Casual Sportsman of the Year

48car

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?

Filed 12/30/10

Watching Sports the Casual Sportsman Way

tunein

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 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.

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 ending 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. 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!”

Filed 11/15/10

The Season Turns to America’s Other Pastime

autumn

Ah, autumn. When the weather turns crisp and the leaves turn pretty colors. 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, well-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 four reasons for this: short season, violence, tele­vision, and gambling.

  1. By short season we 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. Whoever invented the point spread was a genius. Despite Aesop’s 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.

If you’re the Casual Sportsman these points don’t score many points. We are casual, after all. Nuff said?

Filed 9/24/10

World Cup Afterthought

UK1

Why are there so many national teams from the UK in FIFA? There’s an England team and a Scotland team. And we think a Wales team and a Northern Ireland team, too. On the other hand, there’s no Bavaria team, Prussia team, and a Hessian team, there’s only 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? 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.

UK2

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.

UK3

Since the Brits seem so fond of combining flags, why not combine the soccer teams while they’re at it? Just a thought.

Filed 8/24/10

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.

worldcup

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.

Filed 6/10/10

Super Bowl Excelivey

keys

The Casual Sportsman’s Ten Keys to Super Bowl Victory.

  1. The best offense is a good defense. Let the defense play offense.
  2. The game will be played north to south. Remember which way you’re headed.
  3. You have to play it one down at a time. Though sometimes you have to repeat a down because of penalties. In which case... I don’t know.
  4. Give 100% effort in the first half. In the second half give the rest.
  5. Don’t leave points on the field, put them on the scoreboard where they belong.
  6. Always know where you are on the field. And where the field is.
  7. Special teams need to be special, but not special needs special.
  8. Keep your mind in the game and the game in your mind and avoid mind games.
  9. Protect the ball. Protect your quarterback. Protect your field position. Protect your lead. Protect your pass protection. Protect... I guess that’s it.
  10. Above all, score more points than the other team.

I’m sure the serious football experts would have a different list, being experts and serious and all. Though I would say nobody really cares or remembers all the various keys to the game lists anyway. I mean, when’s the last heated debate you’re ever heard about them? And sports fans love lists and heated debates and heated debates over lists. Especially if a list is rankings of any sort.

Heated sports debate seems almost a sport itself. Or a business, sports talk radio. I suppose you could come up with a list of the top ten most heated sports debates. Perhaps this would inspire heated debate itself. Where does it all end? Right here, for me, for now. The end, fine, full stop, period.

Filed 1/31/10

Bigger and Less and Better?

pregame

To hear the insightful commentary, hold the cursor over the pic.

What’s with the proliferation of talking heads on the NFL pre-game shows? Do we really need a bar-length desk of five or more ex-jocks and retired coaches jawjacking about the games? What do they propose is gained by having so much overlapping cross-talk of big men in tight suits?

Maybe it’s a sign of the modern audience’s short attention span where we can’t listen to one mouth more than the length of an extended sound bite. Perhaps the ever increasing line-ups are simply a way of filling up the new wide-screen format of DTV.

Football inflation doesn’t apply only to NFL pregame shows. Have you seen the size of these guys lately? Six foot five, 325 pound linemen. Can you imagine being run into by one of these gargantuans at full tilt intent on separated you from the ball and maybe your head from your shoulders while he’s at it? On the other hand the uniforms have gone the other way, shrinking to form-fitting propor­tions where the sleeves of the jerseys have almost disappeared so the stripes are now on the shoulders. Is it fashion or utility? We don’t know, but it certainly let’s us see the ugly tats on their arms are getting bigger, too.

Filed 12/19/09

What Are the Odds?

parlay

It’s the middle of football season and we all know what that means –gambling. There are many ways to bet on football, the favorite seems to be the point spread. This method is basically a way to handicap a game so each team has a roughly 50-50 chance of winning. Against the spread, they don’t actually add or subtract these points from game scores.

Another favorite bet is the parlay, picking the winners in a series of games. This gets bettors a bigger payoff while being harder to win as the more games in the parlay the longer the odds get. After all, there’s only one winning combination in every parlay but more and more losing combinations the more games there are.

So we ask you, if a bookmaker offered 500-1 odds for a ten game parlay against the spread so each game is a toss-up, should you take it? Or is that a sucker’s bet?

Let’s begin with a simpler calcu­lation, a 2 game parlay. Say team A is playing team B, and C is playing D. There are four possible outcome combinations, teams A and C win, teams A and D win, teams B and C win, teams B and D win. So you have one winning combination and three losing ones. The odds are 3-1 against your picking the parlay correctly.

Of course, trying to find all the possible combinations in a ten game parlay is cumbersome at best, so it’d be easier if we could use a math formula. As we saw above with 2 games there are four combinations, 2 times 2 is four. In a four game parlay there are 16 combinations, 4 times 4 is 16. So then, should we just multiply the number of games times itself to get the odds? Would a ten game parlay have 100 combinations, 10 times 10? Should the odds be 99-1? Is our bookie giving us fantastic odds with that 500-1 payoff?

Actually no, because in a three game parlay there are 8 combinations, which isn’t 3 times 3. A five game parlay gets you 32 combinations not 25, as you would with 5 times 5. Obviously that formula does not work.

Let’s look at another kind of parlay, horse racing’s daily double. In this bet you must pick the winners of the first two races. Let’s say there are ten horses in each race. This means there are ten possible winners in the first race and then ten possible winners in the second race. For each ten first race winners there are ten combina­tions with second race winners, so the total number of combinations for both races is 100. That’s 10 times 10.

Now we know the correct formula, it’s the number of possible winners in the first contest times the number of possible winners in the second. If you add a third contest you have to multiply the number of possible winners in the third race, too. If there were 10 horses in the third the odds of picking three straight races is 999-1. That’s 10×10×10=1,000 com­binations with one being a winner, so 999-1.

Calculating the odds of a parlay isn’t an arithmetic progression, it’s exponential. A two contest parlay is n (number of possible winners in first contest) times z (number of possible winners in second contest), or n×z. If you have the same number of contest­ants in each then n=z so you can replace z with n so the formula is n×n. To put that another way n squared, n to the power of 2, or n^2. Therefor, a ten contest parlay with an equal number of contestants is written out in full as n×n×n×n×n×n×n×n×n×n, or n^10.

In football games there are only two possible winners in each game, so n=2. Which means a ten game parlay would calculate as 2^10, which equals 1,024. (2×2×2×2×2×2×2×2×2×2 written out the long way.) Therefor the odds against winning a ten game parlay are 1,023-1.

Which means at 500-1 our bookmaker is not giving us terrific odds, but really bad odds. I’ve heard where sports books pay around 10-1 for a five game parlay. In such a bet the odds are not 10-1 or even 24-1 (5×5=25), but 31-1 (2^5=32). Now that’s a sucker’s bet.

If you think a ten game parlay is hard to hit, imagine trying to pick all 16 NFL games in a weekend right. The odds are 65,535-1. The odds of finding a bookie willing to take this bet are not calculable.

Filed 11/12/09

Plays to Drive Fans, Managers, Umpires and Official Scorers Crazy

clowns

The playoffs and World Series are just around the corner. Who will take the home the glory, what can we expect? I don’t know, but likely as not there will be a weird play or controversy of some kind. When the unusual happens umpires are expected to make the right call on the spot. Afterwards official scorers must determine what that means stat-wise.

One of the most famous goofy plays was the fly ball bouncing off Jose Canseco’s head over the fence for a homerun. Below are two odd moments in baseball I personally remember happening to the Detroit Tigers.

Grand Slam Out?

The bases are loaded with less than two outs. Dalton Jones hits a long, high fly ball to right that looks like it might go out, or might be caught. The baserunners hold up between bases waiting to see. Jones heads to first while also ball-watching. The ball clears the fence, the first base umpire signals homerun. But in his excitement Jones running full out rounds first and passes the runner who was on first before either reach second. The second base umpire calls Jones out for passing the runner.

Questions: What’s the umpire’s call from here? Do the runners score or what? What’s the official scorer’s call? Is it a homerun or what?

Inside the Infield Homerun?

Bases empty, two outs, Earl Wilson at the plate with two strikes. Low pitch comes in, Wilson swings and misses, the catcher traps the ball. Strike three! The catcher lobs the ball towards the mound and the fielders head off the field. Wilson pauses in the batter’s box for a moment and then walks towards first base. At this point only he and the umpires realize he is not out because the third strike was not caught cleanly, in which case the batter must be tagged or thrown out at first.

The ball comes to rest past the mound and the fielders are in the dugout. Wilson starts running the bases. Seeing this, the opposing team fielders realize their mistake and scramble out to make a play. It’s a race to fetch the ball and throw out Wilson before he gets home. One player heads for the ball and a group go to cover the plate. If this wasn’t comedic enough, it gets more absurd when Wilson falls rounding third and hurts himself. The ball has been retrieved, Wilson gets up and tries to hobble back to third, but is run down and tagged out.

Questions: For the umpire it’s simple, he’s the third out, inning over. Or is he? Can players come out of the dugout and make a play? What’s the official scorer’s call?

Answers

As I said, these two plays actually happened to the Tigers many years ago. I hope I remember the details correctly from listening to them on the radio. Though in scenario two there was no play-by-play as the broadcast crew also thought the inning over and went to commercials. The announcers related the events after coming back.

Play One: All three runners scored and Jones got credit for a single and three RBIs, as well as an out running. (Who, if anyone, got credit for a putout, I don’t know.)

Play Two: Earl Wilson was credited with a three base error on the catcher, and an out running. Players in the field can go into, then out of the dugout to make plays. The putout would be scored as usual, 1-2-?-? depending who fetched the ball and who tagged Wilson out. Had he actually made it all the way, I’m pretty sure it would have been the only four base strikeout in baseball history.

Bonus Hypothetical

This one is invented as a challenge. Bases loaded, nobody out. Batter hits a screaming liner hitting the front of the pitcher’s rubber, exposed by pitchers digging at the dirt. The ball bounds straight back to the catcher who fields it and tags home to force the runner from third. He then fires down to third where the ball hits the runner, who is in the basepath but has already been forced out at home. The ball bounds off the runner into the stands out of play.

Question: What’s the umpire’s call? Is the batter out for baserunner inter­ference? Do the other runners get to advance? Or is it something else? What’s the official scorer’s call? Error, fielder’s choice, or what?

Play three was made complicated to fool you. The ball was fielded in foul territory by the catcher after hitting the ground without touching a fielder or passing a base so it’s a foul ground ball. As a foul ball, the rest of the play doesn’t matter. Which makes the official scorer’s decision easy, nothing happened to score. The batter keeps batting.

Filed 9/30/09

Teams On the Move

cardinal

The Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl? What’s next? The L.A. Clippers in the NBA Finals? The Chicago Cubs win the World Series? The Detroit Lions win a football game?

Will wonders never cease? Will the last be first? Will the lion lie down with the lamb? Will pigs fly? Will Hell freeze over? Actually, if you look at the weather reports it already has frozen over. Hell, Michigan, that is. (Seems a Cardinal fan had the same reaction about Hell freezing over.)

The Cardinals haven’t won a cham­pionship game in 60 years, not since they were in Chicago. Since then they’ve migrated to St. Louis and then to Arizona with nary a championship to show for it. The Cards aren’t the only NFL franchise to relocate twice. Can you name the other two? One is something of a trick answer.

The Rams started in Cleveland then moved to Los Angeles then moved to St. Louis, taking up the vacancy left by the Cardinals vacating for Arizona. The other team is the Raiders who went from Oakland down to L.A. and then returned to Oakland.

Which means L.A. has lost three different teams and now has none. The third team is the Chargers who began there in 1960 and quickly moved to San Diego. How the second largest city in the country is without an NFL franchise is rather odd, but that’s the way it goes.

Filed 1/19/09

Lions Fans Rejoice, the Curse is Over!

owen

As every football fan knows, the Detroit Lions did what many thought impossible, losing every game of the season. Adding insult to injury in the year the organization celebrated their 75th anniversary.

So 50 years of futility goes on, and on. Some say it’s the curse of Bobby Layne who was traded to Pittsburgh 50 years ago and said the Lions wouldn’t win another championship in... 50 years. How about that.

So, take heart, Lions fans every­where. Fifty years is up and so the curse is over. We have nowhere to go but up. It can’t get any worse, can it? I can hardly wait until next year. For this year, some Lions jokes from The Curse of Bobby Layne.

Filed 12/30/08

One Question Pro Football Quiz

rushing

Who holds the career record for yards per carry? Over 750 attempts.

It’s not who you might think. Not Eric Dickerson, Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders or Jim Brown. It isn’t a player from way back when, either. He played for Philadelphia, Minnesota, and Dallas. Think of it as a trick question. He wasn’t a running back.

The answer: Quarterback Randall Cunningham who had a career rushing average of 6.42 yards per carry.

The real trick in the trick question is a quarterback gets credit for rushing yards when he scrambles, but doesn’t get a rushing loss when sacked. This tends to inflate the average.

So then, let’s rephrase our one question quiz as...

Who holds the career record for yards per carry for a running back? Over 750 attempts, same as above.

Again, it’s not the usual suspects. This time you will have to go back a ways. He also played linebacker. Here’s your last hint, he was one of the first four Black players in pro football.

The answer: Marion Motley of the Cleveland Browns who had a career rushing average of 5.7 yards per carry.

In 1946, one year before Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Motley joined the Browns of the new All-America Football Conference as a 26-year-old rookie. At 6-1 and 232 pounds, Motley was the AAFC’s all-time rushing leader and also led the NFL in his initial season in the league in 1950.

He also played linebacker and was one of the best at that position as well. His coach, the legendary Paul Brown, called him the greatest football player he ever saw. Motley was elected to the Football Hall of Fame in 1968, and named in 1994 to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.

Filed 12/4/08

Best Bike Racer by a Long Shot

Merckx

Forget Lance Armstrong, Belgian Eddy “The Cannibal” Merckx was the best bicycle racer by a wide margin. In 1969, Merckx, in his first Tour de France, pulled off perhaps the greatest feat in the sport’s history winning the yellow jersey, the King of the Mountains polka-dot jersey, the sprinter’s green jersey and all three time trials. These days, it’s unthinkable to with both the green and mountain polka-dot jersey in the same tour.

In his career, Merckx won the Tour de France five times and won 35 stages:

1969 - Won Tour, King of Mountains jersey and green jersey
1970 - Won Tour, King of Mountains jersey and eight stage wins
1971 - Won Tour, won green jersey
1972 - Won Tour, won green jersey
1974 - Won Tour

In 1971, Merckx won 54 of 120 races. Between 1969 and 1973, he won 250 of 650 races. During his professional career, he won 445 of the 1,582 races he entered. That’s a lot of racing and an amazing win percentage. Nobody else has even come close. One thing I don’t get, what is with the spelling of his last name? Merckx?

Filed 9/9/08

Olympic Fever

olympics

Have I got it? If it’s the sort of fever that makes you want to crawl into bed, pull the covers over your head and go to sleep... I got that.

Frankly, the Olympic Games don’t excite me much. People running and jumping around, throwing things, lifting things. Yawn. Volleyball, gym­nastics, diving, team handball, soccer, wrestling. Yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn. Badminton, field hockey, archery, yachting, rowing, equestrian, fencing. Yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn. How about slow motion racing in water, also known as swimming? Ya-a-a-awn. Need I go on?

Which isn’t to say I’m against the games any more than I’m firmly against knitting or anchovies. Just ain’t for me.

Filed 8/15/08

Winged Wheelers Grab Hockey Grail!

stanley

The Detroit red Wings, 2008 Stanley Cup Champions. Being from Detroit and an on and off fan since the days of Gordie Howe in his prime, I thought this deserves a mention. The Stanley Cup may not be the biggest or most important trophy in sports, but it might be the most famous by name. Quick, can you name the World Series trophy? How about the NBA trophy?

I’ve been watching hockey since the days of the original six. Can you younger fans imagine a league with six teams? Perhaps it was repetitive seeing the same five opponents over and over, but it meant every other team was a rivalry. Now-a-days we only see some teams once a year.

Congrats to the champs. Fourth cup in 11 years and 11th cup in 80 years. Maybe only third best behind Les Canadiens and the Maple Leafs but still pretty good. Especially if you lived through the long dreadful days of the Dead Things when they were a joking matter. Which makes these the good old days.

Filed 6/5/08

Gone Fishin’

fishing

As far as I’m concerned right about now is the doldrums of the sports season. The sports fan in me is lost at sea without a breeze or clear direction home. Football is over and the NBA and NHL playoffs are still a bit off. The post-season seedings are still up in the air, but their regular seasons are a yawner compared to football. Could be because, in a way, the entire NFL season is one big playoffs.

Consider, hockey playoffs are four rounds of seven games or 16 to 28 games. The entire NFL season including playoffs is 20 games max. This means just about every game, every week of the season is important and can make or break in football. One bad playoff game and you’re gone fishin’.

I’m not saying football is better, just rarer. You get 162 baseball games a year, a whole lot of fish in the sea. Landing a rare fish is simply a bigger deal.

Filed 3/14/08

Pete Rose by Any Other Name —Sports Nicknames

tiger

Colorful sports nicknames have been around probably as long as there’s been sports. Their origins vary, some follow the athlete from childhood, some are applied by teammates, some are coined by the press, and some, like many boxing nicknames, are promo­tional gimmicks.

I’m breaking it into three basic types. First is a substitute for the name like Joe DiMaggio being called The Yankee Clipper. The second is a nick­name that flows into their real name as in Mark “The Bird” Fydrich. Some­times this second type loses the quote marks producing a third variety where an athlete is known only by the nickname as if it were a given name, much like Satchel Page.

Just for fun, see if you know the given names for these nicknames:

Type One: The Big Unit, The Big Train, The Manassas Mauler, The Splendid Splinter, The Big Hurt, Charlie Hustle, Sweetness, The Iron Horse, Mr. October, The Galloping Ghost.

Type Two: _____ “Crazy Legs” Hersh, _____ “Night Train” Lane, “Three Finger” ______ Brown, _____ “Oil Can” Boyd, _____ “Rocket” Richard, _____ “Catfish” Hunter, _____ “Spaceman” Lee.

Type Three: Dizzy Dean, Pele, Tiger Woods, Magic Johnson, Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski, Babe Ruth, Deacon Jones, Yogi Berra, Bubba Smith, Satchel Page.

Answers:

Type One: Randy Johnson, Walter Johnson, Jack Dempsy, Ted Williams, Frank Thomas, Pete Rose, Walter Payton, Lou Gherig, Reggie Jackson, Red Grange. (Though Red Grange isn’t his given name, see type three below.)

Type Two: Elroy Hersh, Richard (Dick) Lane, Mortacai Brown, Dennis Boyd, Maurice Richard, James (Jim) Hunter, William (Bill) Lee.

Type Three: Jerome Dean, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Eldrick Woods, Ervin Johnson, Harold Grange, Branislau Nagurski, George Herman Ruth, David Jones, Lawrence Peter Berra, Charles Aaron Smith, Leroy Page.

I imagine most sports fans have their own favorite players nicknames, pseudonyms, aliases and AKAs. For my money Dick “Night Train” Lane and Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hersh are pretty cool.

Filed 11/4/07

Dressed to Coach

coaches

Do you find it strange that baseball managers wear uniforms just like the players? It’s not like they’re going to put themselves in the line-up, and so need to be dressed to play. No other sport does anything like this.

Can you imagine Scotty Bowman in hockey kit? If he did, would he wear skates or street shoes? I don’t see Bill Parcells outfitted with full padding and a helmet prowling the sidelines. And I certainly don’t want to see the spectacle of Bobby Knight in a tank top and shorts blowing his top court­side.

I can only suppose this baseball tradition of managers in uniform goes way, way back to when teams were captained and managed by players, before there were actual staffs employed for the job. On the other hand Connie Mack wore a suit when he managed the A’s back when they were in Philadelphia. But then, he was also the GM and owner so an exception in other ways as well. Perhaps in the near future we’ll have another player/man­ager in baseball and the uniform will make sense. Still, it’s a bit odd in my view. I wonder if there’s a dress code for managers. Do they wear a cup, you think?

Filed 9/28/07

How to Improve Soccer

USsoccer

There is a way to improve soccer to make it better and more exciting, in other words more Ammurrican.

Rather than try to explain the many problems with soccer as it’s now played (see The Good, The Bad, and the Unusual below) I give my rules for a new soccer-like game that would be better. I’ll call it X-ball, as in experi­mental. If the rules laid down don’t do the trick, change them until they satisfy.

Assume the basics are the same, no hands, no tripping or bumping, etc., kick or head a ball into a goal. Here are the differences.

1. The 6 yard box becomes a 10 yard box which becomes the penalty box. The current penalty box becomes the goaltender’s box.

2. The goaltender can only block, deflect, slap or punch the ball with their hands and arms. No catching, cradling, corralling or otherwise con­trolling the ball in any other fashion. No dribbling the ball like a basketball or juggling it with the hands in a controlled way.

3. No goal kicks or corner kicks. All inbound plays are throw-ins from where the ball went out, even from the end line. No throw-ins from within the goaltender’s box. If the ball goes out in that area the throw-in is at the edge of the box.

4. Two players from each team are designated "forwards." These players must remain in the attacking zone at all times. They cannot help defend in their own end.

5. No offsides rule.

6. Any foul inside the 10 yard box is a penalty kick from the penalty spot.

7. Fouls within the goaltender’s box, and outside the penalty box, are direct free kicks from the spot of the foul, not the penalty spot. The ten yard rule still applies.

8. Goalkeeper must stay in goal­keeper’s box at all times.

9. Allow three substitutions per half. Starting lineup can be completely changed for beginning of second half, including returning players substituted out in first half.

These changes are designed to do four things. Increase offensive effec­tiveness and goals (rules 2, 3, 4, 5). Without the offsides rule, the forwards can stretch the defense opening up midfield play. Since the goaltender can’t catch the ball, there will always be rebounds and action ensuing shots on goal rather than a dead end to an offensive thrust. Eliminating goal kicks means the defense gets no free pass out of their own end after a missed shot or offensive thrust.

Decrease incidents of referees and linesmen deciding game outcomes on close calls (rules 1, 5, 6, 7). Protect players from collisions on over the top long passes (rule 8). Keep players fresher for the end of the game when players are often too exhausted to perform (rule 9).

One more thing, get rid of the penalty shoot-out to decide games tied after overtime. That’s like settling a baseball game tied after ten innings by playing home run derby. Silly, really. Instead have more sudden-death overtime... without goalies. That should decide things fairly quickly.

Of course this will never happen. So the only thing I’ll suggest is a way to improve Major League Soccer, a little bit. Stop playing in the summer. Soccer players do a great deal of running and summer heat is a killer. Play in the fall and spring as they do everywhere else.

Filed 7/9/07

The Similarities are Different Between Baseball Then and Now

baseball

Baseball sure has changed from when I was a kid. Besides having more teams and inter-league play, there’s a few other alterations you see in the show. I’m referring to four things: players, player substitu­tion, scheduling, and one major rule change.

Players. I’m not talking about how they’re all pumped up on steroids and the medical marvels that allow them to pitch until they’re eligible for social security. What’s different is the number of foreigners that play in the bigs. There were some latin players back in the 60s, but not nearly as many as today. And Japanese players stayed in Japan.

Player Substitution. In the old days your everyday players played, well, every day. None of that one line-up vs. righties and another against southpaws. The line-up was pretty much the same all the time. Plus pitching wasn’t done by committee. A lot more complete games in the past, and as a consequence a lot fewer saves. The starting rotation was shorter, too. A star pitcher got many more starts back then, over forty. How else could Denny McLain have won 30 games? Nowadays they get between 35 and 40.

Scheduling. Even though they still play 162 games, the same as before, the season is longer. Used to be the October classic was in early October not encroaching on Thanksgiving. Two reasons for this. The obvious one is the additional playoff rounds. When I was a lad, they didn’t have them. The pennant winner was the team that finished in first place and went directly to the World Series. The second reason most young people probably wouldn’t guess. They used to schedule a lot more double-headers. In fact, they were a regular part of the season. Now they only have them to make up rain-outs.

Rule Change. The biggest rule change was bringing in the designated hitter. This idea came about because of the way pitching was dominating baseball in the 60s. Carl Yasztremski won the batting crown in 1968 with a .301 average. To get some offensive punch back in the game they came up with the designated hitter because, as everyone knows, pitchers can’t hit. They also lowered the mound and made the strike zone smaller, but those changes weren’t as radical as the DH.

Thing is, there’s no lack of offen­sive firepower in baseball these days. Isn’t it time to get rid of this rule and go back to “real” baseball. The way they play it in the National League? The way it was played in the American League for 70 years before? To my way of thinking, there’s two things we should try to eliminate from baseball, the designated hitter and steroids. The first is easy, the second... one can only hope.

There’s also a few little things that seem to be different. I don’t see so many players with the big tobacco chaw bulging in their cheeks so much any more. The uniforms are more colorful, though to me they look like softball outfits. Then again, maybe I’m an old fuddy-duddy. (That I used fuddy-duddy pretty much confirms it.) The catcher’s equipment has gone space age. Probably a good thing, that. Most teams now put player names on the shirt backs. Isn’t that what the numbers were for? Way back when the Yankees were the first to put the numbers on so the fans could easily spot Ruth. As if that rotund torso and spindly legs weren’t a dead giveaway.

You might like to know, the Detroit Tigers never retired Ty Cobb’s num­ber. That’s because he never wore one.

Filed 6/13/07

The Good, the Bad, and the Unusual

brazilian

I’m talking about three sports, two widely popular around the world, and another fairly popular in the lands of snow and ice. These are, respectively to the title, golf, soccer, and hockey. Lets look at them in reverse order.

Hockey, the Unusual.

It’s a ballgame without a ball, it has a puck. Which is a ball with the top and bottom sawn off and then stuck in the freezer so it’s hard as a rock. OK, not all that weird, but how about a game with two halftimes and three quarters? Must be a Canadian thing. What other team sport considers fighting as a part of the game? I mean a legitimate sport, not roller derby or something of that ilk. Alright, there is some punishment for fighting, you get a five minute suspension.

The most unusual aspect of hockey, it’s the only sport this side of tag team wrestling that allows you to substitute players while the play is going on.

Soccer, the Bad.

The basic concept is fine, running around trying to kick a ball into a big net without using your hands, but the execution is awful. The offsides rule is possibly the worst in sports. What is it for, what good does it do? The way it’s written it’s virtually impossible to call right. The linesman must be able to see many things at the same time, the two defenders closest to the goal line, the position of the offensive players without the ball, and the position of the player making a forward pass. All this at the moment the ball is played forward. There’s no way to reset things with an NFL style video review, either. They blow the call and that’s that.

Soccer lovers will tell you, unlike those American sports like football, it’s a game of continuous action. Well, it’s a game of continuous play, not action. In fact there’s very little action of consequence. Some games will have fewer than 10 shots on goal for both teams combined. Much of the game consists of the goalie holding the ball while everyone trots to midfield and mills around a bit waiting for the ensuing round of head pinball after the goalie punts the ball aimlessly toward the other end. Or there’s what they call build-up through midfield where everyone jogs around the field knocking the ball back and forth where there’s no real danger of a goal being scored. About as thrilling as the pre-game workout.

Add to that soccer players are the biggest whimps in all of sports. You only need to breath hard on a soccer player to knock him over so he begins rolling around screaming like he’s been shot. A football or hockey player will have a finger reattached and then go back in the game. You’d think these South American countries dripping in machismo would produce tougher sons, but they don’t seem to.

The most obvious shortcoming, not enough goals. This is not a problem only from the lack of excitement that comes from lack of scoring, though that’s part of it. Fewer goals puts a premium on each goal. This means every ruling of the referee can loom large and decide a game. A missed offsides call, a penalty call or non-call can determine the outcome. Without doubt, there’s more wailing and gnashing of teeth over getting robbed by the refs in soccer than any other sport. This makes soccer terribly frustrating, not only does a team have very few opportunities to score, the referee can wipe out your team’s only go at goal with a blow of his whistle for a phantom foul or non-existent offside.

Golf, the Good.

What’s so good about golf, you ask. As a spectator sport it leaves some­thing to be desired. However as a participation sport it’s terrific. In one respect it’s the opposite of soccer in that the refs almost never decide a game. There’s no judgement call of whether you scored or not, either it’s in the cup or it’s not. The only thing you need to keep track of is how many times you hit the ball and where it went. No offsides, no personal fouls, no ball or strike judgement calls, no three second violation, no time clock, no style points... and on and on. It’s practically the only pure sport. The course is the same for every player. The only variable is the weather.

Another plus is you can play as hard as you want and have a good time. If you feel like playing casually you can. If you feel like playing seriously you can. And two people can each play the way they want at the same time. The defense is the course, not the other player. Even a good player can play a duffer competi­tively if you offer a handicap.

If you wanted to, you could play by yourself and get the same experience. You may not win or lose compared to another player, but you can win or lose compared to par. Golf may not be the sport of kings as horse racing claims to be, but it could be the king of sports.

Filed 5/29/07

The Die-Easy Sports Fan

zzz

I admit it, I’m a fair weather fan. I only watch or care if my team is doing well. Some will accuse me of not being a true fan. I can live with that. Sports are entertain­ment, a diversion for pleasure. If I don’t enjoy watching my favorite teams when they’re bad, I won’t. I don’t need to vicariously lose through others.

There’s a notion you should support the home team through thick and thin no matter what. This is like saying you should eat at your local restaurant no matter how good, or bad, the food is. Why keep eating bad food hoping that it will be good someday, because it’ nearby?

Sports is the only form of enter­tainment where the audience expects other audience members to support an act whether it’s good, bad or indifferent. The old, “Root, root, root, for the home team.” This support is due to the team because, well, because it’s there. Wherever “there” is. There’s no logic to this, but people have an affinity to the local team as a representative of the community, an extension of the tribe. “Our team,” “We won,” “We are the champions.” The team is us. It doesn’t matter the players are from some­where else and paid to be here.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this, only that to not go along with this psychology is just as reasonable. If you like some team from somewhere else, so what. If that entertains you, go for it. If you’re from Detroit and don’t like Motown music but prefer Italian opera you’re not a traitor to your city. You don’t owe it to Barry Gordy or Detroit to prefer The Supremes to Verdi. Why should sports be any different?

Sports are frivolous, it’s entertainment. There is no right and wrong way to be a fan in my book. If you enjoy rooting for good teams or favorite players, do that. If you enjoy rooting for the home team no matter what, and bitching about how bad they are, do that. Maybe you just like a team’s colors, logo or name, like Tottenham Hotspurs. Who should care, besides you?

There is one thing, you need to root for someone. Sports just don’t seem to be interesting unless you care who wins and loses. Then again, maybe that’s just me.

Filed 4/25/07

The Colon Award

colon

For those not old enough to remember, there used to be a game in the NFL called The Playoff Bowl. The Losers of the championship semi-finals would square off to determine third place. Can you imagine a more pointless endeavor? Who really cares who finishes third or fourth? Bet you most folks who can name all the Super Bowl winners can’t name all the losers. I have no idea what trophy they got for winning the Playoff Bowl, if they even had one. The players themselves called it the Toilet Bowl.

In events like the Olympics they have consolation games to determine third place. But you get a bronze medal for that. Still, why stop at third place? Keep going on down with less and less precious metals for fourth, fifth, sixth... brass, pewter, nickle, tin, automotive brite, that’s the stuff that replaced chrome. Some kind of shiny plastic?

Nowadays kids are given awards not for finishing first, second, etc., but just for finishing, period. Or sometimes just for showing up. We offer the same for the NFL, the Colon Award. Teams can place them in the trophy case next to their Playoff Bowl cups.

Filed 3/2/07

Sports Clichés and Berraisms

cliche

Everyone knows you “play ‘em one game at a time.” Like many clichés, this one’s been around a long time. Thing is, if they weren’t useful clichés wouldn’t stick around so long. These bland blandish­ments stating the obvious in comfortable, familiar ways hang on like a bad cold.

To keep some overused clichés from sounding too clichéd, sports figures evolve them into new and improved versions. For instance, it used to be “I gave it 100 percent” was enough. (The current parlance is “leaving it all on the field.”) Then inflation set in raising the bar so ”giving it 110 percent” was required for maximum effort. Say what you will about the math education players get during their college careers, but 110 out of 100 seems like an unobtainable ratio.

Nowadays even 110% is not enough and jocks claim to give “a thousand percent.” Whether this means today’s athlete is ten times better than those of my youth I’ll not venture a guess. It may be due to steroids, who knows. It might just be the turnaround time for clichés is much faster than it used to be, what with mass media saturation of cable tv, sports talk radio and the internet.

Yogi Berra had his own unique take on percentage of effort, “You give a hundred percent in the first half of the game, and if that isn’t enough, in the second half you give what’s left.”

I’m not adamantly anti-cliché. It’s just shorthand used over and over to answer the same questions asked by reporters over and over about similar things in sports which happen over and over. In some ways it’s like a ritu­alized event. Nobody expects fresh and articulate off-the-cuff answers from sports figures to stale questions. Athletes aren’t wordsmiths, they’re not Dr. Johnson or Groucho Marx or anything like. As the new most popular sports cliché goes, ”It is what it is.”


Just for fun, a few more quotes from Mr. Berra, (Yogisms):

“You can observe a lot by watching.”
“Now I know why nobody comes here any more. It’s too crowded.”
“It gets late early out there.”
“Slump? I ain’t in no slump. I just ain’t hitting.”
“I really didn’t say everything I said.”
“Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical.”
“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”
“It’s deja vu all over again.”
“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
“I usually take a two hour nap, from one o'clock to four.”
“If people don’t want to come out to the park, nobody’s going to stop them.”
“We made too many wrong mistakes.”
“It ain’t over 'til its over.”
“Eighty percent of putts that fall short don’t go in.”

And one from his son, Dale, com­paring himself to his Dad: “Our similarities are different.”

Filed 2/16/07

Colts 260, Jets Bears 0 ?

bears

There’s a good deal of talk hereabouts how the Indianapolis Colts are a sure-fire lock to win the Super Bowl. The NFC is described as awful and the Bears as the best of a bad lot, the worst 15-3 team of all time. The experts all agree, bet the mortgage on the Colts.

You’d think the experts would learn a thing or two about predicting blowouts. For those readers old enough to remember, the last time the Colts were heavy favorites in the Super Bowl was in 1968 against the Jets. How did that work out?.

Don’t be taken in by those experts, the bookmakers, who set the odds. The betting line mostly reflects the betting behavior of the public. The idea is to attract enough betting on both sides so the payout will leave a profit no matter the outcome. It’s similar to racetrack paramutual betting. The odds of the payouts are deter­mined by the amount bet on each horse, not some probability algorithm.

That’s the true meaning of the term favorite. It’s not necessarily the team most likely to win, but the team that is favored, or preferred by the bettors.

Filed 1/27/07

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