Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

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Posted: July 20, 2015 in Baseball
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Contact the National Enquirer!

In case you missed it, last night marked the end of a the Phillies’ sold-out streak, but like most things in Philadelphia, it’s all hype and no substance (or Super Bowls for that matter). The streak was essentially a lie. As this article points out, the official arbiter of whether there’s a sellout is the Phillies’ front office, and in a grand showing of what’s wrong with having a conflict of interest, the front office counts the following empty seats as a “sold ticket”:

  • Tickets purchased by scalpers and resellers, even if those tickets end up in the trash;
  • Tickets donated to charity or otherwise given away for free as tickets sold, even if they’re never used; and
  • More than 1,000 standing room tickets, which don’t count towards the stadium’s official capacity.

A warped sense of reality in Philadelphia? What’s next? Crooked Chicago politicians? Short midgets? Wet rain?

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Jim Tressel recently resigned as head coach at Ohio State University. Normally, I’d ask, “So? OSU is no longer a top-5 program in college football, and there insistence otherwise annoys me, so I’m not watching.” However, the resignation has reenergized the debate on whether high school athletes should be paid, and South Park and the Daily Show have jumped on board, so I’m joining the debate as well. As to whether college athletes should be paid, here’s my answer:

Yes and no.

Most of my friends will sigh and say, “Typical lawyer’s response.” Well, they’d be right, but not because lawyers are afraid to commit to a point of view. Lawyers study issues more deeply than most others before opening our mouths and quickly learn to appreciate that the right answer is almost never perfect; it’s just the best one available. Almost all answers have something good in them, but all answers have at least some bad attached. The goal is to find the answer that creates the best net effect (i.e., the good minus bad). I wish more people would show that understanding in political debate.

But I digress.

Why Should We Pay Them?

Yes, NCAA athletes should be paid for all the reasons we typically hear. They’re adults (legally-speaking) who are working hard to make a ton of money for their school. They do so at the risk of great bodily injury that could derail their potential careers before they even start. It just seems unfair for so many people to make so much money off of other people’s work, even in the cases of those lucky few that do hit the big time.

Just How Bad Is It?

So the system is unfair, but it’s not that unfair. Even for the sports that make a ton of money (e.g., basketball and football), the student athletes are often getting a free education that costs tens of thousands of dollars for the rest of us. They also get free housing, meal plans, and paid tutors to make sure they succeed despite themselves. For most student athletes, that’s an important perk because they won’t actually have a professional career. They need that degree more than most of them will admit, and it’s handed to them on a silver platter. It takes a special form of stupidity and irresponsibility to screw up that.

Still, the issue of fairness remains because the dollar amounts the big sports generate should result in payments that would pay for all of these things for not only the student athlete, but for his children (future or otherwise) as well.

Why Not Pay Them?

What’s the downside to paying them? They may be adults legally, but are they really mature enough to handle all that money? Remember that statement about a special kind of stupidity and irresponsibility two paragraphs up? It happens all the time. Of course, there are plenty of examples of professional athletes screwing up even after making millions in a major professional league, but that happens to everyone, and after you’re out of school, you’re your own problem. Universities can’t be expected to be responsible for people after they’ve left the school, but they are responsible for them during school.

Another concern is that the bigger schools will buy the better high school student athletes. Really? Doesn’t this happen anyway, even with schools that aren’t breaking the rules? Still, if the university has the means to teach their students good ethics, they should, so it’s a concern.

The Solution

The best answer I have is to create an interest-bearing escrow account from which student athletes can withdrawal their fair share when they graduate. This is not a novel idea; others have considered it, and I don’t mean to take credit as the only one. A student athlete fund would give student athletes a much-needed and much-deserved financial boost on graduation, and — depending on how it’s implemented — could actually satisfy the concern of bigger schools buying up the good players.

Some Options

If they don’t graduate, allow them to withdrawal only a percentage of what they’d otherwise get, with the rest of the money remaining in the fund and increasing the amount future athletes can withdrawal. Why give a non-graduating player less money than one leaving with a degree? While the non-graduating player, in theory, needs the money more than the graduating player, the benefits of providing an incentive to graduate probably outweighs that. I could, of course, be wrong, because I don’t have all the information I need to answer that question, but let the experts determine these details.

Another good question for the number-crunchers to consider is the possibility of placing the same limit on withdrawals on any student that gets a professional contract with a major sports league (NBA, NHL, NFL, and MLB). Again, I don’t know whether that’s better. Remember, if it’s a common fund, the amount students could get might be tied into how much is in the pot (as opposed to a set amount), in which case the guys who really don’t need it don’t need to take from it.

Yet another question for the number-crunchers to consider is how to deal with players in different sports. Basketball and football players clearly bring in more money for the school then lacrosse players, so shouldn’t they get paid more? That seems fair. Warning: If you think this is all about fairness, think again. You know damn well that when fairness demands that men be paid much more than women under this thinking, there will be a cry of discrimination loud enough to drown out all logic you might have in support of it. Don’t worry, though; I’m sure universities will choose logic over political correctness. *sigh*

Details, Rob! Details!

So, how much do we pay them? This is yet another area where I honestly don’t know because I don’t have the data I need to form an opinion. I refuse to answer that question until I can do so knowledgeably. I wish more people would take that approach to political debate as well. 🙂

Just some food for thought. Considering we can’t get the NCAA to implement a football playoff system because it’s not immediately as profitable as the bowl system, I seriously doubt there’ll be a change without the government getting involved, which they shouldn’t.

Reminder: I’ll be interviewed by Fight Fans Radio on Monday, June 6. Listen in through UStream at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/fightfans-radio.

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Egg-Race

During my law school days, my sister, Rita, came out to visit me in Chicago. We were in a bar on Rush St. in Chicago and ran into this guy from Scotland. The conversation somehow turned to golf. He was an avid golfer, and I was just starting to play. The only reason I played was because I thought I needed to learn in order to fit in with the legal crowd. I explained in a jovial manner that it was torture for me, but any case it wasn’t a real sport. He responded, “It’s a pastime.”

So what makes a sport a sport?

Sport
[spawrt, spohrt]
–noun
an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc.

Wrong! It always involves a competitive nature. And what the hell is bowling doing on that list?

The debate rages on. From my modified (and more meaningful) definition of sport, there are two requirements: true athleticism (i.e., blood, sweat, and tears) and competitiveness. Running kick off returns in football is true athleticism, but power walking is not. Where do you draw the line? I apply two tests to determine whether the requirements are met.

Test #1: The Big Mac Test

A special thanks to my cousin, Tom M., for devising this test.

Imagine the following scenario: Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals gets a breakaway. He screams down the ice, juking two different defensemen along the way. He twists and turns and scores a goal over the top left shoulder of the goalie. The crowd goes nuts. Alex skates over to the bench and eats a Big Mac to celebrate. He then goes right back onto the ice. Immediately after the face off, he gets the same opportunity. He screams down the ice, juking two different defensemen along the way, and scores in the same exact manner. He’s physically drained.

So, what happens next?

He pukes. That’s right; he vomits all over the ice. Why? Because hockey is a sport. You can’t play sports and eats Big Macs at the same time without making a huge mess. There are certainly individual efforts that don’t require a strong stomach. A football placekicker, for example, can kick a field goal and then not do another thing for an hour (assuming a different person performs kickoffs). He won’t puke. Even if you think that means he isn’t an athlete (you’d be wrong because you’re not factoring in the training required to be a placekicker), it doesn’t matter; football remains a sport. The mixture of Big Macs and football will necessarily result in a huge bio-hazard.

This test eliminates auto racing, bowling, and golf right off the bat. Those three activities are further away from hockey athletically than they are from Monopoly. Even rolling dice requires some level of athleticism, but trust me: fat people with no endurance are just as good at that, if not better, than athletes. Not sports, people!

Test #2: Judgment Calls

A special thanks to my law school classmate, Paul H., for exposing me to this test.

In this test, a sport which relies on a judge’s subjective scorecard to win isn’t really a sport. Why? Because it’s bullshit. Really. Why does it matter what a panel of judges think? Subjectivity doesn’t work here. How many movies have you seen where you disagreed with every single reviewer. For me, that’s just about every single one. I don’t see why my opinion is any more or less important than theirs. The same applies to sports. It’s nothing special if Fred Snerd, official figure skating judge, liked your routine, and that invalidates the competitive nature of the activity (regardless of the fact that the skaters should keep their distance from Big Macs).

This test eliminates figure skating. Unfortunately, it also eliminates combat sports. That’s a problem.

I suggest instead that the proper way to phrase this test is that if the activity relies solely on subjective judges’ scores, then it isn’t a sport. After all, scoring exists in boxing, kickboxing, mixed martial arts, etc. only because it’s impractical not to have them. Sometimes it takes 150 rounds (7-1/2 hours) for a fight to be finished, and that’s both dangerous and boring. Spectator sports require a faster resolution, and scoring is an unfortunate necessity.

I will also add that it grinds my gears whenever a fighter clearly panders to the judges. As far as I’m concerned, almost every fight not involving a finish should be deemed a draw, but then there’s that whole “impractical” thing.

Why So Sensitive?

This isn’t really meant to be that condescending. Doing all sorts of triple axles, driving the Indy 500 without crashing, and balancing a pencil on your nose are all amazing feats . . . but they aren’t real sports. They’re simply athletic activities, or possibly just pastimes (e.g., celebrity poker). I have no intention of watching, much less paying to watch, people balancing pencils on their noses. If I want to watch people drive in circles, I’ll park a lawn chair on the shoulder of the beltway.

Conclusion

The bottom line, then, is that an athletic activity is a sport if:

    1. Big Mac consumption during the activity creates health hazards; and
    2. Winning doesn’t necessarily rely on subjective judges’ scores.

Failure to meet both of these requirements prevents the activity from appearing as a category for my posts. There is some level of subjectivity to applying these tests (making applying these tests not a sport). Is baseball a sport? I say yes (barely). Reasonable minds can disagree.

If you have any other ideas for how these tests need to be tweaked, I’m all ears.

Ross-Perot

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Full disclaimer: I’ve never traveled overseas, unless you count Vancouver, Niagra Falls, Montreal, or Juarez (twice). Other than those trips, I’ve spent my entire existence within the borders of the continental United States. I live in the DC area, though, and besides how diverse our residents are, the World Cup has come here, and I’ve attended it. Why? Because I like soccer. Keep that in mind before chalking this post up to being anti-soccer.

Moving on, soccer is not nearly as popular as football, basketball, baseball, hockey, or martial sports in America. You might think that this is because there’s only so much room for sports in our lives, but that wouldn’t explain why soccer, which predated many of those other sports, wasn’t the one onto which Americas latched in the early 1900’s. There must be a better reason for it’s lack of popularity.

The Problem

Americans view sporting events as much a social event as a competition. From what I’m told by both Americans and non-Americans, non-Americans do not. We (Americans) attend the games not merely to watch them but to bond with our fellow fans, some of whom we might hate in any other context. My fellow sports nuts will absolutely agree with this. Politics, religion, and any other source of social tension is thrown to the side, and we’re all friends for a few hours.

Now let’s consider soccer. It has two characteristics that, taken together, make it nearly impossible for mainstream America to enjoy. It’s 1) low scoring, and 2) has continuous play. As a result, Americans are forced to watch soccer non-stop without taking time to socialize. If they take their eyes off the game, even the boring parts, for just a second, they could miss the only score of the game. That’s too much to take. I also don’t think the commonality of ties helps its cause. Fans want resolution, not sister-kissing. If ties are anything more than an abnormality, it’s going to hurt the sport.

So, let’s examine the other sports to see how this plays out.

Football

Football is probably America’s true pastime at this point. Why? Because it doesn’t suffer from either problem (or from ties). It clearly has lots of stops and starts, and scoring (especially nowadays) is relatively high. Have 3-0 games occurred in its history? Of course. I was at one in which Booomer Esiason led the Jets to a 3-0 win over the Redskins. (I just can’t forget how cold it was that day.) Nevertheless, those are rare occurrences, so rare that they are quickly forgotten by everyone except geeks like me. The same can be said of ties.

So, when you go to a football game, this is what happens: The center snaps the ball to the quarterback. The QB drops back and throws a 20-yard pass to a receiver who’s leveled by the free safety but somehow manages to hold on. While not a score, it’s an exciting play. In any case, the play is over. We now have 45 seconds (more with a time out) to talk about the play to each other. (“That’s what I’m talking about!” or “I would have caught that!” for an incomplete pass.) Thus, the game feeds our need to socialize on all levels. It gives us both the material to discuss and the time to do so.

Martial Sports

Like football, martial sports don’t suffer from either a lack of action or a lack of excitement. There is excitement at virtually every move, and the action stops periodically (when rounds are used), giving us all time to socialize. Observation: Since being regulated by state athletic commissions, the Ultimate Fighting Championship in America used three 5-minute rounds for a non-title bout and five 5-minute rounds for a championship bout with one minute breaks in between. Pride FC in Japan used one 10-minute round and two 5-minute rounds with two minute breaks in between. Apparently the Japanese fans didn’t need to socialize every five minutes, and the shorter breaks for the UFC bouts results in a faster match, which gets spectators more quickly to the point of being able to have longer conversations.

Martial Sports do suffer from one of the three characteristics though: ties. However, a “draw” remains relatively rare (some, along with me, say too rare). Moreover, many fights “go the distance.” The resulting judges’ decisions often have an offensive psychological effect (disclaimer: I’m no shrink!). Decisions with which we disagree actually appear to “steal” a bout from the fighter we thought won. This can be very frustrating, but let’s face it: it gives us more material to talk about when socializing. This actually plays in favor of martial sports.

People who don’t like martial sports because of how “violent” they are are simply ignorant of the statistics that show them to be, when regulated properly, the safest competitive sport. In fact, the most dangerous thing about boxing and kick-boxing is the use of such huge gloves and boots designed to protect the striker’s weapons rather than the opponent’s brain. The less padding, the better, and that’s a concept that the sissies just can’t be expected to get. They’re a lost cause. Martial sports will still be popular without them.

Basketball

Basketball is not as popular as football, but it’s pretty damn close. It suffers from only one of the problems I’ve identified: continuous play. There are relatively few stops and starts. However, it counters this effect by having so many scores that you can afford to turn your head and socialize while the game continues. It’s also an exciting game, so that even if you miss a really great play, no need to worry. Another will be along shortly.

Baseball

I’m sure you understand my point, so you should be able to predict how this one will go. Baseball suffers from the problem of low scoring, but you need not fear taking the time to socialize. The time between plays, as well as the predictability of when these breaks occur, results in little danger of missing a score or even an exciting play. Some would say that there are too few exciting plays in baseball, and that the time between plays is too long, but that helps to prove my point. The fact that baseball allows for socializing is why it continues to be so popular despite these perceived defects. Our ability to socialize is the most important factor to the success of all of these sports.

Hockey

Hockey Fan

Hockey has always been the least popular of all of the sports I listed, and my theory would help to explain that as well. While not suffering from soccer’s characteristics quite as much, hockey has traditionally been a little too close to having all of those characteristics. It’s relatively low scoring, with 1-0 games hardly rare, and the action is closer to soccer than football in terms of its downtime. Moreover, my first hockey game at the Capital Center (IIRC, 1975, age 7) was a 2-2 tie between the Caps and the Minnesota North Stars. Even at that young age, I was an intellectual, so I found the concept of a tie intriguing, but that’s not common amongst Americans.

If you look at every important change hockey has made, it’s been designed to increase scoring and eliminate ties (or eliminate injuries, which is not the subject of this post). By increasing the scoring, hockey becomes less likely to disappoint the average spectator who turns away to talk to his fellow fans. Yes, hockey (and all the other sports) have huge marketing budgets, but that just gets people’s attention. You actually have to provide a good product or people won’t come back. The only exception to this rule is the “celebrity” factor (i.e., getting people to idolize or identify with the players), which is important to marketing, but nevertheless a small part of the story.

What’s Soccer to Do?

As far as a solution is concerned, I have none. Indoor soccer has tried to create a product that’s higher scoring, but it’s been largely a disaster. My guess is that, because it offends the soccer-loving base (“It’s a perversion of soccer!”), it wasn’t able to generate the minimum revenue it needed to properly market itself to the casual fan. Shootouts to eliminate ties were intended to help a bit with the casual fan, but that further offends the base. I suspect that soccer is just going to have to deal with its place in our society: a second-class sport.

This isn’t the end of the world, though, for soccer fans. The latest census report showed our population at over 300 million, and our economy (despite all our complaints) makes attendance at games more affordable, even if you resort to scalping. As a result of our richer, more populous society, even hobbies like skateboarding and snowboarding have become a spectator sport capable of surviving on its fan base, which is tiny when expressed as a percentage. I’m sure soccer will always out draw that.

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