Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The End of Pitch Counts?

A pitch count is an inherantly awful idea. Coming up with some arbitrary number to tell you when a pitcher should come out of a game is the offshoot of the Misinformation Age, where stats rule the land and bad impressions linger forever. No need to actually watch a pitcher, evaluate and react accordingly. We have numbers that say the best calculated move is to take him out at the 98-104 pitch mark. It's science, not baseball. And it stinks.

In my case against numbers, let me throw some out. From 1891-1999, there was at least one pitcher every season who had double-digit complete games. From 2000-2008, there was not one - NOT ONE - pitcher who recorded more than nine. For over one hundred years, pitchers pitched and managers got the hell out of the way. With the invent of the internet, stats at the whim and money and media to consider, the pressure intensified and pitchers were put on pitch counts to save their managers' careers. Greinke is on pace to throw 17 complete games this year.

Greinke is tied with Toronto's Roy Halladay with a league-leading eight wins. They also sit at top together with 75 innings pitched this year. With very few opposing views, they are the best two pitchers in the American League.

But what about wearing out their arms, you ask? Let's go back to those 2000-2008 years. Three pitchers threw nine complete games in a season a total of four times over that span. Halladay was the one who did it twice, in 2003 and 2008. He has had a 3.15 ERA since that 2003 season.

Of course, you can't just take a young pitcher and throw him out there all day long for an entire season. Unfortunately, their arms have been trained under the philosophy of less is more. That's why the end of pitch counts has to start in the minors or even earlier, so these pitchers can get used to being in those types of situations, the way Halladay has.

And this just might happen. Not only is Greinke someone all young pitchers will want to be like because of his skill, but he is a genuinely good person. He is a role model coaches and parents will want their kids to look up to. Hopefully after the 2009 season, we will be able to say that Zack Greinke not only had an incredible ERA and win total, but that he pitched as much as he wanted.

Because that's what pitching in the old millennium was all about.

Monday, May 25, 2009

NBA's Fab Four Veils Bad Basketball

Every sport has its problems. Baseball has steroids, football has malcontents, hockey has no fans, golf sometimes doesn't have Tiger and tennis has no Americans. But professional basketball is in a unique position. Its woes aren't off the field antics or performance enhancers. No, their dilemma is much more serious; bad play, awful coaching and even worse officiating.

Everybody will remember Round One's Bulls/Celtics matchup as an epic series, but the reality is that it was sub par basketball. Boston's go-to play seemed to be letting Paul Pierce hold the ball, drive and either freak out and jack up a shot or hope to God that he could find an open teammate that would freak out and jack up a shot. This led us to the Big Baby buzzer beater, which in actuality was an awful play that ended up in a player nobody trusted taking the most important shot of the season. It went in, so it will be featured in future NBA "Amazing" commercials in super slow motion and remembered as a good thing. Not to mention what it does for Baby monetarily.

And who draws up the "Pierce better make a good decision" plays? The horrendous coaches. Guys like George Karl who have six-foot-nothing Anthony Carter inbounding the ball with the game on the line against Lamar Odom. Guess what happened. Luckily, there was enough time between that Game One and Game Three, where there was another chance to inbound the ball at crunch time. Guess what happened. Karl must take coaching lessons from John Calipari, who feels just because you screw up one facet of the game routinely doesn't mean you should ever practice it.

I won't even waste words on officiating. We all know it's bad. Let's move on.

What's saving the NBA and making the postseason seem so great (and really, it's not) is the Fab Four: Kobe, LeBron, Carmelo and Howard. Four teams, four elite superstars. And more importantly, four American superstars. The Redeem Team went from friends and mentors to fighting each other for the title. This is the intriguing storyline, the veil covering the fans' eyes. LeBron's buzzer beater was that Jordan-esque shot we've all been waiting for. The Kobe/Melo matchup is high drama, as is Anthony's "I'm becoming a man" run through the playoffs, which is probably due more to being on a good team than him becoming a better person. Unfortunately, we're stuck with Howard other than D-Wade, but we'll take what we can get.

But all of this isn't basketball, it's a soap opera, which explains why the 2009 postseason has gotten people so giddy. All of the close games aren't enough to keep me interested if they get blown at the end by bad coaching moves. Game Two of Cavs/Magic was the one shining moment for me so far, where Hedo and James had dueling game-winners that weren't the product of bad defense, just two stone cold assassins draining their shot. But even that was ruined with the Game Three Foul Fest. It was if the refs got payed by the whistle, and completely obliterated any positive feelings the previous game gave the series.

I want the NBA back, where the players are professional and the game is better. But David Stern & Company are reaping the rewards of big names in the headlines, and the non-fans who are paying attention love drama and scripts, which is exactly what the league has become. I can only hope for a Denver/Orlando title matchup, a big "F You" to a league that doesn't even care that the quality of their game has been reduced to D-League basketball. Because if there is a Kobe/LeBron Finals, then there is no chance in hell Stern will care about anything but the hype.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"Kobe Doin' Work" Is All Ball

Sports is about inference. Some calculate the stats, others piece together any other evidence they can find. Whether it be how a player acts off the court, how much his teammates like him, or how he portrays himself to the media, we will find something abstract to make conclusions about one's game. With the easy availability of stats and tangibles at our fingertips, it's only natural seek out the intangibles as a way to learn more. And often we get it wrong.

Which brings us to "Kobe Doin' Work", Spike Lee's documentary profiling a 2008 regular season game between the Lakers and Spurs. The title explains just about everything. It's 90 minutes of Kobe Bryant explaining why he's shooting or passing, why he's on his man or roaming the court. It's NBA 101 and Professor Bryant is about to school you. No drama, no headlines. Just a student of the game giving us an inside look on what it's like to be the game's biggest star. On the court, that is.

And that's what makes "Kobe Doin' Work", well, work. We will never really know why Lee decided to do this film the way he did. But I suspect it was to somewhat humanize a man who has played the villain role most of his career. And an hour and a half of Kobe with his family or attending charity events would seem too contrived, and the haters would see right through it. Here, Bryant is in his element; just talkin' hoops. He doesn't have to worry about saying the right things or playing a specific part. And through all the lessons and insights, we realize how being a celebrity is nowhere inside of his DNA. Basketball is what Kobe knows, and he knows it better than anybody. Shaq was celebrated by the media because not only could he ball, but he could play the media game as well. It came natural to him. The only thing Bryant has in his blood is a pure passion for hoops, and sadly it has led to him wearing a black hat.

There is a reason that the gold #24 jersey outsells everyone. Whether we think he is a bad guy or not, one message leaks through to the kids: Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players of all time. "Kobe Doin' Work" gives us a little glimpse why. And for 90 minutes, the only important factor is how he performs on the court. Which is the way it should have always been.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Worst Article Ever Written

In my time as a writer and an avid reader, I have come across some horrendous articles. The kind that leave you with a smaller IQ and a sudden urge to binge drink. Admittedly, some of my own probably fall into that category. But one has risen of the rest, the cream of the crap crop, if you will. And to some, it will be no surprise that the name signed at the bottom is that of one Jason Whitlock.

It sure was no shock to me. I've never been a fan of Whitlock, who has made a living injecting racism into any and every topic known to man. In J-Dubb's world, the previous sentence is proof that I secretly hate black people. It's a shortcut to thinking and offensive.

So I now present to you his worst, in my opinion. "Cuban's out of line and it's Stern's fault" deserves attention. As you already know, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban apparently called the Nuggets' Kenyon Martin a thug to his mother's face, along with reports that many Dallas fans were harassing family members of Nuggets players. Here's my problem:

Does Stern not understand the culture of the league he oversees? Does he fail
to comprehend the position Kenyon Martin is in if he fails to publicly (and
perhaps physically) defend his mama?

Right or wrong, disrespecting a black man's mama publicly has always been a
drop-the-gloves moment. When a billionaire white man does it, it becomes a
ride-or-die episode for the entire neighborhood.

Last I checked, Martin plays in a league dominated by black men hailing from
the don't-talk-about-my-mama culture.

Yes, this is about race. And it's news to me that black men are the only people in this country that take offense to people disrespecting their parents. What's amazing to me is that a champion of race like Whitlock seems to allows fuel the stereotypes rather than seek the reality. Well, not that amazing. It's what he does. The "thug" culture, which is so reviled by minorities, thrives on ideas such as don't-talk-about-my-mama.

Most stereotypes cannot be avoided. Fried chicken and watermelon simply taste good, eat as much as you want. And you should feel anger at anyone stepping up to your mother. Fact is, we all feel that way. To corner the market of loving your mom and act as if it's a higher transgression because it's happening to you is what causes contempt, from both the majority and minority. Injustice is injustice. Cuban was wrong, not because Mrs. Martin has dark skin, but because his actions are indefensible in and of itself.

And I'm just getting started.

He's a billionaire owner who should be well above mixing it up with

The difference between (Ron) Artest and Cuban is a few billion dollars and
a fair complexion.
There are two different kinds of people. Those who think Cuban is a loudmouth, and those who are glad to see "one of them" owning a major sports team. Most of the time, I fall into the latter group. In this instance I fall into both. Cuban was wrong, and it was his loudmouth persona that made him say the things he did. But I don't set him to a higher standard because of his bank account, and I enjoy the fact that an owner can still be himself (even if that means we have to experience his asshole-ish ways). And by no means do I think he deserves different treatment because he is white, as Whitlock clearly states above. I mean, could you imagine if Tony Kornheiser or Rick Reilly said that Mo Cheeks needs to approach white refs in a different way than Phil Jackson because he was black? J-Dubb would be all over that one.

And one more thing:

I was shocked Wednesday night when Charles Barkley and Chris Webber pretended
that Cuban's apology was enough justice. Sir Charles and C-Webb sounded like
Cuban enablers. They must all play in the same charity golf events.
That's right boys and girls, Barkley and Webber are Uncle Toms! The fact that they didn't immediately join Team Black is proof enough that all their tee-times with The Man have turned them from FUBU to J. Crew. Ridiculous. There is no bigger divider in the world of sports than Jason Whitlock. He draws the lines, he makes you choose a side. Disrespect is different if the two parties have different skin. He does his small part to kill any progress of race relations that has been built in the last few decades. It's as if he is uncomfortable with equality. He commentates on an industry that is minority-dominated, but cannot come to grasps that a white/black confrontation is just a human/human confrontation.

The seeds of discontent and chaos take root in the absence of justice.
Actually, they take root in the presence of hate and ignorance. Two things that consume the public persona of Whitlock, and garner a bank account much closer to Mark Cuban's than yours or mine.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Brett, don't go away mad, just go away

I'm not a Packers fan, and I will never be able to express what their emotions are or what the legacy of Brett Favre will mean to them in the years to come. From what I hear, they range from homicidal anger to cynical distance, so who really knows what Favre fans fell. Hell, they probably don;t even know themselves. Which makes this whole scene interesting (for once). Nobody has confused, alienated and infuriated a fan base quite like Favre has. And my feelings have subtly gone from boredom to fascination.

What's noteworthy here is that for the first time, a superstar could turn his fans against him because of nothing more than indecisiveness. What's fueled Favre's retirement/comeback/retirement/comeback isn't some Madhoffian grab for money or clash of heads with management, but a honest-to-God confusion on what to do with his life. Unfortunately for him, he is a star at the highest level, and his somewhat embarrassing lack of decision making is in front of the world to see. And his image of a backwoods tough-guy gunslinger is morphing into that of a neurotic, spoiled golden boy whose life is as disoriented as a teenage girl's. And this, above all else, is extremely sad to witness.

It's no longer about whether he can, wants to, or should still play. And it's not about Favre playing in the NFC North, or betraying Packers fans. It's about destroying a once untouchable image that Favre and the media have created. It's a superhero coming down to Earth. Whatever the dilemma is, it's on public display. A fragile mind further being crushed under the weight of mass scrutiny.

Most importantly, it sure as hell ain't football.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Just Manny Being Like Everyone Else

Like most people with boring, unfulfilling jobs, I find myself spending roughly 5-7% of my time at work day-dreaming about what I would do if I won the lottery. Part of this fantasy is imagining my reaction to instantly becoming a millionaire. Would I flip out and run the streets naked and laughing? Perhaps I would would break down and cry in a fit of joy. And maybe, just maybe I would show up to work the next day as drunk as Dudley Moore in 'Arthur', walk into my boss's office, and happily sing "Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye" while urinating on his carpet. Yeah, I have a lot of downtime.

Which got me thinking; what would my reaction be to hear any baseball player of the past two decades tested positive to steroids. Manny Ramirez was one I thought I would drop my jaw over, but in reality, I merely shrugged and went about my day. So would anyone one name surprise me? Here's one: Greg Maddux.

Now, considering Maddux was a precision pitcher and not a rocket arm, there's somewhat like a 1% chance he used. But as Lloyd Christmas once said, so you're telling me there's a chance. And if Maddux was doped up, EVERYONE was doped up. That news would rock baseball's foundation as much as the initial steroid stories did. But Manny? Another one bites the dust, construction on the new wing of the Hall is already underway. That's what this whole bloody mess has become; a separation of stats. We can no longer compare Manny to Aaron or Clemens to Ryan. Until all of these players are retired and out of the picture, baseball will exist in a bubble and will be judged as such.

Just don't tell me that Greg Maddux was juiced. That would be worse than performing my "Na Na Hey Hey" dance with last week's Powerball numbers.
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