A 48-Team World Cup?


Recently, FIFA president Gianni Infantino suggested expanding the number of participants in the FIFA World Cup from 32-teams to 48-teams.  On the surface this proposal is absurd as the bloated World Cup would further dilute the talent of the teams participating, expand an already exhausting 64-match tournament to 80 matches, and be a mega event requiring massive infrastructure to support thus eliminating many countries from hosting (or worse, exploiting countries by making them build one-time use facilities with resources better spent on a nation’s people).  Nevertheless, I can still see how a 48-team field may work and make it possible for more countries to participate and to host World Cup matches.  It would require reimagining the staging of the World Cup into three phase.

The first phase, much like today, would be qualification at the level of the six continental confederations.  Increasing the field to 48 teams from 32 means that proportionately, the number of teams from each confederation would be as follows:

  • AFC – 7
  • CAF – 8
  • CONCACAF – 5
  • CONMEBOL – 7
  • OFC -1
  • UEFA -20

These 48 teams would be drawn into twelve groups of four, with seeding to allow for a balance of teams from different confederations.

The second phase would be group play of these twelve groups, scheduled in a two to three week international break in domestic leagues around February.  Each group of four would play in a different host country.  The goal would be for each confederation to have at least one country hosting a group of four.  After a 3-match round robin, the first place team in each group advances automatically to the final phase.

The twelve second place teams will be drawn to play home and away aggregate goal playoff to reduce the field to six.  The surviving six teams are drawn again to play another home/away playoff.  These three teams join the 12 teams already qualified and the host nation in the final field of 16.

The final phase will once again be familiar.  The 16 teams are drawn into groups of four and the top two teams from each group advance to a knock out round.  And that is how a 48-team World Cup could work. 

Advantages:

  • Expanding to 48 teams allows for me teams to participate in the World Cup and play competitive matches against teams from other confederations on a world stage.
  • Playing World Cup in phases allows for more matches without forcing them into an exhausting schedule concentrated in a month’s time.
  • Any country with at least two good stadiums can host a group in the second phase.
  • The final phase has a smaller number of teams – appealing to traditionalists – and makes it possible for many countries to host without breaking the bank.

Disadvantages:

  • Still may be too many games and too many teams. 
  • Too long an interruption of domestic league seasons. 
  • Too spread out over space and time. 

MLB Postseason Preferences and Predictions


The Major League Baseball playoffs begin tonight and as I’ve done in previous years, I’d like to offer my opinions on which teams I would like to succeed and which teams I expect will actually win. This is an interesting year in that both of my favorite teams – the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox – are participating in postseason play. This makes me nervous because I don’t want to see them play against one another in the World Series because I’d hate to see either team lose to the other. The last time this happened in 1999, I was ready to lean towards the Red Sox in a World Series matchup since they were in the midst of their famed championship drought. Now, if forced to choose, I’ll lean toward the Mets since the Red Sox have won a World Series more recently (2013 compared to 1986) and have won more championships in the last 12 years (3) than the Mets have in their entire history (2).

The 2016 Mets have shown that living well is the best revenge. Their 2015 World Series opponents, the Kansas City Royals, were eliminated while the Mets returned to the postseason by winning the first Wild Card spot. Who would have predicted that last November after the Royals dismantled the Mets in five games? Or even as recently as August 20th of this year when the Mets were 60-62.  Of course, if the Mets are to win the World Series they’re going to have to face Chicago, Los Angeles, and/or Washington, all of whom will be seeking revenge on the Mets for 2015 .  These teams may not recognize the Mets who show up to play in 2016 as there seems to have been a lot of roster changes since last autumn. Daniel Murphy moved to the Washington Nationals during the offseason, while David Wright, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Stephen Matz, and Wilmer Flores are all injured. Instead the Mets are relying on newcomers like Asdrubal Cabrera, Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Rene Rivera, T.J. Rivera, Jay Bruce and a returned Jose Reyes. It will be fun to see how far the Mets go with this squad, but even if they don’t achieve much it gives hope for future seasons that – should everyone be healthy – the Mets will have so much depth to choose from.

The Red Sox won the American League East after what I consider a successful 4-year rebuilding period. As would be expected during a rebuild, the Sox finished in last place 3 of those 4 seasons, but more unlikely, they won the World Series in the other year. Nevertheless, the important thing is that the Sox rebuilt their farm system and held on to talented young players who form the core of this year’s team and I believe will make the Sox contenders for years to come. These include Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Travis Shaw, Brock Holt, Sandy Leon, Steven Wright, and Andrew Benintendi. They’re joined by veterans acquired via trade David Price, Rick Porcello, and Hanley Ramirez. And of course, Sox old-timers Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. This is notably Ortiz’s final season, and one of the best reasons I have for the Sox to go all the way this season is to see Ortiz win his fourth World Series with Boston before he retires.

There are a lot of intriguing possibilities considering the other teams in this year’s postseason. 8 of the 10 teams have significant championship droughts greater than 20 years: Toronto (1993), New York (1986), Baltimore (1983), Washington (no championships since franchise began in Montreal in 1969), Texas (no championships since the franchise began in Washington in 1961), Cleveland (1948), and most notoriously Chicago (1908). At the other extreme, the remaining two teams – the San Francisco Giants (2014, 2012, & 2010) and the Boston Red Sox (2013, 2007, & 2004) – have combined for half of the World Series title in the last 12 seasons!

Some interesting World Series matchups include:

  • Chicago versus Cleveland – the two longest droughts head to head as well as an original NL team versus an original AL team
  • Boston versus Chicago – an original AL team versus and original NL team, playing in MLB’s two oldest ballparks
  • New York versus Baltimore – rematch of the 1969 World series
  • Washington versus Boston – the Amtrak Northeastern Corridor Series
  • Boston versus San Francisco – which team will get the fourth title of the 21st century?
  • Washington versus Texas – which team will win their first World Series? (also, former Washington team versus current Washington team)
  • Washington versus Baltimore – an All-Chesapeake Series

The League Championships Series may also have some interesting storylines:

  • Chicago versus Washington – each team has a lengthy pennant drought, the Cubs last appeared in 1945 and the Nationals have never won a pennant since the franchise was born in Montreal in 1969
  • San Francisco versus Los Angeles – classic West Coast rivalry for the first time in the NLCS
  • New York versus Washington – a younger East Coast rivalry but I think it’s  a fun one

After all that, here’s the ranking of my preference of which teams I’d like to see win the World Series:

  1. New York Mets
  2. Boston
  3. Chicago Cubs
  4. Washington
  5. Baltimore
  6. Toronto
  7. Cleveland
  8. Texas
  9. San Francisco
  10. Los Angeles

And here is my prediction of how I think this postseason may actually shake out.

Wild Card Games:

  • Toronto defeats Baltimore
  • New York defeats San Francisco

League Division Series:

  • Boston defeats Cleveland
  • Toronto defeats Texas
  • Washington defeats Los Angeles
  • Chicago defeats New York :(

League Championship Series:

  • Boston defeats Toronto
  • Chicago defeats Washington

World Series

  • Chicago defeats Boston

Let’s hope I’m wrong.  What are your picks for the MLB postseason?

Photopost: Harris Hill Ski Jump


If you’ve ever watched ski jumping on tv and thought it would be awesome to see in person, well I’m here to tell you that it is!

Yesterday, my family and I attended the Harris Hill Ski Jumping competition in Brattleboro, VT. Harris Hill has been home to ski jumping competitions since 1922 and is the only Olympic-size venue in New England. Despite this, it was easy to get up close to the action as we walked up the hill and watched several jumpers from right below the launching point of the inrun. The warm weather didn’t mar the competition and made it ideal for spectators although I should’ve used better judgment about leaving my boots at home. The ground was muddy and icy, but I had a fun time sliding down the hill accidentally on purpose.

Below is some news coverage, then my best photos of the day (most of them were skiers feet as they flew by too quickly), and then a couple of videos.


The Designated Hitter in Major League Baseball: A Solution 


Recently, there’s been discussion in Major League Baseball about expanding the Designated Hitter rule to the National League. The DH has been the subject of endless debate and speculation since it was introduced as an experiment to in the American League in 1973. While the AL adopted the DH rule permanently, the NL has resisted the DH and so for more than four decades the two leagues have played by different rules. In the AL, a designated hitter bats in place of the pitcher while in the NL the pitcher bats for himself. 

I believe that I have come up with a brilliant solution to resolve the DH debate for good, but before I reveal it, let’s sum up the arguments for against the DH. Arguments for the DH include:

  • It adds spark to the offense, and fans like a lot of offense. 
  • Conversely, pitchers can’t hit and fan wants to see any easy out. 
  • Allows players who are talented hitters but weak fielders a place in the game. 
  • Additionally, aging sluggers whose defensive skills are eroding can extend their careers a few years by becoming a DH.
  • Pitchers get injured while batting and base running. 

Arguments against the DH include:

  • Tradition and history. There’s a beautiful symmetry to a game with 9 innings, 9 fielders, and 9 batters. 
  • One of the biggest complaints about baseball is that games are too long. American League games on average are longer than National League games and the DH is a major reason for that. 
  • “Pitchers can’t hit” is not an absolute. Pitchers throughout history have a hit and a wise GM would gain a competitive advantage by having their organization develop and maintain pitchers’ hitting skills. 
  • An aging slugger who extends his career at DH often does so by taking the roster spot of a younger, more versatile player. 
  • Injuries happen all the time, on and off the field and the DH doesn’t stop that. If anything, cross training to pitch, bat, & run helps prepare the body to resist injury. 

My preference is that the DH be eliminated and the game be returned to its purer roots where all players compete in the field and at the plate. But after more than 40 years and endless arguments, I accept that the DH is here to stay. I also believe that the two leagues should follow the same rules. 

So what is my solution? This will initially sound strange but bear with me because I think it’s the perfect compromise. All 30 teams will be able to use the designated hitter, but only on odd numbered days. 

What this means:

  • In games played on odd numbered days (ex: May 1, 3, 5…) all Major League teams may have a DH bat in place of the pitcher. 
  • In games played on even numbered days (ex: May 2, 4, 6…) all Major League teams play by the traditional rules in which the pitcher must bat to remain in the game. 
  • If a game is postponed it will follow the rules of the day the game is actually played. 
  • If a game is suspended and continues on another day it will use the same rules the game started with. 
  • Both games of a double header follow the same rules.  
  • The odd/even rules will also apply to all postseason games. 

Why this works:

  • Just like under current system approximately half the games in a MLB season will be played using the DH rule, and the other half will follow traditional rules. 
  • Unlike the current system, both leagues will be using the same rules. 
  • Fans of the DH and fans of traditional baseball will have plenty of opportunities to see each style no matter which team they follow. In fact it would be interesting if one style of baseball would gain higher ticket sales/TV ratings, although I expect the difference would be negligible. 
  • All teams would get experience in both types of baseball. Pitchers would have to know how to hit, sluggers would have to know how to field, at least half of the time. The imbalance of interleague games where teams are accustomed to playing under different rules would be negated. 
  • Hitters with weak or deteriorating defensive skills would still be able to use the DH to extend their career. In fact, the number of teams competing to offer then contracts would double. As long as they can play half their games as DH, and half as a fielder or pinch hitter, they should continue to be an asset to their teams. 
  • The full-time DH would no longer exist, but this would not be as big a problem as it appears. Most people think of the DH and think of the likes of Frank Thomas, Edgar Martinez, or David Ortiz who played the majority of their career as DH. In fact, in 2015 only 8 American League teams had a player appear in more than half the games as DH: Morales (KC) – 141, Fielder (TEX) – 139, Gattis (HOU) – 136, Butler (SEA) – 136, Rodriguez (NYY) – 136, Ortiz (BOS) – 134, Martinez (DET) – 104, and Encarnacion (TOR) – 85. The remaining teams rotated players among defensive positions and the DH, and would be able to continue to do so under my plan. Most of the players listed above would have no problem playing 30-50 games in the field and the rest at DH. So the change for the AL wouldn’t be drastic while opening up opportunities in the NL. 

So that’s my plan. It’s a bit unconventional but I think it will work. Let me know if you agree in the comments below. Or if you have modifications that would make this an even more effective resolution to the DH, let me know those too. And if you think this is a bad idea but have an alternate solution you think would work, I’d love to hear it. 

Major League Baseball Postseason Preferences & Predictions


Baseball’s postseason starts tonight, and so I’m going to run through which teams I want to win and which teams I will expect to win (likely not the same teams, as I do root for underdogs, but know that they rarely win).

Preferences

Wild Card Round

Yankees vs. Astros – I’m tired of seeing the Yankees win things, and even if winning the Wild Card playoff doesn’t mean much in the long run, it would put them in position to potentially win something more.  So I’m firmly behind the Astros here even if I still think it’s weird for them to play in the American League.

Pirates vs. Cubs – From the pure underdog point of view, I should pick the Cubs to go all the way but since I have a horse in this race the Cubs can wait another year.  I’ll pick the Pirates to go on to the NLCS since it will mean shorter trips for my team. By the way, it’s outrageous that these two teams with the 2nd & 3rd best records in baseball this season are forced to play this one game ‘coin flip’ playoff.  MLB really needs to work out their backasswards playoff system.

Divisional Series

Blue Jays vs. Rangers – The Blue Jays are an exciting team from a congenial country to the North.  And they have R.A. Dickey.  The Rangers have never excited me.   Blue Jays for the win.

Royals vs. Astros – I enjoyed the Royals return to greatness last season and hope that they have a chance to go all the way one year soon.

Cardinals vs. Pirates – I’m even more tired of seeing Cardinals win things that I am of seeing the Yankees win things.  Pirates (or Cubs) all the way!

Dodgers vs. Mets – My favorite team in baseball versus my third least favorite.  Easy choice!  Let’s go Mets!!!

League Championship Series

Blue Jays vs. Royals – I kind of think of these teams as being very genial, so this will be a most polite (and blue) series.  I give the Blue Jays a slight nod due to their entertaining style of play and Dickey-ness.

Mets vs. Pirates – Once again, I can root for no one else to win but the Mets!

World Series

Blue Jays vs. Mets – Oh how I’d love to see this World Series play out, with the Mets winning of course.  But really, I’ll take a Mets victory over any AL opponent.

Predictions

And here are my colder, lest fannish picks for how actual postseason outcomes will play out.

Wild Card Round

Yankees beat Astros
Cubs beat Pirates

Divisional Series

Blue Jays 3, Rangers 0
Royals 3, Yankees 1
Cardinals 3, Cubs 2
Mets 3, Dodgers 1

League Championship Series

Blue Jays 4, Royals 2
Cardinals 4, Mets 1 :(

World Series

Blue Jays 4, Cardinals 3

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Photopost: Portland Sea Dogs


On our way home from a family camping trip in Freeport, ME, we stopped in Portland to take in a Sea Dogs baseball game. The Sea Dogs are the Double A affiliate of the Red Sox who play in the Eastern League.  This was our first game at Portland’s Hadlock Field, and we’ve now been to see games of all of the Red Sox organization teams in New England, having seen many games of the Lowell Spinners, Pawtucket Red Sox, and the Boston Red Sox themselves.

The opponent of the day was the Harrisburg Senators (affiliated with the Washington Nationals), and the theme of the day was offense.  There were lots of hits, walks, wild pitches, defensive miscues, and most of all, runs.  Reluctantly, we had to leave after 9 innings with the score tied 12-12.  We listened to the end of the game (a loss for Portland) on the radio as we drove home to Boston.

Hadlock Field is a charming place to watch baseball.  Slugger the Sea Dog is a fun mascot, the between innings games are amusing, the Sea Dog Biscuit (ice cream cookie sandwich) is tasty, and the lighthouse that pops up behind the centerfield fence is really cool.  I hope to catch another game their one day soon, but hopefully next time a pitchers’ duel.

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


Baseball … alive and well.

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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Photopost: Boston Breakers versus Portland Thorns FC


On Sunday, our family went to see the Boston Breakers play a soccer match against the Portland Thorns FC.  My toddler daughter Kay didn’t last long and after about 20 minutes or so my wife had to take her to a playground.  But my son Peter and I stayed to watch the entire game even during a rain shower in the final minutes.

Things started well with an early goal by Lianne Sanderson for the Breakers, but overall the team played sloppily failing to connect on passes and leaving goalkeeper Ashley Phillips exposed to attacks by the Thorns.  A great number of fans in attendance were there to see the Thorns superstar player Alex Morgan with a subset actively cheering for the team from Oregon (including a handful of supporters holding Thorns’ scarves through the games).  They were pleased to see Morgan even the score in the 23rd minute.

The Breakers were able to hang on until the rain began to fall and in the 87th Morgan made the assist for Melana Shim’s game-winning goal.  A disappointing performance by the Breakers, but a fun game with a good vibe in the sellout crowd.  This is the first time we’ve attended a Breakers’ game since their move to Dilboy Stadium in Somerville which is more intimate in seating than Harvard Stadium, but a running track makes the playing field feel very far away.  The Afro-Brazilian drummers who play during the game were at the far corner behind the goal, but I think would help the atmosphere if they played closer to the stands (in fact, there’s plenty of room on the aforementioned track).  Anyway, I need to get my butt in gear and go to more games.

More details on the game from New England Soccer Today and the Boston.com Corner Kicks blog.

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US Open Cup Soccer Comes to Boston


On Wednesday June 12th, the local soccer club the New England Revolution played a game on Boston soil for (I believe) the first time. The match saw the Revs face the New York Red Bulls in the Fourth Round of the US Open Cup.  If you’re not familiar with the US Open Cup, it is a knock-out tournament open to soccer teams from amateur levels to the lower professional divisions and on up to Major League Soccer similar to the FA Cup in England and the Copa del Rey in Spain.  This is the 100th year of competition for the US Open Cup which has a rich if overlooked history.

MLS teams like to schedule US Open Cup home games in alternate venues to allow a more intimate setting in front of fans who may not usually make it to their league games.  The Revolution wisely scheduled this match at Harvard University’s Soldiers Field Socceer Field.  Most Revolution games are played at Gillette Stadium, designed for NFL football for their roommates the New England Patriots, and located in the podunk town of Foxborough* about 30 miles southwest of Boston.  Both the field and cavernous stands of Gillette are ill-suited to soccer.  Harvard’s field veers to far in the opposite direction of being too intimate with seats for only 2,500 fans, but it is a good first step for the ultimate goal of having a professional men’s soccer team call Boston home.

A rainbow crossed the sky before the game and continued to reappear in the first half with the two ends of the bow appearing to reach from goal to goal.  The Revolution’s die-hard supporters groups marched in before the game and filled up a grassy berm at one of the goal ends where the lead the fans with rhythmic chants and flag waving.  Even some Red Bulls supporters came up to occupy the opposing end of the field.  All of this created a wonderful atmosphere for the enthusiastic fan’s in attendance, and most importantly the Revolution won an exciting game 4-2.  They advance to the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup versus DC United, which will be played Maryland on June 26th.  It was great fun riding the MBTA #66 bus home after the game on a bus full of happy Revs fan.  The team is now 1-0 on Boston soil.  Let’s hope we can do this all again.

Some more thoughts on the game from New England Soccer Today.

* Sorry to insult Foxborough, which I’m sure is a lovely town, but the stadium itself is poorly located with no access by public transportation and even auto access is along one road (US 1) that is several miles drive to the nearest interstate.  The NFL has wealthy season ticket holders, corporate interests, and lucrative television deals so they can afford to pretend it is still the 1960’s/70’s and turn their backs on the cities.  Professional soccer (like baseball, hockey, and basketball) needs to tie themselves with the resurgence and growth of the urban core as amply demonstrated by the successful soccer specific stadiums in Portland, Vancouver, Montreal,  Kansas City, and even Houston.  Seattle is even able to make it’s urban NFL stadium a big draw for soccer.  The Revolution or a new team in one of the lower divisions would be wise to settle into Boston and take advantage of an untapped market of college students, young professionals, and immigrant communities with time and money to spend.

 

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World Cup Qualifying – A World-Wide Approach?


The past week featured another round of qualifying games for the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2014 to be held in Brazil.  Under the current rules, the six association football confederations (loosely representing the 6 continents inhabited by humans) each conduct a qualifying tournament to determine which teams will represent their confederation.  The number of places in the World Cup Finals varies depending on confederation ranging from 14 places for UEFA (Europe) to 0 or 1 place for OFC (Oceania).

I got to thinking that perhaps it may be more fun and fair if for World Cup qualifying, the confederations were dispensed with entirely and qualifiers were played among national teams from around the world just as they play together in the finals.  The confederations are oddly aligned as it is with Australia, a continent in its own right, has been a member of the Asian Football Confederation since 2006 so they could play more competitive matches.  The South American nations of  Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana do not play in qualifiers with their South American neighbors in CONMEBOL but instead compete in the larger Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football.  So why not mix them all up and create a world-wide tournament.

My thoughts on the world-wide approach to World Cup qualifying is that it would provide several benefits:

  • Dispense with the somewhat arbitrary number of places awarded to each confederation allowing places in the finals to be earned through qualifying competition.
  • Allow nations with weaker teams to increase their level of competitiveness by matching up against some of the world’s best national teams.
  • On the other hand, the higher ranking teams may use matches against minnows as an opportunity to test younger players under tournament conditions.
  • Increase cultural exchange and international awareness among football players and supporters.
  • Standardize the number of qualifying matches played.  Currently, depending on the confederation, a national team may play as few as 8 matches and as many as 24 matches in qualification rounds, plus intercontinental playoffs for teams that did not qualify directly.  My proposal would have each team that makes it to the finals playing in 12 or 18 games.
  • Extend the drama and tension of the World Cup by having it build up over a two-year period of tournament play with the number of teams winnowed away until the 31 places for the finals are filled.

There are 209 member nations in FIFA.  With the host nation automatically qualifying, that leaves as many as 208 national teams fighting for the remaining 31 spots.  My proposal below works on the premise that all 208 national teams will be participating, although historically the greatest number of teams to enter qualification was 205 for the 2010 World Cup qualifying rounds.

Initially, I considered that the 208 teams could be drawn into 52 groups of four for the first round of qualification.  Then I considered the possibility of high-ranking teams getting eliminated by other high-ranking teams early on while weaker sides advanced from less competitive groups.  So for the round of qualification, some of the best teams in the world will have a bye as is already the common practice in the early round(s) of confederation-based qualification.

FIRST ROUND BYES

32 national teams will be granted a bye from participating in the first round.  The byes may be awarded to the top 32 teams in the FIFA World Ranking at the time qualifying is to begin, or they may be given to the 32 teams that participated in the previous World Cup finals, or some other methodology agreed upon as fair by FIFA member nations.

FIRST ROUND

Up to 176 teams may participate in the First Round of World Cup Qualifiers.  They would be drawn into 44 groups of 4 teams each.  Within the groups the teams play a double round robin (home and away against each opponent in the group) for a total of six games.  The top two teams at the end of group play advance to the second round while the remaining teams are eliminated from qualification.  To determine the order of teams in their group they will be ranked by points,then  goal difference, and then total number of goals scored.  If two or more teams are still equal on all three criteria then they will be ranked on head-to-head points, goal differential, and total goals.  If teams remain tied and it affects what team may advance to the next round then a one-game playoff will be played at a neutral location.

SECOND ROUND

The 88 teams that advance from the First Round and the 32 teams that received first round byes come together for a total of 120 national teams.  These teams will be drawn into 30 groups of 4 teams each.  In this round the top 30 teams will be seeded based on the current world rankings prior to the draw. Once again teams will play a total of 6 matches in a double round robin.  The top two teams of each group advanced to the third and final qualifying round.  The same ranking order and  tie breakers described in the first round apply.

THIRD ROUND

The 60 teams that survive the second round will once again be seeded into 15 groups of 4 with the top 15 teams seeded.  Similar to the first two rounds, the teams play a double round robin within their groups for a total of 6 games.  The top teams from each group advance to World Cup Finals.  Third place teams may have one more chance in a playoff for the final spot.  The same ranking order and  tie breakers described in the first round apply.

PLAYOFF FOR THE 32nd SPOT

With 30 teams qualified joining the host nation, one last spot remains in the 32-team field.  The 15 teams that finished third place in their groups will be ranked according to their performance in the second and third rounds combined (12 games total), with the top two teams (using the standard criteria for ranking and tiebreaker( advancing to a playoff for the 32nd place in the World Cup Finals.  The playoff would be a simple two-legged home-and-away tie determined on aggregate goals with away goals, extra time, and then a penalty shootout used to break any draws.

***

And so we have our field of 32 teams winnowed down from 209.  I’d think as each round progresses the tension and excitement would build leading into an exciting finals.  What do you think?  Would this be a fair and entertaining way of determining which national teams participate in the quadrennial event?  Or would it be bogged down by unbalanced matches between top ranked sides and minnows?  Would UEFA and CONMEBOL dominate the qualifiers and shut out the other confederations entirely or would we learn that the world is more competitively balanced than we ever imagined?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

MLB Realignment


On this night where Major League Baseball celebrates it’s All-Star Game, I’m pondering the future of my favorite spectator sport.  There are a lot of changes coming to the game.  This season, each league will be awarding two Wild Card spots meaning a total of  ten teams will be eligible for post season play.  Next season, the Houston Astros will move to the American League creating two 15-team leagues and ensuring the need for interleague games every day of the season.

Both of these changes are being made due to problems that arose from earlier changes in MLB in the 1990s (namely three-division leagues, wild cards, and interleague play).  I believe these changes will just make further problems down the road.  Proponents of the two Wild Card system say that it makes the Wild Card teams earn their way into the postseason by making them face one another in a one game playoff (where the rules of randomness mean either team is likely to win).  Far from being weak interlopers, Wild Card teams have often been the second place team in the toughest division and by my accounting 24 of the 34 Wild Card winners from 1995 to 2011 had regular season records equal or better to one or more division champions in their league in the same season.  In this new scenario, the 2001 Oakland A’s winner of 102 regular season games would have to play the 85-win Minnesota Twins to prove they were good enough to be in the playoffs with the division champion New York Yankees (95 wins) and Cleveland Indians (91 wins). Huh?!   If anything, it’s the “champions” of weak divisions that are getting an easy entry into the postseason and now weaker Second Wild Card teams will have the opportunity as well through a one-game roll of the dice.  I can foresee the scenario where 95+ win team fighting to the last day of the season for a division title and having to settle for the First Wild Card will have to face a rested team with 90 or fewer wins in that one game playoff.  That’s not good for baseball.

Interleague play has it merits.  It’s exciting to see intracity rivalries (Mets-Yankees, Cubs-White Sox), intrastate rivalries (Giants-A’s, Astros-Rangers) and even two teams from cities relatively close to one another such as the Red Sox and Phillies play out.  It’s less interesting when the Red Sox play the Padres or the Brewers, and the Phillies play the Twins or the Mariners.  It’s especially confounding that the introduction of divisional and interleague play means that a team like the Phillies plays their interstate rivals the Pirates far less frequently than they used to.  More interleague play means that teams are playing fewer games against the teams their competing with for a title and often  playing schedules that are composed of teams of different strengths and abilities.  It’s all a bit of a muddle and in the end I think it makes the regular season less interesting and makes it so the teams that make the playoffs aren’t necessarily the best teams in baseball.

For some time now, I’ve been mulling over a plan of the changes I would make to Major League Baseball to make it more exciting, competitive, and fair.  On the surface, my plan seems radical, but I think ultimately it preserves (or brings back) many traditional elements of baseball such as the balanced schedule, regional rivalries, pennant races, and the end of interleague play as we know it.

My Proposal to Improve Major League Baseball

My idea for Major League Baseball would realign its current 30 teams into three regional, 10-team leagues.  A team would face the other teams 18 games (9 home, 9 away) a season in a balanced schedule of 162 games.  There would be no interleague play and no divisions so each and every game would be against a league rival.  Each win and each loss would move a team up or down in the standings.

The advantages of this realignment are many:

  • Regional play would promote rivalries, which would in turn boost attendance and television ratings.
  • It would be easier for fans to travel to more road games, again improving attendance.
  • National games of the week on network and cable TV will also be able to be scheduled to target markets in each of the three regions with appropriate starting times.
  • Regional play would also reduce the wear and tear of travel on the players.   In fact, MLB could promote the reduction in travel as a green initiative since it would reduce the number of air miles the teams would have to fly each season.
  • With as many games as possible played in the same time zone, East Coast fans will no longer have to stay up past midnight to see the end of their team’s road games on the West Coast and West Coast fans won’t have to sneak out of work to see the beginning of their team’s road games on the East Coast.   The starting time for  games will be more predictably the same time every day increasing television ratings.
  • The balanced schedule means that each team competing for a postseason spot is facing the same opponents for the same number of games.
  • Teams can no longer qualify for the postseason by being the champions of  weak division of five teams.

The Leagues

American League:  Baltimore Orioles,  Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, and Washington Nationals.

The new American League brings together several historic franchises in the Northeast.  Six of these teams are currently in the American League including three charter members still in the same cities as they were in 1901 (Red Sox, Indians, Tigers) and the team with more AL pennants than any other (Yankees).  While Washington has had a National League team since 2005, it also has a long history of teams in the American League from 1901-1971.  This league would benefit greatly from many city, state, and regional rivalries and the ease of travel for visiting fans.

National League: Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, St. Louis Cardinals, and Tampa Bay Rays.

With six current National League teams, the new NL maintains the history with two franchise dating back to 1876 (Braves, Cubs), the birthplace of professional baseball (Cincinnati), and the National League’s leader in pennants and championships (Cardinals).  The NL retains one of baseball’s most storied rivalries (Cubs and Cardinals) and will gain new rivalries in Chicago, Missouri, and Florida as well as other regional face-offs.

Continental League:  Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland A’s, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers.

The name is a throwback to an earlier attempt at a third league as well as a tribute to how baseball has grown to cover the continent in this the most geographically spread out of the three leagues.  Six of these teams joined Major League Baseball as expansion teams with the other four originating in Northeastern cities before moving West.  Two of the largest states in the union – California and Texas – are well represented in this league as well as more isolated baseball outposts in Seattle, Denver, and Phoenix.

The Pennant

Historically, baseball awarded the pennant to the team that demonstrated excellence over the course of a long season by winning the most games.  Before the modern World Series began in 1903, the pennant was the championship, but even after that it was considered a major accomplishment.  In 1954, the New York Giants were given a ticker tape parade for winning the National League pennant but not for subsequently winning the World Series.  Since the introduction of divisional play in 1969, the importance of the pennant has diminished as it has been awarded to the teams that play in the World Series regardless of where they finished in the regular season meaning that some brilliant accomplishments such as the 2001 Seattle Mariners 116-win season have been overshadowed.  In my three league system, the pennant would be restored as an honor granted to the first place finishers in each league with considerable promotional effort made to make it an award nearly as important at the World Series championship.

Playoffs and World Series

The top three teams from each league would qualify for postseason play for a total of nine teams.

Third place qualifying round:  The playoffs would begin with a qualifying round for the third place teams. The three teams would be seeded based on regular season performance and play a three game playoff:

  • Game 1: #3 seed at #2 seed
  • Game 2: Winner of Game 1 at #1 seed (winner of this game advances to next round of playoffs)
  • Game 3: Loser of Game 1 versus loser of Game 2 (winner of this game advances to next round of playoffs)
Quarterfinals:  The eight teams would be seeded according to regular season record as follows – First place teams seeded 1-3, second place teams seeded 4-6, and third place teams seeded 7-8.  Then the teams would be matched in a best-of-five series with 8 versus 1, 7 versus 2, 6 versus 3, and 5 versus 4.  The higher seed has home field advantage in the series.
Semifinals: The teams are re-seed by regular season records to play in a best-of-seven series with 4 versus 1, and 3 versus 2.  The higher seed has home field advantage in the series.
World Series:  The two remaining teams face off for the championship of baseball in a best-of-seven series.  The higher seed has home field advantage in the series.

Other Issues

Designated Hitter: For nearly forty years, the American League has played by a different set of rules than the National League by allowing a batter who does not play on the field to bat in place of the pitcher.  With three leagues this rule would have to be addressed and I propose dropping the designated hitter and requiring pitchers to bat for themselves.  The rule encourages specialization by allowing pitchers who cannot hit and batters who cannot field to prosper in the game.  It also encourages aging sluggers to continue playing at the expense of younger, possibly more well-rounded players.   The National League has not suffered from the absence of a DH and if players feel that they are losing a professional opportunity then the rosters may be expanded to 26 players as a tradeoff.  At any rate, most DH’s today are able to adequately field and an organization that encourages its pitchers to become capable batters would gain a competitive advantage over those that continue to accept the canard that “pitchers can’t hit.”

All-Star Game: When the All-Star Game originated in 1933, it was a hotly contested match-up of two competing leagues and a rare opportunity for the fans of one league to see the players of the other league.  Today, many players seem indifferent to the All-Star Game, actively avoiding participating and the game itself is not competitively played with many substitutions made for show rather than strategy.   Nationally televised games and interleague play mean that most players are not strangers to baseball fans.   Three leagues would complicate the staging of a All-Star Game and I would suggest that it is a tradition that has run its course.  Despite not playing the game, I would continue the tradition of awarding All-Star honors with fans voting for their favorite players and a panel of former players and sports journalist also selecting the best players at each position who have been overlooked by the fans.  Other All-Star Week traditions such as the Futures Game and the Home Run Derby would continue based around a new mid-season celebration of baseball of my own devising.

International Tournament: Baseball is growing in popularity globally and I think Major League Baseball should seize the initiative by staging an annual event to celebrate international competition.  The World Baseball Classic has succeeded by pitting the national teams of several baseball-playing countries, but I’d like to see a competition that brings together the best league teams of world together akin to the UEFA Champions League in European soccer.  Since baseball is played everyday it would be difficult to schedule a tournament on the Champions League model, but I believe MLB could host an exciting, short tournament at midseason in place of the All-Star Game.

I would propose an 8 team tournament with automatic berths to the previous year’s pennant winners from the American, National, and Continental Leagues.   I would also give berths to the best teams of Central League and Pacific League of Nippon Professional Baseball.  The final three berths would be won through a qualification process among the best teams from other professional baseball leagues including the Mexican League, Nicaraguan Professional Baseball League, China Baseball League, Korea Baseball Organization, Chinese Professional Baseball League, Italian Baseball League, Honkbal Hoofdklasse (Netherlands), Australian Baseball League and the winners of the Caribbean Series.

The teams would be seeded into two groups of four which would play a three-game  round robin group stage.  Then there would be a one-game semifinal with the 2nd place team of one group facing the 1st place team of the other group.  The winners of the semifinals would meet for the championship in a one game final.  These games would be played over the course of five consecutive days in three major league stadiums (one from each league).  Two stadiums would host group play and a semifinal, while the third stadium would host the final as well as other events such as the Futures Game and the Home Run Derby.  Players who have been voted as All-Stars will be introduced in a pre-game ceremony before the final.  There are some challenges to this international tournament such as the fact that three teams will have to play up to five competitive games while the other 27 teams rest, but I think it would be an exciting alternative to All-Star Game and a good way to promote baseball worldwide.

So that’s my plan for Major League Baseball.  Do you think it would work?  Do you like the changes MLB is currently making?  Do you have ideas of your own?  Let me know in the comments!

Photopost: Mass United FC


Yesterday, my son Peter and I attended a Mass United FC soccer game for the first time.  Mass United is plays in the National Premier Soccer League, which is the fourth level on the United States soccer pyramid (which I guess would be equivalent to A-league in baseball terms).  The game was sparsely attended but this did not seem to bother my son one whit as he watched all 90 minutes and cheered “Go United Go!!!” the whole time.  The other fans seemed more amused than annoyed, so who was I to curb his enthusiasm.  Sadly, Mass United loss to the New York Red Bulls academy team 1-2.  The Red Bulls’ goals in the first half came on embarrassing lapses by the United defense, but the United goal in the second half came on a beautiful bicycle kick.  Since Peter enjoyed the game so much, we’ll have to go again although most games start at 7 pm which may be rough on a 4 year old.  Maybe next season?

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Photopost: Baseball Double Header


Over Memorial Day Weekend, I enjoyed a two-city, two-team, two-day baseball double header. On Sunday, I traveled down to New York to see R.A. Dickey and the Mets take on the San Diego Padres in the good company of some of my Mets fan friends. The next day, my son Peter & I went to Fenway Park for the Red Sox victory over the Detroit Tigers.

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Soccer Spectating Report 7-26 June: Gold Cup Edition


The CONCACAF Gold Cup came and went with the US Men’s National Team’s uninspiring loss. The Boston Breakers are treading water and the New England Revolution are abysmal so things are pretty miserable in my soccer world. Luckily the Women’s World Cup is starting and hopefully that will lift my spirits.

Canada 0:2 United States (June 7)

The USMNT opened their Gold Cup campaign with a satisfying win against our neighbors to the north.  Clint Dempsey’s goal was especially pleasing.  Tim Howard made several dramatic saves in the second half to keep Canada from getting back in the game.

New York Red Bulls 2:1 New England Revolution (10 June)

The Revolution once again fought back late, showing that at times they do have some talent, but it was too little too late to get a point on the road against Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls.

Panama 2:1 United States (11 June)

Hopefully this game can be a wake-up call about underestimating one’s opponents.  Panama is better than expected but the US really shot themselves in the foot in their first ever loss in Gold Cup group play.

United States 1:0 Guadeloupe (14 June)

This was a “must-win” for the USMNT and the game was really not much in doubt, but the result is still startlingly close considering how often the US tested the Guadeloupe goal.

New England Revolution 1:1 Chicago Fire (18 June)

Once again the Revs were shaky in the first half and settled down to play in the second half.  Rajko Lekic got off the schneid with his 48th minute goal, but once again too little too late.  This game was marred also by Gillette Stadium security using excessive force to regulate profanity by supporters in The Fort.  This team and this season are just ugly, ugly, ugly.

United States 2:0 Jamaica (19 June)

After a shaky group stage the USMNT finally appeared to be coming into form with this quarterfinal victory over the Reggae Boyz.  Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey scored the goals.

Atlanta 0:0 Boston (19 June)

With the top players off to prepare for the Women’s World Cup and Georgia under some oppressive heat, the two sides endured a grueling if lethargic draw.  Hey, a point on the road, right?

United States 1:0 Panama (22 June)

The USMNT extracted a measure of revenge against the still competitive Panama side with this semifinal victory.  Clint Dempsey once again provided the goal scoring on an assist by Landon Donovan.  Freddy Adu was a surprise substitute and played impressively.

Mexico 2:0 Honduras (22 June)

I had good intentions of watching more than just the USMNT games in the Gold Cup but this semifinal is the only non-US game I caught.  Mexico was truly the class of the tournament but a scrappy Honduran side held them scoreless until extra time.  Then the wheels fell off and Mexico scored twice including a “crotch shot” by Chicharito.

United States 2:4 Mexico (25 June)

First the positives.  It was an exciting, dramatic game and it was great to see the USMNT get off to a hot start with two early games.  After that, it was awful.  The US could not defend to save their lives and Mexico scored four unanswered goals in front of an audience largely made up of Mexico supporters.  Mexico is obviously the better team right now but it didn’t need to be this ugly.  This is obviously a wake-up call for the USMNT if they hope to get the team deep into the 2014 World Cup.

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