Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lucky 7-6

Just a quick one tonight.  For those not paying attention, the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday by a score of 7-6.  For those paying even less attention, the Phillies also beat the Brewers on Tuesday by a score of 7-6.  Last, for those who have more of a life than myself and don't need to remember baseball scores beyond 72 hours, the Phillies beat the Brewers on Monday by a score of 7-6.  I have no knowledge of any such statistic or record, but I would be curious the last time two teams produced the same game result with the same score over three consecutive games.  I have to wonder if it is the only time to occur with that many runs scored each game.  Lucky 13 maybe?  If that isn't entertaining enough, I suggest tracking down the video of Milwaukee outfielder, Carlos Gomez who thought he hit a leadoff home run, and ran 315 feet around the base paths before discovering it was a long foul ball.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Better Choice than the Death Penalty

Sorry to my Penn State friends, but I feel the NCAA for once did right by stepping up to the plate and handing down appropriate punishments.  I firmly believe the punishment should be very severe.  This was not an SMU, Miami, or Ohio State where players were benefiting from receiving money or goods.  However, none of those situations ever resulted in individuals being abused and hurt in irreversible ways.

While I am sure most readers already know the penalties being enforced, let's note them here since I will try to touch on each of them later.  Penn State has received a fine of $60 million dollars, a four-year postseason ban, a scholarship decrease of 20 for the next four seasons, and all wins vacated from the 1998-2011 seasons.  Note that this was not the "Death Penalty", but in my opinion equally just to all sides.

The Death Penalty would have meant no football in State College for at least one season (possibly more).  On one hand, the penalties for the football team are likely worse as they are than had the Death Penalty been issued.  In general, they will be very hard pressed to be competitive with a schedule that includes Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Nebraska annually, and even if they are, it will be for not since they are not allowed for play for a conference championship or in bowl games.

On the other hand, allowing the program to continue to schedule and play football games means that the punishment does not branch all the way down to the local level of State College.  By that, I mean the restaurants, stores, bars, etc. of central Pennsylvania will still be able to operate to higher patronage on game day.  The local economy is not the the major focus here, but they should be unharmed by this decision.  Furthermore, the fans of State College can continue to support the program as they choose fit.  They are not forced  to sit on their hands and watch Pittsburgh, Temple, and the Big Ten play every Saturday with no true interest.  For those reasons alone, I commend the NCAA for finding a ruling that punished the program, but not those who are not directly connected to it.

Many argued for the past few weeks that the punishments were not going to help the victims, and that the rest of the world was just out for blood.  I don't agree with that line of thinking.  A murderer being sentenced to life in prison is not going to bring a victim back to life.  As I mentioned in the first paragraph, the acts committed by Jerry Sandusky, and indirectly by others in the program are irreversible.  You can't simply avoid punishment because those acts can't be undone.  Punishments are consequences for previous acts.

Nevertheless, the NCAA and Big Ten did find a way of doing right by the victims in one way.  The NCAA fined them $60 million which must be paid over the course of five seasons ($12 million per).  Meanwhile, the Big Ten will be handing over Penn State's share of the Big Ten bowl revenue for the next four seasons (estimated to be at $13 million over that time).  That breaks down approximately to a loss of $15 million per season from 2012-2015, and $13 million in 2016.  Obviously, that is a large amount of change to any one of us, but for an athletic program that profited $15 million this past year, and $18 million the previous year, this is certainly doable.

If either group wanted to go for the kill with revenue, they could have booted Penn State from the Big Ten, or prohibited them from broadcasting their games.  So long as they still receive their Big Ten television contract, this is a survivable penalty.

Much of the rest of the sanctions affect the athletes (past, present, and future) of Penn State.  Let's not suggest this is the end of the world for any of them, and that the penalty only affects them as many have done.  The vacating of wins from 1998-2011 could be said to affect everyone who was part of the program for those years.  I don't believe that.  The players and staff who were not involved still received a free education (players), or a paycheck (staff).  They can still talk about their time at Penn State, and the bowl games they participated in.  To those individuals, they won those games, and no one can take away their stories.  Penn State has not won or tied for any conference championships over that time, so they are not being wiped out of the record books for anything along those lines.  If anything, this affects only the legacy of Joe Paterno.  He is no longer the winningest coach in football.  It seems more fans are upset about losing that title for Florida State's Bobby Bowden above all else.

Obviously, the scholarship sanctions will directly affect the number of future athletes who can be offered to play at Penn State, or the number that will choose to play through this period.  Therefore, it is the current athletes that lose the most.  However, the NCAA has granted their release, and they can move to any program they wish that will accept them.  For those who choose to stay, they lose a chance to play in bowl games or for any titles.

Now for anyone who denounces that only the current players are being hurt by this, let's look at it from a different perspective.  In the past couple years, big time programs like USC, Ohio State and Miami have been hit by scandals.  Those programs along with Penn State are known for grabbing top recruits from across the nation.  No one could disagree with any of this.  However, during all those other scandals, how often was it noted that only two programs never had any NCAA violations?  Those two programs were Stanford and Penn State.  So when a top recruit was deciding between Penn State and Ohio State, can anyone suggest that Penn State did distance itself from the Buckeyes by mentioning how squeaky clean they have stayed over the year?  Fact of the matter is, Penn State benefited from athletes as well as non-athletic students by maintaining such an image.  In reality, that image should have vanished over a decade ago when the first report came about.  Therefore, I do not buy into the notion that only the current players are being hurt by the NCAA sanctions.  In reality, these players were hurt by the lies told by the Penn State athletic department, not the NCAA.  The penalties are always going to affect the current program the most, but you can't simply avoid punishments because of that.

It is sad that college football has grown to such proportions that it can become a bigger priority than the safety of human beings, especially children.  Nevertheless, that is what happened, and that same lack of priorities would be repeated if such a program went on without receiving any consequences.  Penn State has won many games over the past 13 seasons because of it's untarnished image, great recruits, and large revenue stream.  It is impossible the measure the differences that may have occurred if action was taken sooner.  The current players, the fans, and the legacies are punished with these sanctions, but that does not mean the true victims should be forgotten.  It is not simply a loss for Penn State, but a loss for all programs, athletes, and fans when we lose a grip on such priorities.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Reggie Being Reggie

In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, Reggie Jackson did what he does best (aside from striking out).  He spews his opinions as if it's gospel.  I believe what endears many fans to respect baseball greats like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and countless others are not only their abilities on the field, but their abilities to remain quiet if not respectful towards everyone else.  Not Reggie.  If he wants the attention, he will say whatever he pleases in order to get it.

This isn't anything new.  After all, he claimed he was the second more important black in the game of baseball behind Jackie Robinson.  He has claimed to be "the best in baseball", and suggests that he was the most important cog in for the New York Yankees teams of the late 70s while everyone else was nothing more than a minor role.  True or not (I suggest not), going on a soap box for yourself while suggesting the captain of your team is a negative influence doesn't necessarily win you any points in my book.

In his latest rant, he suggested that Hall of Fame players Gary Carter, Jim Rice, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro, Kirby Puckett, and Bert Blyleven do not deserve to be in the Hall as if he is Cooperstown's Ambassador to the rest of the world.  To be fair, I don't believe all of those players deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, but to suggest none of them belong is ridiculously far-fetched.

Gary Carter:  I am extremely biased towards Carter being a Hall of Famer due to him being my favorite player of all time.  However, I never quite understood the arguments against him.  I never understood how it took so long for him to get in.  Carter was as stellar a catcher as they was after Johnny Bench until the age of Ivan Rodriguez.  He was not simply a catcher who could put the bat on the ball.  dWAR, a statistic used to define how many runs a player saved over the course of a season and career is a remarkable 25.4, good for 14th all-time.  The only catcher rated higher for defense is Ivan Rodriguez.  All of that does not even take into account that Carter was a hitter.  WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is defined as the number of wins a player contributes to a team over what a replacement-level (AAA or AAAA) would.  A quick scan of the records shows that only one catcher has ever led this category for a season: Gary Carter in 1982.  Furthermore, Carter finished in the top ten for eight consecutive years (1978-1985).  I myself can't find another catcher who finished in the top ten more than five times throughout his entire career.  Note that this list includes Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Ivan Rodriguez, Roy Campanella, Mike Piazza, and Carlton Fisk.  Fact of the matter is, Carter is a clear cut Hall of Famer.  It likely took a few years only because home run totals and batting averages matter most to voters who were voting during the steroid era, on a career that took place in a pitcher's era.

Jim Rice:  Jim Rice I would likely make the argument against being in the Hall of Fame, but would have to admit he is borderline if not.  He was a very good hitter over the course of his career, but added nothing in the field.  His bat was as good as anyone between 1977-79, but otherwise, it was good at best most seasons.  He did show brief glimpses of Hall of Fame prowess in 1983 and again in 1986, but beyond that I believe he was an All-Star at best.  Being a Red Sox left fielder, he reminds me of an inconsistent Manny Ramirez who had a shorter career.

Don Sutton:  Sutton is not a Hall of Famer in my book.  He is merely the product of longevity, and nothing more.  Sutton had an above average career from the start, and was somewhere between good and excellent between 1970-77.  An eight year stretch like that is nothing to scoff at, but the era was not exactly in favor of hitters much.  After 1977, he really only had one great season (1980), but otherwise was a decent starter most years.  The thing is, his career continued until 1988 meaning much of the second half of his career was average.  Longevity should count for something, but not everything.  Voters and fans attach themselves to the ability to win 300 games at the Major League level.  It's a great achievement, but it's a stat for pitchers that mean more than it should.  Sutton took 23 seasons to reach a win total of 324.  He spent 16 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers who  had winning records in 13 of those year, including briefly dominating the National League in the late 70s.  More often than not, the teams Sutton was on after the Dodgers including the Astros, Brewers, and Angels were very good teams.  Now, he was part of those teams and deserves credit.  However, the second half of his career I believe he was a #4 starter in an era that only used four starter.  There is only one other player with less than Sutton's 324 wins, but more than 300 who pitched more seasons, and that is Phil Niekro.

Phil Nierko:  Niekro is part product of longevity, and that generally should be expected of a knuckleball pitcher.  However, I find his career more impressive.  Niekro is a pitcher who was consistently among the top ranks in pitchers when it came to complete games, shutouts, and innings pitched from 1968-80.  Like Sutton, if he didn't stick around until the late 80s, he never would have reached 300 wins.  While Sutton pitched for the often National League favorite Dodgers, Niekro spent the majority of his career with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves (1964-1983).  In all those years, the Braves only finished higher than 4th in their division three times, and won their division only once.  I could be wrong, but Niekro may be the only pitcher ever to get Cy Young votes while losing 20 games.  In 1979, he went 21-20 for a Braves team that lost 94 games.  The two previous seasons he won 35 games combined while pitching for teams that combined for 194 losses.  A great argument as to why wins are not a good measure of a pitcher.  If Niekro had been pitching for the Dodgers, 350 wins could have easily be attainable.  The question remains, could 400 been?

Kirby Puckett:  Puckett is a sad story of a guy who had a very good career end early due to health, only to see his admirable image end early because of numerous indiscretions, and last his life as much too early an age due to a stroke.  Ignoring the off the field antics, I have issues being for and against Puckett.  He was a terrific hitter, pushed the Minnesota Twins to two World Series titles in his short career, and was still very good at the time he lost his sight in one eye.  On the flip side, his defense was vastly overrated in my opinion despite the number of Gold Gloves he won, and images of him in the 1991 World Series.  In fact, if Puckett ever deserved to win a Gold Glove, it should have been during his rookie season of 1984.  I'm not sure why good hitting combined with a guy who can dive for a few fly balls, and pull back a home run or two translates into a Gold Glove over a guy who can cover the field much better.  Moreover, while it is sad seeing a player forced to retire early due to health, I feel such a player should truly have been elite (aka Sandy Koufax) to be considered for the Hall of Fame.  Puckett may have been close, but I don't think he was necessarily elite.  Going back to dWAR mentioned earlier, Puckett often ranked below a replacement level player, even when he was "winning" Gold Gloves.  He was a terrific singes and doubles hitter, not a huge surprise playing his entire career in the Metrodome.  He didn't carry a tremendous amount of speed, power, nor did he draw many walks.  He could put the bat on the ball, and when teaming up with the hard turf of the Metrodome, he looked like a Hall of Famer.  However, take him on the road, and while still very good, the difference of more than 50 points in his batting average argues against it.  Sorry, but no Hall of Fame for Kirby.

Bert Blyleven:  Despite the 22 seasons he has to his name, Blyleven is one of the few players that wasn't both consistent, yet excellent who may deserve in the Hall.  Perhaps a better way to state that is that he was extremely consistent at being good, but wasn't excellent for more than a handful of seasons.  Unlike Sutton and Niekro, Blyleven for teams that were generally middle of the road.  For any good teams he played for like the Pirates of the late 70s or Twins of the mid 80s, he played for just as many bad ones like the Cleveland Indians and California Angels.  His win total shows this well with a record of 287-250.  Ironically, Nolan Ryan may have had the biggest hand in keeping Blyleven underrated for the Hall of Fame.  After all, Ryan had blown the career strikeout record
 out of the water.  Meanwhile, Blyleven retired third all time for career strikeouts with numbers not terribly worse than Ryan's.  Despite much argument against Blyleven in the past, I have come around to supporting his induction even though I will be quick to point out that he is one of the very few who was never elite.

That is my take on those players anyway.  Reggie Jackson is a Hall of Famer, even if his personality leaves something to be desired.  Despite what he may enjoy implying about others, Jackson is in fact an extremely overrated Hall of Famer himself.  Often, he is lumped with greatness because he played for the Yankees, or hit over 500 home runs.  I hope most have learned to let those types of achievements go by now.

Remember what I said about longevity?  Jackson hit his final 99 home runs in the last five years of his career.  Over those five seasons, WAR suggests that a replacement level player would have outperformed him.  Despite the fact that he still had some pop in his bat, his teams, the Angels and Athletics would have been better off without him.  Not surprising when he .223 or less in the majority of those seasons.  Does 464 home runs still scream Hall of Famer the same way?  Meanwhile Jackson was a horrible outfielder.  I would go as far to say that while he may have been an elite hitter with the New York Yankees, he was not an elite player.  With Oakland and Baltimore, his skills as the plate were so good, he was still an elite all around player despite his poor performance in the field.  By the time he went to the Yankees in 1977, his hitting still outweighed his fielding, but not so much he was elite in my book.

Many of his accolades relate to his playoff performances, after all, he was Mr. October.  Yet once again, people relate too much to home run totals.  Yes, his 1977 and 78 postseason performances were ridiculous.  He had plenty of other good series as well.  However, there are many other players I would want on my team before Reggie Jackson in the postseason.  Give me a Steve Garvey from that same era who was a far better hitter and fielder in the postseason.  Hell, I'll take a Derek Jeter today.

We could all debate any of the names mentioned above whether they belong in the Hall of Fame or not.  In my opinion, a Hall of Famer doesn't get much more overrated than Reggie Jackson, even if he is better than some of the aforementioned.  Nonetheless, it is the classlessness that only Jackson can offer to suggest that these guys don't belong in his company.