4/18/13 Ye Oldest League
125 years ago yesterday the first national professional football (soccer) league was founded in Manchester, England. A grand total of twelve teams competed in the inaugural season of 1888-89, won by unbeaten Preston North End. Since then 64 different teams have won the coveted trophy. The champion champions are Manchester United with 19 titles, followed by Liverpool with 18, and Arsenal with 13. By the look of things Man U looks to be on track for number 20 this season.
However, the champion for staying power is Liverpool's cross-town rival, Everton who have only missed four seasons out of the top division. That's a record 110 seasons. A quick bit of math will tell you 110 plus 4 doesn't come out to 125. That's because league play was suspended for a total 11 seasons during the world wars. Though they've played the most games, 4,284 to date, Everton haven't got the most wins, only 1,746. That other Liverpool team, Liverpool, has the most victories at 1,800.
The league was all one division at first. The First Division lasted from 1892 to 1992. Now it's called the Premier League. Or rather the Barclay's English Premier League to be specific. Barclay's, as in the bank. Preston North End now play in the third division, called League One oddly enough.
The record for futility goes to Bolton Wanderers who have spent more seasons in the top division without winning a title than any other team. Still, one supposes they are more competitive than Birmingham City who have the all-time worst goal differential, a miserable minus 607.
So, Chicago Cubs fans take heart. It may be 100 years since your last World Series win, but at least the team itself hasn't been sent down to the minors. Relegated, as they say, from the Goldman Sachs National League to the Comerica AAA League.
1/20/13 Seeing Red Card
The Casual Sportsman may not know a lot about the current sports scene. Or care to predict the NFL playoffs. Or even really much care about the NFL playoffs at all. Still, we're pretty sure about one thing, in team sports it's all about teamwork. Teammates doing things together, working together, playing together, rooming together, travelling together, showering together, sleeping to... maybe not.
Though you can take this sort of thing too far. Teammates should definitely not do this. Whether they then showered together is not disclosed.
12/23/12 We Weren’t There
2012, a year we at the Casual Sportsman will never forget. Mostly because we paid so little attention we have nothing to remember. What we did notice we'd mostly like to forget. The Tigers being swept in the World Series comes to mind. Though we wish it didn't.
So we ask ourselves, what was the most compelling sports story of 2012. The Superbowl? Naw, a rerun of a few years ago. The Olympics? Yawn. The NBA? Snore. The FedEx Cup? What's that again? Did anything really extraordinary happen in 2012?
Only one thing presents itself, Leo Messi scoring 90 goals breaking Gerd Müller's "world record" of 86 goals in 1972. We put world record in quotations because it's a funny kind of a record, but extraordinary nonetheless.
Soccer season generally goes from early fall through the following spring spanning two calendar years. Unless you're in the southern hemisphere when that would be all in one year. So the "record" in question is goals in a calendar year rather than in a season. Which means two half seasons of league play, and parts of any other tournaments like the Champions League. Which raises another issue, the goals being counted are for all competitions, not league goals. Meaning goals Messi scored for both his club team, Barcelona, and the Argentine national team. A bit odd for a record.
All the same, Messi bested Müller the previous "world record" holder. Except Zico scored 89 goals for Flamengo and the Brazilian national team in 1979. Not only that, Godfrey Chitalu scored 107 goals in 1972 for his national team and his club team in the Zambian league.
So then, is there really a "world record" for goals in a calendar year? Can we really compare scoring in the Spanish, Brazilian and Zambian leagues? Plus National team play of South American teams playing in their region to that of African teams in theirs? As well as European club tournaments to South American club tournaments to African club tournaments? This would be like a hockey scoring record including points in the playoffs and in the Olympics. And then comparing a player from the NHL to one playing in the Swedish league.
Seems to us the whole idea there could be a "world record" for goals in all competitions is dubious at best. Whatever you want to call it, Messi's 90 goals is still something pretty amazing. Unfortunately I couldn't find a nice video of all 90 goals. But here's a short video of a nice hat-trick Messi scored against Zaragoza.
10/19/12 When Four Outs Beat Three
First, a little personal celebration. Tigers sweep Yankees to make the World Series. Yippee! Not that most folks besides Tiger fans care that much. And likely as not wouldn't think much of what I have to say about it. So we'll let it go.
Now down to the business at hand, explaining the intro. When does four outs beat three? How do you get four outs? What's the point?
Here's the situation: men on first and third, one out. Batter sends a looping liner to right. Looks like it will fall for a hit, the runners go. The right fielder makes a shoestring catch for the second out. The right fielder throws to first base doubling up the runner, out number three. Meanwhile, the runner on third, who didn't tag up after the catch, crossed the plate before the third out was made at first. The question, does the run count?
Even though he never tagged up after the catch, the run counts if the runner crossed the plate before the third out was made doubling up the runner from first. To negate the run, the defense must also make a play to third base, doubling up the runner there. This would be a fourth out. Though if they did that, it would cancel the third out at first base, making the fourth out the third out and the third out a non-out.
Perhaps I didn't explain that very clearly, but that's the gist of what they call "the fourth out rule." Though technically it's only three outs. Not something you see very often, but it does happen. Why this "illegal" run is allowed is a quirk of the rulebook. Baseball has lots of special rules to cover special situations. If you don't know the rules you can get mighty confused when odd situations pop up.
Here's an example of such confusion popping up on a pop-up called by two different broadcasts of a strange play in a game between the Marlins and the Dodgers. The Marlins announcers go through all sorts of gyrations trying to explain the play. Meanwhile the Dodger announcer, Vince Scully, makes the correct call right off the bat. Though Mr. Scully does muddy the waters when he starts going on about the infield fly rule. He should have followed his own advice and "Forget the play" because once runner interference is called, nothing else matters. The runner at first is out, the other runner remains at second, and the batter keeps on batting as if the play never happened.
9/2/12 While I was Sleeping
Been quite a while since I added anything to The Casual Sportsman. Maybe I should call it the Lackadaisical Sportsman. Truth is, I haven't been paying much attention lately. Not to basketball, baseball, hockey, the Olympics, the Lance Armstrong thing, nothing. You can't say much about what you don't know. OK, that's not true, many people have plenty to say about what they don't know much about. I think that's the basis of sports talk radio.
I don't feel I've missed much (though how would I know?) except for the incredibly dramatic, Bobby Thompson/"Giants win the pennant!"-like finish of the English Premier League season. A moment Man U haters relish.
For soccer fans this is old news. For non-soccer fans this is non-news. There really seems no point to this entry, it's either outdated or pointless. So ignore everything above and enjoy this clever shot from Efren Reyes. You've probably seen pool trick shots before. But you usually don't see a trick shot used in play. They don't call him "The Magician" for nothing. Pool seems like a natural fit for The Casual Sportsman. Is there a sport more casual than pool? Then again, if you're just watching every sport can be casual. And if you only watch sometimes even more so.
Still, how do soccer and a pool trick shot fit together? Trick shots are fun, but rarely accomplish anything in a real game. The same sort-of thing happens in soccer. Fancy footwork looks great, but often doesn't accomplish anything in soccer. Especially those silly multiple step-over moves you sometimes see. You know, where a player more-or-less waves his feet over the ball. Are top-flight defenders fooled by any of that? I wonder.
People don't like losing, but they hate being cheated more. Losing is saddening, being cheated is blood boiling. If you've ever listened to sports talk radio you know this first-hand. Or first-ear if there is such a thing.
Fans rather easily come to terms with a loss where their team just got beat. They blame the players and coaching, but they can accept it. The old "You can't win them all" attitude. Or maybe the old "Sometimes you win, sometimes you loose" philosophy. Either way, fans may not like it, but they get over it.
On the other hand, sports fans go ballistic when the officials blow a call that lost their team a game, especially a call that let the opponent cheat and get away with it. The controversy will be bigger news than any other loss. Fans will bitch about it for years. English soccer fans are still bitter about a disallowed goal against Germany in the World Cup some 40 years ago.
You might dismiss such sport controversies as a tempest in a tea pot. However the same thing applies to life in general. When a person fails in life or business through their own faulty decisions and efforts, they can accept it with some amount of equanimity. They don't like it, but in a fair system they figure they had a shot and the failure is largely their own.
But if a person gets a raw deal from the powers that be, they get cheated by a corrupt system, that creates anger. The type of anger that can generate revolt. People who blame themselves are not easily roused, folks who feel victimized are. Revolutionaries appeal to the outrage of being cheated. "Unfair!" is a good rallying cry, "We blew it!" not so much.
Then again, if things are unfair in their advantage... people can be philosophical about that, too. Especially if the cheating can be blamed on someone else.
Sports has a bevy of cliches, one being "It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game." People like to think this is the case. To a degree it might be. But there's also this quote from Vince Lombardi, "Winning isn't the most important thing, it's the only thing." So then, what happens when the system is so corrupt the only way to win is by cheating? Will people live by the cliche or the quote?
On March 2, 1962 the Philadelphia Warriors beat the New York Knicks 169-147. While this might sound like a ridiculously high-scoring game, back then not so much as offence and "outscore the other team" was the name of the game. Of course, the real name of the game was basketball. But I digress.
So the game wasn't notable for the total points scored, but it did have one incredible distinction. One Warrior player, Wilt Chamberlain, scored 100 points.
This is one of those records they like to say can never be broken. And unless the way the game is played changes, I'd have to agree. Not only did Chamberlain tally a century in a single game, for the season he averaged an amazing 50 points per game. Another record unlikely to be broken.
Here's the kicker, both records were set before there was a three-point shot.
2/8/11 Superbowl Win IV
Congratulations to the Green Bay Packers for winning their fourth Superbowl. Thus the smallest city in the NFL increases their historic best total of NFL championships to thirteen. I guess you might call Green Bay the biggest small town in America. With apologies to Reno.
Anyway Aaron Rogers becomes the third different quarterback to lead the Packers to Superbowl victory. Previously there was Bart Starr, hall-of-famer, and Bret Favre, shoe-in hall-of-famer. Now we add Rogers who, if he keeps playing as he has the last few seasons, is a likely hall-of-famer.
Compare that to my hometown team, the Detroit Lions whose Superbowl record is, well, they've never even been to a Superbowl. Over the time period there's been a Superbowl the Motor City Kitties have had QBs the likes of Greg Landry, Gary Dannielson, Eric Hipple, Scott Mitchel, Joey Harrington... a completely forgettable lot. No Superbowls, no super quarterbacks. Think there might be a connection there?
12/30/10 Casual Sportsman of the Year
Though it's unclear how to compare athletes or accomplishments in different sports we do it anyway with athlete-of-the-year awards. I mean, how many homeruns is a TD worth? Is it records broken that matter or is it headlines or victories or consistent high level of performance or championships or what? So then, let's admit the selection will be pulled out of our arse and get on with it.
The Casual Sportsman of the Year goes to Jimmie Johnson for winning his fifth straight NASCAR championship, the Nextel Cup.
Though you might ask, should Jimmie Johnson get the honor or the number 48 car? Or maybe the crew chief, engineers, or even the owner? On the other hand, while five years in a row is pretty impressive it means I'm including the four previous years for an award for this year. I guess you could argue with that. Which is OK since you can argue with most anything about this type of award. Sports fans love a good argument. And a bad argument. Arguing about sports is practically a sport itself. Isn't that basically what sports-talk radio is all about?
Though Jimmie Johnson repeated, 2010 was a year of firsts. Or at least first in a long time. Which isn't really a first, but play along.
First-Time and First-in-a-Long-Time Champs of 2010
Spain wins the World Cup
The first two are true firsts. The Giants (1954) and the Blackhawks (1961) last won championships before I remember. Making them firsts of sorts. Sort-of like if I didn't personally witness it, maybe it didn't really happen. Though it is the first World Series title since the Giants moved from New York to San Francisco. For the Blackhawks, I think 49 years counts as a long time. Anyway, that's longer than the Saints or the Superbowl have been in existence.
Now then, first in a long time will only apply to teams which last longer than the individual players. After all it's pretty unlikely a race car driver can go 49 years between championships.
11/15/10 Not Too Little Too Late
We at the Casual Sportsman can take our sports in smaller doses than your normal sportsman. Just one of the things that make us as casual as the name implies. We've already admitted to being fair weather fans. We don't bother watching our favorite team when they stink. We're in it for the fun and that's no fun.
Another way we reduce the dosage is with the end-of-game tune-in. That is, if we're not all that interested to see a particular game on tv, we tune in late. This could be in the 7th inning, fourth quarter, third period, and so on.
If the game is close we will watch the rest. After all, our team has a chance to win, hooray! or lose, rats! In either case there is drama in a close game. Whether this translates to real excitement isn't always the case, but close games just seem more exciting. Sometimes fake excitement is real enough.
If our team is getting the snot knocked out of them we tune right back out. Why bother watching them lose, which ain't any fun. Then there's the added benefit of knowing we didn't waste a lot more time watching it slowly and painfully unfurl from the beginning. Take the bitter pill in one quick dose, and go on to something else.
If our team is way ahead we will watch the rest. Hey, it's fun to watch them win even if we don't see it all. We do get to see the best bit for satisfaction, the game end in victory. True, we missed a lot of action and fine plays and all that, but there's always highlights and recaps. After all, we're casual, so that's enough. If it weren't we'd be the Avid Sportsman.
Which means on any given sunday the Casual Sportsman might watch more post-game show than live football. As casual as we are we like to see the highlights and know the scores. We even sort-of follow the standings. Though the farther down the rankings our team is the less we care. Being fair weather fans we're only in it for the good times.
Some people can't get enough sports on tv, others go for none at all. We fall somewhere between the two. We're like the Baby Bear of sports, not too hot, not too cold, just right. Or would that be Goldilocks? Whatever.
Which is sort-of the Casual Sportsman's casual battle cry, "Whatever!"
9/24/10 The Season Turns
Ah, autumn. When the weather turns crisp and the leaves turn color. Autumn, when mother nature turns the page from long days to long nights. Autumn, when a man's fancy turns to love... of football.
We at the Casual Sportsman turn our thoughts to football. These are not deep thoughts, constant thoughts, informed thoughts, or intense thoughts. Which is to say, we really haven't thought about it much so far. There are no visions of Sugarbowls dancing in our heads.
Still, football seems America's favorite team sport and football fans seem more fanatical than other sports fans. I would suggest several reasons for this: short season, violence, television, and gambling.
By short season I mean fewer games. Baseball season is 162 games, hockey and basketball about half that. NFL football is 16 games. Meaning each and every game is important, almost like a playoff game. Any one week can make or break a season. Not really, but it seems like it.
What's more spectacular than a car crash? Nothing gets a hockey fan's attention like a big hit. Football is a game of men the size of small cars running at and hitting each other. On every play!
Football was almost designed for television. Most of the time is run off between plays in unpiling, returning onside, huddles, lining up and barking signals at the line before the action itself begins. This provides lots of time for replays, watching the collisions over and over and over. It's like having four games of action in one game.
Not only that, football plays are fast and furious and things happen all over the place. It's hard to keep track of it all. But if you can see the same play four ways from four angles in slo-mo, you actually begin to understand what happened. This is invaluable for fans like the Casual Sportsman. It makes us feel smart, despite being largely clueless about the nitty-gritty of the game.
Whoever invented the point spread was a genius. Despite the fable, nobody would bet on a tortoise to beat a hare in a 100 yard dash. If you gave the tortoise a 99 yard head start, then you might get some betting action. The point spread makes every game a toss-up for the gambler so everyone can bet on their favorite team, no matter how bad, and still have a chance to win. Or cover the spread at any rate. That's like a moral victory with a payoff.
Now, the Casual Sportsman doesn't bet on football or any other sport, but we watch football on tv. So we get three out of four, which ain't bad. That's like a .750 batting average. But that's baseball so might not really apply. Still, being 75% fanatic might be a good amount. Better to be 25% sane than totally insane.
8/24/10 World Cup Afterthought
Why are there so many national teams from the UK in FIFA? There's an England team and a Scotland team. And I think a Wales team and a Northern Ireland team, too. On the other hand, there's no Bavaria team, Prussia team, and a Sturm and Taxis team, there's only a Germany team. One team for the whole country. What's so special about the UK it has more than one?
After all, doesn't UK mean United Kingdom? If they're so united why the separate teams? No other country splits its soccer effort up that way. Why do they do it? How did this happen? What does the rest of the world think about the UK having multiple teams when everyone else only gets one each?
It's not like the UK was only recently united. Not that long ago Germany had two teams, East and West, but since reunification now have one. Korea has two, but then there are two Koreas. What gives? Is the UK a single country or an empire of several countries? They only have one queen, right? Heck, the Prince of Wales will become the King of England some day.
Makes you wonder. Well, even if it doesn't make you wonder, it makes me wonder.
On a related but non-sports note, this division within the UK explains the Union Jack. It's actually three flags in one. First is Saint George's cross, which is England. Next is Saint Andrew's cross, for Scotland. Finally there's Saint Patrick's cross, representing Ireland, or Northern Ireland since the rest of Ireland became independent.
You might wonder, what happened to Wales, where's the Welsh flag in the Union Jack. That flag, a red dragon on a white over green field, is not incorporated because Wales was considered part of England when the first Union Jack was devised in 1606 which combined only the flags of England and Scotland. Ireland, and the red X, was added in 1801.
Now then, if you're Scottish you might not care for that dominating Saint George's cross. In which case you might prefer the flag have Saint Andrew's cross over it, as below left. That wouldn't sit well with someone from Northern Ireland who might like to see it as at the center left. If Wales finally were included, perhaps they could add a Welsh dragon as at the center right. Though maybe the dragon is a bit much, an alternative might be to add the green field from the bottom of the Welsh flag as at the far right.
Since the UK is so fond of combining flags, why not combine the soccer teams while they're at it? Just a thought.
6/10/10 World Cup 2010 Team Rundowns (In which I run down the teams.)
A soccer curmudgeon's view. With apologies to everyone, everywhere. Which is what FIFA should also do as they rule this misbegotten excuse for a sport.
You don't have to read between the lines to see I'm not enamored of soccer or the World Cup. I played soccer and enjoyed it. Though I found it more fun to play than to watch. To confess, I found it more fun to practice than to play. Maybe I just don't get it. Then again, maybe I do, the rest of the world doesn't get it that soccer is over-rated.
Be that as it may, here at the Casual Sportsman we feel it is incumbent to comment on the major sporting ados of the day, however casually.
The usual suspects (These four have won most of the World Cups and been in most of the finals. Don't be surprised if history repeats.)
Brazil: Poetry in motion, the embodiment of "the beautiful game." At least they try to make soccer entertaining. Which unfortunately is like putting lipstick on a pig. No surprise if they win yet another Cup.
Germany: Their game is Teutonic power soccer where they run at you, over you or through you. Would you expect anything less from Germans? Have lost more finals than anyone else, a lot like their war record actually. Could be the same this year.
Argentina: Imagine short Spanish-speaking Germans trying to play like Brazilians and you get Argentine soccer. Never as good as they think they are, but better than everyone else would like them to be. Will "the hand of God" help them this tournament or will they just get the Finger? I say the latter.
Italy: The anti-Brazil, win with defense. Motto: "winning ugly is beautiful." The world Cup will likely be ugly as usual, but it doesn't mean Italy will win it. That's just soccer.
The woulda-couldas (Won a few between them. Be surprised if one of them takes home the gold.)
Uruguay: Won two cups. 80 years ago. Their future is all behind them. The elusive third cup will elude them again.
England: The Brits seem to celebrate their glorious failures. Think Dunkirk and the charge of the light brigade. They will have more to celebrate this year. Last world cup 40 years and counting. Keep on counting.
France: Some call team France "the Brazil of Europe" for their style of play. A style which might produce more cups if they fielded Brazilian players instead of Frenchmen. Don't look for the cup in France this time around.
The also-rans (Be very surprised.)
Spain: Latin passion. Latin flair. Latin under-achievement. At least they're consistent. No mas this time around? Si, mas. No Cup.
Netherlands: They've been called the Clockwork Orange. But the mainspring has come unsprung and their time is over. No Cup for the Dutch.
Sweden: Organized, disciplined, strong, tall, blond. Look better than they play. Usually do better than expected which still hasn't won them a Cup. The Swedes won't again.
USA: All the best American athletes play real football, not futbol. What will they do in the big show on the big stage? Does America care? The answer to both questions, not much.
China: More good acrobats and divers come out of China than soccer players. If soccer were more about acrobatics and diving... wait a minute, it is. China just might win the World Cup!
Everybody else: I don't know and I don't much care. To be honest, I don't even know who qualified.
That's it, whatever it is. Hope it helps your brackets and betting pool. Though I wouldn't bet on it.