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Archive for June, 2011

Interleague Play

By: Aaron Booth

2011 marks the 15th year of interleague play in Major League Baseball. In that Interleague has been a source of controversy and debate amongst baseball fans, writers and analysts with many respectable figures on each side of the debate. Having heard these arguments for years I’ve been surprised at the lack of a good argument for or against it. Both sides make vehement cases that essentially boil down to sentimentality. I don’t have a problem with making a sentimental argument, but let’s be honest about what it is.

Consider the anti-interleague arguments: It’s not traditional. Inter-City/State rivalries are great, but a Royals/Rockies series is boring. It creates an unfair imbalance in the schedule

The whole anti-interleague crowd doesn’t get worked up about tradition, but those who do reminisce about the nobler, happier times when the AL only met the NL in the World Series. Could there be a more sentimental argument than this? Interleague isn’t traditional, but so what? What’s so great about the old tradition? I’m not against tradition, but I don’t see the need for baseball to be slavishly tied to it. If you prefer the old tradition, if you consider yourself a “purist” that’s fine, but at the end of the day making the tradition argument is not about facts or practicality, it’s just an argument about the way you think things should be.

The anti-interleague crowd will often acknowledge that the Subway Series or the Windy City Classic is interesting, but they are quick to point out that interleague series between the Rays and Giants or the Diamondbacks and Tigers or boring and meaningless. This is true as far as it goes, but the same can be said about the regular schedule too. The nation loves to watch the Red Sox vs. the Yankees, but does anybody outside of each team’s specific fan base care anything about the Mariners vs. the Blue Jays? I don’t think so. I took a peek at the schedule for the 4th of July. All 30 teams will play that day, and probably 3-5 of the games will be on national TV. Pretty much all of the series are boring. Reds/Cardinals looks like the most meaningful series on the slate. Even the major market teams are playing boring series – anybody up for some Yankees/Indians action? Diamondbacks/Tigers doesn’t sound so bad compared to Astros/Pirates. This argument might be worse than the one before – it boils down to preference and it’s not much more than kicking some rhetorical dust in the air.

As for the schedule, I’ll admit that I’m on an island here, but the imbalanced schedule just doesn’t make that much of a difference. The schedule is not predictable and the quality of play of just one team rises and falls month to month and even week to week.  With injuries, weather, streaks, slumps, rookie call-ups, trades, etc. the quality of a team can change dramatically in a very short period of time. If the Mariners play the Indians in early April and the Rangers play the Indians in early June, is that fair? Is it balanced? No, it’s not. In April the Indians pitching was effective and Travis Hafner was awesome. Now in June the Indians can’t pitch and Hafner is hurt. The spreadsheet says the Mariners and Rangers both played 3 games against the Indians, but in real life it looks like they’re playing two different teams. That’s not anybody’s fault – it’s just the way it is. Not to keep picking on the Indians, but I actually heard an analyst a few weeks ago complain that the Reds have to play the Indians, while the Cardinals get to play the Royals. What would Reds fans have said on March 25th? They would have said, “Check it out. We get to play the Indians twice this year.” And now that the Indians have come back to being the Indians, the Reds will be getting to play the Indians instead of having to play the Indians like they did a few weeks ago. In short, the idea of a balanced schedule in baseball is a myth. You can make it look balanced on a spreadsheet, but it just can’t be balanced in real life.

Lest the pro-interleague crowd get too puffed up, I’d like to point out that their arguments are pretty sentimental, too. It’s fun and different. It creates interesting matchups beyond just the obvious geographic rivals and it brings star players to cities they wouldn’t otherwise visit. Interleague play is wildly popular – the ratings and ticket sales show it.

The idea that interleague play is fun and different is just the counter argument to tradition. One group values tradition, the group values novelty. Just like I don’t mind if you value tradition, I also don’t mind if you prefer innovation, but it’s just preference.

The pro-interleague crowd likes to draw attention to other “interesting” matchups such as the recent Red Sox/Cubs series – a rematch of the 1918 World Series and the first time the Cubs played in Fenway since that series ended. Is that really interesting? Maybe for a minute – the broadcaster acknowledges the fact, you sit there and say to yourself, “how about that?” and then you move on. It’s not like we’re expecting Ryan Dempster to retaliate on the Red Sox for Carl Mays hitting Les Mann with a pitch in the final game of the 1918 series. This kind of sentimentality also gets trotted out when a beloved (or hated) player returns to the city of his former team. It’s interesting – for a minute – and then they have to play the new game. Interleague does let the Rockies fan base see Derek Jeter every six years or so. That’s probably the most interesting scenario of this type, not because of any connection between Jeter and Colorado, but because Jeter has always been a Yankee and would have gone to many NL ballparks without interleague play. But Jeter is not the norm. In 2011 and throughout the interleague era, players witch teams and leagues all the time. This too doesn’t amount to much more than sentimental preference.

Like the balanced schedule argument before, I’m a little more out on a limb on attendance and ratings, but I do think MLB is quick to point out better ratings/attendance for interleague with really exposing all the factors. First of all, attendance isn’t up for the Yankees, Red Sox or other big-draw teams. How is a team supposed to sell more tickets than capacity? They can’t. In fact, during the Subway Series, there are actually fewer people attending a baseball game in New York than there would be if the Yankees and Mets were both playing games in town on the same day. There are also fewer people watching baseball on TV too as the potential opponents of the Yankees and Mets would create at least a certain amount of broadcast interest. That’s not the only smoke screen here either. The interleague games are scheduled in June – a pretty good time for attending a baseball game, school is out, the weather is not yet as hot as it will be, and baseball is the only show in town – no NFL, no NBA, baseball is it. I wouldn’t say this is nothing, but there are a lot of factors involved, and the deck is stacked for somewhat higher attendance for interleague.

As I’ve considered interleague over the years my feeling (today) is that I’m for it. It creates conversation and debate amongst the die-hard fans. Over the last 15 years, this debate has stimulated arguments just like All-Star selections, post-season awards and the Hall of Fame Ballot. While I do question the significance of Chipper Jones playing visiting Detroit or a rematch on the 1993 World Series, if these things create intrigue amongst more casual fans then that’s good too. While so many arguments on interleague play boil down to sentimentality and personal preference, perhaps the best part of interleague play is that it makes more people talk about baseball, and that is objectively good for the game.

Aaron Booth lives in Monroe, LA with his wife a five children. He makes his living in the real estate world, which gives him the opportunity to listen to a lot of audio, including a fair amount of sports radio and podcasts. Aaron loves his i-devices and 24-hour sports media, but also fondly remembers the days when he calculated his fantasy standings from the newspaper. 

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For the Love of the Pay

By: Aaron Watson

 

If Terrelle Pryor gets his way, he would have me feeling sorry for him. Sorry that he was forced to take money and benefits that destroyed his college eligibility. Sorry that Ohio State University made millions off of his image while giving him nothing in return. Sorry that he is being punished for something that was beyond his control.

But you know what, I’m just not buying what he, Reggie Bush, and countless other diva athletes are trying to sell. I’m sick of former players and commentators giving me sob stories about how college athletes can’t take their girl out to Chili’s on a Friday night, and that’s why they broke NCAA rules and took thousands of dollars from boosters and cheats.

First, there is simply no excuse for blatantly breaking the rules and lying about it. Are there arguments that exist that raise the question as to whether or not athletes should be compensated for their services to universities? Certainly. But the fact is that student athletes already receive more than their fair share of compensation for their services.

Athletes receive benefits that other “peasant” students can only dream of having! Preferred housing, free tutoring, special treatment from teachers, and above all, a signed diploma without having a cent of debt to their name. That is, if they don’t already have millions in their pocket from a professional contract given to them before they graduate due to their performance at the school’s facilities and under the school’s coaching.

But what about the gobs of cash schools make off of these amateur athletes? Well there are several arguments against that line of thought.

First, athletes receive thousands of dollars in benefits attending institutions that they are rarely even qualified for academically. From facilities to academics to coaching to the national platform athletes receive to showcase their abilities, the benefits given may not be in cash, but they certainly provide more opportunities to athletes than their academic capacity often warrants. And the money universities make from their respective athletic programs allows them to maintain the national spotlight that allows athletes to be recognized by professional scouts.

Second, institutions are allowed to make a profit off of the students who attend. In fact, the goal of universities is to churn out successful alumni who will in turn give back to the school and whose name can be used to assist in recruiting. Since when is it a crime for a school to seek a return on its investment? Giving athletes a platform for fame and fortune is an opportunity they can’t find anywhere else! Sure they can try playing football in Canada, or in an arena, or for the UFL. But no organization has developed millionaires more effectively than the athletic programs of universities like Miami, USC, Oklahoma and Ohio State. So be humble about your opportunity to earn a degree while auditioning for one of the greatest jobs on earth.

Athletes believe their popularity entitles them to special benefits. And it does and should. The scholarship and benefits they receive upon arriving on campus more than qualifies as “special benefits”. The problem exists when they feel entitled to more and start manipulating or just flat out breaking the rules to serve that coddled spirit. If you want money to take your woman to Chili’s on a Friday night, get a summer job. Or a spring job. Save and spend your money wisely, like most other students in that school have to.

As ESPN’s Doug Gotleib put it, “No one, athlete or non-athlete, has a lot of money in college. And rules do allow for athletes to earn some spending money. Those who are totally financially destitute can get Pell Grants, as well. The payoff is in the end, after school, much like the future doctors, scientists and businessmen and women with whom you attend school. College is about sacrificing, learning and growing as a person. The reward for all students is the memories and experiences gained in the short term and benefiting from them in the long run.”

Sorry, TP. I’m just not going to feel sorry for you. And despite what your agent is spewing, no NFL team feels sorry enough for you to take you anywhere near the first round of the supplemental draft. Unfortunately, the destruction you are leaving behind at Ohio State will continue to impact the university long after you flame out of the NFL.  But in case you do make millions at some point in the future, should OSU consider sending you a donation letter? I’m going to go ahead and presume you could care less.

Aaron Watson saw his NFL career cut short when his pee wee coaches informed him he wasn’t very good. So he turned his attention to writing, studying journalism in college while blogging for several sporting blogs since 2005. He and his wife currently live in Richmond, VA, one of the worst sports towns in America despite the short lived hype during the Final Four. When he is not at the local sports bar pursuading the owners to put the Buccaneer or Gator game on the big screen, Aaron serves as the Director of Staff Development for TeenPact Leadership Schools, a non-profit training teens to impact their nation through government, business and ultimate frisbee. He has also stayed in Tim Tebow’s house.

How ESPN created the LeBron Monster

By: Nate Douglas

There was a time when LeBron James wasn’t perpetually hated.  There was a time when he was adored by the sports world.  When he wasn’t dunking all over the Detroit Pistons and single-handedly carrying the Cavaliers to the conference finals, he was swimming in a pool of commercials.  He was everywhere—one of the most influential icons in sports.  He had it made and his legacy was also being made for him.

The NBA, more so than other sports, is unique because it has a clear-cut “greatest player of all time”.  Not that MLB and NFL players aren’t short of icons, but they don’t have the definitive Michael Jordan.  You never hear baseball scouts commenting, “Oh, he’s the next Babe!”, or Joe Buck claiming, “If he keeps this up, he could be the next Roger Staubach.”  On the other hand, comparing a rising basketball star to Michael Jordan flowed off the tongues of basketball analysts like endorsement drops from NASCAR drivers.  Probably because Jordan crossing over Byron Russell is still ingrained in their memories, and his greatness gave them such a sports-high that they’re dying to see more god-like performances again from such a player.  So the sports media started throwing Jordan doppelgangers against their corporate walls, hoping they would find something that would stick, and then ride his success. The culture they were catering to wanted another god worship they had to find someone else. Then LeBron James came along.  He had a kingly last name, and ESPN was ready to coronate him.

Ever since LeBron was in high school, ESPN was already slapping the label of “the next Michael Jordan” on James.  He was prodigy, a man-child…destined for greatness, and ESPN was going to put him on a throne and sell the tickets.  They started airing his high school games, a rarity at that time.  SportsCenter was filled with his highlights, he was Cleveland’s messiah and Nike said that we were all “Witnesses”.  This was greatness.  This was the god they were looking for.

But then years went by, and he couldn’t win a championship.  Championships defined Jordan.   Championships were a necessary ingredient.  The self-named King James didn’t have one, and his contract was up in 2010.  Months ahead of time, ESPN started reminding us of the looming free agency, and speculated where James would go.  Jim Gray asked if he could have dibs on an interview with LeBron James when he made his decision of where he would play.  LeBron’s handlers asked if the interview could be aired on ESPN, and ESPN, after glancing over the major network television ratings, thought this interview would make for great reality tv, and agreed.  They would go on to call it, “The Decision.”

We don’t know if the thought even occurred to ESPN that what LeBron might say could have negative connotations.  Not that it would matter to them, in our culture it would draw millions of viewers, and apparently that’s all they cared about.  The interview bombed. LeBron quickly declared he would only refer to himself in the third person, but the next day he predicted at least eight championships for the Miami Heat.  Within the space of 24 hours, the King passed A-Rod as the most hated player in sports.

People started pointing fingers at ESPN, asking how dare they host such an arrogant and pig-headed athlete and his self-serving agenda.  In an interview with Mike & Mike in the Morning, Stuart Scott jumped to ESPN’s defense, claiming, “This is the culture we live in.  This is what the people wanted!”  This is true, but to quote the great Bill Cosby, what if the culture is an asshole?  What if all journalists cast integrity aside and catered to the masses?

Americans love their heroes, but they also love to hate.  ESPN made sure to give folks plenty of opportunities to hate LeBron, as he dominated SportsCenter for the next year, highlights, lowlights and all; ESPN was the lens through which society was viewing all of this, and ESPN was going to keep him on his throne, for the good or detriment of King James.  The Finals came and went, and LeBron came through ringless, and was hated and reviled more than ever.  He made fun of Dirk Nowitzki’s sickness, had fourth quarter acts resembling a very human Paris instead of the demigod Achilles, and scoreboarded his detractor’s pitiful lives in his final press conference.

At some point, you would have to think he’s asked himself over the last couple days, “Man, what happened?  Less than a year ago, I had it made!”  Charles Barkley had the answer.  After the Finals ended, in an interview with ESPN New York radio, Chuck said, “It’s you guys’ fault!  You’re the ones that kept saying he was Michael Jordan!”

Wish I may
Wish I might
Have this I wish tonight
Are you satisfied?
Dig for gold
Dig for fame
You dig to make your name
Are you pacified?

All the wants you waste
All the things you’ve chased

Then it all crashes down
And you break your crown
And you point your finger
But there’s no one around

Just want one thing
Just to play the king
But the castle’s crumbling
And you’re left with just name

Where’s your crown, King Nothing?

-Metallica, King Nothing

 

Nate Douglas lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife and 10-month son.  While his day job is sorting through the dirty legal details of the oil and gas industry, his night job is a sports Jack Bauer.  So he founded the Sports Smithy, as well as FantasyReport.co, a unique fantasy sports aggregating web-site.  You can follow him on Twitter- @NateDouglas34.