Thursday, July 31, 2014

"Is Johnny Football Simply the 21st Century Broadway Joe?" by Bojo

Joe Namath’s Super Bowl prediction is among the most famous proclamations in not only football, but American sports in general. It is well remembered for its bravado, and of course, for the fact that Broadway Joe and his underdog Jets actually made good on that promise. But what is often less remembered, is that he made that prediction while lounging poolside the week of the big game. That type of unfocused behavior was very well documented in his career, but he still won games. 

And that point leads me to what I really want to talk about today, and that is Johnny Manziel.

I can remember my grandfather and father having animated discussions about how soft players are these days, and how hard athletes lived back in my grandpa’s day. And how if athletes back then had taken care of themselves the same way these current guys do, they would have made them look terrible.

So perhaps that is all that Johnny Manziel is: a throwback to a time where athletes did not view themselves as finely tuned machines, when they thought they were just simply really, really good at a sport. A sport which may only be a portion of what is important to them in their lives.

And just because Johnny seems to have other priorities beyond football, it doesn’t seem to have negatively affected his performance on the field yet. He still performed excellently last year at Texas A & M, even with his voracious party schedule. So perhaps he can do the same thing in the NFL. And perhaps not. Maybe he will be completely exposed as the limited, undersized player he is.

But maybe he will do the same stuff in the NFL that he did in college. I personally think he will crash and burn.

But if the athletes of my dad’s generation taught me anything, it might be that you can party and play sports at the same time. So I will reserve my judgments on Johnny Football until I see some actual NFL game footage. 

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.