Monday, May 18, 2015

Closing Time - The Influence of Bill Simmons on Today's Sportswriting

"Closing tine, Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end." 
From "Closing Time" by Semisonic


As you may, or may not know, last week Bill Simmons was relieved of his duties at ESPN. According to numerous sources, his appearance on the Dan Patrick Show to discuss Deflategate was the last straw for John Skipper, the ESPN chief. They had been in negotiations for a new contract, but Skipper called them off and stated they would not reach an agreement before Simmons’ current contract expires in September.

Yes, you read that right – September. Skipper effectively fired Simmons. They have reached an agreement to part ways. How and why they parted ways can be debated by many folks – Vanity Fair has written a couple of pieces about the departure (here and here), written by James Andrew Miller the author of the book ”Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN”, which I haven’t managed to finish yet. J First, I’m amazed that a periodical like Vanity Fair would care so much about Simmons, but that speaks to his reach and the affinity for ESPN material from Miller’s perspective. But don’t think it’s only Miller who is giving his two cents about Simmons, Newsweek, Sports On Earth contributor and Deadspin founder, Will Leitch (and Illinois grad) and the New York Times have published pieces about his departure. This speaks to the influence Simmons had on the sports media culture. Shoot, Rolling Stone even features Simmons in an article. That’s amazing. I’ll be completely honest in admitting to you that this blog probably wouldn't exist without Bill Simmons. He’s that influential. But many are questioning, how?

I can only speak for myself when it applies to the influence of Bill Simmons on the state of sports media. As a sports junkie, I’ve always searched for sources where I could get the information I wanted in the format I desired. More often than not, in the beginning of the Internet Age, it was few and far between. But then I stumbled onto Page 2 at ESPN.com. It was there I found Bill Simmons, and from the very first article of his I read I was hooked. I have been loyally reading his work, both online and in book from, from that very day. What was it about him that I enjoyed so much?

My initial reaction to his writing was – he’s a fan. Like many have opined since the reveal of his departure, most sportswriters up to then seemed as if they were forced to write about sports. As if they were Woodward and Bernstein wannabes who had to write about sports to get their foot in the door. Their fancy words and smarmy attitudes turned me off. This is why I followed very few writers religiously. Simmons changed that for me. He understood me. He knew how much the loss the Bears took out of me on Sunday (even though he was a Patriots fan). He got it. And he parlayed those feelings and emotions to us in his articles. At the same time, he was that guy I always wanted to be around. He gave the impression that he was always having fun. Whether it be with stories about House, Jack-O and J-bug or going to Vegas with the boys, or his gambling manifesto’s (I’m not a gamble, btw, but I enjoyed the columns nonetheless), he was having a good time. And that’s what sports are – a good time. We’re supposed to have fun and enjoy sports. Can they break our hearts? Yes. But can they bring us to the highest of highs as well? Yes, they can. Simmons effortlessly put those emotions on paper and shared them with the world. For once, someone got me.

At the same time, he was hilarious. His sense of humor came from a very similar place as mine. Simmons is only a year younger than me, so we grew up in the same popular culture. He worked those references into his writing seamlessly. Again, I completely understood and bought in. His running diaries of sporting events were genius. Before Twitter, no one expressed their opinions about the NFL Draft as it was going on before. With the diaries, we got to see how the ebb and flow of the draft affected a fan. It was brilliant. He also enjoyed professional wrestling. This is one of my guilty pleasures. I have been a professional wrestling fan since I was about 14. People scoff at it now, but to me, it’s my scripted television show. He made it cool to like WWE and WCW again. I’m thankful for that.

As I remained a fan of Simmons, he grew restless and wanted more. From that spawned the amazing 30for30 documentary series. As a person who reads only non-fiction books, this was heaven for me. Movies on sports personalities, events and situations? Sign me up! I was hooked from the first on the Gretzky trade and have watched every single one of them. I want to make a sports documentary someday - I even have a list of subjects to work from….ask me and I’ll tell you (@illini3sc). It is the single, greatest thing ESPN has ever done and his fingerprints are all over it. The came Grantland, an entire website revolving around sports and pop culture, that was built around Simmons by ESPN. It’s fantastic. To be honest, I don’t even browse to ESPN.com anymore, my only stop in Grantland. Will it continue? Yes. Will it be as good? That’s the difficult question. I sure hope so. They fantastic writers (Keri, Barnwell, Shoemaker, Browne, Lambert, McIndoe, etc…) and should be able to sustain its credibility and relevance. However, without Bill being there and looking forward to his articles, podcasts, etc…, will my page views fall? That I can’t answer for you just yet.

Like I mentioned earlier, this blog wouldn’t be around – I wouldn’t want to try and write sports (for eventually a living) – if it weren’t for Bill Simmons. At first, I tried to model my style after him. Big mistake. But one thing I learned from reading his material was that everyone has their own style. I’ve tried to hone it here. Hopefully, I am succeeding. But I know two things: I’ll keep trying because I thoroughly enjoy this and Bill Simmons will land on his feet.

Thank you Bill for the inspiration.

Until next time,
Shawn

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Lot of Hot Air....

Normally, when an investigation is completed and the report submitted, questions are answered, facts are released and everyone can then move on with their life. It seems as if the exception was the release of the Wells Report last week concerning Deflategate. As a side, why do we always need a catchy nickname for everything? I digress. An investigation should answer more questions than it raises and I now have more questions about the deflating of footballs than I had before this entire clown show took place.

Where did it all start? Lost in all of the scuttlebutt are the Ravens tipping off the Colts about the Patriots under-inflating the footballs. Jay Glazer broke this story after the AFC Title Game. A couple of points stick out to me here. First, why didn't the NFL immediately go to the Patriots to ask about this after the game with the Ravens? If someone has a problem with me I would like them to come to me about it and not be underhanded in trying to get the information about me. NFL screw up #1. Second, why didn't the Ravens go to the NFL instead of the Colts about the under-inflating of the footballs? Did they not want to be involved in any scandal? Reports show that Ryan Grigson, the Colts GM, emailed the NFL the day before the AFC Championship Game asking that the footballs be checked. In this report the Colts are said to have noticed it in Week 11. Week 11!!! Why wasn't anything said at that point? If it was such a blatant blow to the integrity of the game, why did the Colts wait for the biggest game of the year to say anything? Believe it or not, there’s also a theory that the Colts deflated the football that D’Qwell Jackson intercepted in the AFC Title Game before handing it over to the NFL. I’m not saying this actually happened, but why is the light shining only on the Patriots in this case when many other teams are involved? Again, more questions.

How much does it really affect the game? Per the aforementioned Jay Glazer article, deflating the footballs can make the grip easier and change the flight of the football. This makes sense. However, if that is the case, they why did the Patriots run roughshod over the Colts AFTER the half when the footballs were checked and inflated correctly? The reason to tamper with the footballs is for an advantage. If the “advantage” is taken away and the disparity between the teams is larger, is it really an advantage to begin with? Yes, I’m nitpicking here. But that is the purpose of an investigation and these questions haven’t answered. I used an example on Twitter the other day comparing deflating footballs to doctoring baseballs in MLB. My argument is that Brady (or any other QB tampering with the footballs) is throwing to teammates. I don’t believe there is as much deception for this as there is for scuffing a baseball in MLB. Pitchers are intentionally trying to deceive an opponent for their advantage. Yes, they are both trying to receive gains from their actions. But I consider the direct deception of the opponent in MLB to be much more egregious than deflating footballs in the NFL.

Why is this an issue now? Aaron Rodgers has admitted to over-inflating footballs. This Deadspin article contains video of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms discussing their conversation with Rodgers about how he likes the footballs inflated. Rodgers stated that he likes “to push the limits of how much air we can put in the football, even go over what they allow you to do.” Why wasn't there uproar about these statements on a NATIONAL TELECAST of the game? It’s not like the comments flew under the radar. Interesting also is the opponent of the Packers that game – the Patriots. Hmmm. If it is common knowledge that NFL quarterbacks like to tamper with the footballs, why did we only hear about it after the AFC Championship Game? There appears to be a bit of incongruence in the application of the rules here, no? I have my theories as to why this is, but I’ll get to them a little later. If we are going to debate the importance of the inflation of footballs in accordance with the importance of the game – let’s talk about Brad Johnson for a second. He played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (among other teams) and was their starting quarterback in Super Bowl XXXVIII against the Oakland Raiders. THE biggest game of the year. And he tampered with the footballs. ONE HUNDRED footballs. This article describes the length that Johnson went to in order to have the footballs to his liking. Not only did he manipulate the footballs, he paid someone to do it. Why wasn't Johnson suspended or fined for his actions? What about other players who have come out about gaining advantages? Jerry Rice, the GOAT, admits to using stickum when he played. Not only did he admit to using the banned substance, he claims that “everyone did it”. Why now are the “integrity police” out in full force when these other instances appear to be common knowledge? I also find it very curious that nary another NFL QB has made any statements on this issue. Seems odd. But then again, if Rodgers alters footballs, chances are that many other QB’s employ the same techniques. This silence is deafening. The NFL was also aware of an incident last year involving the Vikings and Panthers during a frigid game in Minnesota in December 2014. Video showed the ball boys heating the footballs on the sidelines in order warm up the balls. It’s against league rules and both teams were warned during the game not to do this. There was no sting operation involved to catch someone in the act of cheating. Just an observation of an illegal activity (within the rules of the NFL) and being warned to stop it. This course of action appears to a better way of conducting business. Don’t get me wrong – I am not condoning cheating. My point is that many teams look for advantages. Let’s treat them all with equality.

The Patriots are just cheaters, right? This is an argument that I hear a lot living in the city of Indianapolis. They HATE the Patriots. I get that. I’d hate a team that beats me all the time too. Kind of like how the Packers kick my Bears rear end every year. But I don’t complain about Aaron Rodgers over-inflating footballs. That doesn't affect my defense stopping him. “But the Patriots got caught for Spygate too!” Yes, they did. But they aren't the only teams who try to gain advantages against the rules. Look at this list. Is your team on there? If so, they’re no better than the Patriots. If they’re not – go here. My team is there. EVERY team is there. Guess who the fourth highest ranked team is in terms of their cheating prowess? The COLTS. Hmmm. According to the Wells Report, the Colts also appeared to play most of the AFC Title Game with under-inflated footballs themselves!! Let’s face facts here. Everyone, except Patriots fans, hates the Pats. Why? Because they win. Tip your cap. I hate the Packers. Why? Because the kick my team’s tail every year and they’re always good. I tip my cap. The entire league was warned about videotaping other team’s practices and signals. The Patriots, if anything, are guilty of being so self-important that they didn't think they’d ever get caught. The Broncos have been busted TWICE for illegally filming other teams. Why isn't there uproar for this? And the real truth about Spygate? Go here. Starting to sound like a trend? At the same time, the NFL took away draft picks from the Patriots after Belichick and the front office were ABSOLVED of any knowledge or wrongdoing in the Wells Report. Huh? Yes, yes. I realize that Belichick and Kraft are in charge of everything under the Patriots umbrella. But they don’t have eyes in the back of their heads either. You can’t micromanage an NFL team, it’s impossible. They were also docked draft picks for Spygate, but we've covered that already. Getting closer to divulging why I believe the penalty was so strong.

Why did this take so long? This is a question I am not sure how to analyze. The game was played in late January. We didn't get the report until early May. I don’t know much about investigative reporting but it feels like ESPN OTL could’ve wrapped this up in a few weeks. Haters will tell you it’s because Tom Brady wouldn't comply with the investigation by surrendering his personal cell phone. Who would? I am nowhere near a celebrity and I wouldn't hand over my personal cell phone for an independent investigation. If I could be in the same room with the investigators as they went through my phone, then I would comply. I've got too much personal information on my phone, as most people do in this day and age. And with the way information gets leaked today – no way would I just let them have my phone. Look no further than MLB’s Mitchell Report if you want to discuss information leaking. All the testimony in that report was confidential and never to be released. Yet somehow, we found out names that were on the list before the report was officially released. Watch TMZ or Extra or Entertainment Tonight, it’s everywhere. I do not blame Tom Brady one bit for not relinquishing his cell phone. The time frame isn't just a concern with the report itself. Why did it take so long for Goodell to dole out punishment after the report was released to the public? Common belief is that he wanted to gauge “public opinion” before handing out the sentence. This is not the way to run an organization like the National Football League. Adam Silver and the NBA wouldn't have cared less about public opinion and just rendered their verdict. They did so in the Donald Sterling case. It was swift and definite. Goodell and the NFL have botched multiple incidents over the last year or two. Their public perception has taken a huge negative hit. Is this a reason to use the public to help decide on the punishment? No. But he needs all the positive publicity he can get at this point in time. The NFL is all about the mighty dollar and its effect on this incident s glaringly obvious. Tom Brady was suspended for four weeks. Let’s look at the Pats schedule. They play the first three weeks, get a bye, and then play Dallas. This means Brady’s first game back is against…..wait for it….. Indianapolis. No way! How convenient is that? It’s ridiculous and the NFL continues to look bad in my eyes.

In my humble opinion, I believe the punishment for Deflategate boils down to one simple fact – the NFL wanted to regain goodwill from the fans. As I stated earlier, everyone but Patriots fans HATES the Patriots (I don’t actually). Everyone would side with the Commissioner if he came down strong on Brady and the Pats. Fans and the media are eating this up. It’s been on the front pages of the newspapers here in Indianapolis and New York. Media members here in Indy are talking about it non-stop. To be honest, it’s such a “hater” mentality here in Indiana that I almost tweeted this out last night:



In addition, I believe Goodell is attempting to rebuild his credibility after the atrocious handling of the Ray Rice situation and all of the fallout attached to it. Yes, he failed miserably when it came to handling this particular domestic violence case (it’s a BIG problem in the NFL….and the country for that matter, but I’ll leave it for another time). But we all learned a simple lesson as kids – two wrongs don’t make a right. This is the formula that Goodell is using with Deflategate. I think it’s time we start to discuss whether or not he is completely capable of conducting his job responsibilities as needed in his position.

Until next time,
Shawn

PS - I'll leave you with one last GIF.... :)


Monday, May 11, 2015

Ranking the NHL Uniforms - Part 2

Hello friends (it's my Jim Nantz impersonation). It's time for Part 2 of my rankings of the NHL Uniforms. If you missed Part 1, you can find it below this post or here. I apologize for the extended time between the two posts, but my high school had Prom this weekend and I'm in charge of putting it on, so I was a little busy and then exhausted on Sunday (and it was Mother's Day).

Anyway - on with the list!!

Returning to Glory

15. Edmonton - The Oilers are the first of three who strayed away from their original looks only to wise up and come back to the classic logo and uniform. In 1995-96 they went to a darker blue color and a brownish secondary color. I didn't mind the navy look, but the brown just wasn't working, For the 2010 season they returned to the original royal blue/orange look and it's classic.



14. - New York Islanders - Talk about losing their minds - at one point the Isles thought this was a good look. I'm getting just now looking at the back of the jersey. The Gorton's fisherman look was bad. In 1998, they wised up and went back to their original look - one that reminds us of Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin and the 4-time Stanley Cup Champion. It will be interesting to see what happens next year as they move out of Long Island and into the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn.




13. Washington - The final of the "returning to glory" teams. I could be wrong but I think the Caps hired the Islanders graphic design department when the transitioned to this look. Personally, I believe Minor League Baseball logos had quite an impact for awhile. There is a difference between a cartoonish look and a fun logo. Sometimes the line was crossed. But again, the Capitals wised up and returned to the simple and clean look they use today.




Close, But Not Quite

12. Tampa Bay - This section contains some potential surprises for most folks, but I find just falling just short of the best of the best category. We'll start with the Lightning. The best choice they could have made was dropping the black look to go to the straight royal blue look. Tampa, along with a couple of the next teams, took a page from the "old school" and went with the team name along with the logo. I like that....a lot.



11. Philadelphia - Ah, the Flyers. Absolutely love the logo. The only attribute that keeps them from the top of the list is their nameplate. I just can't get past the white nameplate with black lettering on an orange jersey. Just seems odd to me. 




10. Arizona - As we hit the Top 10 a surprising team makes an appearance. In most lists I've seen ranking the uniforms, the Coyotes are ranked low. This I do not understand. If we're talking about this uniform set - then I get it. Awful. I don't want to feel as if I'm tripping on acid while watching a hockey game. Their changes in 2003 went with the simple look. Love the deep red color and the simplicity of the coyote logo. But what sets it all of is the striping. LOVE the different sizing of the stripes, with the outer stripes being thinner with the inside stripe being thicker. Classic.




9. Vancouver - As much as I  possibly could, I've tried to keep my feelings about certain teams out of the equation when judging their uniforms. I think I've done pretty good here,  because I can't stand the Canucks. When they went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1994 they were wearing this boring look. Hey, we've got skates....cause we're a hockey team. Ugh. At first, I wasn't sure how I felt about the Orca look, mostly because I was confused as to where it came from. As you can read here, the reasoning was the name of the parent company that owned the Canucks called Orca Bay. Made sense. They really won me  over when in 2007 they kept the same logo, but returned to the original royal blue and kelly green colors. Gorgeous.



Best of the Best

In the final 8 it will not be a coincidence that you will find all of the Original Six teams. This is the way it should be. A couple of non-Original Six teams made the cut because their looks are excellent.

8. Minnesota - They would be  higher on the list IF they uniform shown was always their stated home jersey, but it's not. This is currently their official home jersey. This bumps them down the list. What the Wild have adopted as their home jersey is beautiful. I love the simplicity of the cursive script on the uniform and the striping is top notch. I also prefer the green to the red as the main color of the jersey. And the cream color font just brings it all together. Stellar.




7. New York Rangers - The first of the Original Six to appear on the list. Why don't I have them higher? To be completely honest, by this point it was EXTREMELY difficult to differentiate between the uniforms and decided which is better, so I had to get nitpicky. For the Rangers, it comes down to this - when the NHL decided to go with dark colors at home (which I still don't like) they changed the blue jersey from saying New York to saying Rangers. I feel as if one of the jersey's should say New York on it. Minor, isn't it?



6. Boston - The Bruins, classic. Again, I needed to find a reason to rank them lower than others and for the Bruins it's the fact that I wish they'd just stuck with the TV numbers on the shoulders. They started adding a logo in 1981-82 with just the bear head. Then in 2007, they added their alternate logo to the shoulder. If it's your "alternate" logo, leave it on the alternate jersey. I know, I know. But I had to delineate a difference somehow!!




5. Montreal - Les Habitants (this is where the Habs nickname comes from, BTW). Love the simple look of the CHC logo. Oh yes, there are technically two C's in the logo. And the H does not stand for Habitants, as most people believe. The french name of the team is le Club de hockey Canadien. The H stands for hockey. Surprise!!! Why are the #5? Much like the Rangers I much prefer the white jersey to the red. That's it.


4. Buffalo - What?!?! A non-Original Six team in the Top 5? I can't help it. I just love this Buffalo jersey so much I can't stand it. From 1996-2010 this was another team that lost its mind when it came to the logo and uniform. Good lord, that's ugly. But like many other teams, they decided to return to the original logo, yes, a Buffalo and sabers. Get it? But they made a slight change - navy blue instead of royal blue. Absolutely perfect. But there are three ahead of them that are more perfect. Sorry Buffalo.



3. Toronto - The long-suffering Maple Leafs fans can at least take solace in the fact that their uniforms are at the top of the league. The simplicity of the Maple Leaf along with the team name within the maple leaf is classic. There's something so beautiful about its simplicity. And the striping is excellent as well. Kudos Toronto!



2. Detroit - As I've stated before, I've tried not to let my fan feelings get involved when judging the uniforms. Here's it most difficult. It came down to the final two and I had to find a separator. I'll let you know what that was when I get to number 1, but the Red Wings logo and uniform is perfection. I know I've said that multiple times, but the NHL is really the best professional league when it comes to logos and uniforms. There are so many excellent choices.



1. Chicago - Yes, I am a Blackhawks fan. But the Indian head is fantastic. The reason it finished ahead of Detroit? The C with the tomahawks on the shoulders. What a fantastic secondary logo. The multi-colored striping in gorgeous and it really is the best uniform in all of professional sports.



There you have it! My rankings of the best NHL uniforms for 2015. We'll keep our eye out for any changes next year. Thanks again to Chris Creamer's site for the pictures!! Can't wait to do this for the other major sports....

Until next time,
Shawn

Friday, May 08, 2015

Ranking the NHL Uniforms

If you know me and follow my blog or Twitter, you know I am a HUGE uniform nut. One of my favorite websites is UniWatch from Paul Lukas. On many occasions he, or someone else, has ranked the uniforms of a professional league. This last week they linked to an NHL Uniform ranking and I was stunned at some of the choices. So it made perfect sense for me to create my own list; and since the NHL list was the genesis of my irritation, I thought I'd start with them. Without further adieu, in descending order, the ranking of the NHL home uniforms 30-16. The top 15 will appear over the weekend. :)

It's a Condiment, Not a Color

30. Nashville - The mustard yellow is a putrid look. I'm also very picky about the logos that teams use (and that will be a recurring theme  in this list). The combination of an awful color with an awful logo, puts the Preds at the bottom of the list.


Bland and Boring

29. Winnipeg - I was extremely excited to see Winnipeg get a franchise back (albeit from the dissolution of the Atlanta Thrashers) and looked forward to their re-branding of the Jets name. The old logo and uniform were simple, but it was fairly obvious they could not return to that logo set. Boy, did they fail. The chosen logo looks like it came from Clip Art and their color choice is so commonplace in the league that they aren't setting themselves apart at all.



28. Florida - Again, not a fan of the logo. The uniform itself, to me, is bland and boring. Their alternates from 2009-2012 were pretty cool and would have been high on this list. Go back to that look - or get creative with your logo and color scheme.


27. Dallas - Another re-branding gone awry. The simplicity camp, when it comes to logos and uniforms, is one I've subscribed to all my life. However, there are occasions where logo's are too simple. This is one of those circumstances. 



26. Columbus - When your logo and jersey leave you guessing about the nickname, there's an issue. They are the Blue Jackets, not the insect, but in reference to Ohio's Civil War history. That's cool. Be more creative than a C with stars and stripes is all I'm asking. Their alternative jersey is a beaut though. 




25. Carolina - Again, I feel like they left a lot on the table. The nickname of Hurricanes could go many different directions, but again, if you didn't know the name of the team and you were watching their game, could you figure out the nickname? I don't think so....  I do like the simple striping on the jersey. At the same time, a different color set would help. Entirely too many teams in the NHL with red and black as their colors. 



24. Ottawa -Hey! More clip art logos! Woo-hoo! I'd like to think the art/design departments with these teams could be more creative. *sigh*



Meh...

23. Colorado - First let me say that I've never been a fan of nicknames that don't end with the letter 's'. Don't ask my why - I just know it sounds weird. I actually like their color scheme because they took basic colors and went into the periphery with them. But the logo.... ugh. 



22. St. Louis - Fan loyalties aside, this isn't a bad logo.I think the name is cool, but I feel like they've been in a rut for awhile. We're all lucky they ditched the angular stripes on the uniforms, those were hideous. I get the music note, but have never really understood the wings on the note. Does St/ Louis have a lot of birds? Is it a shout out to the Cardinals? Who knows. Their alternate logo for a few years is pretty cool and it aligns more with the nickname. Maybe a shakeup is necessary.



21. Anaheim - Give them credit, they rebounded from the Disney/Mighty Ducks era and came out fairly unscathed on the other side. Their newer logo is interesting as it works the D in with the duck foot. My biggest problem is the color scheme. If you're main rivals main color is black (LAK), why would you then make your main color the same? And there's way too much striping going on in the shoulder and side regions. Slow it down a little.



20. Calgary - Stealing a idea from Paul Lukas at Uni-Watch, I am not a fan of BFBS (black for black's sake). Back in 2000, when they added the black, it was for an atrocious  new home uniform. Explain that one to me. Yikes. But they reverted back to the C logo, which was a good call. But they kept the black as a primary color. Boo! I prefer the old red and yellow unis.



19. New Jersey - Once again, it's been a stylish logo since their inception. But after time things become stale and that's how I feel about this logo and uniform set. I did like the change from green to black in 1992. But I think it may be, as Peter Brady would say, time for a change.



Good, But Not Good Enough

18. Pittsburgh - They've tinkered with the penguin a few times in their history. Currently, they are using a version of the original penguin. I like it. But the change to gold from yellow didn't work for me. With the Pirates and the Steelers in town, the yellow worked. It tied them altogether. They need to go back.



17. Los Angeles - While I liked removing the purple from the uniform back in 2011, I'm still not sure they hit it out of the park with this uni. Maybe a stand up double? Working in the LA to the uniform is a good look, but they get docked points for the deplorable white pants for this years Stadium Series set.



16. San Jose - I miss the stripes at the bottom of the uniform. At the same time, what's with the random orange stripe on the sleeve?  I do like the numbers on the front right shoulder of the jersey. Also, I prefer their black jersey's better, but then ALL the California teams would have a black uniform. Ugh. The uniform needs to make sense. This doesn't.


Coming later this weekend - numbers 15 to 1.

Many thanks to Chris Creamer's site for the pictures!

Until then,
Shawn

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Lo End Theories

What an amazing week in sports! I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced a week that contained so many impactful events in the sporting world. It was difficult to keep pace with the lot – and most had to pick and choose which to follow. I did the best I could in spite of a busy schedule…and here are my thoughts, otherwise known as the Lo End Theories.

1. The major event of the weekend, IMO, was the NFL Draft. For the first time in almost 50 years it was held outside of New York City. It landed in the mecca of my sports world – Chicago. The NFL has done a fantastic job of marketing the draft. Let’s be honest, it’s really not that fascinating of television programming. But the NFL is the king of sports, so they can not only put it on prime time during the week, but have it broadcast on TWO stations. That’s amazing. Personally. I’m an NFL Network guy. ESPN and Chris Berman jumped the shark for me years ago. Although it is fun to reminisce about the Mel Kiper/Bill Tobin feud, I’ve long since grown weary of Berman’s shtick and prefer other networks. At the same time, I enjoy the fact that the NFL dropped the hammer on reporters revealing the picks on social media before they were actually announced. This really sapped all the drama out of the picks. This year there was heavy drama for me and my Chicago Bears. If I could have picked one single player in the draft that I wanted the Bears to pick, it was Leonard Williams of Southern California. The first three picks went as I expected: Winston to TB, Mariota to TEN and Fowler to JAX. The fourth pick was a precursor of the Bears pick since Amari Cooper of Alabama was high on my watch list, as well as the Bears list. I figured the Raiders would select either Cooper or Kevin White of West Virginia. Oakland took Cooper. So Leonard Williams was dropping; I was ecstatic. The fifth pick (WAS) was really the most important precursor to the Bears pick because, in my simple logic, the NY Jets, who picked right before the Bears, had two Pro Bowl defensive tackles and wouldn’t pick another in Williams. The Redskins pick was revealed to be….Brandon Scherff of Iowa. I was jumping up and down thinking we were going to get our man. I paused the broadcast to gather my thoughts and pray the Jets wouldn’t, ummmm…swerve us. As the pick came in for the Jets I was nervous and it wasn’t even my team! As Goodell made his way to the podium I was getting more and more excited. He announced the pick – Leonard Williams of USC. I fell to the floor, absolutely devastated. TWO years in a row, the stud DT in the draft got picked THE PICK BEFORE THE BEARS. Last year it was Aaron Donald of Pitt and this year it was Williams. My sons could sense my dismay as they proclaimed to my wife that I was upset because Michael Leonard got picked. It calmed me down a little to see my sons take an interest in my interest of the pick. The Bears then picked Kevin White, the WR from West Virginia, which I’m happy with at this point. Again, drama on television from a drafting of college players. The NFL is genius.

2. Speaking of the NFL Draft being in Chicago, the Cubs took full advantage of this opportunity and lassoed as many NFL dignitaries as possible into Wrigley Field. The marriage of the NFL and the Cubs was a great one, except for the seventh inning stretch that took place on Tuesday night. As a side, as with my feelings for Chris Berman, I have grown extremely weary of the “guest conductors” of the 7th inning stretch at Wrigley Field. I’ve maintained that the Cubs should play a recording of Harry Caray singing the stretch and leave it at that. Now that they have installed a video board – here’s a thought – play a video of Harry singing the stretch. By the way, if you feel as I do about the guest conductors, go here and let your vote be heard. Anyway, the NFL Network crew of Rich Eisen, Steve Mariucci and Melissa Stark were slated to sing on Tuesday. As he stated on the Waddle and Silvy show on ESPN1000 in Chicago, Eisen was partaking in libations in the spirit of Harry Caray. He was asked to leave the Cubs television booth to prepare for the stretch but wanted to stay and continue to converse with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Therefore, he was not able to get his earpieces put in before singing. He could not hear the organ music playing; hence the music and the singing were desynchronized. It was abysmal. I give Eisen kudos for admitting how dreadful the moment was on radio. However, this brings us to the logical conclusion that the guest conductors needs to end, yesterday. Whether it’s bad singing or celebrities nobody knows – the Cubs should do the right thing in honoring Harry and that’s playing him on the video board for the stretch.

3. It took a while, but I finally watched some NBA Playoff basketball this weekend. And to be honest, I don’t think I need to watch anymore. Why, you ask? Because after watching the last half of the third quarter and all of the fourth quarter of Game 7 between the Spurs and the Clippers, I don’t think the playoffs can get any better than what I saw. It was fantastic basketball. If the NBA was like that all the time, I’d be a fan. So many big plays by so many different guys – Kawhi Leonard, Blake Griffin, Tim Duncan, Matt Barnes, Manu Ginobli, JJ Redick, Danny Green, and finally, Chris Paul. The last shot by CP3 was unbelievable. How it went in I’ll never know. Add to that the fact that he was playing on one leg and it was a career-defining performance for Paul. Had the Clippers lost the game they could’ve blamed the inability to secure a defensive rebound in the 4th quarter. I was floored as I watched San Antonio grab offensive rebound after offensive rebound. The Spurs are just old school and enjoyable to watch. Realizing that this might be the last time that Duncan, Ginobli, and Parker are together on the Spurs was sad, and for this to be a first round match up wasn’t fair either. This series should have been the Western Conference Finals. But as we know, sports aren’t fair.

4. MLB had a frightening moment last week as Archie Bradley of the Arizona Diamondbacks took a line drive off the bat of Carlos Gonzalez to the face. Thankfully, he was able to get up and walk off the field under his own power. But watching it was extremely frightening. Below is the video of the play:



According to this ESPN.com article the ball traveling off the bat of the Rockies Gonzalez was traveling at 115MPH. If you do the math (I did it for you), Bradley had all of .33573 seconds to react to the batted ball. That’s impossible. Imagine if the ball had been hit by an aluminum bat? Baseball, as a whole, has to do something more to protect pitchers from getting hit by a batted ball. In the last few years, there have been quite a few pitchers get drilled from comebackers – J.A. Happ, Brandon McCarthy and Alex Cobb come to mind. And it’s not even a new phenomenon. Herb Score’s life was changed back in 1957 when he took a line drive to the eye off the bat of Gil McDougald of the Yankees. His career only lasted a few more years after the incident as it greatly affected his effectiveness. All of the options so far protect the head of the pitcher, but the face needs to be protected as well. This needs to happen before there is a fatal injury on the baseball diamond.

5. Finally, there was the “Fight of the Century” on Saturday night between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. Where do I start? The stinkfest that was the actual fight? The female reporters getting credentials pulled? The domestic abuse cases reported on by the aforementioned reporters? Pacquiao’s alleged shoulder injury that turned out to be a partially torn rotator cuff? Holy smokes, does this story have layers. I have not, nor will I ever be a fan of the “sweet science”. I wasn’t about to pay $100 either for a fight that should have happened five years ago. However, through the wonderful world of social media, I was able to follow the fight up through the sixth round before I tuckered out. Had I actually been watching the fight I might have fallen asleep sooner according to all of the pundits on Twitter. It sounded more like Manny and Floyd were at Prom then fighting for a title with all the hugging and dancing being publicized. We’ll most likely never know if Pacquiao could have won with a healthy shoulder. If it took them this long to fight once (all on Mayweather’s terms, BTW) then chances of a rematch are slim to none. Personally, I considered disclosing the shoulder injury in the post-fight presser the next day to be akin to sour grapes. Now that we’ve heard that Manny’s injury is serious it does remove the perception of whining. But why not wait to disclose the information until the severity has been determined? At that point you can reveal the non-allowance of the shot to help the pain. Anyway, I digress. The bigger issues came from the other corner. My goodness, Floyd Mayweather is a lightning rod. As we drew closer to the fight many news outlets circulated stories of Mayweather’s history of domestic violence. If there is one issue the public does not receive well, even with apologies, it’s domestic violence. I am 100% on that team. In no circumstance should a man ever lay hands on a woman. But to ignore it as if it never happened is shortsighted and ignorant on that camp’s part. Michelle Beadle and Rachel Nichols were out in front of this story and made sure the masses knew of Mayweather’s discretions. They are reporters, yes. But they are women first and that belies the angles of the reports given by both ladies. I get that. And then on fight night, the game changer occurred. Even if you are upset by the misperceived “shots” by the female reporters, lending credence to their claims by pulling their credentials the day of the fight just shouts guilt, arrogance and entitlement. After the “dispute” was settled, Nichols and Beadle had their credentials restored but neither attended the fight. Good for them. Apparently some people don’t get it either. Take two current/former Minnesota Twins players, Jacque Jones and Torri Hunter. Both tweeted on Saturday about rooting for Mayweather, which in and of itself isn’t bad. However, when you are trying to justify Floyd’s actions outside the ring just to make yourself feel better about rooting for him? Not a good route to take. Both men deleted said tweets. Here’s Hunters:



Back to the actual fight itself – it was a bore. They could have at least salvaged what little credibility they have left in putting on a good show for the paying customers. But they didn’t. And it if truth be told, it was the perfect bow to wrap up this entire debacle. This article on Deadspin is spot on in the analysis of the entire circus that was the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. Again, I don’t condone the language, but the perspective is perfect.

Until next time,
Shawn

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

It's Called the Senior Circuit for a Reason

The Twitter haters came out in full force Saturday night after Adam Wainwright tore his Achilles tendon during an at bat versus Milwaukee. It was a freak accident, but that didn’t stop the DH lobbyists from preaching their propaganda about the National League needing a DH. Wainwright chipped in with his opinion after the incident:

Even before the injury to Wainwright, two writers from Sports on Earth took opposing views on the NL adopting the designated hitter.

Tim Healey believes the NL should consider implementing the DH. Among his reasons are more offense, extended careers, roster flexibility and more uniformity between leagues. On the other hand, Richard Justice urged the National League to stay status quo and not employ the DH. He spoke with several baseball officials and that is the feeling he is receiving from them. Even Grantland is taking on the debate…

So what are my thoughts? I’m glad you asked. As we’ve noted previously, I lean towards baseball purist tendencies. However, I also believe the game should change – see the Chris Rock video on HBO Sports as something I side with. But in terms of the designated hitter, I am totally against it. Here are the reasons why:

1. Games could be longer – I’m surprised no one has brought this argument to the fold yet. We know the AL scores more runs than its counterpart (but not by much). This graphic from Tim Healey’s article…




More runs scored = longer innings. Longer innings = longer games. Having a designated hitter means more quality AB’s for a player like David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez. This means more opportunity to score runs which elongates innings. Have you ever watched a Red Sox – Yankees game? (Just turn on ESPN and you’ll see one) My lord, it’s an eternity. Maury Brown, a fantastic follow on Twitter, wrote an article for Forbes about the length of games the MLB and included the following graphic:



Notice the teams at the top of the list – out of the top 15 only four are National League teams and one of those is Colorado. In the thin air of Denver, more runs are the norm, hence the longer game times. I was fortunate enough to attend the second game of the 2015 season at Wrigley and I immediately took note of the timer at the lower right corner of the famous scoreboard. It tracks time between innings and during pitching changes. MLB instituted these rules at the beginning of the season. Brown penned another article earlier this season about said rules. I honestly believe it made (and is making) a difference. There shouldn’t be any hang-up about the number of pitching changes and such with the timers now. The game slows down when David Ortiz takes his protracted home run trot. At the same time, who was the most vocal proponent of the rule changes forcing batters to keep one foot in the box at all time? That’s right, David Ortiz. You may think I’m reaching here but I fully believe the DH can have an impact on the time of an MLB game.

2. Interleague play confusion – the NL does get to use the DH when it plays interleague games in an American League park. I believe this is a disadvantage for the National League as it completely changes the type of strategy that is normally used the rest of the year. They essentially start one man down on the bench because of the DH. Plus, if the DH “allows” the NL to use more pitchers in a game because they don’t have to hit – then it can immediately backfire once they return to NL play. With the unbalanced schedule of today some NL teams may play consecutive series against NL teams while another NL team plays an IL series followed by an NL series. Your bullpen is taxed while your opponent isn’t; is that a level playing field? That’s a weakness in the system. Personally, I would like the see interleague play go away. One of the great things about baseball growing up was the argument about which league was better. I’ve always been an NL guy though we never got to find out until the All-Star Game and the World Series. I liked it that way. It made those games and series special. But then good old Bud Selig shoehorned his Milwaukee Brewers into the NL in 1998. He had been “acting” commissioner since 1992 and the Brewers were able to move to the NL in 1998 in order to create a rivalry with the ever popular Chicago Cubs to have competitive parity. Once Selig became the official commissioner in 1998 he relinquished his ownership role to his daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb. One good thing about the move was that it allowed a balanced schedule to occur because two new teams were added that year, Arizona and Tampa Bay. With Milwaukee’s move the NL now had 16 teams and the Devil Rays replaces the Brewers in the AL to remain at 14 teams. In their infinite wisdom (#sarcasm) the MLB decided that both leagues should have the same amount of teams. As opposed to their 1998 reasoning, they believed that interleague play was here to stay and wanted league parity (in terms of teams). When the Houston Astros were being sold by Drayton McLane in 2011, one of the caveats was that they had to move to the AL to even up the leagues. First off, why should Houston be forced to move when Milwaukee was the defector from the AL? Second, and more importantly, this triggered the unbalanced schedule and interleague play games every day. Which I hate. (More on the “ripple effect” of the Astros move here from ESPN)

3. Takes away strategic moves – Not permitting a designated hitter necessitates a more strategic approach in the National League. In game situations, especially in the late innings, require a manager to consider all the different moves that can possibly be created for a pitching change. Double switches, pinch hitters and the like are all part of the fabric of National League baseball. Managers HAVE to use their benches wisely or face circumstances where they run out of players. A great manager can be an extremely huge benefit for a team. At the same time, the general managers have to think differently as well when building a roster in the National League. How many catchers do we keep? How many pitchers, especially relief pitchers, will we have on the roster? Which bench players can play multiple positions to allow us to better stock our bench? These are all scenarios that NL GM’s have to consider more strongly than their AL counterparts. Add to that the hiring of the manager who manipulates the roster on a daily basis and NL general managers have a more difficult job, IMO.

4. Baseball players need to be baseball players – I am lucky enough to get the chance to broadcast high school baseball games (on IndianaSRN.org if you’re interested) and something that drives me absolutely insane is the use of the DH in high school. Are you serious? As a kid growing up we were taught how to hit, throw, catch and run. I was never taught to leave my glove at home because I was only going to hit. For crying out loud, the best all-around players in youth baseball are THE PITCHERS. They can hit, pitch, and do it all. But then those kids reach a certain age and adults feel the need to live out their major league fantasies through these kids and begin to focus on their pitching talent in hopes they’ll make it to the show someday. First, here’s a thought – why don’t we let the kid decide what they want to do. Allow them to just enjoy playing the game and grant them the opportunity to find their niche themselves. Second, gloves are made for a reason – to catch the ball! ALL baseball players should have a glove and play a position. Goaltenders in hockey still use sticks to shoot pucks, soccer goalies still kick the ball when needed, all basketball players can shoot the ball, so why can’t pitchers hit? It’s maddening. How much of an advantage would it be to a team to draft correctly and get that excellent pitcher who also hits well? To me, it’s laziness, pure and simple. The scouts can easily differentiate between hitters and pitchers. But again, the strategy involved in drafting the right player based on their overall talent makes the entire process more exciting, no?

5. More players = higher salaries = higher ticket prices – the MLBPA loves the thought of having the DH in the National League because it would allow more players to not only make it to the show, but stick around longer. Players like Paul Molitor, Edgar Martinez and Jason Giambi are just a few names who elongated their careers via the designated hitter. The DH position is not going to be filled by the journeyman who rides the pine most of the time. It will be a quality player at the end of their career who teams can squeeze a few more good years out of in order to help the team. These players are guys who have significant accomplishments in the major leagues. Therefore, they’ve most likely been free agents and have signed big money contracts. These competitors will not take significant pay cuts to become a DH. If they can produce, they’ll want to get paid. At the same time, you’re not only creating another opportunity for a player but you’re taking one away as well. The player who gets the shaft is that utility player. He probably makes the minimum and has options so he can be sent down to the minors. Owners need to counteract the additional salary needed for a quality DH and could very likely hike up ticket prices. WE are going to be the ones to pay for this.

6. No bush league head hunting – In case you’ve been hiding under a rock you’ve missed quite a start to the season for Yordano Ventura of the Kansas City Royals. He’s been involved in a few fracases already this year (A’s, Angels and White Sox among them) and is currently serving a suspension for a dustup in a game with the White Sox. What does this have to do with the DH, you’re asking? A lot. This article details Ventura’s run in’s with Mike Trout, Bret Lawrie and Adam Eaton all of which fall squarely on the shoulders of the immature Ventura. To make matters worse, check out what Kelvin Herrera decided would be good idea the next day against the A’s.



Now, here’s my point. Would Ventura or Herrera act the same way knowing they had to put o n a helmet and step into the batter’s box? I think not. No pitcher in his right mind is going to pull these hijinks knowing they themselves could possibly bear the wrath of the opposing pitcher. The DH gives these pitchers false confidence and it dangers their fellow teammates. I’d be very wary if I were a fellow Kansas City Royal the next time I face the A’s or White Sox. This isn’t over. Especially when a knucklehead like Hererra points at his head as he’s being escorted off the field after throwing behind Lawrie. It’s just plain stupid and if the pitchers themselves had to tread lightly in the box in fear of being dotted they’d think twice before beaning someone else.

It’s pretty plain to see that I am vehemently against the DH in the National League, and to be quite honest, I’d love to see the AL scrap it as well. That will NEVER happen because the MLBPA would get involved since “players would lose jobs”, etc, etc… If they could use a glove they wouldn't lose their job, but I digress. The designated hitter is a polarizing topic amongst baseball fans and I’ll be more than happy to give you my opinion on the topic, as well as any other MLB or pro sports topic. Just tweet me at @illini3sc and we can have friendly conversation.

Until next time,
Shawn

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Music That's Changed Me

I thought I'd mix in something a little different today as I am working on my post on the DH controversy. Music is a big part of my life - my parents are/were both VERY musically inclined. It was entwined in my childhood and continues to be to this day. From this I created a Top 10 list of Albums That Changed the Way I Look at Music. It's compiled of albums that forced me to change how I look at music and has formed my current musical tastes. They have been listed in chronological order because it would be more than difficult to have to rank them. I hope you like it!

Shawn