You Got Greinked!

This morning I hopped on Twitter just to see what was trending and what was going on. As I was observing the list of topics a name appeared to me on the list that I was very familiar with. Greinke. I don’t know why but I’ve never liked this kid as a ball player. In fantasy seasons past he’s burned me. I think Los Angeles paid way too much for him (He is going to make over 130 million dollars for six years as a Dodger). I think his performance as a ball player isn’t worth anywhere near that. The list of similar pitchers to him on has him with the likes of Rick Reed (who?), Juan Guzman (he was a Hall-of-Famer, right?), and Ben Sheets (darling career as a big-leaguer). That list doesn’t compare personalities, or skill, or love for the game. It just compares the numbers. Which is to say that there is an objective data-sheet on what a player has really done. It cuts through the fog of agent boasts, players egos and a public relations team that makes a player better than he real is. Greinke had all the spin going for him in the right direction. But the numbers don’t lie. He’s not that great of a player.

Now what does this have to do with me and why am I writing a piece about a guy in LA who plays baseball for a team I don’t even care for. It’s because Greinke and I have a long history in fantasy baseball. I have done everything I could to keep from having him on my teams, and year after year I get snake-bit. As this season approached I realized I wasn’t going to be able to make my league draft. So I asked a friend to substitute for me so I wouldn’t be stuck with the ESPN autobots drafting ten catchers for me. I even gave clear direction to my friend, “have nothing to do with Zack Greinke, I don’t want him on my team.”

But then I got involved. As the draft was happening I had a few minutes to hop online and check the progress of my replacement drafter. He was doing very well for me. As our pick neared in the sixth round (pick number 52 but it was my 8th player) Greinke was still available. He had dropped from his projections quite a bit and was ripe for the picking. So I thought about it, the clock ticked down, my friend asked the question, and I pressed the button to put the one player I didn’t want on my team. I take full responsibility for my actions.

And then I got burned. Like I expected (but didn’t hope), Greinke got a hot-head last night against the Padres, said something stupid to a player he just beaned, and then ignited a bench-clearing brawl in which he broke his collar-bone and is out with injury for probably two or three months, maybe more. This makes him worthless to my team. And it’s all my fault. Please help me remember next year to have nothing to do with Zack Greinke.

The Midcontinential Wichitawesomes Weekly Box Score:

In better news the MCWAS (Midcontinential Wichitawesomes) improved their ranking over last week. Here’s my stat line and ranking through Thursday, April 11th.

Batters Pitchers
Line 72 20 66 8 .2757 79 6 4 4.111 1.284
Points 8 8 7.5 6 5 6.5 7 1.5 6 6

I picked up a few spots this week and moved from 8th place up to 3rd.

Down the Left Field Line: Opening Week of Baseball Season

There are a couple of congruent sporting events happening in my world this week that is a bit unusual. For one the city I live in is in an uproar about their college basketball team, namely because they’ve made it to the Final Four. Good deal for a Missouri Valley Conference team. We’re going to watch Wichita St. on Saturday night with some friends and neighbors and see if they can’t make it to the championship game. That’d be fun. The second, and more near to my heart, event of the week was of course Opening Day and the opening series for all of Major League Baseball. Some will call me a traitor and a bandwagoner for abandoning the Cubs to trade in the for the Giants but I want to at least justify myself here. First, I haven’t sold out the Cubs completely (and this will label me a “fair-weather fan”), however, I like to enjoy baseball season past the month of April into the summer and frankly, I’m not sure the Cubs have the horsepower this year to be anywhere else but in the basement. I’m keeping my eye on the team as usual but I’m not investing my heart in them like I usually do. The ghost of Bartman still haunts me in my sleep at nights.

My rising affections for the Giants is more an affection for NorCal and my friends there. Yes, I would heckle and criticize them during the Bonds era, but the recent World Champion iterations of the Giants are plain fun to watch. They play the game well from pitching to hitting to defense, and they are a cast of characters worth watching. Add to it that both the radio and television broadcasters are the best in the business right now makes it a completely enjoyable experience. Except there is one problem…

The games on the West coast start at 9pm here. What that means is that I have a hard time making it through the full game to the end. By the fourth or fifth inning my eyes are heavy and I am about to fall asleep. John Miller’s radio voice is very soothing and I don’t think he helps my cause. Nevertheless it’s baseball season and while it’s only the first week, I’m glad for the ride that’s ahead.

Baseball books I’ve read this winter:

  • The Natural, Bernard Malmud - forget most everything you know about the Robert Redford film. The story of this book is much more complex, much more interesting, much darker than the Roy Hobbs story of Hollywood. That also makes it much better.
  • The Bullpen Gospels, Dirk Hayhurst - This book was fun to read, purely from the baseball-jock stories of minor leaguers that ran through it. But don’t let the baseball front page be the only thing you see here, there was a strong message of where identity is found. I’m going to have to read Hayhurst’s other books to see where this journey takes him, but the minor-league bounce-around was good reading.
  • Baseball Prospectus - this is an annual guide to the season ahead with projections on all the players and teams. I read it just to envision the season ahead. It has some really witty lines. Baseball geeks eat this stuff up, and now you know where I fall.

The Midcontinential Wichitawesomes Weekly Boxscore:

I play rotisserie (fantasy) baseball and we’ve had almost a full weeks worth of baseball: here’s my stat line and ranking through Thursday, April 4th.

Batters Pitchers
Stats 19 5 17 0 .2242 34 3 2 2.204 1.10
Rank 5 5.5 4 1.5 3 5 7.5 4.5 7 7

Overall I’m 8th in the league of ten with a total score of 50 points.

Down the Left Field Line: The Vin Scully Effect

There is a troubling trend in baseball broadcasting lately. It wasn't until recently that I noticed it and now that I have noticed it I haven't been too happy about it. Let me explain....

As a kid I used to listen to John Buck and Mike Shannon call the Cardinals games during the summer from the little town in Southern Missouri that I lived in. Then right about the time I started Jr. High school we moved to Minneapolis, MN. We only lived in Minnesota for about eighteen months so I don’t quite remember the names of the broadcasters but I do distinctly remember there were two of them. Our move to North Carolina was akin to moving to baseball purgatory because there was no local major league team and certain nether-regions of the universe would have to freeze before I ever did a tomahawk chop and cheered for the Braves. However, once I went to college in Chicago I quickly picked up the Cubs on the radio and at started listening to Pat Hughes and Ron Santo.

As I grew up the sound of baseball was always two broadcasters describing the game. Not too long after I had lived in California a coworker, who happened to be a Dodgers fan, tried to convince me of the mystique of the one man (i.e. Vin Scully) booth. He talked about how much Vin allowed the game to unfold without needless chatter and that the sounds of the ballpark were enhanced because a booth partner didn't take up dead space. He told me how Vin would eloquently paint word pictures of the game unfolding before him so that it was if you could see it right in front of you. He tried to convince me that the greatness of Vin would be diminished if there was anyone else to give campy anecdotes or worthless (i.e. Tim McCarver) stats. All we needed was Vin to tell us about the game in his slow, robotic like drone and drawl.

I wasn’t quite sure I bought it mainly because of the impact of Hughes and Santo. Why wouldn’t you want two, friendly, entertaining, and captivating individuals in the booth describing the game we listen to every day?

It seems, however, that the powers that be in the world of professional baseball broadcasting are drinking from the putrid cup I like to affectionately call the Vin Scully Effect. As someone who listens to baseball frequently via the modern technological wonder of and an iPhone I’ve noticed this phenomenon more and more lately: one broadcaster, and only one, describing the game in the booth during an inning. It might not be the same person for the entire game, but lately I’ve noticed only one person doing the majority of the talking during a baseball game radio broadcast. The Giants lately have been using John Miller only with little snippets and an occasional inning from Dave Flemming. The Royals have a horrendous four-headed monster of a staff that splits time between Denny Matthews and Steve Physioc. As I was driving home from dropping my family off in Kansas City I turned on a game and was forced to listen to the not-so-sober-by-the-first-pitch Cardinal's broadcaster Mike Shannon. For some reason they let Mike call the first inning alone but he was so incapable of doing it that John Rooney had to come in and help him along. When they got around to letting Mike have a return to the solo mic in the fifth he barely was able to tell me what was happening on the field.[1]

My point is this; I think Vin is a fine man. He’s certainly been doing this in baseball for a very long time. He deserves respect and accolades for his tenure as a broadcaster. But, by no means should baseball media conglomerates try and replicate the method of the Dodgers and Vin Scully. Vin, by himself, does have a charm and way of bringing the game to life. Steve Physioc by himself is no more tolerable than scrapping your nails on a chalkboard. I suppose there is a small minority, such as John Miller, that I could easily listen to all alone. But baseball on the radio for me was defined by pairs. Buck and Shannon, Hughes and Santo, Kruk and Kuip. Listening to one person do it will never satisfy me. I want to be there between friends hearing their debates, analysis, passions and thoughts on the game. I want to enter a conversation with them and disagree with one while agreeing with the other. I want to hear small sideline talks about their lives, their observation of the crowd and players and the game. I want to hear friends tell me about baseball not a professor monologue about his observations of a game. I want two voices, not one.

  1. At this point some will say I’m biased against the Cardinals and everything to do with them. I will admit I have am not fond of the Cardinals but you must remember, I grew up listening to Mike Shannon and when you are incapable of telling me about the game because you are reading your advertisement and rambling about it so much that you fail to tell me about an entire at bat, I lose respect.  ↩

Down the Left Field Line: The Reorganization of College Football

College football needs help. If you don’t believe that then I wonder where you have been for the last decade. Certainly the upcoming playoff of four teams is an improvement but how do we decide who those four teams are? Certain conferences believe they could have as many as two, if not three or all four of the best teams in the nation right within their own ranks. Then there are the lowly Mountain West teams that while they may go undefeated in their schedule, the nation won’t give them a spot at the big-boy table because their schedule is viewed as inferior to the schedules of many other power conferences. So what are we to do?

I believe the time has come for nothing less than an all out overhaul of the college football system. This includes conferences, bowl games, everything. We should stop pretending that college football is some amateur hobby of academic co-eds who need to get out of their ivory towers and run around a bit and see this as the multi-billion dollar business that it is. And in so seeing it as a business, we should treat it like a business. The restructuring I am proposing has been stated elsewhere, so I can take no credit for the originality of the idea, but the more I think about it the more I believe it to be a fantastic idea for the health of college football. So how does this work out? Here’s the low down:

Within college football there are 120 Division I schools. About 40 of them are the best of the class, the rest are mid-majors that get some regional respect and that’s about it. Let’s take the top forty schools and put them in four conferences of 10 each. They would play each team in their conference each season in a round-robin tournament of sorts with 3 out of conference games as well. So every team would play a regular season of 12 games. The best record in each conference would then get the cherished play-off berth and we would have a three game national championship playoff.

The remaining 80 schools would be put into 8 other conferences and would play out their conferences and divisions in much the same way with a larger tournament for the smaller schools (think of it as the NIT tourney). This all sounds fantastic to me but many would cry foul. How would we fairly pick the top 40 schools? What if one school fails to meet the criteria of the top 40 consistently (I’m looking at you Notre Dame)? Here-in lies the genius of this system: relegation.

The bottom four teams from the top 40 would be relegated each season into the bottom 80 school system. The top four teams from the lower eighty would be promoted up into the top 40 and play their next season there. This way a smaller school like a Boise State could prove once and for all if they did in fact belong with the Alabama's and Michigan's of college football. Truly every game in the schedule would be a playoff game. Everything matters. The top forty would get the money, sponsorships, prime-time networks and games, etc. The bottom eighty could focus on what college institutions really should focus on; academics.

This could also help the NCAA in terms of penalizing schools for recruitment infractions and other messes such as the Penn State debacle. Instead of taking away bowl appearances, scholarships, etc. just relegate an offending team to the bottom eighty for a predetermined period of time. I’m willing to bet that if Penn State was forced to play Ohio, Bowling Green, Ball State and Miami (OH) for 9 of their 12 games each season over four years the financial impact would be greater on them than 60 million. Once the ban was over the team could win their way back up to the top forty.

I know there are million variables to consider such as schedule, draft of the inaugural top forty, divisional alignment, bowl games, and so on but I have to think this would be a fantastic way to see college football played out. Oh, and if you’re a top forty school each athlete gets paid a stipend (all players make the same money but they get paid for their work). What do you think? Should we realign college football this way? Echo in on the comments.

Down the Left Field Line: The Sporting Life of the PST

On Fridays, if I feel up to it, I will spend a little time writing about sports. Why sports you ask? Well…first, I enjoy a good athletic competition as much as the next guy. Second, some of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever read have been sport-related. Third, its an arena of life that I can have an opinion on something, be dead wrong about that opinion, and sleep very soundly at night being wrong. I know I’ve immediately turned off 97.4% of my female readers (taking the list down to one - thanks mom) but please indulge me. Would you rather listen to this?

The Sporting Life of the PST.

Although there have been many, many adjustments that I’ve had to make since moving back into the Central Time Zone one of the miniscule changes has had to do with the timing of sporting events. I will contend that, for the sports fan, living in the Pacific Time zone is one of the best things that can happen to them short of ESPN actually forgetting about the Yankees and BoSox. Much of the bliss of being a sports fan in the PST (or PDT if it’s summer) is the way the schedule of sporting events unfolds in a day. This is particularly evident in the summer during baseball season and on Saturdays in the Fall for college football.

If you live in the Central or Eastern time zones you will find that you will most likely have to wait until noon for the first game of the day to start. If you want to watch a West Coast game you’re going to be up until it starts at 9pm to get that one in and if you stick with it to the end you’ll probably not make it to bed until after midnight. I’m not opposed to a late night with a ball game (especially the S.F. Giants this season) and a decent score. I am however a creature of habit and like to get to bed around 10pm. This means I’m leaving Matt Cain on the hill in the 3rd or 4th inning. That means missing a potential no-hitter. That is a no-no.

Thus, the splendid bliss of the PST. The games start at nine in the morning. Think about that for a Saturday with nothing to do and nothing planned. Get up, shower, put your favorite Saturday t-shirt on and turn on the first college football game of the day, Boston College vs. Syracuse. Granted it’s not the best match-up of the day, but this is the genius of the PST. You watch for a bit, maybe flip over to Clemson at Eastern Carolina and catch part of that game and get a nice football appetizer. At noon you get a SEC matchup and it is not a shabby one either; Auburn vs. Tennessee. You might flip the channel and see how Michigan State is doing versus Wisconsin and see a good play or two there as well. After round two it's three o’clock and your beloved Cal Bears are about to take the field versus Utah in a beautiful day at Memorial Stadium. An excellent third game for the day. Yet, here is where it begins to falls apart for the Eastern or Central Time viewers. The News people gobble up the five-seven o’clock time slots (yes, even on a Saturday) and force the evening round of games of the day to start no sooner than eight (Eastern) or seven (Central). The big game starts at 8pm and you’re in bed by 11ish. But… there is still more football to be played! The beauty of PST now begins to emerge. Let’s go back to our PST day…

It’s 5pm now and the ABC/ESPN Saturday Night Game of the Week is on. It’s no Colorado School of Mines vs. Little Sisters of the Poor match-up either. Pick the marquee game in all of college football, put it on Saturday night and enjoy! And then the final games from the West Coast and PAC–12 are played out. One more game usually starting around 7pm. Usually it is a pretty good game too. Again, you’re in bed by ten and have seen the big picture of college football in America. A full day of college football and no feelings of guilt for staying up too late (or missing a great game).[1]

Of course I have taken this to the very largest example. Just getting to see a West Coast game start at 7pm and be done by 10pm is perfect reason for the PST to be hailed as the best zone for sporting-time. No obsessing about missing a great game because it was too late. In fact never worrying about a game going too late. Always getting to see in the newspaper the box scores off all the games the next morning, not just the games they got in before the midnight print deadline. For me, the PST is the sporting-time paradise. Maybe that is what PST really stands for; Paradise of Sporting-Time.

  1. Disclaimer: I only advocate this type of Saturday on one of three conditions: 1) You’re single and have no one to impress and no responsibilities to uphold on said Saturday. 2) Your wife is out of town and again you have no responsibilities to uphold on said Saturday. 3) Your wife expressly gives you permission to spend a Saturday like this. If this last option occurs you should probably take your wife to the hospital because she is likely very ill. You should get checked out also because spending a whole day watching football while there are people to relate with and do things for is totally insane.  ↩