Ex-Jocks Behind A Microphone

Last weekend, I had a chance conversation with someone in the neighborhood who is a displaced Chicago White Sox fan. I mentioned something about a recent Nats’ game that had been on the local cable network. That led my neighbor to express displeasure with the Nat’s color announcer on the local cable telecasts, F.P. Santangelo; my neighbor said he was too bland to listen to. Then my neighbor said he wished the Nats would get someone as good as “Hawk” Harrelson to do their local games…

In no way would I put F.P. Santangelo in any pantheon of great color commentators in the history of the game. Nonetheless, I do not find him objectionable in any way. He is like vanilla ice cream; you may not love him but there is no way you can dislike him.

“Hawk” Harrelson is not that way at all. Harrelson is about as big a “homer” as anyone you will have ever heard or will ever hear. Therefore, if you are a White Sox fan – like my neighbor – you will love him. If you have no particular affiliation with or affection for the White Sox, you might wonder if this guy even knows that the word “objective” exists in the English language.

Personally, I can take Harrelson in very small doses but his “homerism” quickly gets to me and I start to tune him out. However, that chance conversation got me to thinking about ex-jocks who have migrated to a position behind a microphone on radio and TV. Some of them are – or were – very good but there are some who just do not provide me with listening pleasure:

    Troy Aikman: He is good working with Joe Buck; he is good on his own. I like him a lot.

    Charles Barkley: I think the lack of a 10-second delay line between his brain and his tongue provides for the possibility of real entertainment when he is on the air. I enjoy him; nevertheless, I recognize that there are lots of folks who would prefer that he get laryngeal surgery – today.

    Cris Collinsworth: I think he is excellent.

    Kirk Herbstreit: I have no idea if this guy does anything in his life that is not connected to college football, but he is really good at that one thing.

    Michael Irvin: What he does to the English language is what workers in an abattoir do to the carcass of a steer. I fear that my 12th grade English teacher – wherever she may be in the cosmos – gets a twinge in her spine every time Irvin goes off on one of his expository flights of fancy. As often as not, I change the channel mid-way into one of his commentaries.

    Daryl “Moose” Johnston: I used to enjoy him but he is too repetitious. He harps on things over and over. His repetitiveness drives me nuts. How come he says the same things all the time? Enough already…

    Shaquille O’Neal: If Shaq is an acquired taste, all I can say is that I have not yet acquired same.

    Warren Sapp: Many folks say he is a wonderful person who would give you the shirt off his back. I cannot speak to that but I do wish that he would say something important more often than he does.

    Curt Schilling: He is destined to make Sominex an unnecessary product.

    Shannon Sharpe: Just because he speaks loudly does not mean he has something important – or even interesting – to say.

    Phil Simms: It took a while for me to get used to his voice, but once over that hurdle I came to enjoy hearing from him.

    Tony Siragusa: He tries too hard to be the latter-day Art Donovan.

    Kenny Smith: He and Charles Barkley obviously have fun working together and I enjoy being part of that upbeat environment.

    Joe Theismann: Five words apply here:

      Fingernails scratching on a blackboard

    Chris Webber: One word will suffice here:


Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list; it just happens to be a few folks who came to mind as I recalled the conversation with my neighbor. I am sure others can add folks to the “really like this guy list” and to the “get this guy off the air list”.

Finally, here are a few of the best malapropisms from the late Ralph Kiner – a former jock who got behind a microphone and provided entertainment albeit not always in the way he meant to provide it:

“All of his saves have come in relief opportunities.”

And …

“If Casey Stengel were alive today, he’d be spinning in his grave.”

And …

“The reason the Mets have played so well at Shea this year is that they have the best home record in baseball.”

And …

“The Mets have gotten their leadoff batter on only once this inning.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Recommended Reading

Mike Baker has a report in the Seattle Times about new Clippers’ owner, Steve Ballmer, and his involvement with the basketball program at Lakeside School in suburban Seattle. The story is well researched and well written.

In case you might wonder how someone who could afford to spend $2B to buy an NBA franchise might affect a high school athletic program, I suggest you should read this in its entirety.

The New Commissioneer Of MLB

With the election of a new Commissioner of MLB, there has been an outpouring of “advice” for Rob Manfred regarding things he needs to do to improve the game. Some of the “moldy oldies” get dragged out of the storage shed and into the sunlight one more time in these words of advice such as:

    Make a final decision on Pete Rose’s reinstatement one way or the other.

    Put the DH in the National League or remove it from the American League.

    Make the “replay rule” work better.

    Keith Olbermann wants MLB to force all team mascots – especially Clark the Cub – to wear pants at all times.

I do not want to disparage any of those kinds of recommendations; it would be very good for MLB to do all of those kinds of things. I prefer to focus on what I think is a much bigger issue facing MLB. I think that Rob Manfred needs to figure out why TV ratings for the nationally televised “Game of the Week” have tanked and are continuing to go down. I think that is a far more important issue for baseball than most of the other things that have been thrown around. Here is why:

    The major networks will not continue to pay “top dollar” for TV rights to games if ratings continue to drop. The so-called “Mendoza Line” exists for baseball hitters; there is an analogous “Ratings-version Mendoza Line”; it determines which sports get the big bucks and which get chump-change.

    The national TV contracts are vital sources of revenue for “small market teams”. Big market teams get big revenue from local TV deals – unless they get into a spitting match with cable companies over the rates they want to charge to those cable companies a la the Dodgers at the moment. Small market teams do not even generate chump-change in local TV revenue.

It does not matter nearly as much when/if ratings for the All-Star Game or even the World Series are lower than they were 15-20 years ago. Those are singular events and the networks will always bid on them; the revenue danger for MLB lies in the declining ratings for the “Game of the Week”. I suggest two reasons why those ratings are in serious decline:

    1. Pace of play: I know that some folks are tired of hearing about this but baseball games take too long. Moreover, there can be significant stretches of the game where not a lot happens even though time marches on. I – and others – have made lots of suggestions on ways to increase “pace of play” in the past; I seriously think that Rob Manfred needs to consider ways to do that without damaging the game itself.

      Suggestion: Why not put a “pitch clock” in as an experiment in a couple of the minor leagues and gauge fan reaction and player/manager reaction from it. If that is “positive”, do the same experiment in Spring Training. Then, …

    2. Interleague play: This was a great idea when introduced in 1997. It boosted attendance and heightened interest in the game. It may also have outlived its usefulness. A return to the days where the only “interleague games” that mattered were in the World Series would create space in a team’s schedule that could be filled with games against division rivals.

No one should read the above and conclude that I think MLB is on a precipice and about to go down in flames. It is not. However, with a new commissioner comes a chance to look at some issues differently than they have been observed in the past; I think MLB should avail itself of that opportunity.

By the way, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this suggestion for amending the replay rule. I do not know if this would make the game better or move faster, but it might be very entertaining:

“How to fix baseball replay: It’s stupid that managers protest replay decisions by barking at the umps on the field. If the skipper has a replay beef, put him on a Skype hookup with the replay ump in New York, and beam the discussion to the ballpark video screen.”

The Dallas Morning News reports that the players in the bullpen for the Texas Rangers have created a new “game” that they play to pass the time out there. The game is called:

    Fart-bottle Roulette

In case you think I am making this up – I am not nearly that creative, by the way – here is a link to the report. Even though you probably cannot guess the rules of the game, I can assure you that it is about as disgusting as the name might suggest.

Finally, Mike Bianchi had this comment in the Orlando Sentinel recently:

“With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy: How can you tell if a Mississippi State fan is on vacation in Orlando? He’s the one trying to take his fishing pole into Sea World!”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

The “Look Of The Games” Logo…

The folks in charge of the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 revealed their “Look of the Games” branding design for the event. I cannot even begin to describe it; you will have to look here to see it for yourself.

The creators of that “thing” say that it demonstrates the “harmonic diversity” of Brazilians and it took them a year’s worth of “research” to bring it forth. I admit that I have about as much appreciation of abstract art as your typical Visigoth; but to me, it looks more like something a kid in first grade might do with finger-paints in art class. Looks more like “atonal nonsense” than “harmonic diversity” to me.

Speaking of the 2016 Games in Rio, there was an AP article in the NY Post recently that followed up on the notional but not real economic benefits of the Olympics in Athens in 2004. Basically, many of the Olympic venues are abandoned and approaching the status of “ruins”. The article quotes an economist, Andrew Zimbalist:

““In Greece, few of the sporting venues — mostly purpose-built permanent structures — have seen regular post-Olympic use. The badminton venue is a successful concert hall, but the empty table-tennis and gymnastics stadium is up for sale, and the beach volleyball center has been rarely used and was recently looted.”

The article also says that most of the former Olympic venues are padlocked. Not too many “padlocked properties” provide economic benefits to citizens and jurisdictions where those “padlocked properties” are. If you want to read the entire story – in case the local pols in your vicinity decide it would be a good idea to attract the Olympics to your neighborhood – you can find it here.

Here is one more item gleaned from the sports section of the NY Post. In one of Ken Davidoff’s recent columns, he wrote about an interview he had with Hal Steinbrenner of the Yankees. Asked about A-Rod and what the future might hold for him and the Yankees, here is what Steinbrenner had to say:

“[Reporting to spring training is] what he’s planning for, and that’s what we’re planning for … I have not talked to Alex. I know my brother-in-law [Yankees executive vice president Felix Lopez] ran into him in the city, said he looks good, looks fit. Alex is a hard worker. Alex will be ready. And we’ll just have to go from there. See how he does and how he responds to playing every day in Spring Training.”

Hal Steinbrenner could not have said anything other than what he said but you do have to parse that statement just a bit.

    1. The Yankees still owe Alex Rodriguez $61M in base salary for 2015-17.

    2. If A-Rod hits 6 more homeruns, he gets another $6M for reaching 660 career homers. He has five other $6M add-ons for further home run production such that all of the add-ons could total $30M.

    3. If A-Rod refuses to show up and try to play next spring, that act might void his contract and he could miss out on $61M guaranteed plus a pretty certain extra $6M payday.

    4. Even if one thinks A-Rod is one of the more despicable life forms on the planet, he is not stupid. He is going to report to Spring Training next year.

At the same time, the Yankees – and Hal Steinbrenner specifically – want to know about “how he responds to playing every day”. They have a direct monetary interest in that issue. Rodriguez has had major surgery on both hips and had an arthroscopic procedure on a knee in the last 5 years. If he were physically unable to “play every day”, the Yankees could recoup his $61M in guaranteed money via an insurance policy they took out against such an eventuality. Therefore, the situation boils down to this:

    Alex Rodriguez will show up in Tampa next spring at the Yankees’ camp. That will assure that a minimum of $61M in future salary will flow through his bank account.

    The Yankees will have a predisposition to say he is not capable of playing baseball any more.

    That would get them insurance money.

    That would assure A-Rod never hits those next 6 homeruns that would cost them that $6M contractual add-on.

    It will definitely be a circus.

Finally, Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald had this to say about an NFL exhibition game he saw on TV:

“In NFL preseason action, the Chiefs beat the Bengals, 41-39. Cincinnati QB Matt Scott threw up twice on the field. We’re in Week 1 of the preseason, and I already regret buying that high-definition big-screen TV.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Revenge Of Frankenstein

Like the sequels to the old time horror flicks – The Mummy Returns, Revenge of the Mummy, The Mummy’s Sister’s Boyfriend etc. – it appears as if we will receive yet another visit from the “Biogenesis Bother”. Last week, the Feds filed criminal charges in the matter; setting aside for the moment any possibility that more names of baseball juicers may emerge during the proceedings, there is one key issue at this stage of the process:

    Which of the indicted folks is going to roll over first and become a cooperative witness for the Feds?

My money is on Anthony Bosch – founder and overlord of Biogenesis. After all, he was a key cooperating witness in MLB’s investigation/arbitration into this matter leading to A-Rod’s season-long suspension; it would be sort of difficult for him now to play the role of “innocent naïf”. Never having been indicted by the Feds for any transgression, I cannot know this first hand, but it seems to me that the first indicted person to become a cooperative witness for the government tends to get the best plea bargain deal. So, the race is on…

Also indicted is Yuri Sucart. If that name rings a bell deep in your memory, he is A-Rod’s cousin; he is the person that A-Rod fingered as the one who provided him with PEDs and even injected him with the drugs back in 2009. The Miami New Times has been on top of this story since the day “Anthony Bosch” and “Biogenesis” entered the sporting vocabulary. A recent article there will give you a thumbnail sketch of the life of Yuri Sucart and how he links to Biogenesis and to A-Rod. I highly recommend that you read it here.

For the moment, it appears as if none of the athletes who bought and used “stuff” from Biogenesis faces any charges; the Feds are after the suppliers/manufacturers of the illegal substances and not the users. That is not to say that we may not learn of other athletes who were “customers” for Biogenesis products; that could be part of the investigation and trial that will be ongoing. Stay tuned…

Sticking with baseball for now, the wildcard races in the two leagues are very different this year. In the National League as of this morning, the teams not leading the divisions that are contending for the two wildcard slots are all very close to one another; five teams have winning percentages between .533 and .500. Two will make it; three will not.

However, in the AL, the Angels are clearly ahead of all the other wildcard aspirants. As of this morning, they have a 5.5 game lead over the Mariners who are the leaders of the “other teams in the running”. In one way, that might seem to reduce the focus on the AL wildcard race but I think this situation adds an interesting dynamic.

Recall that the playoff rules call for the two wildcard teams to face each other in a single-elimination game – sort of a “play-in game”. Obviously, it is better to win a division than to have to face that “one-and-done” game; and if the playoffs started today, the Angels would face a team 46 percentage points behind them in the standings. However, the Angels can look in the other direction to note that they are only 2.5 games behind the A’s and recognize their incentive to win the AL West and not have to play in the elimination game. Oh, by the way, unless the A’s are dumber than bait, they too will recognize that finishing atop the AL West is significantly in their interest also. And so, in the AL, there could be two interesting races to follow – the wildcard race for the second slot and the AL West race.

Here is an interesting scenario that might make the AL West race even more interesting. Suppose that one of the teams well behind the Angels today goes on a run while the other contenders continue to play something like .500 baseball. Just because I got back from Seattle and saw the Mariners, let me assume the team that makes that run is the Mariners. Going into the last week of the season, it might be the case that the Mariners are locked into the second wild card slot while the Angels and A’s are neck-and-neck for the AL West title. That could allow the Mariners to set up their rotation to assure that Felix Hernandez pitches in the elimination game while the Angels and the A’s would both need to use their aces to get the slot that bypasses that game with the Mariners.

That scenario is not likely, but it could happen. In that case, the system would perversely give an advantage to the second wildcard team. That might be another interesting thing to watch for…

Another baseball happening around this time of the year is the Little League Playoffs/World Series. As I have said before, there are far too many of those games on television and if you ever wanted to point out an example in sports where young athletes are exploited, look no further than the Little League Playoffs/World Series. Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this observation about the playoff games:

“I watched five minutes of the Little League baseball regionals. Every batter steps out of the box after every pitch. One kid drew in the dirt with his bat, crossed himself, twitched, dug in and gave the ump the big ‘Wait!’ hand. After every pitch, the kid stepped out and refastened his batting glove. Stop that!”

I have only disagreement with Professor Ostler here. He said it was “one kid” that did all those things. I saw at least a dozen of them do all of that. Here is the point on which Professor Ostler and I are in total agreement:

    Stop that!

Finally, here is an item from Brad Rock’s column, Rock On, in the Deseret News earlier this week:

“Faced with declining revenue and high maintenance costs, some golf courses are allowing a new game called “footgolf.”

“Participants kick a soccer ball down the fairway and into a 21-inch hole.

“Rock On will pass on that. He’s waiting to cash in on the swimboxing craze.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Hopping Here And There Today…

I guess the “breaking news” of the day is that the NBA announced that the sale of the LA Clippers to Steve Ballmer closed yesterday. Donald Sterling no longer owns the team but he continues to sue the NBA over the forced sale; not surprisingly, the NBA has counter-sued Sterling claiming that his actions have caused significant damage to the league. Let me put the pending legal actions in perspective from a layman’s point of view:

    Neither party has much acreage on the high ground it has tried to stake out for itself.

    Given that the sale of the team is completed, neither lawsuit matters a whole lot – except to the lawyers who are accumulating billable hours.

    These proceedings are about as interesting as the content of the sure-to-be forthcoming book by V. Stiviano where she lets readers in on her worldview.

When Steve Ballmer’s offer to buy the Clippers for $2B was first in the news, Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot scoped out an important angle to this whole saga:

“In passing Ballmer should meet with the approval of NBA commissioner Adam Silver if their matching haircuts are any indication.”

The accident that took Kevin Ward’s life on a dirt-track race over the weekend is a tragedy and I guess the outpouring of emotional response to that event is to be expected. However, the emotion and the speculation about Tony Stewart’s “road rage” and references to his “volatile history” mask the heart of the matter here:

    A young man – age 21 – is dead.

    He is dead because he confronted a moving motor vehicle.

    Pedestrians – and bicycle riders too – are longshots to survive such confrontations on racetracks or on city streets.

Rest in peace, Kevin Ward…

Dan LeBatard writes an occasional column for the Miami Herald and does a radio and TV show for ESPN 5 days a week. Recently, he got a 2-day suspension from his show for a publicity stunt he pulled off. He had tried to place an ad in the Akron and Cleveland papers showing a picture of two NBA Championship Rings with the caption:

    “You’re Welcome, LeBron.
    “Love, Miami”

The papers refused the ad – I thought newspapers needed to boost ad revenues these days – saying that people in Ohio might not like it. So, LeBatard went out and put the message on a billboard in Akron, Ohio. Evidently, the suits at ESPN were not amused and he got the 2-day suspension.

Lots of folks have over-reacted to this on either side of the argument. For the record:

    No one has infringed Dan LeBatard’s freedom of expression here. His rights have not been violated.

    The newspapers are absolutely correct to turn down advertising that they believe might be offensive to readers.

    ESPN as an employer needs to set standards of acceptable behavior for its employees.

Having said all that, ESPN seems to have over-reacted here. [Aside: Perhaps after criticizing Roger Goodell so vehemently for “under-punishing” Ray Rice they felt the need to drop the hammer on one of their “miscreants”?] Let me look at this situation from afar and with no dog in the fight:

    Dan LeBatard is paid to be controversial. He does not fill hours of radio and TV time by airing the sports equivalent of “Hearts and Flowers”.

    When you hire someone to be controversial – or edgy –, you get controversial and/or edgy. For example, it you hire Howard Stern to fill 4 hours a day of time on your radio station, you cannot be shocked and amazed when he makes a gratuitous reference to his penis. That is what he does; you knew that when you hired him.

    LeBatard ought to have known he was on thin ice after his previous stunt where he sold his Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot to Deadspin and allowed fans there to vote as to how he should fill it out. Again, it was an edgy stunt and it was not universally well received; he needs to look at things like that in perspective.

    In the end, this was a joke or a stunt if you will; it does not come close to blasphemy. No one was harmed; in fact, the only way to imagine someone being harmed would be if the person putting up the billboard ad had fallen off the platform. A suspension over a silly joke seems a bit much to me.

Finally, words of wisdom from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle:

“When Michael Phelps returned to competitive swimming, the sport of golf lost a great victim.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

NCAA Loses Round One…

Whilst I was enjoying a long weekend in Seattle visiting friends and watching Mariners’ baseball, Ed O’Bannon won the first round of his legal battle with the NCAA. I cannot – with a straight face – pretend to offer up a rational analysis of the judge’s decision in the case; I can only pretend to understand the decision at the surface level. However, this column by Michael McCann at SI.com goes into the ramifications of the decision and speaks to potential future events that will be associated with the case. I suggest you read it in its entirety.

It does seem to me is that Judge Wilken has inflicted a significant blow to the NCAA with regard to the way it does its business. She did not find merely that the NCAA business model was unfair; she said that it violated the antitrust laws of the country. At my shallow level of legal understanding, that sounds like a pretty big deal – and it is something the NCAA had better deal with before other parts of its business model are deemed to be similarly in violation of antitrust laws.

Moreover, every time someone challenges the NCAA with regard to its rules and/or its business practices, the NCAA hauls out the “amateurism argument”. Their contention is that without “amateurism” there would be no intercollegiate athletics; “amateurism” is the foundation upon which everything stands. Now, it would seem that Judge Wilken thinks the NCAA’s “amateurism” is merely a benign label on an illegal practice. Ooops…

The NCAA has already announced that it will appeal this decision – just as O’Bannon would likely have appealed should Judge Wilken have ruled the other way. That means that the rational way to resolve this issue – the parties sit down and negotiate how to allow college athletes to share in the profits earned by using their names and images in the marketplace within a set of guidelines that maintains competitive balance on the field. I really believe that last thing is the only thing that the NCAA exists to do – maintain competitive balance on the field. I made that argument back when the NCAA Bigfooted its way into the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky mess. That had nothing to do with competitive balance on the field and the NCAA had no business doing anything.

In 2002, Dr. Myles Brand took over as the NCAA Executive Director and he boasted that he would see to it that the college presidents took over collegiate athletics and reined in the runaway/rogue athletic departments and coaches. That was patent nonsense then and of course, he never came close to achieving even 1% of that noble objective. And now, his successor – Mark Emmert who seems not to be able to lead a dog to a pork chop – is looking at a near term future where judges in courtrooms will be looking to rein in the NCAA itself.

After last weekend’s PGA Championship, I wonder if it is time to ask the following impertinent question:

    Has Tiger Woods become golf’s version of Michael Jordan in Michael Jordan’s years with the Washington Wizards?

Both men were – at the top of their games – the single best practitioner of their art in the world. They rightfully belonged in any conversation regarding the “best ever” in their sport. Jordan’s time on the court for the Wizards was sad to watch in a way because he was only able to be “His Airness” a few plays a week instead of a few plays per quarter of a game. Today, it is difficult to watch Tiger Woods play at a level where he may or may not be competitive with players who would have been caddying for him 10 years ago.

One other item from the PGA Championship… I read a report that the folks at Valhalla had more than 3500 volunteers signed up for the week of activities. Not to put too fine a point on this, but those folks are demonstrating platinum-plated stupidity. Think about it for a moment; the PGA will give out approximately $10M in prize money for the tournament and you can be certain the PGAQ is not “running in the red” for the week. The PGA is not a mendicant living from hand-out to hand-out.

    Memo to Volunteers: You enable these folks who make their living based on the athletic excellence of pro golfers to make more money than they deserve. You give them free labor thereby increasing their profit margins for sitting back and “organizing” golf events – where you do the work and they drink cocktails in the hospitality tents. Wake up…

According to a report I read in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Oakland Raiders might just be considering a move to San Antonio, TX. Raiders’ owner, Mark Davis, met with former San Antonio mayor, Henry Cisneros, recently setting off speculation that the Raiders may be looking to move from their antiquated and dysfunctional quarters in Oakland to something a bit more modern and upscale. Remember, the sewer lines periodically back up in O.com Stadium leaving sewage on the locker room floors; so moving upscale from that is not exactly a Herculean task.

In addition, if I understand correctly the “stadium status” in Oakland it goes something like this:

    The A’s signed a 10-year lease to stay in that stadium – but they can opt out of the lease with 12 months’ notice.

    There is also a clause in the lease for the A’s that would allow the city – and the Raiders – to tear down the stadium to make way for a new football field.

If that sounds strange to you, welcome to the world of rational people…

Finally, here are observations from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle regarding the Niners’ new venue, Levi’s Stadium:

“The 49ers will sell standing-room tickets for $50 and $75. For $75 you get to stand on both feet.

“Along with the $50 or $75 SRO ticket, you will be required to purchase a ‘personal air-space license.’ “

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Admin Note – Off To Seattle…

I will be off the air for the rest of this week. I am heading to Seattle to visit old and dear friends there and to take in 3 or 4 Mariners baseball games. The White Sox will be in town and if the rotation holds, I will get to see Felix Hernandez pitch on Sunday.

I’ll be home late Monday night. Hopefully, I will be able to write next Tuesday (August 12). Please check back then.

Stay well, everyone…

Strike Outs In Baseball

Yesterday’s rant on the modern orthodoxy of taking pitches to wear down starting pitchers had not been “on the streets” for more than 2 hours when I got an e-mail from someone who has been reading these things before they ever went on the Internet. He told me that I needed to “put the pieces together”; here are the salient comments from his note:

“Hitters take strike one way more than they should. That often puts them behind in the count making them defensive hitters … when they go after pitches, they often try to hit the ball into the next county and that accounts for all the strikeouts in the past couple of years.

“It takes more time to strike a hitter out than it does to have him fly to center.

“All of these things are interconnected.”

OK, I stand chastised for failure to connect those dots. The points made here are correct and the data on the number of strikeouts in recent years shows that they are more frequent now than in the past. I decided to go and look at some stats for this year…

    In the American League this year at the 65% mark of the season, there are 29 pitchers who have recorded 100 or more strikeouts.

    In the National league, 38 pitchers have hit that mark.

    In both leagues combined, 33 hitters have fanned 100 or more times.

When you look at the players who have struck out a lot this year, you will find a few names there who are – despite the strikeouts – very good players. Consider these folks:

    Giancarlo Stanton has struck out 128 times.
    Mike Trout has struck out 119 times.
    Paul Goldschmidt has struck out 110 times.
    Matt Kemp has struck out 101 times.

The fact that very good players are on the list of ones who strike out a lot is not that unusual. In fact, several Hall of Fame players – and a couple who may someday be in the Hall of Fame – are on the list of the Top Ten strikeout victims of all time:

    Reggie Jackson struck out 2597 times in 21 seasons. (Hall of Fame)
    Jim Thome struck out 2548 times in 22 seasons. (Likely Hall of Fame)
    Sammy Sosa struck out 2306 times in 18 seasons.
    Adam Dunn struck out 2257 times in 14 seasons (Still striking out)
    A-Rod struck out 2075 in 20 seasons. (Still active – sort of)
    Andres Galaraga struck out 2003 times in 19 seasons. (Really good player)
    José Canseco struck out 1942 times in 16 seasons.
    Willie Stargell struck out 1936 times in 21 seasons. (Hall of Fame)
    Mike Cameron struck out 1901 times in 19 seasons.
    Mike Schmidt struck out 1883 times in 18 seasons. (Hall of Fame)

That list shows me the fact that a player who strikes out often is not necessarily correlated with that player being of little value to a team. Nevertheless, there have also been some great players for whom a strikeout was unusual.

    Pete Rose had 4256 hits and struck out 1143 times.
    Henry Aaron drove in 2297 runs and struck out 1383 times.
    Stan Musial had 3630 hits and struck out only 696 times.

      [Musial played 22 seasons. Only three times did he strike out 40 or more times in a whole season.]

    Tony Gwynn had 3141 hits and struck out only 434 times.

      [Gwynn played 20 seasons. Only once did he strike out as many as 40 times in a single year.]

The strikeout stats that I found most interesting were for Joe DiMaggio. While he did not hit a ton of home runs, DiMaggio did hit plenty of doubles and triples; he was not a “singles hitter”; his career slugging average is a highly respectable .579. For his career, DiMaggio came to bat 7673 times and he struck out only 369 times. That represents less than 5% of the total number of times opposing pitchers had the opportunity to strike him out. Moreover, in his rookie season, he struck out 39 times. In all of his subsequent seasons, he struck out fewer times than that.

    In 1941 – the year of DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak – he came to bat 622 times and struck out only 13 times.

    Some players today would be happy to strike out only 13 times in a three-week span…

Switching to college football, Brad Rock of the Deseret News had this comment in his weekly Rock On column:

“The new football national championship trophy was unveiled this week.

“Director Bill Hancock called the 24-karat gold, bronze and stainless steel centerpiece ‘priceless.’

“Which is an exaggeration.

“Priceless is the look on Nick Saban’s face after the Auburn game, last year.”

Can’t say I disagree with that…

Finally, here is a point made by Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot – and I can’t say I disagree with this one either:

“Overcooked: As a society, we must have a very low opinion of our professional athletes judging from the media’s relentless – often cloying – campaign paying tribute to Derek Jeter for doing the right things and carrying himself with dignity. Isn’t that what everyone simply is supposed to do?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Modern Baseball Orthodoxy

I mentioned to a friend who reads these rants that I had tuned into the Yankees/Red Sox game on Sunday night and that it was a typically fast-paced game between those two teams that ended close to midnite. I wondered how long it might be until ESPN realized that the Red Sox are toast this year and that the Yankees have clawed their way to a 58-53 record which might be described as “modestly above mediocre”. I asked – rhetorically – if the ESPN folks realized how well teams like the A’s, the Brewers, the Nationals and the Tigers are playing.

My friend pointed out that I have written about baseball’s need to increase the “pace of play” to keep the product entertaining and that the Sox/Yankees game – he too had watched – demonstrated part of the problem that cannot be “legislated away”. He said that modern baseball groupthink is to take a lot of pitches and build the pitch count on the starter so that a team can “get to the opponent’s bullpen”. Following that strategy makes each at-bat last longer than it did 20-30 years ago and nothing short of changing a fundamental part of the game – three balls and/or two strikes ends the at-bat – would change the style of play. He has a point.

However, there is another point here and it challenges the orthodoxy to some degree. When teams have relief specialists ready to pitch the 8th inning only and then the 9th inning only, is it really advantageous to get the starter out of the game only to face those specialists? The Yankees on Sunday night went to Delin Betances in the 8th inning; in 49 games, his ERA is 1.49 and he has recorded 98 strikeouts in 66 innings. Then they brought in David Robertson in the 9th inning; all he has done this year is to convert 30 out of 32 save opportunities.

I wonder if the current orthodoxy of baseball offense has not been overtaken by the use of bullpen specialists…?

Along those lines, imagine you are facing the Cubbies and they are starting Edwin Jackson for the game. Why would you want to get him out of the game quickly; his ERA for this season is 5.66 as of this morning; he has given up more earned runs than any pitcher in the National League. Why would I want to “wear him down” so that he only threw 5 innings instead of 7 against me?

    Aside: I know that Theo Epstein’s focus in Chicago has been to build up the farm system and by all reports, he is doing a good job at that. Nonetheless, he also signed Jackson to a 4-year contract worth $52M and it still has 2 years to run. Last year Jackson was 8-18 with an ERA of 4.98; this year he is 6-11 with an ERA of 5.66. Ouch!!

The Atlanta Braves are still in the race for a wild-card slot in the NL playoffs despite a stunning lack of production at the top of their lineup. Usually, successful teams have a leadoff hitter who gets on base a lot and maybe steals some bases to create scoring opportunities. The Braves bat BJ Upton in the leadoff slot and here is his production for the year:

    .211/.279/.604 (That batting average and OBP are terrible.)
    139 strikeouts (That leads the National League.)
    18 stolen bases/caught stealing 7 times. (Less than wonderful…)

Actually, this season represents an improvement for Upton. Last year he hit .184 with an OBP of .268. The Braves have him signed for three more years after this one where he will earn about $46.3M. I am not so sure that is good news for Braves’ fans. In fact, I am surprised that Braves’ fans – noting how few hits Upton has – have not taken to calling him a “Baha Man” in reference to him being a one-hit wonder.

Only the Elias Sports Bureau could come up with this:

“Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins all survived last week’s trade deadline long enough to reach a significant milestone. Sunday’s loss to the Nationals was the 886th regular-season game that they’ve started together in the field for the Phillies at first base, second base and shortstop, respectively. They’ve tied the Dodgers’ trio of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes and Bill Russell for the major-league record for most games started together in the field by three teammates at those positions.”

Mark that down as number 5,027,268 in the file “Facts Not Worth Remembering”…

Next week – on 13 August – the world will celebrate International Lefthanders Day. I wonder if the folks who organize this kind of thing ever tried to “partner” with MLB to do something like honor left handed hitters or pitchers on this day. That sounds a lot more interesting than the description of the day from Wikipedia:

“As the name suggests, it is meant to promote awareness of the inconveniences facing left-handers in a predominantly right-handed world… Thousands of left-handed people are discriminated in today’s society, are forced to use right handed tools, drive on the right side of the road and even get harassed. International Lefthanders Day is made to end this discrimination.”

Switching gears here, I have noticed that several European soccer teams are in the US playing each other in exhibition games or playing MLS teams in exhibitions. A game held in “the Big House” in Ann Arbor drew 109,000 fans; that is good news for the folks involved in growing soccer here in the US. Obviously, fan interest was given a boost by the World Cup and capitalizing on that momentum would be a good thing for “soccer in the US of A.” Here is an idea to do that; I have no way to know if this would even be feasible:

    Take a page from the NFL’s playbook. The NFL has ramped up its efforts to introduce its brand of football to Europe. They had a “minor league there”. They played exhibition games there. Then they played an annual regular-season game there; now they will play several regular season games there.

    Can the soccer folks here in the US convince the folks in the English Premier League or La Liga or Serie A or Bundesliga to stage a real game – not an exhibition game or a “friendly” – here in the US? If so, then MLS ought to find ways to pair a game or two on its schedule with the “foreign game” that is brought here.

That advice to the US soccer folks is free so you know immediately what it is worth.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this “World Cup” item in the Seattle Times:

“Willi and Irene Isaak celebrated their country’s World Cup title by setting off skyrockets in their backyard in Espelkamp, Germany, igniting a roof fire that charred their home to the tune of $400,000.

“Well, that’s a soccer first — an own-coal.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………