Miami investigated by SEC/ MLB free agent predictions.

December 5, 2011

You think for a moment that the South East Conference must finally be investigating ‘the U,’ but wait a minute; the Hurricaines don’t play in the SEC!  No; it’s the Securities and Exchange Commission, and this MLB franchise investigation doesn’t involve Bernie Madoff.  It involves the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County issuing over $480 million in bonds to build a stadium for a team which would not show them its financial documents.  Oh yeah; they signed Jose Reyes and Heath Bell!  That’s actually the punchline, in that area taxpayers get the two players in a trade — for municipal service and job cuts.

That’s right, the city and county are broke.  The Marlins, however, are not broke and never have been.  They blew up their last World Series winning team immediately, citing the certainty that it would happen anyway, given their poverty.  That poverty, it turns out, was a savvy hoax.  The team playing in a football stadium with a consistent and predictably terrible win-loss record was making money, and hiding it in Fastowian ways.  It should be mentioned around this time that current Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria once sold a Major League Baseball team to Major League Baseball, which is kind of like somehow convincing Ford Motor Company to buy your old lemon.  Between that and the sweetheart deal that Washington gave the ‘spos to become the Nat’s, people might start to realize that Bud not only knew, but has abetted the whole ‘tell ‘em your poor and you might have to skip town’ scheme from the get-go.

As always, the Devil is in the details.  What?  You though the almost half a billion was the devil?  Sadly, it is not.  Jeff Passan actually gives a very good treatment to this scandal, with good links (including to one of the sources above).  Anwyay, as you can see from his article, that 480 million is actually estimated to be close to two and a half billion dollars, once the interest is paid and the thing is finally amortized.  Of course, in the meantime, the city and county duke it out over which of them (obviously not Loria and the Marlins) will pay the property tax on the parking garages attached to the stadium.

The people’s view of this is pretty clear, with the mayor at the time of the deal being recalled and summarily booted.  The article linked to in the last sentence also refers to the Reagan era tax-code changes that in part enabled so many of these kinds of shenanigans, but the people, like Mike Stanton in the outfield, have yet to catch that one.

There is a final element to this joke, and that is in those financial records leaked to Deadspin.  While Paul Beeston once said ‘Under generally accepted accounting principles, I can turn a $4 million profit into a $2 million loss, and I can get every national accounting firm to agree with me’ (Passan), the Marlins actually showed their profit.  In other words, if they’d ever seen the books, the former mayor and all his peers in incompetence would have seen it, in black and white.  Not red.  Just black and white.  And anyway, what was Loria going to do?  Move the team?  To where?  Montreal?

***

With Berkman and three closers (Papelbon, Nathan, and Bell) getting things started, here are the sportsvssports 2011 MLB off-season predictions:

Albert Pujols – St. Louis (Lozano flops again)

Prince Fielder – Chicago Cubs

CJ Wilson – New York Mets

Roy Oswalt – Chicago Cubs

Yu Darvish – Hokkaido

Jose Reyes – Florida  (Done pending physical)

Jimmy Rollins – Philadelphia

Mark Buerhle – Washington

Aramis Ramirez – Los Angeles Angels


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.


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.


Putting the WAR in Awards

October 2, 2011

Since we necessarily cannot have more than four MLB playoff games in a day, Saturday was at least a tie for the most playoff baseball ever in a day.  The whole extended weekend has been filed with dramatic  MLB baseball.  In honour of this magnificent excuse for laziness, sportsvssports summarizes the leagues’ final ‘advanced’ or ‘new’ overall statistical leaders.  Below is a general survey of the top scores in each major award category according to various metrics and ‘overall ratings.’

4 out of 6 nerdy ranking systems agree: Matt Kemp was the best player in the NL during the regular season.

Rookie of the Year

AL:    Alexei Ogando (FG, TBE tie)

Michael Pineda (IE)  Mark Trumbo (ESPN), Jeremy Hellickson (Elias)

NL: Danny Espinosa (FG, TBE)

Vance Worley (ESPN), Lucas Duda (Elias), Freddie Freeman (IE)

Cy Young Award

AL: Justin Verlander (BR, IE, ESPN, TBE)

CC Sabathia (FG), Jered Weaver (Elias)

NL: Roy Halladay (FG, ESPN, Elias)

Clayton Kershaw (BR, IE), Cliff Lee (TBE)

MVP

AL:  Jacoby Ellsbury (FG, ESPN, IE)

Jose Bautista (BR, Elias, TBE)

NL: Matt Kemp (BR, FG, ESPN, IE)

Prince Fielder (Elias), Troy Tulowitzki (TBE)

It should be mentioned that in most cases of disagreement, each site has the other’s top rated player second or tied for second.  NL pitching is the exception, where it seems a fairly even 3 way judgement.  Also, I have given the Baseball Reference MVP to Bautista despite being tied with Verlander because Verlander already gets the BR Cy Young, supplementing the argument which seems to usually hold the day with the Baseball Writers Association voters; that pitchers have their own award and should only win the MVP when their season is transcendent.  Also, to further sooth Blue Jays fans who are about to go into full pout about Bautista winning his second consecutive not-MVP, Brett Lawrie was on track to easily win the AL Rookie of the Year if he had played even most of the season.  What’s truly shocking is that he was actually on a pace to also bump Ellsbury for the FanGraphs AL MVP, as his WAR was 2.7 in only 43 games, putting him on track to produce a league best 10.2 over 162 games.

Abbreviations: BR= Baseball Reference, FG= Fan Graphs, IE= Inside Edge, TBE= The Baseball Encyclopedia


What is the WNBA?

September 7, 2011

Part 3: I am a professional, but for my genitals!

Women are smaller than men.  I know; I always go for the throat right off the bat.  But stay with me now:  Dunks are exciting.  People who don’t like basketball might disagree, but an overwhelming majority of casual fans agree that, relative to, say, a well ordered pick and roll, a dunk is exciting.  For that reason, and possibly to draw more girls into sports participation, the WNBA should be folded.

There is no need to get bogged down in murky debates about ‘quality of play’ which will not help lead to fruitful conclusions.  The Spurs have been demonstrating the anesthetic quality of sound fundamentals for more than a decade now, so we don’t need to blame women for not dunking (Candice Parker excepted) or blame basketball fans for not ‘appreciating’ something something blahblahblah.  None of this is relevant.  What’s much more relevant is the lack of research to indicate what impact, if any, the league has had on participation.  Neither the WNBA or it’s big brother counterpart/financial backer is equipped to defend the WNBA on any grounds relating to social impact, or indeed anything at all other than hypothetical future profitability and current cash flow generation for stadium owners.  The former is fantasy, and as we saw when the Atlanta Thrashers moved, having an unviable team lease your arena isn’t necessarily any more profitable than monster trucks.

This moment sparked male conversation more than female participation.

The basic notion that women’s sport is enhanced by professional leagues is a claim which has been allowed as a sort of unspoken promise – the kind that never has to be delivered upon because it is never really made.  By supporting the WNBA, the NBA does not support women’s grassroots athletics.  It does not make girls healthier and better adjusted.  It does not balance societies’ inequities or create life opportunities.  Other sports have seen major increases in participation at different points in history, almost uniformly without any professional leagues being involved at all.  Women’s baseball, in gestation as it was in the AAGPBL, didn’t creep into the nation’s little leagues for more than a generation.  When my sister was an adolescent, she became able to choose between a softball league and a baseball league for girls.  I have literally never heard any argument that that choice came about because of the AAGPBL, nor (more importantly) that it could have happened sooner if helped by the presence of a women’s pro league.

The simple fact of the matter where youth rates of sports participation are concerned, is that sedentary childhood lifestyles have increased coincident with increases in television time and decreases in gym class time.  One may trump the other, or even be the only actual factor, but the information available is scant, is focused on fatness, and belies any claim to real serious-minded concern on the part of the sports industry or government.  The factors which influence the decision to participate in sports, both what they are and how they work, is a subject for research in the fields of sports psychology and sports sociology.  There may have been some research thus far, but it is apparently not enough to win the day, and actually get kids playing physical games outside in increasing amounts.

In the meanwhile, my suggestions can be found below, offered humbly, meaning without assurances that any would work.  Sure, if I was a 6’1 (6’3 in NBA press guide units) woman who could almost dunk and actually liked to play defense, I could make a career, and maybe get the league some thirsted-for ink, by throwing unconscionable elbows, dying my hair five colours, and pulling down some other woman’s shorts in the middle of a game.  It might sell tickets, but would it help women’s sport?  If we don’t want girls to play sports so that they look a certain way in a bikini, then we do not want the WNBA to succeed by the real and actual standard.  We want it to fail, and go away, and be replaced by something that actually engages women.

Suggestions for alternate ways to get encourage women’s sport:

  1. Increase P.E. hours.
  2. Increase extra-curricular sports availability (number of teams).
  3. Take the top half of the WNBA, and make it a touring, barnstorming series of weekend tournaments.   Coaching and actually meeting girls on Friday night and Saturday day, and then a few games Saturday evening and Sunday.
  4. Give Mom a role, and maybe some pointers, in a public campaign to get girls into games.
  5. Focus on different sports.  Baseball and rugby are two sports which became available to girls in my hometown within the last twenty years, having literally never before been offered.  That means the first generation of girls whose moms played these sports is just beginning life.
  6. Turn off the tv.

Complete and Comprehensive List of Ways to Make MLB All-Star Game Interesting

July 10, 2011

None*.

Under Armour MLB Al-Star Game Shoes

Specially designed for single-use nonchalant jogging.

*  The MLB all-star game, like all all-star games, is inherently boring.  Many people consider themselves fans of this or that big league sport, and yet are still hard pressed to invest that sport’s regular season games with enough importance to stay interested.  All-star games can also never satisfy purist fans of any sport unless the players are motivated enough to play defense.  Therefore attempts to make them interesting tend towards making the mid-season snooze-fest ‘meaningful.’  The fact that baseball’s attempt to do so through awarding home-field in the finals to the champion of the victorious league fails on multiple counts.

It is not necessarily even relevant why this is the case, but because it is so obvious, we will note that it is because most teams (and therefore players) are not serious championship competitors, and because it is too abstracted for the rest.  Your team is four and a half games out of the wild card spot, and the pitcher throws you a high fastball with a man on second and none out in the sixth: do you try to hit on the ground to the right side, and slightly improve the probability that your team will win and give your team a microscopic chance at an advantage four months down the line; or do you just rip as hard as you can and whatever?  If you have ever tried to watch an MLB all-star game then you know the answer is the latter, but the former would still be boring, for all the same reasons.

Anyway, it sucks and cannot improve.  It cannot be meaningful.  It cannot be exciting.  Give the players a bigger bonus?  Why should I care?  They’re still not going to dive for the ball, and I still won’t even know which team I’m rooting for.  The team with my home team’s players also has the Yankees and Red Sox players, who are more likely to play in the World Series, and who I will be cheering against, so realistically my rooting interest is that the hometown player either strikes out, or does not play at all.  How’s that for sporting interest?

What would be better?  None of the suggestions I’ve read.  Obviously going outside would be, or going to bed early, or reading.  How about an all-star still gets named for every team, and still gets their bonus around the average annual salary of a fan, and then that player goes to a little league diamond for six hours?  Maybe a whole neighbourhood would show up to watch the local kids.  You may have to have an entourage to control the crowd and shape the interaction so that games aren’t delayed for hours by hoards of autograph seekers, but staged public events are not exactly foreign to major league sports – they are exactly their line of business.  I’d go to the park to see Jose.  I’ll even go to the tin can we call a baseball stadium in the T.  I won’t tune in a 9pm or whatever to see him play a few innings of a displaced spring training game.  And in all likelihood, neither will you.


Cheaters and Killers

February 24, 2011

Robbie Alomar and Bert Blyleven are going to Cooperstown.  Bagwell and Walker had good showings for being first-year eligible.  They’ll probably both go.  Palmiero . . . probably not.  Mark McGwire got less votes than Larry Walker, and less than he did his own first year, which was now five years ago.  McGwire temporarily held one of baseball’s most prestigious records, and is by any reasonable analysis of his stats a sure-fire hall of famer.  It now looks unlikely he’ll get voted in by the writers at all.  This is of course because he cheated.

McGwire used performance enhancing drugs, at least some of which were not against the rules at the time, to gain an unfair advantage.  Then he took the fifth in congressional hearings.  In this year’s vote, the writers sent a clear message that if you mess with the game, you will be frozen out.  Roberto Alomar’s transgressions came outside of the context of the game, and his career was over; at least enough to avoid the tabloid front pages.  Cooperstown doesn’t seem to mind unsavory characters, and the fact that Alomar may have done something that may ultimately kill someone doesn’t totally set him apart.  It’s not like he bet on games he was involved with.

It is difficult, as a fan, to keep ones excitement for a cherished team’s brightest star separate from one’s abhorrence of his actions.  It is not even necessarily obvious whether one should keep them separate.  Are ‘the alleged actions’ part of Roberto Alomar’s fame such that the baseball player referent takes on criminal connotations?  To say that athletes shouldn’t be role models is like saying news media shouldn’t print celebrity gossip.  If that is as far as you want to take things, I urge you to immediately go away.  But can we ask our kids to model themselves on sports player X but not celebrity personality X?

The other major issue raised here is one seen in the rearview mirror.  The extent of homophobia and ignorance surrounding HIV/Aids around Alomar is not available to me, but the relatively diverse community that I was in during those years, which did not have a reputation for being behind the times on these issues, was surely closed enough in mind and mouth to keep people secretive or in denial.  Not that we should countenance any sort of ‘aren’t we all kind of parties to Roberto Alomar’s alleged criminal wrongdoing?’ type hiding.   The context deserves recognition though, simply for instructive purposes.

Will I cheer for him?  We’ll see.  Do I regret cheering for him in the past?  Not at all, and it seems intuitive that no-one should.  He was the best defensive second baseman of his time, exciting and exceptional, and in that sense embodied good things about sports.  Do I think that if all allegations are true he should go to jail?  Possibly.  Maybe he can go in the big one I’m building for the crooked politicians and bankers and military contractors . . . Does Alomar deserve in the hall of fame?  Of course.  Don’t have unprotected sex with him though.