Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Sports and Age: A Few Notes" by Dad

     A few random thoughts on the age-old issue of age and sports. It seems to have been more than ordinarily in the news of late.

     First, with his win at the British Open, Rory McElroy becomes just the third player in history to win three legs of a career Grand Slam by the age of 25.  The other two? Nicklaus and Woods.  Pretty elite company, especially for a guy who was sort of golf AWOL for a year.  

     Also worth noting at this year’s British Open was that Tom Watson, at the age of 64, finished at just one over par.  And of course Watson won this tournament in 2009 at the advanced age of 59, prompting Tina Fey on SNL to remark that golf shouldn’t even be considered a sport if a guy can win a tournament at 59. Little snarky, and I’m going to go with the simple rule that if they sell the equipment in a sporting goods store, then it’s a sport.

     Age and tennis has also been in the news.  It was noted in more than a few places that the average age of truly top tier players is currently 30, plus or minus a year or two. One magazine even proclaimed that in tennis, “30 is the new 20,” and pointed out that when Tracy Austin won the US Open in 1979 at the age of 16, she was by today’s standards woefully small and under muscled. Interesting that, just last year, Federer was starting to be written off as too old to remain at the top of the tennis food chain.  Not sure what changed, but this summer the men’s and women’s top 20 are both filled with the names of players well past 20.

     And then there’s Derek Jeter, playing a credible shortstop and hitting around .275 as he plays his final season at the age of 40, after missing virtually all of last year. And all topped of by that truly age-defying All Star Game performance, both at bat and in the field.  To put this in perspective, only 4 shortstops in the history of the game have played even 100 games at the age of 40: Barry Larkin, in 2004, and Omar Vizquel, in 2007, did so fairly recently.  To get to the other two, you have to jump back to Luke Appling in 1947 and then waaaaay back to Honus Wagner in 1914. Yup, Jeter would be just the fifth in 100 years.

     Hard to draw any hard conclusions from any of this. Just seemed worth noting in a blog dedicated to sports across the generations.

Monday, July 14, 2014

"Nobody Asked Me, But..." by Dad

A couple of weeks ago, my younger son (byline:CBoh) borrowed an interesting column-creating idea from Bob Ryan and Bill Simmons, and followed their lead to create his own all-Earth basketball team.

Very fun blog. Please jump back to June and check it out.

But now, since this is 2gens and I’m the older gen, I’m going to pay homage to a much older sports columnist named Jimmy Cannon.  Cannon, long dead, wrote a column for a variety of New York newspapers from the ‘40s to the ‘70s. I remember reading him as a very young kid in a long defunct newspaper called the New York Journal American, which my dad would hand to me after reading it on the train home from work. Most of Cannon’s columns were of the single subject variety, as are most newspaper columns.  But, from time to time, lacking an idea he could run with to sufficient length, he would simply write a column of random ramblings, under the heading, “Nobody asked me, but…”

To the degree that Cannon is at all remembered, it is ironically for just this.

So, nobody asked me, but…

Even though I really dislike the designated hitter, I think the National League should buckle and accept it.  The players’ union will never let the American League give it up and, with all the interleague play, not having a DH just puts NL teams at too great a disadvantage.

Citi Field has probably cost David Wright as many home runs as Yankee Stadium has added to Derek Jeter’s home run total.  Imagine their careers if each one had played in the other’s ballpark.

I think that baseball should outlaw extreme defensive shifts.  I’m a huge fan of sabermetrics, but the game has gotten too difficult for hitters, and not just because of all the 95 MPH flame-throwers that every team seems to have. It’s also all these data driven defensive shifts. The solution? Every team on the field should be required to have two infielders on each side of second base, and no more than two outfielders on either side.  There’s plenty of precedence in other sports for this. Football has legal and illegal formations, soccer has the off sides rule, hockey has the blue line, and basketball has the rule about the paint.

I also think baseball should have a salary cap, just like football and basketball.  I do realize that the bulk of TV money in baseball is local and team-based, not national and league-based as is the case with the NFL and the NBA. But this difference in revenue source doesn’t mean that grotesquely uneven spending from team to team is fair. It’s as if Yankee GM Brian Cashman were to start a Monopoly game with $15,000 instead of the rule-stipulated $1500 that almost all the rest of the teams start with, and then think he’s a genius when the last guy lands on Boardwalk and he wins. And I don’t care about the low team spending success of guys like Billy Beane.  Those guys would also crush Cashman and Co. at rigged Monopoly.

UVA and Vanderbilt recently completed a really good College World Series and, rightly, almost no one cared. Baseball is the one sport of the Big Three in which college games are kept in proper perspective. The obvious reason? Baseball has a huge minor league system where lots of aspiring players go straight from high school. This means there is way less money involved in college baseball than in football and basketball, and much less hypocrisy about “scholar athletes.” The equally obvious solution? Football and basketball should develop their own minor leagues.  Basketball has a sort of start here with its D league. The chance of this happening? Nil. Love that soccer term.

So that’s it for this time. Nobody asked me, but… this random ranting is kind of fun.

Monday, June 30, 2014

"If I Ran The Mets..." by Dad

            As a long time, which translates to long suffering, Mets fan, the question I have to ask myself is: What would I do differently? I f I had Sandy Alderson’s job, not an enviable task, how would the Mets be different? And my one line answer is: If I ran the Mets, the Mets would run.
     And to be more specific, the 2015 Mets would run like the 1985 Cardinals.
     The first fact to face is that no one will consistently hit the ball out of Citi Field, even with the fences brought in a tad. That was the lesson of Jason Bay, and the tragedy of David Wright, and the mistake in signing Curtis Granderson. If you need any single piece of evidence of how badly miscast Granderson is for that stadium, just think back to the player he was for three days last month at Yankee Stadium -- home runs on back-to-back days and a carefree swagger not seen at Citi.
     The next thing to take into account is that Alderson, to his great credit, is building what could be a really good pitching staff of young guns in both the rotation and, finally, the pen.
     So what should a GM do with a pitching-rich team in a cavernous ballpark?  He shouldn’t stockpile power hitters, because his need is speed. And this leads us exactly to the 1985 Cardinals – a pitching-rich team, in a cavernous park, built on speed, especially in the outfield.  
     The beauty of outfield speed in this scenario is two-fold, with each fold so obvious that I can’t see how anyone, read Sandy Alderson, could miss it. First, if your team can’t generate runs the Earl Weaver way (“The best play in baseball is the three run homer”), then you play small ball with fast gap hitters. Guys who can steal bases, for sure, but these same guys can more frequently score from first on a double, from second on a single, tag from third on shallower fly balls, and ground into fewer double plays. And defensively, to bolster the confidence of a young pitching staff, they can run down anything hit anywhere near them, which is especially important when your outfield is vast.  In Citi Field, speed is win-win on both sides of the ball.
     Which leads me to the ‘85 Cardinals, a great team so little dependent on the long ball that their second baseman, Tommy Herr, was one of the very few players in major league history to have 100 more RBIs than home runs. With just 8 homers, Herr drove in 110 runs, and is to me symbolic of that team’s unique greatness.
     But let’s look at that whole team. 
     First, pitching. 
     That staff was everything we could ever hope this Mets staff could grow up to be. John Tudor went 21-8 with a 1.93 ERA. And yes, Tudor was nominally the ace, but Joaquin Andjuar also won 21. And Danny Cox won 18, with a 2.88 ERA. 
     And the pen?  Remember that this was just before the era of the single, dominant 9th inning closer eating up saves. On that staff, five different pitchers had saves. Jeff Lahti led with 19, Ken Dayley had 11. After those two guys, the soon to be dominant Todd Worrell had 3 wins and 5 saves.
     And now, the speed that supported that great staff. 
     In the outfield, there was Vince Coleman with his 110 stolen bases, followed by Willie McGee with 56 and Andy Van Slyke with 34. The fourth outfielder on that team, Lonnie Smith, stole a dozen bags in just 96 at bats.
     And it wasn’t just the outfield. Second baseman Herr, the aforementioned RBI machine, also stole 31 bases. And his 31 was matched by his double play partner, a shortstop you may have heard of named Ozzie Smith. On this team, even the third baseman ran, with Terry Pendleton stealing 17 bases. Heck, platoon catcher Darrell Porter stole 6.
     The only slow guy on this team, remembered now as the one power bat inserted in the line up in order to keep opposing pitchers honest, was first baseman Jack Clark. And how many home runs did team leader Clark hit? All of 22. 
     The ’85 Cardinals were not a team built on the long ball. But now, almost thirty years later, they are the model that I believe Alderson should be using to build the ’15 Mets on.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"My Planet Defending NBA Team" by CBoh

Bob Ryan and more recently Bill Simmons have a fun gimmick, where they imagine a scenario in which elite, athletic aliens come down from space and challenge earth to a game of basketball for world domination. The way they do it is to build a team of the great basketball players of all time to defend our planet.

I am going to steal this gimmick, but use only current players. This is not a list of who I think are the best players currently playing, but my way of building the best single team to defend our planet, taking into account chemistry, team roles, and different lineups.

Pg- Chris Paul
The definition of a true point guard, in every sense of the term.  Born to lead a team. With a squad filled with so many elite, “alpha” players, Chris Paul controlling the offense like a maestro is exactly what this team needs.  One of the most respected players in the league, he has the skill set and reputation to run the offense to perfection, get everyone shots, and control the tempo of the game, however fast or slow they need to play. Defensively, he's one of the best at coming up with steals, and with this starting unit behind him, will be in a position to gamble for balls knowing who is behind him to cover him.
Sg- Paul George
With so many offensive weapons on the team, Paul George gets the starting spot at shooting guard for his defensive prowess and athletic ability.  His height and athleticism will allow the team to come out with a high-pressure defense that requires a lot of switching and athletes that can guard multiple positions. He will not be required to take on a heavy burden on offense, and this will allow him to do be unleashed defensively to do the great Paul George things he is known for.
Sf- Kevin Durant
An absolute basketball force. Offensively he is a man who was born to score the basketball. This season showed exactly what this man is capable of doing, posting almost 35-5-5 for the month of February. An unselfish player who cares more about his teammates than any superstar I can remember, and one who has an absolute disdain for losing. A perfect recipe for a player on a team when the fate of the earth depends on its winning. Defensively, he has unreal length and absurd athleticism that fits this starting lineup MO of causing complete havoc on the defensive end. 
Pf- Lebron James
Hands down the greatest player alive. If he wasn’t forced to take such an offensive burden, he could be defensive player of the year every year, and also has one of the most complete offensive games the NBA has ever seen. Unselfish to almost a fault but can take over a game better than anyone in the league. His size even allows him to slide into the power forward position.
C- Joakim Noah
In maybe an unpopular opinion, Noah gets the start over Howard or Gasol. All three bring intensity and skill defensively, but I believe Noah brings the most assets to the table and fits in best with what the starting line up in trying to accomplish.  He can be the defensive stud that anchors the absolutely menacing defensive starting unit. He can not only throw great outlet passes to start the fast break, but this season he proved more than capable of grabbing a rebound and running the fast break himself. Noah anchoring the paint allows the rest of the starters to use their length and athletic ability to absolutely wreak havoc and gamble for steals or blindside blocks, knowing that Noah is behind them for back-up.

So that’s the starting five of my planet defending line up. In my next posting, I’ll talk about my bench and overall game strategy.  The stakes are high.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

"Why Don't People Like LeBron?" by Bojo

Despite my less-than-creative title (it’s been a long week), I think the unique way the public seems to feel about LeBron James is certainly worthy of a discussion. He seems to inspire a unique and not-seen-before type of vitriol, and while this may be a function of the fact that he is the most prominent athletic superstar since the Twitter age began, no other athlete these days seems to be as unexplainably controversial.

So what gives?

I personally have a two-pronged theory. The first part of that theory is that LeBron suffers from what I call A-Rod syndrome: basically a complete inability to relate to us mere mortals, and as a result, an incredibly self-conscious and awkward public persona. Related to this A-Rod syndrome is a strange lack of self awareness, best exhibited by The Decision, but manifesting itself in everything from his dramatic on-court exits because of cramps, to his on-going Twitter battles about his hairline. I think these things, while hard to verbalize, can be picked up on by the public, and it results in a weird relationship between star and fan.

The second part of my theory is summed up well by a quote from The Wire: ‘If you come at the king, you best not miss.’ In this analogy, Michael Jordan is the king. The second that LeBron walked away from Cleveland and abandoned what would have been a truly amazing story line if he had brought championships to his forlorn hometown, to team up with (not one) but two other dominant players, he went down an irreversible path of definitely not coming at the king in a correct way. He had already missed his mark.

So even if he truly wasn’t taking the easy way out (who knows the true depths of how inept Cavalier management was in those days), the truly triumphant story line of LeBron’s career- the hometown hero elevating both himself and his city- was abandoned. Everything else that came after that could always, at least in the eyes of the dubious, be considered a disappointment. And I think that is exactly what has been seen over his years in Miami, despite their unarguable success.

So, fair or not, that is my best summation of a truly unique, and distinctly 21st century sports media happening. I almost enjoy sitting back and watching what surrounds LeBron as much as I do what he does on the court, even though I think all of it is unfair to LeBron the man. But, at the end of the end of the day, if you come at the king, it really is in your best interest not to miss. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

"Sounder Arms, Saner Childhoods" by Dad

                                                      Can skipping stones mean...
... skipping Tommy John?

     So I’ve been talking and texting about Tommy John surgery with my older son (byline: Bojo) since we posted his recent blog about this procedure’s recent epidemic.
     And I do think he’s on to something in pointing to its possible cause as the year-round, practice-intensive way that our most athletic kids have been playing baseball for the last couple of decades.  That routine is now coming home to roost, as a bunch of our very best 25-year-olds are paying for year-round, repetitive, disciplined throwing since the age, most likely, of 10.
     To read exactly what Bojo wrote, check the blog preceding this one. To read Bojo seconded by Tommy John himself, check out the May 26 issue of Sports Illustrated. To save you the time and money, and to make 2gensportsden even more worth your reading, here’s what TJ himself said in SI about today’s overworked young arms: “High school sports have become year-round, and kids at a young age have to pick one sport… Your kid goes in every Saturday and works on pitching. I tell parents this: If the best pitchers in the world don’t pitch year-round, why should your kid?”
     Tommy John himself on the reason for the rash of his namesake surgery… I think this is a powerful indictment of my generation of parents. Yup, the Boomers. Specifically, the Type A Boomers. I had thought, as we started raising our kids, that we children of the Age of Aquarius would be less competitive and more contemplative, less zoned and more Zen, than our own parents had been.
     Turns out, not so much.
     In fact, not at all.  Our Greatest Generation parents, having emerged from a Depression that ate their childhoods only to go straight into a World War that pretty much finished off that whole ‘be young and have fun’ thing, decided that their young adulthoods would be how they made up for lost time.  And so they left us, their kids, amazingly on our own.
     As they cha-cha’d and cocktailed, we pretty much just played outside. Organized baseball consisted of spring Little League, a game and a practice a week for about eight weeks, with the true point of each game being to end up at Carvel’s.
     And here’s where I want to bring in another expert on the throwing arm, Nolan Ryan. Ryan has maintained for years that so many pitchers are experiencing arm trouble because they don’t throw enough, and that when he was a kid, he threw all the time. This, of course, sounds like the opposite of what Tommy John is saying.
     But, looking back at my own boyhood, here’s how I think their positions converge.
Ryan is a good deal older than I am, and was no doubt a waaaaay more accomplished youth athlete than I ever was. But in some basic ways, I believe his Texas boyhood and my Connecticut one were more alike than not, in that they were not nearly as structured and uber-competitive as childhood today. I also believe him when he says that he threw all the time, because my friends and I did, too. We just didn’t throw a baseball 12 months a year, from a mound, endlessly and repetitively, under the watchful eye of a paid coach. And I’m going to bet that Ryan didn’t either.
     So what did we throw, my friends and I? In the year I turned 10, I threw baseballs, but also:
 • tennis balls and whiffle balls, the true balls of pick up, backyard baseball.
• stones skipped into ponds with that classic side arm motion.
• large rocks hurled as mock hand grenades with a weird straight-elbowed, side arm fling that mimicked the World War Two TV shows then popular.
• rotting crabapples, flung in yet another war game whose point was to leave marking stains on enemy tee shirts, a sort of odd, organic precursor to the paint ball.
• pretty much anything that would fit in our hands.
     We threw everything at different arm angles, no doubt using different sets of muscles, and so likely not overusing any one set. And, in what may be more than a play on words, it could just be that this unstructured play resulted in less structural damage to those young arms of ours.
     So, although it will never happen, my wish would be to scale back sports in a way that dials back time. It could just be a recipe for both sounder arms and saner childhoods.