Learn to Curl ūü•Ć


Last night I attended a Learn to Curl event sponsored by the North End Curling Club at Steriti Memorial Rink in Boston. I’ve long been curious about trying curling but until this year I was only aware of curling clubs in the distant Boston suburbs that seemed to much a hassle to get to, so I was pleased to find an opportunity accessible by the MBTA.

Curling is a sport that originated five centuries ago in Scotland but is most popular as a pastime and a competitive sport in Canada.¬† Americans like myself are most familiar with curling from the Winter Olympics, especially after the USA Men’s team took the gold medal in 2018.

The North End Curling Club volunteers were friendly and split us into groups of 4 to learn the basics.¬† The most important rules we learned off the bat are 1) do not run on the ice (even if you’re sweeping, because if you need to run the stone is going fast enough), and 2) do not walk backward.¬† Being very protective of my noggin, I took these rules to heart.

The joke about curling is that it is not a very athletic pursuit, but it is more strenuous than it looks, or so my leg muscles are telling me today.  Basically, the process of throwing a stone is not unlike doing a bunch of lunges.  On ice.  While pushing a ~40 pound weight.

I found throwing challenging because each part of the body is doing something different all at the same time and I struggled to make sure I could remember all of them!

  • the dominant foot (in my case, the right foot)is seated in the hack which is used to give something solid to push of from.¬† Once you push off you drag that leg behind while trying to avoid letting your knee hit the ice which causes you to slow down and (ouch!) hurts
  • the other leg (my left) is bent at a 90 degree angle with the foot placed on top of a slider.¬† You have to be careful not to step on the slider while fully upright lest you slip and crack your skull. Competitive curlers actually have the slider built into the sole of their shoe.
  • the dominant hand holds the handle of the stone and the skip will instruct you whether to turn it toward 2 o’clock or 10 o’clock position depending on which direction they want the stone to curl.¬† Right before your release the stone you turn the handle to 12 o’clock to initiate the curl.
  • the other hand holds a stabilizer.¬† Competitive curlers hold their broom sticks but at our lesson we had a device made of pvc pipes.
  • your body is positioned to align itself directly toward the skip at the other end of the sheet.
  • your head is up and looking toward the skip and where you are aiming the stone even if you want to look at all your other body parts because you want to make sure they’re in the right place.

Throwing the stone was the most challenging part for me as I never got to a point where I threw with very good weight, or velocity.¬† To be in play, the stone must cross the hog line at the far end of the sheet which seems a long way away! I did get better over time although I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in my group who fell over while doing it.

Luckily, everyone on the team rotates through responsibilities so I only had to throw two stones each end (an end is when each team takes turns throwing all 8 of their stones akin to an inning in baseball).¬† If you’re not throwing, you are likely to be sweeping and sweeping is as simple and obvious as it looks.¬† The purpose of sweeping is to heat the ice in front of the stone to reduce friction and allow it to travel further.¬† The skip calls out instructions such as “sweep!,” “hard!” (to make you sweep more vigorously), and “off” (to stop sweeping).

The part I enjoyed most was taking a turn as the skip.¬† The skip stands by the house, the bullseye target the thrower is aiming towards, and gives instruction to their teammates. As skip I set a target for the thrower, marking it with my broom, and raise my right or left hand to indicate which direction to curl the stone. I also tell them whether the thrower should try to set up a guard stone that will block the opponent on their next turn, or a take-out stone to knock away the opponents stone already in the house.¬† The skip gives instructions to the sweepers and can join in sweeping once the stone crosses the hog line closest to the house.¬† I could also sweep to try to make the opponent’s stone go past the house once it passed the center line of the house which was deviously fun. The skip also has the responsibility of throwing the last two stones which are generally expected to be knock-out throws, which as I’ve noted was a challenge for me since I had trouble getting my stones to even cross the entire sheet, but I think my best two throws of the night were when I was the skip.

After learning the basics, we played 4 ends.¬† The other team won the first two ends narrowly by scores of 1-0 and 2-0.¬† We finally won on the 3rd end rather dramatically when one of my teammates threw the last stone (known as the hammer) and knocked several of the opponent’s stones out of the house leaving only one of our own.¬† We also won the final end 1-0, and thus the final score for the entire game was 3-2 to our opponents.

Curling is a lot of fun and I would like to do it again.¬† The big challenge is that membership in the North End Curling Club is cost prohibitive.¬† It makes sense since it’s expensive to rent ice time and rent the curling stones.¬† I think I will have to try to save up and see if I can do it next year.

The Great Baseball Card Bubble of 1987


I saw this tweet the other day and I had to laugh because it brought back memories of the time in my childhood when I was deeply invested in the baseball card collecting hobby.¬† I can’t remember when I started collecting baseball cards, but sometime in the early 80s my uncle gave me a large number of cards from the 1978 Topps set.¬† To this I added current cards from wax packs my parents would buy me, hoping to get cards of the two New York City teams and some of the big stars of the day like Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose, Tom Seaver, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Murray, George Brett, and Fernando Valenzuela.

Oddly, my baseball card hobby actually preceded my baseball fandom by several years, but by 1985 when I started following baseball intensely, my card collecting also picked up. Now I I would my money from birthdays and such at corner stores on wax packs hoping to get my favorite team (now solely the Mets), the best players of the day, and hopefully complete the set.  I started getting Baseball Cards Magazine and learned a lot about the history of baseball cards going back to the 1950s when Topps started, and even earlier cards made by no longer extant companies.  I also learned that Topps was not alone, but had competitors named Fleer and Donruss, and soon a company called Score would release a set with color photos on both sides of the card!

Baseball Cards Magazine informed me that older cards were most valuable, but there were also error cards from more recent sets that were rare and valuable.  I searched my cards, but alas, never found the rare variants. Another type of card considered valuable is the rookie card, which is the very first card issued for a particular player by any company.  Sometimes rookie cards were issued before a player even made their Major League debut, and I found I had a Mark McGwire card from when he was on the USA baseball team in 1984. The Baseball Cards Magazine price guide said my card was worth $15 (I never sold it though).

Towards the late 80s, the baseball card hobby began shifting more and more toward emphasis on collecting rookie cards.  It helped that a large number of young players began emerging as potential stars at that time.  Wally Joyner, pictured above, was the first rookie player elected to start in the All-Star Game ever in 1986, and in 1987 even more rookies made the All-Star rosters.  Soon the ads in the back of Baseball Cards Magazine were all selling lots of rookie cards by the 100s for players like Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Will Clark, Mike Greenwell, Mark McGwire, Gregg Jeffries, Benito Santiago, Kevin Seitzer, Ruben Sierra, Cory Snyder, Danny Tartabull and of course, Wally Joyner. The hope for collectors is that by buying up lots of cards of players when they were young would make them more valuable for resale when they became Hall of Famers. The hobby became less appealing to me the more it became an investment vehicle like the stock market.

Of course, none of these players were inducted into the Hall of Fame, and most of them weren’t even superstars.¬† Bonds, Canseco, and McGwire were superstars but are also among the most prominent players to have their legacies tarnished by using performance enhancing drugs. I avoided buying the lots of rookie cards, although I was convinced to save up my money to buy the 1987 Topps Traded set, which had 132 cards of players traded since the original 1987 set was published and included the first cards of several “prominent rookies.” I believe I saved up $15 plus shipping & handling to get this set by mail order.¬† This spring when I was in a baseball card shop in Cooperstown, I saw the exact same set for sale for $10.¬† The lots of rookie cards that my fellow hobbyists invested in 30 years ago have similarly not appreciated in price.

These days, my son – and to a lesser extent, my daughter – has taken up an interest in baseball card collecting.¬† Baseball cards have come a long way, and following the innovations of that first Score set now have color photos on both sides on high-quality card stock.¬† Unfortunately, this means one can no longer buy a pack with pocket change at the corner store, but have to spend several dollars for a pack at a specialty shop.¬† Instead of a rookie card bubble, my son is drawn in by the chance of getting limited edition cards inserted into packs that have actual player autographs and swatches of game-used uniforms and equipment (which strikes me as eerily like the relics of Christian saints).¬† While I can’t say these cards are worth what my son is paying for them, it is nice that they are actually something unique and pleasant to look at. You can’t say that for a lot of 100 Wally Joyner rookie cards.

2019 MLB Postseason Predictions and Preferences


Well, the Major League Baseball postseason is upon us again.¬† I’ve defied the orthodoxy about having just one favorite team and followed my beloved New York Mets since childhood and my hometown Red Sox since moving to Boston 21 years ago.¬† For the first time since 2014, neither one of my favorite teams will participate in the postseason.¬† To add insult to injury, teams that I absolutely despise – the St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, and Atlanta Braves – will all be in the competition to add to their massive piles of pennant flags and World Series trophies so their stuck-up fans can lord it over the rest of us peasants.

My strategy in a postseason like this is to root for underdogs and teams with long droughts of winning pennants and championships.¬† As a Mets fan, I’m supposed to hate the Washington Nationals, but I’ve never been able to build up the enmity since the only time the two teams were both good enough to battle for the NL East title was 2015, and Mets got the better of the Nats that season.¬† The Nationals have consistently been a top-notch team the past decade, but have famously never won a postseason series.¬† Plus, I have a lot of friends in the Washington area and it would be nice for them to see their team get of the schneid.

The other National League team I’ll be rooting for is the Milwaukee Brewers.¬† Like the Nationals they are a franchise dating back to 1969 (they played one season in Seattle before moving to Milwaukee in 1970) and have never won a World Series.¬† The Brewers have one pennant flag from 1982 when the team still played in the American League.

Over in the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays are the franchise with the most futility, having won only won pennant (2008) since joining MLB in 1998.¬† The Oakland A’s historically have won a lot of World Series (9, with the most recent in 1989), but in recent decades they have become an underdog favorite for succeeding despite low payrolls and a decrepit stadium.¬† Honestly, it would be a delight to see smart, small market teams like the A’s and the Rays upset big money teams like the Yankees and Dodgers.

The remaining AL teams are the Minnesota Twins and the Houston Astros.¬† I have a soft spot for the Twins, a team that has won two World Series, most recently in 1991.¬† A Twins championship would also be a victory for a small-market team, albeit not quite the extent of an A’s, Rays, or even Brewers championship.¬† The Astros won their first and only World Series in 2017, so can’t really be viewed as an underdog, but they’ve put together a solid, likable team and I wouldn’t begrudge them a second championship.

Just out of a twisted curiosity, I’d love to see a World Series matchup between the Houston Astros and Milwaukee Brewers, the two teams who switched leagues, to the distress of baseball purists everywhere.¬† Another fun matchup would be the Washington Nationals versus the Minnesota Twins, a franchise that played as the Washington Senators until 1960.

With that said, here are my preferences and predictions:

NATIONAL LEAGUE

WILD CARD GAME

Preference: Nationals defeat Brewers
Prediction:  Brewers defeat Nationals

DIVISIONAL SERIES

Preferences: Braves defeat Cardinals, Nationals defeat Dodgers
Predictions:  Braves defeat Cardinals, Dodgers defeat Brewers

CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

Preference: Nationals defeat Braves
Prediction: Dodgers defeat Braves

AMERICAN LEAGUE

WILD CARD GAME

Preference: Rays defeat A’s
Prediction: Rays defeat A’s

DIVISIONAL SERIES

Preferences: Twins defeat Yankees, Rays defeat Astros
Predictions: Yankees defeat Twins, Astros defeat Rays

CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

Preference: Twins defeat Rays
Prediction: Astros defeat Yankees

World Series:

Preference: Nationals defeat Twins
Prediction: Astros defeat Dodgers

Previous preferences and predictions:

Movie Review: Unforgivable Blackness (2005) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for ‚ÄúU‚ÄĚ in¬†the¬†Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Previous “U” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Unrest.

Title: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson
Release Date: January 17, 2005
Director: Ken Burns
Production Company: WETA | Florentine Films
Summary/Review:

This is the longest documentary I watched for this year’s A to Z series.¬† Generally, I would find it difficult to interest myself in nearly 4 hours about boxing, but Jack Johnson’s life is a fascinating story that could fill an entire mini-series. Johnson, a heavyweight boxer in the early 20th century, broke the color barrier as the first black heavyweight boxing champion.¬† He became America’s first black sports star, and one of the nation’s earliest black celebrities.¬† His affinity towards finely tailored suits, fast cars, drinking, gambling, and enjoying the company of multiple women (especially white women) also made him a controversial figure at a time when black men were expected to be subservient.

Johnson worked his way up the ranks in heavyweight boxing, defeating black and white opponents until it was clear he was one of the best boxers in the world by the early 1900s.  The heavyweight boxing champions had traditionally set a color line refusing to fight black challengers, and the current champion James Jeffries continued that practice.  Instead, Jeffries simply retired as champion in 1905.  Finally, in 1908, an Australian promoter was able to provide a big enough payday to the new champion Tommy Burns to convince him to fight Johnson.  The fight was a mismatch, and Johnson easily took the title.

Over the next few years, the white boxing community put up several “White Hopes” to challenge Johnson, but Johnson was able to retain the title.¬† Finally, Jeffries was convinced to come out of retirement to challenge Johnson in 1910 for the “Fight of the Century” in Reno, Nevada.¬† Johnson once again dominated, and in the wake of the fight race riots broke out in cities across the country.

All of the above is detailed in Part 1 of the movie called “Rise,” while the aftermath of the 1910 title defense begins the “Fall” part of Johnson’s life story, although that’s a somewhat simplistic division.¬† Like Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson would be in the future, Jack Johnson was much more than his fists, but a man with complex interests and interior life.¬† He played the bass and enjoyed automobile racing.¬† Born after the abolition of slavery, he never felt the need to behave himself any other way than the way he was, thus displaying his outsized personality.¬† And – most scandalous for the time – he dated and married white women, at times traveling with a coterie of several women.¬† When asked why white women were attracted to black men, Johnson mysteriously and poetically responded “We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts.”

In 1912, Johnson’s wife Etta Terry Duryea, her depression accelerated by loneliness and Johnson’s infidelity, committed suicide.¬† Later the same year, the government used Johnson’s relationships with prostitutes to charge him under the Mann Act for transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes, a law never intended to target individuals in consensual relationships.¬† After an all-white jury convicted Johnson in 1913, he decided to flee the country while waiting on the appeal and spent several years in exile. Johnson continued to defend his title while abroad, until a 1915 bout against Jess Willard in Havana, Cuba.¬† Ten years older than his opponent and tired by the intense heat of the outdoor bout, Johnson was knocked out.

Johnson returned to the US in 1920 and surrendered to the authorities, serving a one year sentence in Leavenworth Penitentiary.¬† He continued fighting up into the 1940s, although generally in exhibition matches, in order to make money.¬† Johnson offered his assistance to Joe Louis when the latter was contending for the heavyweight champion in the 1930s, but was disappointed when Louis and his manager rebuffed him.¬† Johnson’s flashy lifestyle made him persona non grata as Louis was trying to portray himself as a “respectable” black athlete. Jack Johnson, a man who lived a fast life, tragically died in a car crash in 1946.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

This movie is an entry into race relations in early 20th century United States history. It’s amazing that someone like Jack Johnson could’ve existed at that time considering the virulent racism, strict segregation, and risk of lynching.¬† Johnson certainly suffered a lot from a racist system, but it is amazing that he suceeded as much as he did, and did it with a smile.¬† That he was hated by white Americans was not a surprise, but the fact that black Americans also condemned him for his personal life as much as they did was unexpected.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Another one of my favorite documentaries is also about boxing.¬† When We Were Kings is the story of Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s championship bout in Zaire in 1974 and uses boxing as an entry into bigger issues of race, colonialism, and celebrity.¬† Last year, I watched No-No: A Dockumnetary about Major League Baseball pitcher Dock Ellis, a pioneering black athlete similar to Jack Johnson in that he did not hide his personality and was criticized and condemned for it.

Source: Amazon Prime

Rating: ****


2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.
P: Pelotero
Q: Quest: A Portrait of an American Family
R: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
S: Soundtrack for a Revolution
T: Titicut Follies

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

2019 Major League Baseball Predictions


Time begins on March 28th, when a new Major League Baseball season starts and all the teams are tied for first place (well except in the AL West where Seattle and Oakland have already played two games in Japan).

Here are my predictions for how the 2019 will come to an end.

NL East

The Phillies aggressive offseason will give them the NL East title, although the Nationals will be neck-and-neck with them over the season. The Braves will regress a little after last season’s division championship.¬† The Mets sadly will continue to lack the offense to support the stellar pitching. And Miami will continue to be mediocre.

Philadelphia
Washington (wild card)
Atlanta
New York
Miami

NL Central

The Cubs will reclaim the NL Central and Milwaukee will capture the wild card.¬† I’m honestly not sure how the rest of the division will shake out, because the Reds and Pirates have the talent to surprise, but then again the Cardinals could be better than 3rd as well.

Chicago
Milwaukee (wild card)
St. Louis
Cincinnati
Pittsburgh

NL West

The boring old Dodgers will continue to dominate, while improvements in the Padres will help them snag a distant second place.  The Rockies will regress after their 2018 Wild Card season and Arizona and San Francisco will each drop down a notch.

Los Angeles
San Diego
Colorado
Arizona
San Francisco

AL East

The Red Sox won’t win as many games as last season but neither will the Yankees.¬† The Rays, Blue Jays, and Orioles will each be a little bit better than 2018, but the division will still shake out in the same order.¬† Excepting the Orioles, this is probably the strongest division in baseball & its a shame that only 3 teams can make the postseason.

Boston
New York (wild card)
Tampa Bay (wild card)
Toronto
Baltimore

AL Central

Cleveland will once again win the AL Central, largely for lack of competition within the division.  I expect the Twins will be the only other team to finish over .500, and the remainder of the division could shake out in any order.

Cleveland
Minnesota
Chicago
Detroit
Kansas City

AL West

The Astros, like the Dodgers, will continue to make the regular season a formality.¬† Oakland may challenge for the Wild Card, but I don’t expect much from the rest of the division.

Houston
Oakland
Los Angeles
Seattle
Texas

WILD CARD PLAYOFFS:

Washington defeats Milwaukee
Tampa Bay defeats New York

DIVISIONAL SERIES:

Houston defeats Tampa Bay
Boston defeats Cleveland
Washington defeat Chicago
Los Angeles defeat Philadelphia

CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES:

Boston defeats Houston
Washington defeats Los Angeles

WORLD SERIES:

Somehow the Miracle Mets swoop in and win it all on the 50th anniversary of their first championship!

Book Review: Greed and Glory by Sean Deveney


Author:  Sean Deveney
Title: Greed and Glory: The Rise and Fall of Doc Gooden, Lawrence Taylor, Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump, and the Mafia in 1980s New York
Publication Info: Skyhorse Publishing (2018)
Summary/Review:

Sean Deveney follows up his book about New York City in the 1960s through the lens of local politics and sports, Fun City, with this book about New York City in the 1980s through the lens of local politics and sports.  Fun City focused on two figures, Mayor John Lindsay and Jets quarterback Joe Namath, both handsome, young men who rose to prominence alongside the 60s youth culture and offered the promise of a great future (for themselves and the city) but also had hubris that lead to colossal failures.  Greed and Glory, as evident by the extraordinarily long subtitle is not so focused.  Greed and Glory cuts from storyline to storyline with no clear theme, and often is not even arranged chronologically.

The sports angle is covered by the 1986 World Series champion New York Mets and 1987 Super Bowl champion New York Giants.¬† Star players Dwight Gooden for the Mets and Lawrence Taylor for the Giants each struggle with their celebrity in New York and each end up with cocaine addictions that mar their careers.¬† But Deveney just can’t seem to focus on these two players and what they mean to the larger story of New York in the 1980s, and instead spends a lot of time describing the experiences of other Mets and other Giants and play-by-plays of important games in their championship seasons.¬† And while this kind of narrative can be interesting, there are whole other books dedicated to these teams’ champion seasons, whereas this one promises and fails to tell a more relevant story of Gooden and Taylor in 1980s New York.

The other storylines focus on New York mayor Ed Koch as his third term is rocked by scandals among the Democratic party leaders throughout the city.¬† Future mayor Rudy Giuliani makes his mark as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York by aggressively pursuing cases against the Mafia as well as the political corruption in the Koch administration.¬† And Donald Trump carries out a convoluted plot to get a NFL team and a domed stadium in Queens (paid for with other peoples’ money, naturally) by suing the NFL on behalf of the USFL.¬† The plan fails, but he somehow redeems himself by restoring the Wollman skating rink in Central Park.¬† Pretty much every sketchy detail of his character (and lack thereof) was evident in the 1980s, but for some reason people still decided to make him famous and then elect him President.¬† Ugh!

These storylines – if the Mets/Giants stories were excised – could almost make a good book, but there’s still too much and it just comes out messy. Granted, the 1980s in New York were a mess and it’s still difficult to make any sense of it.¬† Deveney doesn’t make a dent in that mess, but I will give him credit for at least making it a pageturner of a read, if ultimately too fluffy for its own good.

Recommended books:

  • The Bad Guys Won! A Season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo-chasing, and Championship Baseball with Straw, Doc, Mookie, Nails, The Kid, and the Rest of the 1986 Mets, the Rowdiest Team Ever to Put on a New York Uniform–and Maybe the Best by Jeff Pearlman
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler
  • Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
  • New York Calling : From Blackout to Bloomberg edited by Marshall Berman and Brian Berger.

Rating: **1/2

Podcasts of the Week ending November 10


Planet Money :: The Seattle Experiment  and Hot Dog Hail Mary

What if you could give more money to politicians running for office, and spend less money getting food at a NFL game?¬† Two different Planet Money podcasts focus on experiments, one in Seattle where voters were given money they could donate to their candidate(s) of choice and one in Atlanta where the Falcons are slashing concessions prices.¬† Find out how these challenges to traditional economics worked out – or didn’t – by listening to these podcast episodes.

RadioLab :: Tweak the Vote

RadioLab explores how ranked choice voting makes elections more representative of the people and more civil in practice.

99% Invisible :: Devolutionary Design

The story of how an image of legendary golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez ended up being used for the cover of legendary rock band Devo’s first album.

 

Podcasts of the Week Ending November 3


Household Name :: Sears: There Was More For Your Life

The story of the demise of the legendary store, Sears.  Turns out it is owned by an Ayn Rand devotee whose investments make a profit when stores close.  Go figure!

Smithsonian Sidedoor :: Seriously Seeking Sasquatch

You won’t find anything about Sasquatch, a.k.a. Bigfoot, at the Smithsonian museums, but you will find the skeleton a scientist who dedicated his life to researching Bigfoot. Find out why in this podcast.

30 for 30 :: Six Who Sat

The story of the women who fought for equality to participate in running events in the 1970s.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Theater of the Mind

The history of radio dramas from the War of the Worlds to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to NPR’s foray into adapting Star Wars.

 

Book Review: Fun city by Sean Deveney


Author: Sean Deveney
Title: Fun city : John Lindsay, Joe Namath, and how sports saved New York in the 1960s
Publication Info: New York : Sports Publishing, 2015.
Summary/Review:

Jonathan Mahler’s excellent book¬†Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning examines New York City in 1977 through the lens of that years highly contested mayoral election and the New York Yankees championship season, despite the high conflict within the team.¬† Deveney takes a similar approach to New York City in the 1960s, albeit over a longer period of time. The political point covers the election and first term of liberal mayor John Lindsay, perhaps the last good Republican. The sports angle focuses on quarterback Joe Namath who would lead the New York Jets to an unlikely Super Bowl championship in 1969.¬† Both men are characterized by their youth, good looks, individuality, and celebrity that defines the “New Breed” of 1960s New York.¬† They also both make a lot of mistakes are subject to hefty amounts of criticism.

There’s a lot of nostalgia by proxy for me in this book as this was the New York City of my parent’s teenage and young adult years, a legendary time in “Old New York” that I would only later realize happened just a few years before I was born. Nevertheless, a lot of the issues in the book are startlingly contemporary: structural racism, angry white resentment that minorities are getting too much attention, conflicts over public education, growing inequality, disinvestment in municipal services, resources going to war taking away from resources that could be used to alleviate poverty, et al¬† Other issues are from a different time such as the frightening increase in crime or unions with the power to dictate terms to the Mayor while still calling multiple strikes.

The book follows Lindsay and Namath’s careers from 1965-1970, with in-depth details of city politics and the New York Jets football.¬† Occasionally, Deveney veers into other things happening in New York during the period, such as Muhammad Ali fighting a title bout that would be the last fight¬† in the old Madison Square Garden and coincidentally would also be Ali’s last fight before his draft protest would get him suspended from boxing.¬† Deveney also documents the demise of establishment teams, the New York Yankees and New York Giants, contrasting them with the rise of the fresh, new teams the Mets and the Jets. Lindsay, not a sports fan, attaches himself to the Mets’ 1969 World Series drive as part of his reelection campaign, which proves a successful strategy. A final chapter on the New York Knicks also winning their first championship in 1970 seems more an addendum than tying into the themes of the rest of the book.

I think Deveney is more effective as a straightforward sports writer than political analyst, but overall it’s still a good history of an interesting time in New York City history.

Recommended books: Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler and Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 by Ryan H. Walsh
Rating: ****

Major League Baseball Expansion: A 48 Team Option


Last week I wrote about the possibility of Major League Baseball adding two expansion teams and what a 32-team baseball league might look like. I proposed using expansion as an opportunity to radically change some ways that MLB is currently contested while bringing back some traditional elements.  These changes would make the regular season and postseason more fair and competitive as well as drawing more fans and increasing television ratings.

This week I will propose an even more radical change to Major League Baseball as we know it: adding 18 new teams and creating a 48-team league! In my previous post, I made a list of 25 cities that could possibly become homes to a new baseball club.  So let’s award expansion teams to Buffalo, Charlotte, Columbus, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Louisville, Mexico City, Monterrey, Montreal, Nashville, New Orleans, Norfolk, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Portland, San Antonio, San Juan, and Vancouver. You may ask, how on Earth can Major League Baseball handles something as unwieldy as 48 teams in cities across North America? The answer is by creating a promotion and relegation league system.

What is a Promotion and Relegation System?

Developed in the 19th century for the English Football League, promotion and relegation originated to guarantee that the league competition by expelling the teams with worst records at the end of the season and bringing in new clubs for the next season. Eventually a pyramid of football divisions grew so that each season the top division would “relegate” its worst-performing teams the second division and “promote” the second divisions best teams to the first division. This happens between the second and third divisions, third and fourth divisions, and so on.  The promotion-relegation model is common in European sports leagues and is used in various leagues across the world except in the United States in Canada.

The reason for the lack of promotion and relegation in the United States and Canada goes back to the formation of the first professional baseball league, the National League in 1876.  While the English Football League hoped to promote competition among the best of the existing football clubs, the National League awarded franchises to a limited number of owners to create teams with exclusive territorial rights, and other sports leagues in the US and Canada have followed the same model.  No matter how poorly a team performs it will be guaranteed a spot in the league the next season (as long as the owner keeps the team financially solvent). No matter how well a team in a lower division performs, it will not gain access to the Major Leagues.

In fact, over time lower divisions became known as the Minor Leagues and were developed as a “farm system” where teams affiliated with Major League teams to develop players. Minor League games are more about watching individual players develop and on-field entertainments than winning or losing games which is rendered meaningless by the farm system. The only way Minor League cities have been able to break into the Majors is via infrequent expansions which involve hefty expansion payments to the existing teams, and little chance to develop a cohesive team before beginning play, which means expansion teams are almost universally awful in their first years. The United States is generally regarded as being the beacon of free-market capitalism, and yet while promotion-relegation leagues is a merit-based system, the closed shop of US sports leagues is akin to socialism.

Transition Period

So 18 new baseball clubs are born – and we’ll use the 18 cities I cited above in this example – now what?  To ease us into the new paradigm, lets have a five-year transition period. The current 30 MLB teams will become the MLB First Division and function pretty much as it does today with two leagues of 15 teams each arranged into 3 divisions, with a tiered playoff.  The 18 new teams would play in the MLB Second Division, likely arranged in 3 divisions of 6 teams each with their own postseason competition.

At the end of the five-year transition period, the six MLB First Division teams with the worst cumulative regular season records over those five years will be relegated to MLB Second Division. Just for this example, I determined that the six MLB teams with the worst cumulative records from the 2013 to 2017 regular seasons are the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati, Miami, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and San Diego.  These teams will be relegated to MLB Second Division in the example below.

How a MLB Will Work With Two Divisions

We now have two divisions of 24 teams each.  Much like I proposed for the 32 team option, these teams would be aligned regionally into three leagues of 8 teams each in both divisions.  The 8 team leagues would be a shorter 154-game schedule with no interleague play.  The regional proximity within the leagues would help reduce the wear and tear of travel, encourage rivalries, increase attendance with fans of the away team able to travel to more games, improve broadcast ratings by having most games in the same time zone and starting at consistent times, and playing a balanced schedule that most fairly judges which teams are the best teams.

After the regular season ends, the top team in each league would be awarded the pennant and 8 teams would advance to a postseason tournament. This would be the top two teams from each of the two leagues, and two wild card teams from among the third place finishers.  The teams would be seeded to play in a best-of-5 quarterfinal series, with the winners advancing to a best-of-7 semifinal series, and a best-of-7 World Series.  MLB Second Division would also play a similar postseason tournament.

Here is what the two divisions would like in the first season of the promotion and relegation model:

MLB First Division

EAST CENTRAL WEST
Atlanta Chicago Cubs Arizona
Baltimore Cleveland Houston
Boston Colorado Los Angeles Angels
New York Mets Detroit Los Angeles Dodgers
New York Yankees Kansas City Oakland
Toronto Milwaukee San Francisco
Tampa Bay Pittsburgh Seattle
Washington St. Louis Texas

MLB Second Division

EAST CENTRAL WEST
Buffalo Chicago White Sox Las Vegas
Charlotte Cincinnati Mexico City
Miami Columbus Monterrey
Montreal Indianapolis Oklahoma City
Norfolk Louisville Portland
Orlando Minnesota San Antonio
Philadelphia Nashville San Diego
San Juan New Orleans Vancouver

Promotion and Relegation

Most people are most familiar with promotion and relegation from the English football league system.  Each season, the three worst teams from the Premier League (the first division) are relegated to the EFL Championship (the second division), and three teams from the EFL Championship are promoted to the premier league (in this case, the top two teams from the regular season and the winner of a playoff among the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th place teams). Across the world’s sports leagues there are different models of how many teams are promoted and relegated, and what determines which teams will be promoted and relegated.

My plan would have three teams promoted and three teams relegated each season.  1 team from each league in MLB First Division – East, Central, and West – is relegated and replaced by a team from the respective leagues in MLB Second Division. Instead of simply relegating the team with the worst regular season record from each league, instead the teams relegated would have the worst cumulative record over two seasons.  I propose this rule for three reasons:

  1. No team will end up being relegated for having just one bad season. They’ll have a chance to prove themselves the next season.
  2. Since every team will want avoid relegation by having a strong 2-year cumulative record, a team will have the incentive to try to win every game possible, even late in the season when the team’s been eliminated from postseason contention.
  3. A team promoted from the lower division will have a minimum of two seasons at the higher division, giving them a year to find their footing in the new division, and avoid teams popping back and forth between divisions each year.

Promotion would involve simply advancing the pennant winner from each second division league to the first division league.  I tried to come up with a way that the second division playoffs could be used to determine some or all of the teams promoted, but strictly basing it on the best performances in the regular season seems most fair to me.

Minor Leagues

Even with 48 teams playing in the Major Leagues, there would still be a lot of Minor League teams and each MLB team could affiliate with at least 4 MiLB teams.  Ultimately though, I think it would be imperative to rethink the farm system and expand the promotion and relegation system.  There are enough cities currently at the Triple A and Double A levels of Minor League Baseball that could create a 3rd and 4th division of 24 teams each.  Expanding the promotion and relegation system would make competitive professional baseball available in cities across America. The Minor Leagues could be streamlined then to just two affiliated teams per MLB team: one for development, and one as reserves.

With 48 (or 96) teams, obviously the best players will cluster in the MLB First Division. Teams in lower divisions will try to scout and acquire players to improve themselves and get promoted to a higher division. But there would also be opportunities for teams in the lower division to improve their team and/or financial status by trading their best players or selling their contracts to top division teams.  I would also suggest that MLB adopt player loans, where teams that have a player under contract can temporarily have that player play for a team in another division.  This would be a benefit for top division teams who have young talent that they want to get more playing time, but a team in a lower division going through a rebuilding period may also keep their best players happy by allowing them to play for a more competitive team.

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I won’t go into in this post, but for this new model to work, other things that will need to be adjusted include free agency eligibility rules, the amateur draft, territorial rights, and even MLBs antitrust exemption.  And I’m sure that there are hundreds of little things I’ve overlooked.  Nevertheless, I think this would be an effective approach for MLB to consider in growing baseball and making it more competitive in more cities throughout the continent, while establishing a means to continue to grow into the future.