Archive for the ‘The Sporting Life’ Category

Major League Baseball Playoffs

I don’t have much rooting interest in this year’s MLB postseason, but I’ve gone ahead and ranked teams from “most like to see win the World Series” to “least like to win the World Series.”

  • Pittsburgh
  • Kansas City
  • Washington
  • Detroit
  • Oakland
  • Baltimore
  • San Francisco
  • Los Angeles Angels
  • Los Angeles Dodgers
  • St. Louis

Probably the most compelling World Series matchup for me is Pittsburgh vs. Kansas City, since both teams struggled for so long trying to play in small markets against big money opponents. It’s also a flashback to the 70s & 80s when the Pirates and Royals were postseason regulars, although they never matched up in the World Series.  A Washington-Baltimore World Series would also be an exciting matchup for the Chesapeake region who haven’t had much to cheer for in recent decades.  I’m disappointed that the Cardinals and Dodgers are facing one another in the NLDS because I’d like to see them both eliminated as soon as possible.


Okay, so now that I’ve determined what I liked to see happen (that is, underdogs reign), here’s my predictions for what will really happen.

COIN FLIP GAME

  • Pittsburgh defeats San Francisco
  • Oakland defeats Kansas City

DIVISION SERIES

  • St. Louis defeats Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Washington defeats Pittsburgh
  • Detroit defeats Baltimore
  • Los Angeles Angels defeats Oakland

CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

  • St. Louis defeats Washington
  • Detroit defeats Los Angeles Angels

WORLD SERIES

  • Detroit defeats St. Louis

Baseball Celebrity and the End of the Steroid Era

Last night’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game was the keystone of  shortstop Derek Jeter’s season-long retirement celebration. As things tend to go in the sports media coverage of Derek Jeter, it was a bit over the top.  Yet, nowhere among all the plaudits did anyone see fit to mention that Jeter is the last active superstar of the Steroids Era.

From roughly 1995 to 2003, Major League Baseball experienced the scandal of a great number of players using anabolic steroids, human growth hormone (HGH), amphetamines, and other performing enhancing drugs (PEDs).  The fact of the matter is that if a ballplayer played during this era, the odds are statistically in favor of him having used PEDs.  Some used PEDs when they were on the bubble of making it on a major league roster.  Some used them to recover from injury.  Some used them in their “walk years” to try to get a favorable contract as a free agent.  Some used them once and then never again.  Some built their careers around them.

The peak of Derek Jeter’s career coincided with the Steroid Era.  While he’s never tested positive for PEDs, the rosters of his team from that era are riddled with known users.  The win-at-all-costs owner of Jeter’s team sought out the top superstars of the time, many of whom were later documented as PED users such as Gary Sheffield, Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Jeremy Giambi, and Alex Rodriguez.  With a line-up of juicers, Jeter’s team won 4 out 5 World Series Championships.  PED use spread through Major League Baseball and entire teams instructed their players in their use in order to compete.

And yet with PED use so widespread, we are told by the sports media that Jeter never touched the stuff.  Even with the rest of the team juiced up and pressuring their teammates not to play “naked,” Jeter maintained a superhuman virtue.  Of course, his virtue was not strong enough for him to speak out against PED use and inspire his fellow players to play clean.  And even if Jeter did play clean during this era, he still benefited from his teammates using them.  How many times did he come to base with runners on base who would not have been there if they’d played clean?  How many of Jeter’s career hits came against mediocre relievers because the starting pitcher was knocked out the game after struggling against a lineup of juicers?

My point here is not to condemn Jeter.  Even if one filters through the glurge written about him, he appears to be a decent player, and he’s a talented ballplayer for any era.  If I were a Hall of Fame voter, he’d have my vote.  The point here is to challenge the media narrative that has framed the Steroid Era as a few villainous players who cheated, while the virtuous Jeter stood above it all and still won.  There are some players for whom the evidence that they used PEDs is as circumstantial as that which I outlined for Jeter (such as Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza), but sportswriters are attempting to punish them retroactively by not voting them into the Hall of Fame and otherwise sullying their reputations.  Nowhere in the Jeter versus the bad guys narrative is there any acknowledgment of the complicity of baseball team management, the sports media, and the fans.  And Jeter himself who would have to have known what was going on, and as I noted above, benefited from PED use regardless of whether he used them or not.  The scandal is not that a few players cheated, but that all of baseball allowed the rise of PEDs because they desired bigger, better, faster superstar baseball players.

It’s interesting to note that in the decade since Major League Baseball instituted more stringent restrictions on PEDS, we’ve seen the decline of the superstar ballplayer common during the Steroid Era.  Many teams now try a model of finding many players with complimentary skills and abilities to build a team (the “Moneyball” approach) as opposed to building around a slugger and a power pitcher, at least those that have won the World Series.  Boston won with a “bunch of idiots” and more recently with a group of mid-level free agent signings added to players rebounding from injury.  San Francisco won 2 out of 3 years with a team of “misfits and castoffs.”  The Cardinals maintain a top-shelf team year in, year out while remaining largely anonymous.  They did have superstar slugger Albert Pujols, but continue to win without him.

Perhaps as we say farewell to Derek Jeter, we can also say goodbye to the the Steroid Era and its cult of bigger, better, faster.  Perhaps now we admire someone for being a great ballplayer without having to pile on the plaudits (or when a human being inevitably fails, the insults).  Perhaps we will be able to enjoy baseball not as a display of exemplary individuals but as a game played by a team (even at an All-Star Game).  That is my hope going forward  as we can finally close the door on the Steroids Era.
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World Cup Round of 16 Rooting Interests and Predictions

After an exciting round of group play, the knock-out rounds for the 2014 World Cup begin today.  Below I’ve listed the teams I’m rooting for and the teams I expect to win (not always the same) for each game.

28 June 2014

Brazil vs. Chile

This is a tough call.  I have a soft spot for Chile and they acquitted themselves well in group play, but I’ve always liked Brazil and it would be tragic if the host nation exited the tournament this early (especially after having to endure all the corporate, government, and FIFA corruption).  That being said, I expect Brazil will have no problem winning this game and probably advance at least to the semifinals.

Supporting: Brazil           Prediction: Brazil

Colombia vs. Uruguay

Colombia is one of the most exciting teams in the tournament with the most feverish fans.  Uruguay did well in group play, but aren’t going to go far without their bitey star Luis Suarez.  Colombia is an easy team to support and pick for the win.

Supporting: Colombia         Prediction: Colombia

It’s interesting that four of the five remaining South American teams are essentially playing for one semifinal spot.  I expect that Brazil will advance from this group of four, but the Brazil versus Colombia quarterfinal has the potential to be an exciting match.

29 June 2014

Netherlands vs. Mexico

Mexico is our biggest rival, but I’ve been swayed to their side this World Cup for several reasons:  CONCACAF regional pride, the performance of goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, the exburance of coach Miguel Herrera, and their exciting style of play in a tough group.  I adopted the Netherlands in 2010 as my team to support after the US elimination (mainly because I had just visited Amsterdam that year), but the karate chop performance of the final kind of took the bloom off that rose.  Still, the Netherlands look like a dominant side that may advance all the way to the final again, and will be hard for Mexico to beat.

Supporting: Mexico          Prediction: Netherlands

Costa Rica vs. Greece

Costa Rica’s team is the surprise of the tournament, giant-killers in what should’ve been the toughest group.  It’s hard not to like Los Ticos.  Greece are also surprise members of the final 16.  However, they haven’t shown a lot of skill in the group stage.  I expect another Costa Rica win.

Supporting: Costa Rica     Prediction: Costa Rica

An all CONCACAF quarterfinal would be a thrilling thing, but I expect that the Netherlands will progress to the semifinals from this group of four.

30 June 2014

France vs. Nigeria

I tend to root for the underdogs, so I have to favor Nigeria here, but France is looking like one of the top teams in the tournament, so I don’t have much hope for the African side.

Supporting: Nigeria         Prediction: France

Germany vs. Algeria

Algeria is the other surviving African team who’ve drawn tough European competition in Germany.  I’ll root for Algeria, but expect Germany to make it at least to the semifinal.

Supporting: Algeria          Prediction: Germany

There’s an opportunity for an all-African quarterfinal coming out this group of four, but it’s more likely that European neighbors Germany and  France will meet to decide a spot in the final four.

1 July 2014

Argentina vs. Switzerland

I’ve not been impressed by Argentina who  won a weak group by basically holding out for a Lionel Messi wondergoal.  On the other hand, Argentina has enough talent that should be able to advance as far as the semifinal without breaking much of a sweat.  I haven’t got much of a sense of Switzerland, but I’ll be rooting for them just so that USA would have a more potentially beatable side in the quarterfinal, should it come to that.

Supporting: Switzerland       Prediction:  Argentina

Belgium vs. United States

Sure, Belgium is a dark horse to win the World Cup, and sure they won all three of their group matches.  Sure, the United States has struggled and only just made it out of group play.  But Belgium played in one of the weakest groups, while the United States faced down three challenging opponents without ever throwing in the towel.  I believe that we will win.

Supporting:  United States       Prediction: United States

While I think that the United States can make it to the quarterfinal, Argentina is the prohibitive favorite of this group of four.  Still, Iran held Argentina scoreless for 90 minutes, so maybe someone can pull of a miracle win.

Photopost: Red Sox at Fenway Park

My son Peter and I took in our first Red Sox game of the season on April 7th versus the Texas Rangers. While the 2013 champions have struggled early on, we were treated to a thrilling 5-1 victory. Yes, it was April baseball, as both teams had a passed ball and an error, and probably deserved some more errors. But a win’s a win. As an extra bonus, we received a David Ortiz bobblehead upon entering. And since Peter is now a member of Kid Nation, we were allowed to enter the ballpark early and watch the Red Sox batting practice from the Green Monster seats, which was pretty awesome.

Red Sox are the 2013 World Series Champions

For the third time in ten years, the Red Sox are the World Series Champions.  I’ve watched the Red Sox play in four World Series in my lifetime, and although I rooted for the opposing team in 1986, I’ve been firmly behind the Red Sox in the most recent three.  The 2004 World Series saw the end of the drought of 86 years without a championship (despite coming close several times) and the 2007 team proved that it was not a fluke.  The 2013 championship seems all the more special because it proves the resilience of the team coming back from a losing season in 2012 and a bad finish the year before that.

I particularly enjoyed this season because my 6 y.o. son Peter is a big baseball fan and devoted to the Red Sox.  We attended five game this season – four at Fenway and one at Yankee Stadium – and the Red Sox won them all (Peter’s lifetime record is a remarkable 9-1).  We also listened to games as Peter drifted off to sleep each night, so I’ve found myself following the team and getting to know the players much better than I have in many years.  The World Series victory came the day before Halloween when Peter dressed as his favorite player, Stephen Drew, and two days before his 6th birthday.

On Saturday, I took Peter to see the Red Sox Rolling Rally in the morning and then we had his birthday party in the afternoon, perhaps the best day of his life.  The Duck Boat Parade was a joyous occasion, and it was great to see so many happy people filling the streets of Boston to celebrate just six months after the atrocities on Patriots Day.  While we watched from Tremont Street opposite Boston Common, there was a moving tribute to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing on Boyslton Street.

Below are my pictures of the parade.  It was a fun day, and I hope we get to do it again.

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Doomsayers be damned: Baseball is healthy and ratings are strong

Liam:

Baseball … alive and well.

Originally posted on HardballTalk:

ST. LOUIS — I write often about how the “Baseball is dying” people and the folks who wring their hands over playoff and World Series television ratings are either overstating their concern, are misapprehending history or are flat-out wrong. It appears, however, that those people and those folks will continue to march on with that narrative unabated.

Keith Olbermann talked about baseball’s relative national irrelevancy the other night. The website Sports Media Watch, which gets cited by many looking for a quick and dirty take on TV ratings, tends to spin things toward the dire. I presume once the overnight ratings for Game 4 are in this morning — a Game 4 which played opposite ratings juggernaut Sunday Night Football — we’ll hear a new round of all of this. It’s an evergreen story, as the news media folks say, and it’ll be trotted out every fall…

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Photopost: A Tale of Two Ballparks

My son Peter and I were fortunate enough to take in two Boston Red Sox games in the same week. The first was a home game at Fenway Park versus the White Sox. For the second game, we ventured into enemy territory to see Red Sox take on the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

I’ve been to Fenway Park dozens of times in the 15 years I’ve lived in Boston and my son and I have been using 4-game Sox packs the past two seasons.  I don’t have much to add to what I’ve written before other than to say that Fenway Park is a great place to see a ballgame, the improvements in fan amenities the past decade have really improved the experience, and I love going to games with my son.

This was our first visit to the third iteration of Yankee Stadium.  Growing up in Connecticut, I attended several Yankees games in the 1976-2008 version of Yankee Stadium as a child as well as one college football game between Boston University and Grambling State.  I made my last visit to Yankee Stadium II in 2006.  Despite the history that came with the building due to the Yankees many successes, I never thought it lived up to its reputation as a great ballpark.  It was kind of gloomy and felt like a 60’s/70’s concrete doughnut squashed in an urban shell.

I’m happy to report that  Yankee Stadium III is an improvement on its predecessor.  We took the D train to 161 St, and exited right outside Gate 6.  There were several lines open so we swiftly made our way inside.  We entered a long concourse with a high ceiling that felt like an airport terminal or railway station.  While the Stadium has escaped corporate naming, the corporate presence was strong here (and throughout the ballpark) with large neon signs for the Hard Rock Cafe and other amenities.  There was also a large screen and news ticker showing Yankees highlights on repeat and reminiscent of Times Square.  The whole feeling was definitely to remind you that you were in the land of the Yankees now and playing with the big boys.

To access our seats on the Grandstand Level, we had to walk up a long, looping concrete ramp.  This was one of the least appealing parts of the stadium.  At least the ramps at Shea Stadium were exposed to fresh air and sunshine with views of the Manhattan skyline.  The Yankees museum could be entered from this ramp but the line was quite long so we didn’t take it in.  The concourse on the Grandstand/Terrace level was much nicer with lots of sunlight and views of the field and lined with the usual concessions and souvenir shops.  The only one we availed ourselves to was Carvel for an ice cream cone (Peter passed on getting the ice cream in the helmet).

Our seats offered a commanding view of the field with only the left field corner obscured by the seat deck in front of us.  (This would become relevant in the game when Ichiro made a catch against the wall of a drive by David Ortiz).  The centerfield scoreboard is big and informative.  There is a secondary scoreboard behind homeplate but I was surprised that there was only advertising along the baseline.  The out-of-town scoreboard was not visible from our location.  The corporate feel was strong during the game with lots of advertisements on all the scoreboards.  Strikeouts by  Yankees pitchers were sponsored by an appliance store and walks by Yankees batters were brought to you by a brand of whisky.

Our seating area was well-populated with Red Sox fans giving us a feeling of safety in numbers.  The rivalry among fans was good-natured on this day.  Several times Red Sox fans started chanting “Lets Go Red Sox!” only to get booed by Yankees fans.  Then one guy would chant “Lets Go Yankees!” and no one else would join in.  The top of the stadium is encircled by pennant flags for every team in Major League Baseball arranged by division in the order of the standings.  Appropriately, we sat directly beneath the flag that read “BOSTON”.

The game was enjoyable, with the teams duking out to a 13-9 finale in favor of the Red Sox.   Boston took a big lead early and then New York chipped away at that lead to make the game more competitive.  Definitely not a pitcher’s duel, or a short game, but a fun one.  We left after the game and it was actually pretty easy to get to the subway, and then board a “baseball special” train which has a poetic ring to it, like something out of a W.P. Kinsella story.

Yankee Stadium proved to be an adequate place to see a game.   Like Citi Field, it is somewhat corporatized and soulless, and a city like New York should do much better for its ballparks. They don’t compare well with ballparks in San Francisco, Baltimore, or San Diego that incorporate aspects of their cities and surroundings into the stadium.  It seems like they got the idea to copy the retro-ballpark style without doing anything to make it uniquely New York.  Perhaps they just need to be lived-in a bit longer and will accrue some charm with age?

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