MLB Playoffs Begin In Earnest…

Now the MLB playoffs begin in earnest.  I have a love-hate relationship with the MLB playoff system up to this point in the season.

  • Part of me loves the second wildcard slot in each league.  That innovation produces a lot more September regular season games that are meaningful.
  • Part of me hates the idea of a single game elimination for the wildcard teams.

If it takes a six-month baseball season and about 159 regular season games to determine which teams belong in the playoffs, that is testimony to the fact that baseball is a game of ebb and flow.  After all the ups and downs of a season, it is incongruous to me to have a single game elimination concept in MLB.  At the same time, I completely appreciate the scheduling problems that would fall upon the World Series if my preferred 5-game/7-game series at every level of the playoffs were to occur.  We might wind up pushing the World Series back to Thanksgiving Week.

I can think of a couple of ways to try to accommodate my desires here; this is my preferred option.

  • MLB should go back to the idea of Sunday doubleheaders played mostly in the afternoon.  If they scheduled these events properly, that would allow for 20 such events for each team every season and that would shorten the regular season on the calendar so that the wild card playoffs could begin around 10 September.
  • Allowing 6 days for the 5-game wild card series starts the first elimination round in each league about 18 September.
  • Allowing 10 days for the first elimination round in each league to be a 7-game series would start the league finals on 28 September.
  • Ten days later – after another 7-game series to crown the champions in both leagues – the World Series could begin around 9 October and be finished well before Halloween.
  •             Let me channel Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise here as I address the leaders of MLB and MLBPA:

“Make it so.”

For the playoffs this year, I find the two NL pairings to be more interesting than the two AL pairings; the Braves/Cardinals match-up should be the most entertaining series of the four. I like the Dodgers to represent the National League this year and I like the Astros to be the AL champ.

As the NFL season enters its “second quarter”, lots of folks have focused on the fact that there are only 3 undefeated teams left – and few if any of those folks really think that the Niners at 3-0 are indeed in the elite class of NFL teams.  All the focus is on the two undefeated AFC teams – the Pats and the Chiefs.  As usual, the focus here in Curmudgeon Central is different.  When I look at the NFL standings, I see 6 teams that have not won a game yet.  So, from this vantage point, how bad are these teams?

  • Bengals:  The team probably kept Marvin Lewis around a couple of years longer past his “Sell By Date”.  When they went shopping for a new coach last Spring, they found that the job in Cincy was not one where agents were clamoring for interviews.  They reached for a new face on the sidelines and the transition is not going well so far.  In their loss to the Steelers on MNF, the Bengals looked unenergetic and unenthusiastic.  The good news here is that the Bengals have an experienced QB and will be getting AJ Green back on the field one of these weeks.
  • Broncos:  Hiring Vic Fangio to be the head coach was supposed to make the strongest part of the team – the defense – into a dominant gridiron force.  Let’s just say that has not come even close to happening.  Getting Joe Flacco to platy QB is an upgrade over recent seasons with the likes of Brock Osweiler and Trevor Simien, but Joe Flacco is not going to carry the team by himself.  If and when the defense springs to life, the Broncos can win a few games, but if they remain somnambulant, the wins in Denver will be few and far between.
  • Cardinals:  The Cards were 3-13 last year.  They ditched their rookie QB along with a rookie coach and drafted a new rookie QB and hired a new rookie coach.  For the moment, the Cards stand at the head of this listing because they have a tie game on their record instead of nothing but losses.  As my grandfather was wont to say:

“Thank the Lord for small favors.”

The Cards defense was not good last year and is not much better so far this year.

  • Dolphins:  Frankly, I don’t think the team is really trying to win games this year.  They have amassed a war chest of draft picks for players they have traded away, and the renaissance of the franchise depends very much on the team’s ability to hit the mark with all of its draft picks.  This team stinks.  Through 4 games, the Dolphins have been outscored by 137 points or 34.25 points per game.  It would be bad enough if the defense were giving up that many points per game but that is the point differential not the total points allowed per game!
  • Jets:  I believe this is the best team on this list and that the Jets are here because they have lost their top 2 QBs – one to injury and one to mononucleosis.  The jury is still out on the question of the fundamental competency of their new coach, but this team ought to win more than a handful of games this year.
  • Skins:  While the Dolphins are not trying to win – and it shows – the Skins are polar opposites.  They want to win and are trying but they don’t win because the roster is poorly constructed, and the organization is wrought with strife.  They cut a safety last year for saying that the defensive play-calling was inept; he was correct.  They continued the team tradition of bidding against itself to sign Landon Collins to a deal that will pay him about $14M per season.  That deal is right in line with the one that signed Josh Norman at $15M per season and Albert Haynesworth about a decade ago.  If press reports are even half accurate, last year’s draft represented the third time in his tenure as team owner that Danny Boy Snyder “intervened” to influence the drafting of a QB.  The previous two apples of his eye were Patrick Ramsey and RG3.  Let’s just say that history is not on the side of the Skins here.  The debut of Dwayne Haskins last week was not a good one; it evoked memories of Akili Smith.  [Google is your friend…]

Oh, by the way, the Skins and Dolphins will play each other next week.  The loser of that game should be relegated to the XFL.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this observation in the Seattle Times a couple of weeks ago:

“A pride of lions ate three poachers who broke into a South African game reserve to hunt rhinoceroses, Newsweek reported.

“This partial score just in: Lions 3, Raiders 0.”

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


English 303…

Recall that after the Patriots released Antonio Brown, the beleaguered WR announced his retirement from football – – that decision since rescinded – – and also announced his return to Central Michigan as an undergraduate student seeking his degree.  Earlier this week, Brown had to write a paper for an English class, and he sought online help with editing/proofreading via his Twitter account.  Here is the Tweet that asked for assistance:

“My English paper do by tonight 12am need a prof reader make sure As and Bs #Eng303

As you might expect, this request drew more than a few snarky comments.  I am the last person on the planet to pretend to be an editor/proofreader; so, I will not parse the Tweet itself here.  Even recognizing that the Twitter medium allows for a more relaxed approach to spelling, grammar and syntax, I would like to make an observation here:

  • Where I went to college, “English 303” would have been a class that required a passing grade in “English 101” as a prerequisite.
  • No matter how many times I read that Tweet and try to imagine how it might have been constructed in “Twitteresque”, I cannot conjure up a clear vision of the concept of a “passing grade in English 101”.


The Chicago Cubs fired manager Joe Maddon.  Unquestionably, the Cubs underperformed expectations this season particularly in the final two weeks of the season when the Cubs went from serious contenders for a playoff slot to a team that could not get out of its own way.  Joe Maddon paid the price for that season and for that tumble down the ski slope in September.  All I can say is that Joe Maddon got awfully dumb awfully quickly:

  • Prior to his stint with the Cubs, Joe Maddon managed the Tampa Bay Rays for 8 seasons and made the playoffs 3 times and the World Series once.  That is not bad for a low-budget team playing in the same division with the Yankees and the Red Sox.
  • Maddon took over the Cubs in 2015.  In his first four seasons there, the Cubs made the playoffs four times and the Cubs won the World Series in 2016- –  for the first time since 1908.
  • Then came the very disappointing 2019 season…

Whatever genius Joe Maddon flashed from 2015 through 2018 mysteriously disappeared into the world ether in 2019.  Obviously, it is time for the Cubs to go looking for the next genius to put on the bench.  Joe Maddon’s teams in Chicago accumulated a 5-season record of 471-340 which is a winning percentage of .581.  To put that in perspective, there are 25 managers in the Baseball Hall of Fame whose career records are below .581.

Here is the way the Chicago Sun Times explained the Cubs’ decision to part ways with Joe Maddon.

Westfield, WI is a small town about 75 miles north of Madison WI.  There were 1,254 residents there according to the census taken in 2010.  Westfield High School just had to cancel the rest of its football season “due to injuries”.  Actually, it was a situation created by the occurrence of injuries on top of the fact that there were hardly enough players in the school to field a team.

The Westfield Pioneers started the season with 19 players on the team.  A rash of injuries – – mostly concussions according to the school – – reduced the available players to 13.  The Athletic Director at the high school said that they “did not have a plan for such an eventuality” when the season began and in the current circumstances, the season would have to be canceled in favor of player safety from here forward.

Wisconsin high school football is undergoing restructuring at the state level and one possible future for Westfield HS would be to “drop down” and play 8-man football in lieu of standard 11-man football.  School officials say they have not made any decisions along that line but are considering all options.

There is a bit of math to consider here:

  • The incoming freshman class at Westfield HS next year will be approximately 50 students.
  • Probably 25 of them will be girls and it is not likely that any of those girls will opt to play varsity football.
  • If you assume that 10% of the boys in a high school class are interested in football enough to try out for the team and make it through practices, Westfield HS can only expect 3 new players for the team starting next season.
  • I could not find the number of seniors who were on that 19-man roster at the start of the season.  Those players will disappear before next season begins.  Ergo, it would appear to me that Westfield HS will have a varsity roster no bigger than 20 at the start of next season.
  • 8-man football seems pretty enticing to me…

Finally, here is a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

“Car Alarm:  An antitheft device that only goes off when no one is trying to steal your car.”

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



Jumping The Gun

Think about watching football on TV for a moment.  A couple of times a game, the offense will come to the line and set; the QB will start making calls and barking signals; the defense digs in.  And then one player jumps the gun and flags fly from about four different directions.  The error of the moment jumps out from the TV screen in such a way that only Stevie Wonder could miss it.  With that imagery in your mind, consider a situation I encountered with my long-suffering wife and our houseguests from last weekend.

  • It was the evening of September 29; we were driving home from dinner at a local restaurant.  We passed by a house with Christmas lights adorning a tree in the front yard with a creche under that tree.

Just as in football, that situation cried out as one that has jumped the gun.  In football, there would be a 5-yard penalty assessed.  I have no idea how the house decorators in this case should be penalized.

A couple of years ago, the NFL went through a period where TV viewership declined.  Lots of folks who like to see grand significance in things that may not have any content worthy of grand significance started to connect a few dots and then interpreted the graphic created there to mean that professional football had reached the pinnacle of its popularity in the US.  Some of the points made by people who drew conclusions of that sort fit a narrative that included:

  • Medical science had shown the relationship between repeated head trauma and CTE sufficiently vividly to turn off a portion of football’s fandom and that turned off fraction would only continue to grow.  [Indeed, the most aggressive interpretation along this line was that there would come a time when there would not be sufficient numbers of men willing to risk their brain health by playing football to fill out the rosters of whatever was left of the NFL.]
  • The social justice warriors proclaimed that Colin Kaepernick’s protest and his subsequent banishment from the NFL had put the NFL on the wrong side of history regarding police brutality.
  • The game itself had worn out its welcome as advertisements and replay incidents interrupted the flow of the game to the point that millennials did not want to take the time to follow it.

There were other such interpretations; all of them sounded interesting; and obviously, all of them would need more data to confirm the picture painted by the interpreter.  Fast forward to September 2019; the first quarter of the NFL regular season is “in the books” and the data from this year run counter to the gloom-and-doom scenarios painted by folks about 3 years ago.  I have not yet heard any interpretation(s) for the current data; so, lest they be ignored, I will put some of it here.

The NFL’s TV ratings are up.  For the first quarter of the regular season, here is how those ratings compare to last year – a year where ratings were up about 5% as compared to 2017:

  • Thursday Night Football on FOX  +18%
  • Monday Night Football ESPN  +6%
  • Sunday Night Football NBC  +5%
  • FOX Sundays  +4%
  • CBS Sundays  +3%

And there is more:

  • Since the NFL regular season began on September 5th, of the 20 most-viewed television programs 19 of those were NFL regular season games.  The only other program to make the Top 20 Most-Viewed List was one of the Democratic Presidential Candidates Debates.
  • During the 2018 regular season, 46 of the Top 50 most-watched television programs were NFL games.  And viewership is up this year over last year so far…
  • Notwithstanding the obvious trend of “cord cutting”, more people watch more NFL football now than they ever did and the numbers seem to be increasing and not decreasing.

I have asserted before that the NFL and the NFLPA are not adversaries and ought not to view each other as such.  They are, in fact, partners in the production of the most popular and the most lucrative television entertainment property in history.  Those two entities are in negotiations to come up with a new CBA prior to the time when the current TV deals expire.  [Aside: The Monday Night Football deal expires at the end of the 2021 season; the other network deals expire at the end of the 2022 season.]  Obviously, there will be contentious issues to be resolved in the negotiations leading to a new CBA, but both sides need to recognize that the most important thing for them to do is to agree on how to divide a revenue stream that is approximately $15B today and which is likely to grow from that number starting with the next set of TV deals.

Finally, since I spent some time today talking about television programing, let me close with a comment about television by David Frost:

“Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your home.”

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