The Best in the Business

I am in a sports group on Facebook that lets anyone talk and debate about sports in an open forum. I love it because the guys in the group are there for debate and can all have a level-headed conversation or debate about the topics presented, something more often then not is hard to come by. Because baseball started Thursday, one of the questions posed is probably from the most radical member of the group. He is a Cardinals fan (and he lets you know it) that is tight to his opinions, like believing his team is the most successful franchise in the history of the MLB and even going so far as saying baseball as a whole is the only sport to never have a single flaw in the way its game is played. While neither of those are remotely true (yes I went there), he still poses tough questions and engages in a manner that is nothing but respectable. His latest question troubled me a bit, and I wanted to reason it out just to see if anyone thinks I am that crazy. He said that the MLB players today are not nearly as good as their predecessors. Guys like Kris Bryant, Giancarlo Stanton, and Mike Trout he claims are not in the category of players like Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., and Frank Thomas. I wanted to ask questions about this to him, but wanted to reason my way out here just to see if it all makes any sense. Let’s get to it.

To compare players across decades to me is both fair and also unreasonable. I say it is fair because that is what we as fans are naturally born to do and also why we care so much about statistics. I mean, after all, stats were created for the purpose of measuring out a better way to track a player’s contribution and progress through a season to see how he is matching up with other players. Comparing them through the years is something we naturally do, but it never can truly take into effect how different the game has been played and what it has been played with throughout each decade of its existence. Comparing the power surge in the 90s to the dead ball era in the 40s through 60s is unfair because of the rampant steroid use by those sluggers compared to the squishy ball that was tough to hit anywhere in those days. Stolen bases today should presumably be higher due to improved uniform technology, cleats getting better, and diamonds that are taken care of better than any patch of sand on the planet. To me, it is aspects like this that make it hard because the game has changed so much from its inception to what we see today.

I think fans today have seen the gap between the worst and the best players shrink so heavily from what we have seen in previous years is that we don’t see everything put in off the field. The amount of training that goes in between the cage, weight room, kitchen, and even the road is lightyears in advance of where it was 50 years ago. The equipment players use today and technology available to them allows even players without the raw talent to do it all to train and prepare themselves better, so that when the time comes, they have given themselves whatever tools needed to make up the gap. Babe Ruth probably never practiced and was known for spending all of his time away from the field in the spotlight of New York City or in the bedroom with the woman he chose for the day. The guy spent so little time practicing that he missed almost an entire season because he was rumored to have slept around so much and contracted syphilis. His natural talent was literally too overpowering for opponents as he mashed his way to 714 career home runs that no one ever thought could be broken. As players and stadiums changed, Hank Aaron broke that mark as stadiums brought in their outfield walls to make home runs more attainable, pitchers started throwing harder, and players could launch the ball by just going up to the plate and hitting for contact. Aaron wasn’t a powerful slugger by nature (he never hit more than 50 in a season), but he was a great contact hitter who took more powerful fastballs over the fence by simply getting the barrel of the bat on more pitches. Barry Bonds was more of a slugger and did it because he was really good and hitting the ball a long way* (* – I think he was on the juice for most of the last decade of his career but was never caught for it.) Times change and records are meant to be broken.

As far as pitching goes, I’ll look at the difference between three key players. Walter Johnson is my favorite example from early baseball. He held most records for pitching, outside of career wins, because of his electric stuff and the way baseball was played in that era. At the time, starting pitchers usually averaged 8+ innings per game and as long as you had a shutout going, there was no chance a manager would take his star out of the game. Pitchers today are on strict innings limits and have a regimen of at least three to four days of rest between starts. Johnson was known to throw 13 or 14 innings in a game if it was close and then go on to pitch the second game of the double header (in baseball back then, it was your day to pitch, so if there were two games that day, guess who was pitching both?) Today, the typical mark is 200 innings for a starter and just around 30 starts. Johnson would average well over 300 innings per season and over 40 starts, typically on one or two days rest at times. Bob Gibson was the most dominant pitcher of the dead ball era and his stats are padded when fans take into account that hitters really struggled to mash a potato being thrown at them. This is not to take away from Gibson, but his numbers wouldn’t be as great if he pitched today. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher of the last decade, but with his injury history and the way the Dodgers are careful about his workload, he wouldn’t not have lasted more than five years next to Walter Johnson in the 20s.

I’m not saying players of years before were that much better than the players of today, but I think the key is taking into account the differences in the game over its 100+ years of existence and the way technology has changed the game today. Players today are closer than ever in terms of their talent and are playing in ever changing circumstances different than those of Babe Ruth or Nolan Ryan. Players before were excelling on raw talent alone that others couldn’t match, but now, they can train and make up the time, gaining success over others simply because they want it more than the next guy. Players today are really good, and they will continue to get better as technology improves.

Advertisements

This Tournament Though

I think it is an understatement to say this has been one of the most unpredictable tournaments in the last two decades. One seeds fell pretty bizarrely and out of all of the brackets entered in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge, zero had the Elite Eight correctly tabbed. The thought of all the madness should make sense, I mean after all, we are accustomed to upsets left and right, but never truly before on this scale. Heck, even Sister Jean didn’t have Loyola in her Final Four, and she is their biggest fan. I was talking with someone recently and they asked me if playing the regular season matters at all, given the fact that so many low seeds were succeeding and the best team in the country, Virginia, was beaten handily by a team of Terriers. So I wonder, does it all really matter?

The easy and correct answer is yes, of course it matters. If the college basketball season only lasted for one month, we wouldn’t have much interest in it as a culture simply due to the fact that it isn’t prominent in our culture. It would make it have the impact of the Tour de France in America where it has that unique feel and people go out to watch it, but it doesn’t bring cycling to the forefront as must see TV. Teams need to develop as they can only have a player on the court for a maximum of four years and teams are always changing. Coaches need time to develop recruits and get them geared in for the college game more so than any other level. The trials and tests they go through during the season help establish them for a tournament run and it makes the season exciting before all of the madness we love ensues. Where the tournament has that reality unlike the regular season, is that teams of all different backgrounds compete against teams who have different situations and motivations.

I like to compare this to the English FA Cup. This is the main domestic soccer tournament in England that all teams registered in the Football Association compete in. It combines the best teams in the Premier League and sometimes can contest them with a team that is playing five leagues below them. Players who make $200,000 per week are going up against guys that have weekend jobs because their soccer wages aren’t enough to support their family of four. In the NCAA Tournament, teams like Virginia, Kansas, and Duke that are rich in basketball talent and have several future NBA players on their roster are going up against teams that have guys who love playing the game and this is their last chance at playing real organized and competitive basketball before they go off to play in rec leagues with their doctor buddies (shout out to the wonderful medical program at UMBC). The tournament pits teams that have nothing to lose against the established elite and the systems that got them there. This year is one of those years where we are truly seeing something special with the competitiveness. It derives from the FA Cup I mentioned earlier.

Lower league teams throw out their best squads and go all in because it is the biggest and best prize they can win every year. Big teams in the Premier League typically rest their best players in the early stages when playing against such small teams, mainly because they see the game is already won and want to have their best lineup well-rested for the next big match in several days. The big teams have their fluid style of play that has done a number on other big teams, but small teams tend to play much differently. Small teams don’t play based on getting the best opportunity, rather, they play numbers games. These games include hitting as many balls into the box as possible, making as many darting runs over the top as need be, and taking it into the heart of the defense to disrupt their opponents rhythm. By playing these games, they are banking on something hopefully going their way and sneaking out a win. If they lose 7-0, it doesn’t matter because they had to go all out to win anyway. Small teams in the tournament play a calculated game that includes heavy loads of ball movement, shifting on defense, and getting to the free throw line. We have all seen how great some of these small teams work the fundamentals that can trap the big boys. The big boys run their offense and try to execute like they have all year, and when the disruption comes, they either stick with it for too long, or they just refuse to recognize the changes. Tony Bennett and Virginia really caught themselves in a bind by their inability to get inside on UMBC and defend well enough to stymy their scoring. They were in for a battle early and failed to adjust when the game was clearly not going their way.

I love seeing the way the tournament has unfolded this year and already seeing Loyola and Michigan in the Final Four makes me excited for next Saturday. Michigan wasn’t the favorite out of the B1G by any margin this year, but I would argue they have been the most efficient team this year. A heavy dose of Moritz Wagner is something I wouldn’t want to have to deal with and their guards kill it when left open on the wings. The other side of the bracket will feature at least one power house in Duke or Kansas and then Villanova can join that matchup if they solve their Texas Tech problem. Tech has played well for the majority of the season and is one of those little guys in a big conference and has shown their ability to make a deep run by using their tough regular season competition and turning it into tournament success. I would say the regular season definitely matters because it sets up a field and gives us our college basketball fix for months. The tournament just has that ability to place unfamiliar teams against unfamiliar circumstances with the ability to put it all out there without the fear of what seed you might get later on. Selling out is a must and the team that always wins may not necessarily be the best, but the team that makes the best adjustments for six games in a two and a half week stretch.

The Harry Kane Team

Nothing about this title is accurate. It made sense to me for about a year and a half but now it is time to put the haters to bed. Tottenham Hotspur do not ride the success of their talisman to victory and I want to lay it on the line. While yes I agree, he has won the past two golden boot awards and is undeniably one of the best goal scorers in the world, but Tottenham are more than just one player. Much like Real Madrid or Barcelona, everything runs through or goes towards one player on the pitch. Ronaldo and Messi are the two best players in the world and I am not looking to deny their greatness, but the teams built around them do so much to let them thrive that Tottenham are starting to model this in a subtle way, and it is nothing more than the haters who are looking to shut them down in any way possible. Let me explain.

I started following Tottenham in the most casual way an American sports fan could do so. Soccer in America is nothing but an eyesore with its low scoring, acting jobs, and overall boring attributes compared to the likes of football, and basketball. To some, baseball even takes more of a front seat to the action with the way we as a culture have fallen in love with the sport for many years. I was never a soccer fan and hated the game. I started following the team in 2008, when I was at a friend’s playing FIFA. I didn’t know a single team, so I was asked to use my favorite Premier League team (again, that meant nothing to me). After saying I had no idea what that meant, I told my friend I would start supporting who was dead last in the league at that time, he told me Tottenham Hotspur in a very comedic way and at that point on, I became Tottenham ’til I die.

Tottenham have struggled in my time of support, having been lucky to earn the League Cup title later that season and haven’t won a trophy since. The team is always bashed by other supporters for how they cannot win trophies and have now approached a decade without raising one. A revolution with the team started in 2014 when they hired Mauricio Pochettino as manager away from Southampton in need of a culture change. Teams of the previous decade had always been centered around one or two players including, but not limited to, Gareth Bale, Robbie Keane, Luka Modric, Gylfi Siggurdsson, and even sometimes Peter Crouch and Emanuel Adebayor. This team was a collection of one trick ponies and whatever they could sign, hoping that a top four finish could be achieved and they could squeak out just enough in the big games. Pochettino changed that.

It started years earlier in acquiring players that came on the cheaper side, due to the most rigid wage structure amongst the Premier League’s big six teams, by acquiring good, young talent that could blossom when put in the right situation. Players like Jan Vertonghen, Christian Eriksen, Danny Rose, Kyle Walker, and Dele Alli to name a few were acquired with the hopes that they would become first team starters to build a team around. Pochettino created a new culture on this team where success was the instrument for greatness and that nothing was given when it came to playing time. His strategy has made Tottenham a contender for the title in the past three seasons, and they are only getting better.

Harry Kane is Tottenham’s star man and that isn’t something I am trying to convince anyone otherwise. He became a full first team player in Pochettino’s first season and has earned his keep. He is an academy product of the club and struggled to take to the stage in his early years at the club, being loaned out to Leyton Orient, Millwall, and Leicester City where he struggled to adapt to the physicality of English football. Kane learned persistence and an attitude to always get better, notoriously being the first at the training ground and last to leave amongst his teammates. Kane has embodied the work ethic his manager demands from all of his players to compete with the likes of the best clubs in Europe. That drive has paid off for the club as Kane has scored more goals than any other Premier League player the past two seasons and is right in the hunt to win the award for a third consecutive year. The team has struggled to rid themselves of the notion that Kane is the only reason they succeed, and they are out to prove it is a team effort week in and week out that gives them success.

Kane injured his ankle against Bournemouth last weekend and has been ruled out for around one month, with the team hoping he will be back for the FA Cup Semi-Final against Manchester United. He will likely miss out against Chelsea and Manchester City, one being the team fighting them for the last Champions League spot and the other the champions in waiting. It seemed like another blow to the ones Tottenham have suffered year in and year out, but it isn’t. Kane was out for two different spells last season as the team continued to evolve into something more than just a one trick pony. His first injury spell over September and October saw the team struggle to adapt and drop points. When he returned, they picked themselves off of the ground and began to find success. He went down at a similar point last season against Millwall, and it seemed like the season would take a dire turn. Kane missed five matches and the team turned it around, winning all five and scoring at a better rate than they had with Kane in the lineup. This year, since the injury, the team has scored seven goals in just over 1.5 matches and seem like they really don’t need him after all.

The drive is fueled by a midfield attack that holds the ball up against the opposition and fuels it into Christian Eriksen. Eriksen is the all-around Messi-like player for Tottenham that creates on the break and drives an attack that has been one of the league’s best for the past two seasons. Players like Dele Alli, Erik Lamela, Lucas Moura, and Son Heung Min feed off of this precision and are allowed to combine for a front group that can cause problems for the best defenses in the world. It is the work rate of these players that have shown the team and the league that their main man being out doesn’t stop them from achieving anything. Bournemouth were stunned after the high pressing and intensity Spurs put in after Kane went down, with an equalizer from Alli before the half and three more goals after the break to give Tottenham an easy win. The quarter-final against Swansea was the first true teat this season without Kane, and surviving one decent push from Swansea in the second half (with two great saves from backup keeper Michel Vorm), Tottenham cruised to an easy 3-0 win. The team has looked comfortable without him since the second injury to Millwall, and without him, they are 7-0 with an impressive 20 goals scored and only two conceded, not counting when Kane came on as a halftime sub against Bournemouth in the fifth game last season when he scored three minutes in, followed by a Vincent Janssen goal late in the match. Tottehhan have thrived without him and have accepted the added challenge on playing without Kane to show the league, and the rest of Europe, just how good of a team they are. The run-in for the season will not be easy and the team hasn’t won at Stamford Bridge since the early 1990’s, but it just seems that they have the motivation and the players to crack the code in the premier league without its best all-around goal scorer. The next few matches will tell, but I have full confidence that Tottenham can come through in the run-in and get the job done to earn their spot in next year’s Champions League.

Make Tiger Great Again

I was sitting with my cousin, Ben, at Thanksgiving reminiscing about the glory days. Afternoon barbecues in his parents’ back yard were a staple in our family and when Uncle Jim busted out the smoker, boy oh boy were we in for a treat. Those days, we would spend hours hitting foam golf balls on his front lawn, except it wasn’t a front lawn at all. The old man had a plan and wanted his home to be the hub of entertainment. We would spend many a Sunday in his old school basement filled with model cars and Wisconsin sports memorabilia as we would enjoy the Packers crushing some weak opponent behind Brett Favre week in and week out. It was the best Wisconsin basement a family could ask for, with a fridge full of beer and a bar that made sure to bring the party. In summer, that party moved outside and the front lawn was transformed into a golf course he gleefully named Winkle Pines, a tribute to Rip Van Winkle Drive that their house was perched upon. He created score cards and a game so masterful that scores under par were exceptionally difficult. I remember shooting about 16 over par the first time I played the course (with the 17th hole ruled unplayable by the Mulberry infestation of 2006). We loved those days as a family, but Ben and I took exception to the game because it was our chance to be Tiger, swinging high and wide, fist pumping our way to birdies, or bogies is you were me. To us, Tiger was a myth that couldn’t be replicated or an athlete we always wanted to be growing up. He was the star, and we could be just like him.

Ben and I talked about the phrase, “Make Tiger Great Again,” after dinner because we knew he was coming back. No one else in the family seemed excited about the aging star who was riddled with injuries and hadn’t won a major since 2008 because that was old news, and come to think of it, who liked golf anyways? Growing up, golf was just one of those sports that was perceived as boring. The sweet sounds of Jim Nantz and David Feherty were meant to put you to sleep and not to be taken seriously like football or basketball. Then came Tiger. My dad hated the game, but would get engaged with the few of us in the family who watched on Sundays when Tiger was in the hunt. Even from the early days in the mid-90s, Tiger was special. Watching him come out to the first tee in that red shirt and black pants meant business was about to get real, I mean very real. I was never so excited for golf until Ben came over in summer and Tiger was at the top of the leader board, I would laugh as he would freak out that every shot was great or every putt went right in the cup. Nothing was new with Tiger when it came to winning, it was the exception to the rule that he was the only one that would always do it.

It crushed me seeing him after the downfall in 2009 and the injuries that came along with it. I will start by saying I am not agreeing with what he did in his private life, nor the backlash and repercussions that came along with it, he deserved that. What I hated seeing was that he wasn’t winning, golf wasn’t the same, and that I fell back into the lazy backdrop of just using it to help me catch that afternoon nap I so desperately craved. Gold wasn’t fun anymore for me. The magic of seeing the best rip the field apart as if it was just another routine day at the office made it so unreal that I couldn’t keep watching. To see Tiger back in the hunt today after all of those missed tournaments, withdrawals, and downright awful rounds is a sigh of relief. I just want one more major win from my boy Tiger. I don’t want it because he necessarily deserves it over the young crop of golfers that are up and coming. I don’t want it because he needs to break Jack’s record. I don’t want it to put all of the haters aside. I want it because I miss it. Nothing in golf now is as exciting as watching Tiger do his thing on Sunday. I watched in awe at the ’05 Masters when he hit that chip on 16, and best believe watching the weekend rounds at Torrey Pines in ’08 was a masterclass of golf, not to mention the fact that Tiger did it all on a broken leg. That was incredible, and nothing has come close to it.

Tiger may be one of the old guard, but to admit he isn’t the most influential athlete in golf’s history is nothing short of incorrect. Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan launched the sport onto the radar. Arnie, Jack, and Gary Player did it in the way golf was meant to be played, with class, honor, and integrity. Tiger may not be like them, but he made it what it is today. He got the sport on the grandest stage, where it was must see TV and turned it into a real competition that launched innovation and design. He made it more than just and old man’s hobby or something you dreaded seeing on the TV. Tiger was the best thing on TV for over a decade when he was in the hunt and opened the door to a new wave and generation of viewers and golfers that the sport had no idea could take any interest. I miss all of that and Ben and I were just hoping we could see something close to this in the future. It is slowly happening now, but I just want one more. I want to see those magical saves and long putts to do something big at Augusta. Just one more time, I want to see a fist pump to seal the deal. Make Tiger Great Again, because few things were as great as what golf witnessed for a decade of dominance.

Welcome Back! (I Know it’s Been A While)

Hey everyone!

Boy does it feel good to be back. I write this as I am currently dreading not being able to close the bar I work at for another three hours, but I felt it was the perfect time to make a comeback (Tiger Woods style). OK, maybe I don’t have as many accomplishments as the greatest golfer of the modern era (future post to come) but I feel like I’ve done a little something. I want to apologize for my long absence due to life doing what it does to all of us. The combination of work, social life, personal life, and the gym have done a number on me, no more excuses!

I wanted to let you guys who have read my posts know that there will be more content to come and I’ll try to write no less than one post per week. I’ve taken in quite a bit about the spots world in the past several months and wish to share some new perspectives on topics that I haven’t been able to talk about in the past. It feels good to be writing again and I can’t wait to get back down to business, or at least spark a conversation about what is going on. Comments and debate are always encouraged, after all, if we cannot discuss different opinions, sports would be a heck of a lot different. I’ll see you soon!

 

Scott

Ban the Tackle

Even though it has been in practice at Dartmouth since 2010, the Ivy League is banning tackling at practice for the upcoming season and going forward. This has mixed reviews from those in and around the game, and I feel the same way. Tackling is a part of the game whether we like it or not. Playing defense is a part of the game whether we like it or not. Concussions are a part of the game whether we like it or not and the list can go on and on. It is becoming more and more apparent that controlling injuries in the game is the trend in the NFL and now finding itself sneaking down to the other levels of the game. I am happy to see the transition, but what does it all mean?

Dartmouth started going with no tackling at practice in 2010 to reduce injuries. This doesn’t mean that contact has been completely banned at practice, but full on tackling has been eliminated to avoid the worst part of injuries the players can face. What they do at the college now is a system where dummies are used to simulate players and work as an easy target for players to practice tackling on a full scale without hitting a teammate. The whole plan at Dartmouth is to be a good tackling team with out actually tackling a teammate. This trend has caught on in the Ivy League, but it has raised questions for those involved in the game to be concerned about.

Good tackling and the idea of proper tackling has changed in the last ten years due to the NFL concussion protocol and effort to make the game safer. The game is safer than ever now, at least that is what we are told to think. Football is dangerous and always will be because the risk of the big hit will be there. Not having players in practice set up to take big hits is a good thing and will do its best to avoid unnecessary injuries. The problem going forward is how well the dummies and simulations can actually work to teach proper tackling. Brian Dawkins, a high school coach and former NFL all-pro safety, said the idea is great but it has its flaws. He is all for trying to reduce injuries and making the game safer. His problem with the dummies and the system at Dartmouth is that they do not fully simulate the intricacies and push back of a human being. Human beings have better stopping speed and lateral movement than these dummies, as well as aren’t going to go right to the ground when hit with the slightest impact. Dawkins said that he still would like to do contact days and teach real tackling to his players, just not on a full-blown scale. What he meant by full-blown was that he wouldn’t teach tackling and real hitting as much as it was in the past, but still use it to teach proper forms of tackling by giving real people pads and showing them how to tackle a human being, not a dummy. It would fully simulate game situations and allow Dawkins’ players to learn how to tackle the right way, while still protecting injuries and being a good coach to his players.

Some players heard about this and said it was crazy to think about doing, but then they took it back a step. They realized the game was changing and the old-school methods aren’t exactly the norm anymore. This method may work for the Ivy League, but will it grow to a bigger scale. The coaches in the power conferences in college football definitely won’t take to this lightly because I know they will view it as a sign of weakness. The NFL won’t do it because the business side of it will always reign supreme, tackling is part of the business and we need to be the best at it. I don’t think this will catch on quickly, but the idea of it makes sense to those in the game and those who know where the game is going. It shows the evolution of the game and that the dangers are real. Teams are taking accountability to protect their players and that is the key. It seemed crazy at first, but coaches are doing their best to change things, and it will work going forward.

Mejia Gets the Boot

It seems like eons ago that baseball implemented its new steroid policy following the dark days of steroids impacting the sport more than ever. “Chicks dig the long ball” was the mantra and players would do anything they could to achieve home run power. Steroids played a crucial role and baseball started to recognize that it and it alone, compared to the other major professional American sports, had a problem the others didn’t. The MLB set up a system that allowed guys three strikes. The first resulted in 50 games suspended, the second 100, and the third meant the player was out, banned from the game entirely. It has taken quite some time, but baseball finally had its first strikeout in the new era and that came at the hands of Jennry Mejia.

Mejia didn’t have a long career, playing for the Mets from only 2010, 2012-15. He was used sporadically as a starter, bullpen member, and closer before having injuries wreck his career in the second half of his already short one. Mejia was caught early on for a banned substance relating to injury and then again just a short time later. The Mets signed him to a one year deal in January to avoid arbitration and hope their young pitcher could regain any kind of form that would keep him on the field. Last week, Mejia tested positive for his third banned substance and that means he is gone. He gets to appeal the commissioner’s decision, but I doubt the commissioner will find any way to give Mejia the ok to keep playing, pending of course the test was wrong or something like that.

Steroids are an interesting part of baseball today as it is clear guys have really taken themselves away from their allure, but are also still trying to cut corners. What I have liked about this policy is that it has taken ten years to nail someone with that lifetime ban, that is incredible. It shows that these guys are taking this seriously and why shouldn’t they. If they get caught once, they lose a third of the current season and that takes time to come back from. Guys can’t just miss almost two months of the season and come back where they left off. The suspensions are big and are damaging enough to careers. Guys like Manny Ramirez, Roger Clemmens, Rafael Palmeiro, and even Alex Rodriguez will find it nearly impossible to reach the Hall of Fame because of their links to the drugs. Palmeiro and Clemmens continue to lose votes by the year and Barry Bonds has seen his numbers stay stagnant even though it was never actually proven he ever used steroids. These things are bad and guys are learning that they can’t get away with it without their reputation and career being essentially tarnished.

Two recent examples of careers being tarnished are Ryan Braun and Melky Cabrera. Following the Brewers’ best season since they went to the World Series in 1982, Braun, the NL’s MVP, was found guilty of a positive test and handed a 50 game suspension. He appealed with a questionable claim that the test was done wrong and that his sample was affected by it. Braun won and got his suspension lifted, playing on opening day to a crowd that gave him a standing ovation as he took the plate. Braun was the first player to challenge a drug test and win, stating in a speech that his integrity prevailed and showed he was truly a clean player. That speech came under scrutiny when the very next year, Braun was listed in connection with the Biogenesis lab in Miami that was shut down due to helping players juice up for competition. Braun was one of several players under the scrutiny but quietly took his suspension and did not address the media or fans well after the suspension was made. Fans turned their Braun jerseys to read “Fraud” and has never fully regained their respect with which they once had for him. In 2014 and 2015, Braun posted the two worst seasons (career wise) he has had in the MLB while also fighting constant injuries.

Melky Cabrera was an MVP candidate for the Giants in 2012 when he got caught in the summer. The Giants went on to make the playoffs and the World Series against the Tigers. Cabrera was eligible to return to the team for parts of the playoffs and the World Series, but the Giants left him off the roster. The team caught fire in the second half and seemed to rally behind Cabrera getting suspended, feeling like they could do it without their best player. The Giants and their fans rallied to win the World Series and Cabrera was sent away after the season where he has never regained his form. Steroids have ruined careers but have also made baseball better. Jenrry Mejia may be the first in a line of players to go down, but it is good that the system can work and it will punish guys that just don’t get it. Baseball may have a lot of problems to still hash out (cough, replay system, cough) but this one is working and players should just stay clean if they want a clean and happy career.

Super Bowl 50: Let’s Recap

Another wonderful NFL season came to a close yesterday and I’ll throw out another congrats to the Denver Broncos on winning their third Super Bowl championship. It looked like it was going to be, then there was no way, and then it was as Denver’s season had its definite ups and downs. The game was a heartbreaker for the Carolina Panthers in more ways than one in my eyes, so let’s do what everyone is doing today and recap what we learned from this game for both teams and the league going forward.

If we learned anything from this game, it’s that Denver’s defense was definitely for real. Holding MVP Cam Newton to an 18-41 performance and keeping him contained in the pocket to get beat around was the game plan from the outset and the Broncos never looked back. The secondary looked great (albeit Aqib Talib getting three penalties for being an idiot in the first half) and that allowed Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware to do their thing with Carolina’s offense line and hammer Cam Newton throughout the game. They always said defense wins championships and this one got it done. I was listening to First Take today and heard Skip Bayless try and say this game wasn’t all about Denver and their defense as he ran off stats how Peyton Manning had the worst QBR (10) from a Super bowl winning quarterback. He also said Denver was the first team to have less than 200 yards of offense and win the Super Bowl, so how wasn’t the defense the main reason for victory and deserving all of the praise? The defense dominated and got the job done.

Going to the other side of the defensive coin, Carolina had a defensive performance that was not bad by their standards at all. They only allowed 17 points and eight of those were after a fumble that started Denver’s drive at the Carolina six yard line. Throw in a holding penalty on Josh Norman in the end zone on third down and Denver only kicks a field goal on that drive. The majority of Denver’s offense came on the first drive of the game that set a tone for the Broncos by stalling in the red zone, proving Carolina played big when they had to. All in all, 17 points from that defense usually meant an easy win for a Panthers offense that seemed as though it was hard to keep them under 30. This squad played well, but it just wasn’t enough on this night.

This game can be looked at offensively from a maturity aspect, something that can be a little confusing. Denver ran a conservative game plan in most of the second half after seeing just how bad they were beating up on the Panthers. Towards the end of the game, Denver knew it wasn’t doing much on offense and decided to run the football on all three downs to kill off some clock and put the game back in the hands of their defense. Peyton Manning has always been one to take control of the game when he is on the field, but a guy who was struggling as much as he was would maybe lean towards giving the game to the squad getting it done. Manning has been known during his career to control the game and call his own plays, and why not, the guy is a hall of famer who has built his career through a command of the field. But when it was time to just run the ball and give the game to the defense, Manning did something he would not have done two years ago. In 2013, the Broncos had the league’s best offense and were decimated by the Seahawks in Super Bowl 48. That Peyton Manning would have seen a six point lead in the fourth quarter and said we need to score at all costs to bring us back up by two possessions. Instead, the Manning of today decided to not change plays, but instead listen to the coaches and let the defense determine the game. A mature Manning who knew his skills were not up to task put the game in the hands of the squad that could win, and it ended up working. Peyton got another ring and did it the way that he knew could win the game.

Carolina’s offense was booming coming into this game and was humbled quickly, only scoring 10 points on the night. Nothing looked like it would go right for the Panthers after Cam overthrew his receivers on the first couple of passes and the NFL catch rule drawing a failed challenge from Ron Rivera. Carolina was battered and beat and had no answer for what Denver was throwing at them all game. I talk about maturity with Cam Newton and how he handled himself during the second half and after the game. Cam looked like he wasn’t all that into it, slowly getting out of huddles and just lacking the energy that we normally see from him. To his credit, it would be tough to have energy and be motivated knowing Ware and Miller were going to hit him once or twice the next couple of plays, but the Super Bowl is the Super Bowl and excuses don’t come easy without criticism. He will endure all of the criticism in the world for not going after the fumble that eventually sealed their fate and for good reason. I know he was getting beat up and I know it was frustrating, but as a fan, seeing my quarterback not fight for that ball wouldn’t be infuriating, but disappointing. It would hurt my soul to know he wouldn’t fight for the whole game to try and give the team a chance, especially only down by six. The last two drives of the game were the telling points for me when I saw Cam fall over after the Norman penalty that led to the game ending touchdown and how he handled himself on the ensuing drive. I have been critical of Newton before, but those displays show how he hasn’t changed from a post I made two years ago after his first playoff game. The emphatic display of falling over and looking defeated shows the team a leader who had just been destroyed, killing off all motivation. The last drive had a couple of bad plays and Cam getting hit in the end zone where he whined and begged for a penalty. There was no push, no motivation, and no sense of urgency to get the drive going to try and win, just a defeated team that knew it was over. After Mike Tolbert had to tap Newton on the shoulder to tell him to get up out of the huddle, it was over. The appeal after the penalty he thought he deserved just showed all of the frustration come out from a guy who couldn’t lead when the going got tough.

Leadership is still the criticism of Cam Newton and his takeaway from this game. For Cam, it was ok to be celebrating and be cocky with how he conducted himself because he was winning, why not be cocky. The whole mantra players have in that situation is to try and stop it from happening, but when they can’t, they know the end result. I heard we didn’t see the real Cam Newton in this game because he wasn’t dancing and controlling the pace, but I would argue we did. We saw a guy who was finally put up against the wall and the adversity in his face. That guy crumbled at the pressure and showed he still can’t lead his team. To me, a true leader can stand through the adversity and battle to the end, something Cam still can’t do. Watching his press conference at the end of the game was embarrassing. He wasn’t wearing his normal attire, instead leaving his uniform on and donning a hoodie. He never tried to answer questions with any kind of detail, just giving one or two word answers. To his credit, yes, you just lost the biggest game of your life and it hurts. But in reality, this is the 50th time a team has lost the Super Bowl and has had to face the music. Everyone else took the podium and answered the tough questions, so why can’t you? Leaving the podium early leaves a sting to the football community because it was all good while the wins came in but it all stopped when a loss was undertaken. I know it is tough, but I would cut Cam a bigger break if he didn’t conduct himself the way he did all year. When you ride as high as he did, falling is gonna hurt, and answering up for it must be done. He still isn’t a leader and it showed.

Super Bowl 50 taught us some things we need to remember. Defense wins championships and don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Man up to face the music and those who humble themselves get rewarded. And, oh yea, another really goofy and weird halftime show.

LeBron the Coach Killer

Hello once again and my sincerest apologies for not writing since September. It has been a long time and while I wanted to write, school and two jobs got the best of me where any free time I had was spent trying to sleep (I mean heck, I needed the energy to do it all again the next day). This semester I have more time and promise I will have at least one post per week, but let’s get to the matter at hand instead of my excuses.

Tyronn Lue, that name has been more relevant to the world now than it was to me when I was battling my neighbor in NBA Live 2004 and he was using the Magic. I would prefer the Rockets because of Yao Ming and Steve Francis going off on both ends of the floor with the help of Glen Rice and his sweet mid range jumper. Nonetheless, I always would lose a close one as Tracy McGrady would go off for at least 30 and, wouldn’t you know it, Tyronn Lue at the point would hit a couple of dagger threes that I still cannot get over. Turning those dagger threes into a pulled out and, freshly sharpened might I add, dagger from the heart of David Blatt and you have Lue as the head coach of the Cavaliers. This is his first head coaching gig and he inherits the best team in the East with the best player on the planet. I would say that situation is more ideal than he could have imagined, but is it? LeBron James has never been an easy one to have on a team and has more of an influence than we might expect, but it’s not for a reason we always think about.

I will admit that when I found out about the Blatt firing, I knew the reasons why. The story starts at the beginning for LeBron. When he was drafted in 2003, the Cavaliers were a joke of the NBA, hence the first overall pick. In his first two-plus seasons, he went through three head coaches. This number can be concerning, but the combined record of the team during this stretch was 86-118. The team wasn’t good and the head coaches were not living up to what they should have been doing, winning games. Outside of these no namers, LeBron has played for three head coaches before Lue. Mike Brown rounded out his tenure in Cleveland before the decision to take his talents to South Beach and play for Erik Spoelstra before heading back to Cleveland and play a year and a half for David Blatt. Brown found success with James and brought one Finals appearance (LeBron’s first) that resulted in a sweep at the hands of the Spurs. Miami had its rough beginnings but brought two championships and four Finals appearances in four seasons. Blatt brought the Cavs to the Finals in his first year and was fired with a league best record (in the Eastern Conference) at 30-11. The success of these guys seems weird to think that they could be let go. If Brown and Spoelstra survived, why didn’t Blatt?

LeBron has always been the star since he was a little kid. He caught the spotlight in high school and never turned away. When he was drafted, the dynamic in sports started to shift that, at the time, gave LeBron an opportunity that he never realized. The dynamic between the player and coach has changed. Players seem to have all of the leverage these days. Upper level management needs approval from fans for just about anything they do, whether it is drafting players, picking them up in free agency, or releasing them. Sometimes upper level management can be harrassed and end up being right all along (hello Kristaps Porzingis). The dynamic has even changed to where a star player is more important than a coach or manager, shifting the power to a player based focus that breaks down the whole nebula of the system. Coaches and managers are there as the leaders, the boss of the players whose job is to run the team like a company, putting the company with the best opportunity to succeed. Employees get hired and fired to do specific tasks and have special jobs because of their experience. Now, the employees determine how things are run and it has the potential to work, but a leaderless cause has trouble. Player coaches were popular for a time but haven’t panned out because they just weren’t practical any more. Managing is key and an important aspect of the game, they need to be separate. If players, take over, the dual role can hurt their performance on the court.

So where does this leave LeBron and Blatt? LeBron and Mike Brown lasted because Brown was the head coach who brought him the only NBA success he knew. Brown was quickly disposed of after the 2010 season because it was obvious that LeBron wasn’t coming back and Dan Gilbert knew there just wasn’t the answer in Brown (he turned out to be right). LeBron was already a superstar but achieved it after the decision when he announced on live TV that he was going to the Heat. He and Erik Spoelstra had their rough spots, but Spoelstra lasted because he brought LeBron back to the Finals every year he was in Miami and allowed LeBron to be the guy on a team where he joined Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. After returning to Cleveland, the goal was championship or nothing and it would be done his way. David Blatt wasn’t meant to be a head coach but a figure head who LeBron could control, someone who wouldn’t trump him. Spoelstra had the only thing going for him that LeBron couldn’t control, Pat Riley. Riley could do whatever he wanted with the Heat and he like his head coach, so he was going to stay whether LeBron liked it or not. After another heart-breaking loss, James left for his home and an owner who would give him everything he wanted after condemning his move away four years earlier. Upper level management of the Cavaliers can say that LeBron didn’t have any say in the firing but how didn’t he? LeBron never liked Blatt and Dan Gilbert wants a title in Cleveland worse than ever. Gilbert needs LeBron to have success or he could walk again if he wants to get to Kobe’s mark of five championships. LeBron runs the organization he is with and if he doesn’t like his coach, well then the guy is gone. Player egos have become too big these days, and the Cavaliers are a great example of why that dude who would get me from the three point line all those years ago on the Playstation is head coaching the best team in the East.

What To Be Upset About

I just recently got cable back after moving into my new house this year and boy I tell you, I really didn’t miss it. I am referring to getting back to my constant hours of viewing ESPN and Sports Center to the point where I realized what was so nice about not watching them in the first place. All I have seen lately is what to do about Roger Goodell and the fallout that his court case has made with the New England Patriots. I never thought Tim Tebow would be talked about so little after getting cut from yet another team (he isn’t good enough to play quarterback at the NFL level, ESPN can stop trying to prove it to us), but I was wrong again. The court ruling irks me in several ways that has me wondering what I should be more upset about: the fact that Goodell and the NFL really have n concrete way of punishing players or even having the authority to do so, or the fact that the Patriots are the cheaters who always get caught and never really get punished.

My readers know that I am not one to sit and let the commissioner off easy for the awful job he has done since taking over for Paul Tagliabue in 2006. Spygate may have overwhelmed him a little at the beginning of his tenure with a problem to that magnitude which a commissioner had never really seen before. Goodell has been trying to make up for his Spygate debacle for years in the sense that he believes that he came down to easy on the league or acted with too much haste. ESPN’s Outside the Lines report about the rift that has been created between the Patriots and Goodell showed that it stemmed from Spygate, but what I believe is that the commissioner just wants to be a disciplinary force in a league that needs it. The NFL has become a symbol of law-breaking and violence that has reached a level that is simply unacceptable in any walk of life. When a jail sentence or domestic abuse case (which is the gravest of misfortunes) becomes virtually commonplace, it should signal that something has to be done. Goodell has done what he feels is his best to punish those who have done wrong to a degree that forces them to think about and never again do what they did. The problem is that there never was a set standard of discipline to the point where we can expect accountability. The NFL lost its case because a judge determined that Goodell was power hungry and needed to take a step back in how he was levying out suspensions and disciplining the league. It made sense that Josh Gordon got a one-year suspension for having a love for pot and Ray Rice getting two games for beating up his wife to no one even remotely familiar with the situation. Players can now see that Goodell has lost his ability to control them because it was determined that he never really had the capacity, either physically through the CBA or mentally through being the least bit fair, to do so in the first place. This is upsetting to fans and all associated with the NFL because its boss cannot perform his job. Players can now have the right to feel they should appeal their suspensions on the grounds that the commissioner was unfair and all of them now have a case. Goodell lost a shoe-in lawsuit, but I feel that is the least of his problems in his ultimate goal to “protect the shield.”

I want to come back to Josh Gordon to start off where I am really upset with the commissioner and the league. Gordon did not deserve a larger suspension than Rice, but his suspension was acceptable in terms of the bigger picture Goodell has tried to enforce. Goodell has always been a proponent of enforcing sricter action when someone is a repeat offender, and I am all for that. If a guy couldn’t learn his lesson the first time, then it makes sense to hit him harder so he can get it through his head. Gordon was caught with marijuana for the third time, garnering a big suspension for something that, while gaining more of a basis for complete legalization today, was still illegal where he was possessing it. A big suspension is fair for a guy who does the same illegal thing three times, repeat offenders should get punished. The Patriots were hit historically after Spygate with a $500,000 fine and loss of draft picks. They did something under strict violation of the rules and were punished. Outside the Lines made an effort to highlight the practice had been done by teams for decades, but the one to get caught was going to be the dummy who took the fall. The Patriots took the fall and now a new scandal they were caught in resulted in what should have been a big penalty, but it didn’t even come close to what should have been done.

My readers know I am a big New Orleans Saints fan and can probably guess where this is going. In 2012, the Saints were handed a $1 million fine, loss of draft picks and handed suspensions to several defensive players (key contributors and captains) and coaches because of a bounty program they were running. Bounty programs had existed for years in the NFL with the intent to protect players on offense from getting targeted unnecessarily for making plays or just being themselves. Cris Carter said he would throw money at defensive players who would protect him and take a shot at an opposing receiver when a defensive back would throw a late hit at him or do something stupid to try and injure him. Now I know that, again, the team to get caught doing it would be the one to get punished and the Saints were the ones who got caught, I have no argument there. The problem lies in the difference in suspensions for the two teams and the difference in affecting competition. To say that the Saints were affecting competition was true but they were hitting guys hard, sorry NFL. If they threw late hits or illegal hits, refs can penalize them by throwing personal foul penalties, ejections and even getting suspensions handed down that are actually documented in the CBA (isn’t that something?). The Patriots were caught illegally videotaping coaches signals, stealing play sheets and having microphone systems in place to radio what the perceived defenses were, something that could be argued that gave them a slight advantage. The sanctions for both teams were not similar, and not just by the actual penalties themselves, but by the reasoning behind them. Goodell slapped a historic fine on the Saints after slapping a historic fine on the Patriots, but for the Saints, he said suspensions for the coaching staff were handed down because they are held to a higher standard than players and should have taken the necessary steps to end such a practice. Bill Bellichick was the puppet master and orchestrator of the Patriots scheme and never missed a game. The Patriots had their 2008 season to do with what they wanted and finished 11-5, missing the playoffs because the Dolphins had a miracle year and the AFC was strong, not to mention the real reason was that reigning MVP Tom Brady went down with a knee injury in the season opener that sidelined him for the rest of the year. The Saints lost their 2012 season and it can be argued that they never have made it back from that year.

So from all of this, what is there to be upset about? Roger Goodell has been a wishy-washy commissioner that has made his “protect the shield” campaign into a comedic pursuit that has dragged down the NFL with it. He has not been a driving force for change in the league and players know it. They can do what they want and when they want, knowing that whatever suspension they get will be reduced or rescinded by simply appealing the ruling. The Patriots are seen as the golden franchise of the NFL because they have gotten the success every team craves and never seem to meet the consequences. They were repeat offenders in Deflategate and, by the commissioner’s previous remarks, should have been hit hard after it was reported that Tom Brady most likely knew that cheating had been going on. Bellichick was never directly tied to it, but the evil mastermind and cheater he is more than likely would have known how his quarterback likes his footballs after coaching him for over a decade. No such penalties were seen. The team took on a comparable fine and lost a similar amount of draft picks. They cheated again and still got hit much less than the Saints in 2012. I am upset that the person who is supposed to keep things under control and enforce the rules has no idea as to how to do that, but what irks me is that the same team keeps breaking the rules and getting away with it. They say cheaters never prosper, but they have ever heard of the New England Patriots.