, as I’m sure many of you remember, the All-Star Game was called in the 11th inning of a 7-7 game. Why? Both teams ran out of players. Consequently, Bud Selig acted rashly and changed the rules. “This time, it counts,” he said. Winning the All-Star Game would now come with the added bonus of earning home field advantage in the World Series for your respective league. Rosters were also expanded and rules instituted to ensure that no pitcher who did not have sufficient rest would be on the team. So first of all, the reason why we’ve never had 84 All-Stars is that the rosters were never this big. Second of all, Selig screwed this whole thing up with his scheme to make the game matter. And until that rule changes, we will continue to have problems surrounding this event.

And while there may be significant problems, I’ve yet to hear someone rationally explain to me exactly what the players owe us with regard to the All-Star Game. No, I’m not looking for someone to tell me that they owe it to the history of the game, or the integrity of the game. I don’t want to hear that they are obligated to play because this event is “for the fans”. All of that is just a convenient narrative that we use to justify us putting our hopes and desires ahead of what really matters for these players — winning. Look I’m willing to concede that a certain few players every year may pull out of the game simply because they don’t want to play (see Ramirez, Manny). But for the most part, these players are not focused on putting on a show in the All-Star Game. They have a job to do, and nowhere in their contract does it say they are required to participate. At the end of the day, that is what they owe their efforts to.

So many people act as if a player declining a trip to the game is this horribly selfish move. How about the idea of asking a player to risk injury in an exhibition rather than rest up for the meaningful games that many of them will play after the break? How is that not selfish? Of course in an ideal world, I want all of them to be there and playing their hearts out. But it’s not a realistic or attainable vision. And as Matthew Pouliot of Hardball Talk points out, 14 of the 16 players who pulled out of the game had legitimate reasons for doing so (either injuries or lack of rest for pitchers).

Despite my long-winded diatribe, my point is simply this: the All-Star Game does not, and will never, mean what we’d like it to mean. It’s a fact that I’m most certain of. And while this is unfortunate, instead of creating false narratives to express our angst and disappointment, let’s crack open a cold one, grill some steaks, and enjoy it anyway.

A Sad Sight

On Saturday July 9, 2011, The Vermont Lake Monsters of the New York-Penn League (short season Single-A) lost 2-1 to the Staten Island Yankees (the power of Jeter would not let a Yankee affiliate lose!).  The game was played at Centennial Field (picture above) in Burlington, Vermont.  While “CenTen” can hold about 4,000 people, it was no where near capacity.  The crowd was typical of a ball game: children, old time baseball guys, young couples, bros, and of course, fathers and sons.  It is basically written in stone that fathers and sons should attend ball games together; it is a rite of passage.  I happened to be sitting behind a father and son.  It was the saddest thing I’ve seen at a sporting event in a long time.

2004 was the last year that professional baseball was played in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  After that season, the Expos packed up and moved south to D.C to become the Nationals.  The move made sense as MLB owned the franchise and the Quebecois certainly did not come out in droves to support the club.  However, what might not be known, it that Montreal and the surrounding area has a thriving youth baseball culture.  As a former American Legion player in Vermont, I had the pleasure to compete against many Canadian clubs.  Some, particularly the Longueuil Ducks, were skilled at the game and presented a great challenge on the diamond.

What does this have to do with me feeling terrible at the Lake Monsters?  Well the father and son in front of me were two Quebec natives.  The father, wearing a World Baseball Classic, was discussing the finer points of the game with his son, a player for the Montreal Titans, an American Legion equivalent team, in the Centennial bleachers.  I thought little of it, until I realized that this duo drove at least 1.5 hours and crossed an international border to catch a short season Single-A baseball game.  Seven years earlier, all they would have had to do is hop on the Metro and disembark at Stade Olympique in their hometown to catch Major Leaguers dueling it out.  It was a real bummer to know that there is still deep passion for rounders up north, yet the best/only way to catch the pro game is to cross the border, head south on I-89, and watch “Champ” hop around above a bunch of young men, most of whom will not sniff the pros.

Who knew baseball could be so sad?

Until next time…

DJ3K

Derek. Motherfucking. Jeter. Holy how the hell did he do that Batman? He deserved this day. Since he became a Yankee in 1995, Jeter has been my favorite player. I’ve given him a fair amount of crap with the contract fiasco, not wanting to move off of short, and resisting his most recent DL stint. But watching number 3000, a legit BOMB to left-center, seeing him go 5-for-5 with the game winning hit, seeing his teammates and his fans embrace how freaking awesome he is — I won’t lie to you, it brought tears to my eyes. This, as a Yankees fan, and as a sports fan, is what I live for. Moments like today. Jeter is quite possibly the greatest Yankee that I will ever see, and I can’t wait to tell my kids someday about the flip, the catch, the Jeffery Maier homerun, and number 3000. Thank you, Derek Jeter. And here’s to hoping that he can ride off into the sunset with at least one more World Series ring. (I probably had most of you — even the Red Sox fans — until this sentence. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.)

Here’s the video, courtesy of MLB.com

Derby Disappointment

I’ll be honest. I’m very disappointed with the rosters for this year’s home run derby. With the new selection format, I was really hoping for some outside the box selections (Ichiro, Mark Reynolds, Mike Stanton, even Tulo). But instead we got a field that is honestly, pretty bland. Matt Holliday is not someone I’m even remotely excited to see. Matt Kemp seems like the type to throw up a goose egg. And Adrian Gonzalez just doesn’t strike me as someone who will put on a show. He seems closer to Bobby Abreu. The two guys I’m most excited to see? Robbie Cano and Rickie Weeks. Both have surprising power for second basemen and both rip line drives that go out of the park.

I’m still going to watch, because (if you listened to the podcast you know that…) missing the HR Derb is inexcusable. But let’s just say I hoped the players would be a little more adventurous. Maybe some unknown players turned down the invite (bitches), but I doubt it.

Until next time…

Some Visual With Your Audio?

Great ‘cast right?  Here are some visual aids to go along with the discussion.  They are all easy to find on youtube or an image search, so below are our favorite iconic images.

 

The Great Mustachio, Sal Fasano 

 


Fisk Homer

 

 

Jordan over Ehlo and  the Jordan XXI Commerical

 

Tiger’s chip at the Masters

 

Oklahoma University vs. Boise State

 

Number Four, Bobby Orr

 

Gerry McNamara’s 2006 Big East Tournament 

 

Miracle on Ice

 

Laettner Shot vs. Kentucky

 

Joe Namath Super Bowl III

 

Lorenzo Charles at the Buzzer

 

There you have it, some of the most iconic images in sports.  Until next time…

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