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

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