re: Presentation

November 27, 2011

Ten Bonus Points to Dorrell Wright

The Birdman is served his thanksgiving turkey.

Apparently Dorrell Wright is a Christian.  A real, practicing Christian.  At least practicing in the sense that he mentions God when explaining his motivation for saving a Thanksgiving celebration for his community’s elderly and less fortunate.  Also practicing in the sense that he’s got to get ready for the season awwwwwwwwyyyyyeaaahhh!  Wright’s contract paid him 3.8 million last season, but it was his first year of a new, relatively lucrative contract.  While locked-out, fiscally imprudent players scrambled to cover their expenses without their expected paychecks, Wright not only stepped up, but showed up, stayed, and said all of the right things.  He diplomatically implied regrets from those on the other side of the lockout, suggesting that others wanted to step up.  But they didn’t.

'They question my birth certificate too, buddy.'

Perhaps Dorrell Wright should represent Albert Pujols.  Apparently, being a good Christian is part of the fraud that has made the career of Dan Lozano, Pujols current agent, whom he left top agent Scott Boras for.  In the deal made by Lozano when big Albert jumped to him, Pujols become the 30th highest paid player in the game, despite being an all-star in all 4 of his seasons and having been the 2nd runner-up for the NL MVP.  During the contract’s duration he would be MVP 3 times; as the 30th, 34th and 26th highest paid player for each of those years. Boras would have gotten more, and would probably get more this time around too. Dorrell Wright may not; but at least Albert would have a Christian in his corner.


The Boxing Diary

November 13, 2011

Summer of 2010:

“Manny Pacquiao. Man-Neee…Pack-Keee-Yaa. Manny Pacquiao,” he kept saying the name but I didn’t recognize it. My friend then told me Pacquiao had a record of 51 wins, 3 losses and 2 draws, and that he is considered as one of the top fifty boxers of all time. I asked him the obvious question: Didn’t we, as a society, stop thinking boxing was important around the time when Don King ran out of ways to invent hype?

I’m not trying to be irreverent. I grew up on ESPN classics, from the epic heavyweight triangle (Foreman – Ali – Frazier), to Sugar Ray Leonard, to No Mas, to the utter domination of Mike Tyson. But boxing lost its casual fan fare when Mike Tyson got out of jail to fight some chump named McNeely and what was the most hyped fight in years turned out to be the production of Don King’s imagination. Tyson proceeded to lose to Holyfield, bit the ear, and the rest is very boring history. More than that, boxing never bothered to anticipate or even acknowledge competition from its more primal counterpart: Ultimate Fighting.

—–flashback to July 2007——–

You should watch this 60 minutes video on the emergence of Mixed Martial Arts (or Ultimate Fighting) for three reasons:

  • I find it fascinating that the sport struggled to gain popularity on television because it was too bloody. So they gave it some rules, added some padding and a scoring system and suddenly gruesome fighting became a legitimate sport. The reality is even when there were no rules, the best fighters (Royce Gracie) were the best because they were technically fantastic, not because the lack of rules favoured them. The rule changes aren’t for the fighters – they’re for us so we can draw that line between savageness and civility.
  • Dana White and his partners put $2 million into UFC and now it’s potentially worth a billion. He scoffs at Fox for not recognizing the potential because he made more money on pay per view. Last night, Fox showed the feature UFC fight on regular cable TV for the first time. Fox probably paid Dana White several times more than what he was initially asking years ago, when they rejected him.
  • It features one of the legendary Gracie brothers, and you will hear a story that will tell you exactly why this family is legendary.

——————————

November 2010

60 minutes was featuring Manny Pacquiao. He is not only considered the best boxer in the game, but he’s an idol to his people, an aspiring politician and a musician (but a musician in the same way Shaquille O’Neal was a rapper). It’s clear there has never been a boxer like him and that I really like 60 minutes.

October 2011

I keeping seeing the same poster: Manny Pacquiao v. Juan Martel Marquez III. They’ve fought twice before, with Manny winning once and the other fight a draw. Marquez clearly has what it takes to beat Manny. This third fight is expected to be decisive, since they are both strategically and physically familiar with each other. The best boxer should emerge.

November 12, 2011 – Fight Night

6:00 pm – I text Steve and ask him if he’s briefed on the Pacquiao fight. He tells me that this is the third time that they are meeting. I’m not impressed since it says that on the poster.

10:00pm – The bar is standing room only, everyone’s rooting for Manny and HBO makes a connection between Manny’s national background, Joe Frasier’s recent death and the “Thrilla in Manilla,” a legendary boxing match between Frasier and Ali. I imagine how amazing it would have been to have watched boxing during that era: Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Larry Holmes and Joe Frasier (compact and explosive, the original Tyson). Nobody can doubt that Manny, all his fame, what he does for his country and his pop-star qualities are good for boxing. But what boxing currently lacks is talent in the heavyweight division. That’s the sort of thing that draws even the casual fan. I would describe the current state of boxing as track and field in the Olympics, but without the 100m dash.

Midnight-ish: They went to the judges after twelve full rounds. It was a decision that the vegas crowd booed, I questioned and Steve shrugged at. Marquez laughed to himself, as if to say, “how many times do I have to beat this guy in order win the fight?” The announcers explained that the judges awarded Pacquiao the decision because he threw and landed more punches, which was true. But when Marquez landed punches, they were packed with power. Stylistically, Marquez wasn’t a lead-with-my-jab kind of guy like Manny. Marquez was a counter-puncher, and apparently boxing’s scoring system doesn’t discriminate when it comes to punches. I’m thinking boxing needs some kind of conversion ratio, like every three jabs equals one cross. Would there be no sudden death overtime? Are they going to schedule a fourth fight now? We left the bar not quite sure about what we had seen.

Somewhere else during the Pacquiao fight: Cain Velasquez, the existing heavyweight UFC champion put his title on the line against Junior Dos Santos. The UFC’s heavyweight division has been extremely competitive for several years now. A minute into the fight, Dos Santos landed a vicious sweeping right cross and knocked out Valasquez, to become the new UFC heavyweight champion. People who saw that fight weren’t confused about what they had seen.

–When he’s not watching grown men fight, Umar Saeed covers the endless battle between money and people on his website: www.umarsaeed.ca/


Amateur Collegiate Division 1 Football and Other Imaginary Things

November 10, 2011

As far as any reasonable person can tell, from a couch far away, Joe Paterno was never a great man.  Was he a great football coach?  Maybe.  As a person though, Joe Paterno is no Pinball Clemons, who is no Mahatma Ghandi.  Some of the players on his football team graduated from college.  He gave back.  Paterno’s status as a football coach is now forever tied to his inability to keep a member of his staff from sexual assaulting minors, including at least one on team property.

It doesn’t matter though, because football doesn’t matter.  We invest it with meaning for fun.  The swarm of failed human beings who flipped vehicles and chanted themselves hoarse in support of someone who covered for a child rapist would do well to remember that, but this should not be expected.  Those who lack even the basic empathetic skills necessary to grasp Paterno’s moral failing have given no indication that they are capable of that kind of abstract thought.

‘Disinterest’ is the term which describes the perspective with which one says to oneself ‘If I were not a Penn State student, and my self-worth were not completely dependent on the record of the school football team, I would want the criminal reported and apprehended.’    While the previous statement may be considered flippant by some, any claim that it misrepresents the morons who flipped the news truck is a claim that begs a question: Why do they care so much?

The meaning which sport has is granted to the sport by the fan.  In other words, the record of a given team only matters to you because you want it to matter to you.  If a football fan wants to imbue a team with meaning as ‘their’ team, why would they select a fake amateur one?  Because the stadium is technically part of the campus, and the uniforms bear the school crest?  Sure, why not?

Well, if the reason why not is ‘because they shield child molesters from the law,’ then any warm-and-fuzzies one gets when a pro or semi-pro athlete pretending to be a student at the same school reels one in the endzone have been trumped.  Sadly, commentary on this matter has consistently sought out dark corners, as interested parties and their legion dupes try desperately to avoid confronting the ugly truth of NCAA football.

It is not amateur.  It is not collegiate.  It is not noble, and it is not honest.  It is a beer ad.  It is poor people receiving brain damage, a choice they make when minors; often illiterate ones.    Perhaps this post takes on a bitter tone, but that is not because I hate football.  It is almost the opposite.  The NBA is gone, and deserves no attention when it returns, and for those of us looking for something to invest with meaning, College football could be that sports outlet.  Could be, but is not.

Oh yeah; and don’t apply to Penn State.


So you want to watch rugby, but you’re a wimpy North American…

November 6, 2011

The field looks chaotic.  Carry the ball across the line to score 5 points, kick the ball through the uprights for 2 or 3 points; but where is the ball?  It is under the bodies.  The whistle sounds; why?  It is often difficult to tell, and not just for novices.  Learning rugby can be confusing and even overwhelming, although it seems as simple as most sports when broken down.  The biggest difference between rugby and North American sports is that you pass the ball backwards not forwards.  Canadian comedian Rick Mercer recently spent some time with that country’s team just back from the world cup and nicely explained and demonstrated the basics.

The Rugby World Cup began in 1987, though the Six Nations Championship, centered in the United Kingdom, started back in 1883.  The World Cup is one of the largest sporting events in the world, and the tournament lasts about two months. The first month is pool play and the second month is the playoffs.  20 teams make it to the World Cup of the 93 teams around the world with an official ranking.  This year both the United States and Canada made it, though Argentina was the only South American team (they made it to the first round of the playoffs before being beaten by New Zealand). There are many teams from Europe, some from Africa and many from Oceana. Canada has only once made it to playoff round in 1991.

When they land, you find out what the helmets and ear-wraps are for.

The Rugby World Cup tournament is organized into 4 pools with 5 teams in each. The first two teams in each pool advance to playoffs. However, there are also advantages to coming third in the pool. This had been the Canadian goal, which they were not able to meet, in part due to Tonga’s upset win against France (the French advanced anyway to finish second in the tournament). Both Canada, ranked 13th,  and the United States, 17th, are expected to make it to the next world cup. There should also be a chance for some north American players to get more experience on the world stage with the introduction of sevens rugby into the Olympics set for 2016.

Hopefully there will be some time devoted to showing the games on North American television. TSN did a good job with coverage this world cup in Canada, playing not just Canadian games and the playoffs but many of the regular pool play games as well.  In the small little pre and post game shows the commentators were optimistic about the future of rugby in this part of the world. In a culture where sport does seem to flourish hopefully there is room for one more.  After all, big league rugby has never had a ‘work stoppage.’  That’s for whiny, sniveling . . . well; not rugby players.

Kira Burt is a working towards a Masters Degree in History and a full-contact pick-up game.

Sports in Books: Moneyball

October 23, 2011

Bill James by Paul Hoppe

When a book changes its subject, that book becomes a messy subject for review, particularly as time and influence pile on.  With that, and sportsvssports substitution of tangent for style in mind, this post will attempt to disregard Moneyball as historical artifact.  It is the pivotal document in which a sabermetric approach to baseball management was introduced to the public.  This post is about whether or not you want to read it.

Moneyball is a drama in four parts.  The first is a compelling tragedy of failed promise.  Billy Beane is tragically too smart for his own good.  Later plot twists reveal that this was never actually the case, and the exposure of the real reason unfolds like a darkly comic mystery.  The characters tend to be fairly funny on their own, so author Michael Lewis lets them speak for themselves to positive effect.  The rest of the writing is good; even by the standards of non-sports books.

“James was forever moaning about the paucity of information kept by major league baseball teams.” (82)

When the topic turns to the development of new statistics by amateurs, Moneyball does not become either slower or dryer, again due to the deft technical construction of Lewis, and because he knows when to let Bill James, a sort of ‘enfant terrible’ of fantasy sports nerds, do the talking.  While the outcomes are known all along by the reader, Moneyball maintains its dramatic tension by making a character of the idea; Billy Beane and Bill James are presented as basically mentor and champion, the Merlin and Lancelot of the true King.  In this way the relation between the idea and the myriad baseball people influenced by it holds the reader to the travails of Scott Hatteberg and Chad Bradford.  When a memorable scene unfolds between Ron Washington, Ray Durham and Thad Bosley, the idea looms like another physical presence which ads irony to the scene.

“Ray’s now engaged.  He’s like an American tourist who has just discovered the German on the train next to him is a long-lost cousin.  ‘It’s different here, huh?’ he says.” (265)

It is the growth of the character which Lewis makes of the idea which gives Moneyball its appeal.  While Billy Beane sometimes has the appearance of an outsider taking on the world, he is the heir to a playoff team, while the idea is heir to nothing.  Moneyball is unusual for a non-fiction book, in that it takes place in a short space of time, involving people all in one country, while being about the survival of an idea.

People who can’t deal with baseball, and who know and care nothing for its mythology will not care.  People who can’t watch a baseball game will not have the patience for what is after all a baseball book.  People who play fantasy sports, or baseball, or ever wished they were a GM, and still haven’t read it, should.  Moneyball is still enlightening, still interesting, and most importantly, still fun to read.


Where Nothing Happens

October 15, 2011

The above applies not to basketball as a whole, or even pro hoops, but rather the NBA.  That there is professional basketball that this does not apply to would have seemed, to many NBA fans not so long ago, a contradiction with the last statement.  Now we know better.  Sportsvssports will be proud to issue links to vendors who sell Besiktas jerseys if Kevin Durant joins DWill there.  Check out this list!  While things are happening in non-North American pro leagues, things are happening in the ‘labour dispute,’ or at least, the same thing is happening in it.

A lot of players have signed to play in Europe, China, or the Middle East.  There are pro leagues elsewhere, but NBA players, some of them significant, have been signed to teams in the traditional basketball countries of the Old World, plus apparently Denver Nuggets want to play in China.  I started making an ‘all-overseas’ team, but it really looks like two teams.  By my count there are currently 22 NBA players who have guaranteed rotation spots and name recognition who have bolted for ‘foreign’ squads, and almost as many who are close to inking deals.  Since there are only about 300 rotation players, who correspond almost exactly with the players who are known to fans*, this means there could easily be 13% or more of the league’s players who matter on overseas rosters by the time the first regular season game is actually missed.

This is very different from the last ‘labour stoppage,’ and sets up some interesting scenarios, including the only way sportsvssports sees the players getting anything out of the owners (here we go yo).  That best case scenario for the players involves a lot of them playing elsewhere, which the players union does not and cannot officially encourage.  If Durant signs with Besiktas, they will most certainly turn around and offer ESPN and/or competitors broadcast rights to the highest profile pro basketball games in the world. A network with the freedom to do so will jump all over it, and Euroleague basketball will ultimately end up on North American screens.  If this results in a big enough revenue jump to cause an ‘arms race’ in the European leagues, then the players may find themselves with the bargaining chip they needed all along: a paying alternative.

This is where I started ripping apart Chris Sheridan, before I realized that the first set of predictions on this blog was an unmitigated disaster, in which I pointed out even at the time that one of those predictions was completely obvious.  That’s the only one I got right.  The salient point is that no-one knows when it ends, right now.  Not Bill Walton (that grin is not because he knows something, it’s because he knows nothing), not Sheridan, and certainly not Hunter, Stern, or the rest of the nitwits at the bargaining table.  If they’re 3% off, which seems to be the case, then they are also $123 million apart for each year of the deal.  This is actually an overestimate, as basketball revenues will drop significantly as a result of this nonsense.  Also, there’s the minor detail of every other clause in the entire CBA, on which there is literally no indication that any binding agreements have been reached.  Gitmek Besiktas Gitmek!

*The exceptions are guys like Adam Morrison and Jimmer Freddette, who are not rotation players but live on in reputation as such because of ignorance.


The end of an MLB era.

October 7, 2011

A copy of modern sports classic Moneyball sits on my bookshelf, four feet to my right.  I have not read it, but will soon.  I’ll tell you all about it.  The timing of the production and release of the film adaptation has become interesting to me in recent days, for two reasons.  Those things both signal the end of an era in Major League Baseball.

Apparently Brad Pitt made the movie happen.  He told a television interviewer it’s about “re-thinking why we do what we do.”  By bringing the story to the attention of mainstream mass media, Pitt is attempting to pass a development in the culture of professional baseball into the broader North American culture.  This means he’s trying to sort of force-co-opt what in our culture becomes (if it wasn’t already in baseball) a subversive notion.  The idea is that as time passes, the methods of conventional wisdom are eventually caught and surpassed by different methods, which were not available when the popular methods were adopted in the first place.  I get the feeling Mr. Pitt refers to himself as ‘a progressive.’

This is interesting to me, in and of itself, sufficiently for me to begin a post about it, and then change my mind and leave off.  Then the other shoe dropped, by which I mean the Boston Red Sox missed the playoffs and fired ‘Tito.’  Sure:  The Red Sox are not a “Moneyball” team.  When Francona took over in 2004, they had the second highest payroll in baseball to the Yankees.  While they have traded around the top 5 with a few other teams since then, they have spent the second most on salary during his time.  Epstein’s choice expenses, though, have long been “Moneyball” guys in at least some sense.  They walk and have range in the field.  They were overlooked (Pedroia), had difficult to quantify strengths (Varitek) or were ‘high upside risks’ (Daisuke).  Perhaps as importantly as anything else, they were largely home grown.  Hardly any regulars from either the ’04 or ’07 World Series Champion Red Sox had had star seasons previously with another team, except for the volatile misfit (Ol’ “Banned Substance” Ramirez) and Johnny Damon.    Who else was a big-ticket acquisition?  JD?  The knuckleballer?

'Tito' Francona, formerly of the Boston Red Sox

'It was kinda mutual.'

The man who made all of that work was Francona.  Sure, they were hugely talented teams; but they took two big money sluggers and surrounded them with scrappiness and speed.  The Boston Red Sox adapted the moneyball strategies to their situation, utilizing the stolen base while wearing out pitchers with endless at bats.  Now that Francona has been let go, it is not because his trick stopped working, it is because now they are popular.

Not that Fancona will be easy to replace.  The Red Sox failing, if it is not simply Carl Crawford and Jonathan Papelbon failing to get it together, is in General Manager Epstein’s department.  The emphasis on a certain kind of starting pitching which has suited recent World Series finalists Tampa, Texas, Philadelphia and San Francisco has not been mirrored by Boston, and they had a team ERA nearly 6 in September.  As Moneyball becomes the story of an outsider notion becoming mainstream, teams will continue to adapt.  It remains to be seen if the Red Sox will do so.  Maybe Epstein can find inspiration in cinema.