Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thoughts on a Perfect Season

I am sure you've read about it in your imaginary newspapers -- the Colts pulled their starters and lost against a very motivated Jets team last Sunday. This ended the Colts' run at an undefeated season and deeply disappointed Broncos fans who could have seen their team lock up a post-season birth if the Jets had lost.

We know how Mercury Morris feels. Here is how I feel about a couple of particular angles on the whole perfect season matter.

First, it's already been done. The Dolphins did it in the 14 game season of 1972 and capped it off with a Super Bowl victory. The Patriots did it in the 16 game season of salary-cap and free agency football in 2007. It's not like this is an accomplishment never seen before.

Second, one of the reasons it is hard to accomplish a perfect season is because, given the opportunity to rest players near the end of the season, any coach would be crazy not to do it. The goal after all is to win the championship. It is pretty clear that the big story of 2007 was the Giants winning the Super Bowl not the Patriots having a good record in the regular season.

Third, who is to say the Jets would not have won that game against the Colts starters? Who is to say the Colts won't lose (or wouldn't have lost) next week against the unpredictable Bills in cold and snowy Buffalo? It is a setting where finesse teams often struggle. Those who assume the perfect season was in hand prior to "the benching of starters" must not follow the NFL very closely.

Finally, it is unknown if resting starters is better or worse than playing them right through the season in terms of how it affects post-season outcomes. I hear many pundits expoundeing their views but, other than Mercury Morris, there are no real experts on the matter

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Fountain of Mirth

I went skiing today and extended an amazing streak that I think may last for the rest of my life.

This streak began when I was a kid and has marched forth, unbroken, through every single day of skiing I have ever had the good fortune to enjoy. No matter where I am skiing, no matter who I am with, no matter what the weather or the conditions of the snow, at some point during the day, I will chuckle aloud while riding the chairlift. I always try to stifle this outward expression so as not to give the impression that I am a crazy old guy riding the chair alone and laughing at his own thoughts but I never succeed and the streak persists.

Here is why I laugh.

Riding the chair lift always conjures a childhood memory of riding the ski lift with my brother Rick and at least one or two other relatives (I think it was brother Tom and Cousin Jeff). Rick was a meticulous youngster and couldn't seem to resist the opportunity, afforded by a long ride up the mountain, to polish the lenses on his aviator sunglasses.

On the particular day when my streak commenced, Rick began the chair ride by securely stowing his poles under one leg. This allowed him to free up his hands for other tasks without dropping a pole from the chair. He also removed and safely clipped his gloves to his ski parka ensuring maximal dexterity for the polishing task. He carefully procured a neatly folded cloth from a zippered pocket, gently removed his shiny, wire-rimmed sunglasses and set about examining them from many angles, looking for smudges and streaks to remove. So far, not very funny.

About a minute or so into the operation I recall hearing a soft but sharp "pling" sound and I caught the sight of one green tinted aviator lens flipping through the air below us and disappearing beneath a pock mark in the snow. That's not funny either. Poor guy loved his sunglasses, probably spent a fair chunk of his net worth on them, and now they were worthless.

The funny part was Rick's reaction. Or, to be more specific, his non-reaction. With the detached look of a bored man performing a repetitive task, he calmly pressed the frame of the sunglasses against the steel bar of the chair lift and twisted them many times around the bar (with the second lens "plinging" away in the process). While his face was void of all emotion, his hands worked with the strength of a man whose rage was barely contained. While we all died laughing, Rick never even acknowledged that anything had happened. He may be in denial to this day.

Now, whenever I ride a chairlift, I remember that day and it always make me laugh. Just like it did today.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Stigma of Stigma

Something strange is happening to stigma. It appears to be under attack from capitalism.

In the good old days, getting oneself into an embarrassing predicament was potentially stigmatizing and it kept many people from making dumb choices or from acting with unacceptable degrees of short sightedness or self-interest. Sure, stigma has always had certain downsides but it has also kept many people on a straight and narrow social path and has played a valuable role in society by punishing certain behaviors that are frowned upon by society.

For example, it used to be that over-consumption and reckless financial decisions that might lead to personal bankruptcy were discouraged by the potential embarrassment of such a consequence. The stigma of personal bankruptcy was something to be avoided. Now, I hear advertisements all day long stating that "bankruptcy can happen to anyone"; I guess it's just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The prevailing attitude seems to be "go ahead and buy that boat, if you can't make the payments, just declare bankruptcy and move on." Nothing to be embarrassed about -- there are many law firms and financial planning agencies, driven by their profit motives, ready to help you file the paperwork.

I know we have endured quite a rough economic period and that some people have been caught short-handed despite their adherence to a fairly conservative financial strategy. Nonetheless, I worry about how much worse it could get if declaring bankruptcy really becomes something with no personal responsibility nor shame attached.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Freedom of Geezers

I am crotchety beyond my years; I can't wait until I hit 80 and enter officially into geezerdom. Then, because it will be expected and accepted, I'll be able to fully express myself in public without really embarrassing my family. (Plus, I'll be able to back up my car without looking behind me and the people behind me will just scatter and shake their heads.)

For now, I guess I'll just have to keep my opinions to myself until I can blog about them. Like right now.

This week, I have attended two holiday concerts to see each of my two daughters perform with their classmates at the school where they are learning all about branded clothing. The community of students, their siblings, and their parents are very involved in the daily routine of school with many volunteers, constant activities, and a saturating presence of "family" at all times on the school campus. There are many opportunities to interact with other families which leads to the pretense of social cohesion and strong bonds of support throughout the community.

All it takes to break the pretense, however, is an event like a school concert with first-come first serve seating. Obviously, in such a zero-sum situation, claiming a good seat for oneself is akin to denying a good seat to one's friendly neighbor. According to my observations, that perspective did not seem to be prevalent amidst the early morning stampede of self-interested parents with video recording devices. The naked aggression I witnessed at each of these two concerts (staged, by the way, to spread holiday cheer and good will toward men), was frankly embarrassing.

At the conclusion of each concert, parents mingled and enjoyed holiday treats and generally restored the sense of community that is so obviously fabricated. Participating politely in the after party was hard for my inner geezer.

Geezers don't tolerate such social hypocrisy in silence; they prefer to point it out. I am looking forward to the day when I can do that and the negative repercussions of my honesty will accrue only to me.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Noble, Stupid, or Cowardly?

Many sports fans have heard the news that University of Washington QB Jake Locker has decided to forgo the NFL draft and return to play his senior year in college. Based on the commentary I've heard, opinions about his decision have more or less polarized with some calling his decision a "noble commitment to finishing his college career" and others calling it "so stupid he might be related to Ryan Leaf ". Let's explore those arguments.

The "noble" argument is buttressed by our national penchant for valuing commitment to a chosen endeavor. But let's not kid ourselves here, to whom and to what did Locker commit? Certainly not to the University as it is widely understood that big time football programs use athletes to rake in huge revenues, none of which are shared with the athletes who attract those funds. Perhaps he has a commitment to himself or to his family that he will finish his education but that is a deal that can be consummated at any time, it needn't happen next year when the NFL is calling.

The "stupid" argument is built on the fact that he is projected to be taken high in the NFL draft, perhaps as high as #1 overall, where he could expect some $20-$30 million in guaranteed money. For perspective, one could earn a six figure salary for an entire 40 year career and still earn less than $5m cumulatively. We are talking about a boat load of money that will evaporate if he gets injured in his senior year.

While the risk of a serious injury may be on the small side, the risk of playing slightly less spectacularly next year is quite high. After all, it is difficult for an individual in a team sport to perform at a consistently high level in a rapidly changing environment like a college football program. Nonetheless, a down year would have a similar, if less dramatic, impact on his draft prospects. In fact, even a senior year performance that is equally impressive as the junior year he just completed would indicate that he has plateaued and could cause him to drop precipitously in the draft. Falling into the second round or below might mean signing for a measly couple of million dollars. The point is that his stock is as high now as it can go for a college player. No matter how well he plays next year; it can only go down from here.

To these two arguments, I will offer a third perspective: I think he may not have the confidence to take the next step and face the next challenge.

He is a local kid who went to college close to home. He is comfortable in college where he knows he can succeed and meet the challenge. The NFL, on the other hand, represents a great unknown where he may or may not find success. I think his decision may be neither the product of a noble commitment to the University nor of a poor grasp of financial planning; I think he may simply be opting to stay in his comfort zone.

If I were an NFL talent scout (and I should be), this would represent a very big red flag for me when he does enter the draft.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Putting the BS in BCS

Contributed by Auggie
I was once asked by a foreigner, “why do American colleges have sports teams - isn’t the purpose of college to get an education?” This is a good question, and as I searched for an answer I simultaneously tried to discern their objective for asking. Was this an honest attempt to understand American culture, or a sarcastically delivered rhetorical question meant to imply it’s an idiotic tradition? I believe the language barrier scrambled the normal cues and I never did discern the questioner’s true objective. I answered it anyway. I tried sounding educational but smattered in a defensive tone just to cover the sarcastic scenario if that was indeed their angle. I rattled off something about college being an opportunity to experience many aspects of life and grow in different ways, and when sporting was becoming popular college was an ideal environment for young men and women to compete with people of similar interests, ages and skill level, and how it has evolved over the years to where it is now. Blah blah blah.

I still don’t know why the person asked, and I still don’t know the answer, but this much I do know: College football has become far too important to far too many people. I need only to look at the last two weeks for examples to explain my view.

Exhibit A: According to recent reports Congress was set to review and vote on a bill that could potentially end the current BCS (Bowl Championship Series) method of determining a college football national champion and force a playoff system instead. That would be the U.S. congress in case you are wondering. This boggles my mind - if one member of congress wastes 10 seconds on this issue its 10 seconds too much. Just to clarify - its college football!!! I don’t mind paying my fair share of taxes but I was kind of hoping our representatives would focus on other key issues of the day like the ongoing wars, the state of our economy, healthcare, energy etc. - and stop worrying about college football!!! (Italics mean I’m yelling).

Exhibit B: Alabama has cancelled classes for three days because its team will compete in BCS championship game against Texas on January 7th. The message: football is more important than academics. Apologies to the students paying top dollar because they want an education – there will be no refund for the lost days.

Exhibit C: Brian Kelly, the head coach for Cincinnati this past season just accepted the position as Notre Dame’s new head coach. [Quick background: Kelly just coached the Cincinnati Bearcats to an undefeated regular season and they are now preparing to play Florida in the Sugar Bowl. If Texas had not defeated Nebraska last week with a last second field goal – after the referees added one second to the clock at the end of the game - it would be the Bearcats playing the Alabama Class Cancellers – I mean Crimson Tide, for the national title]. So my first thought when I read the news about Kelly was “how will this affect his preparation for the Sugar Bowl?” Silly me, I now understand it will have no effect at all because he left Cincinnati so fast the door didn’t even graze his butt. I realize this example doesn’t exactly fit with the two above; after all, any of us are free to switch jobs whenever we want and employers are free to unceremoniously dump us in similar fashion. We all make decisions that are in our own best interest. But whatever happened to the old 2-weeks-notice rule? You know, common decency. Kelly’s announcement left some of his former players in tears, and why wouldn’t it? They worked hard all year to go undefeated and earn the right to play in one of the biggest bowl games in school history, and he can’t be bothered to hang around a couple more weeks and help finish the deal. Why? Because college football is soooooooo important that he must immediately get to Notre Dame and start laying to groundwork for returning that school to its rightful elite status. In football I mean.

Look, I’m a huge sports fan and usually find myself defending the sports world against naysayers, but college football just needs to simmer down. Of course, I could be wrong.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What Ever Happened to Liver?

Does anyone eat liver any more? (Attention foodies, don't reply with anecdotes about foie gras)

When I was growing up, liver was the icon of disgusting food that was good for you. As such, children were required to consume it every now and then. Every kid could relate to the horror of liver night. There were even jokes about it; everyone tacitly understood the scourge of liver.

Seems like liver was always served with spinach. Not sure if that was a tactic for facing all of the unpleasantness in one fell swoop or if it was some evil plot that parents perpetrated on their kids to "build character".

Anyway, I never even hear it mentioned any more. Now I think broccoli holds the mantle of "worst tasting food that must be consumed for its nutritional content".

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Running Up the Score

This is the term they bandy about when one team beats another team by a big margin. Usually, the coach or the team accused of "running up the score" is also accused of showing poor sportsmanship.

If you ask me, poor sportsmanship is rampant but there is no such thing as running up the score. In fact, winning by a lot is akin to that old staple of high character we know as "always doing your best".

I don't know where you imaginary readers live but here on the west coast, we get lots of Pac 10 coverage which means, during football season, we've grown accustomed to seeing USC football teams win by scores like 56-10, and 37-3 on a pretty regular basis. Some say that Pete Carroll and the Trojans have a habit of running up the score.

Before I explain why that does not represent poor sportsmanship, let me share a couple of recent events for those of you who may have missed the news.

Recent Event 1
A couple of weeks ago, USC played Stanford, a University noted for its high academic standards and, consequently, for its unwillingness to admit many top-caliber athletes who do not meet those academic standards. As one might surmise, Stanford's de-emphasis of athletics has put them on the wrong end of many a lopsided USC victory over the years. In their most recent meeting, a surprisingly strong Stanford team led the game 48-21 with about six minutes to play and their coach, Jim Harbaugh, elected to go for a 2-point conversion. Many accused him of poor sportsmanship. I disagree.

Recent Event 2
A week later, USC was leading it's cross-town rival UCLA by a score of 21-7 with about a minute to go. USC had the ball and took a knee on first down intending to run out the clock. UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, refusing to concede the game, and having all three of his timeouts in hand, immediately called to stop the clock. On the next play, USC quarterback Matt Barkley chucked a bomb which resulted in a TD and the game ended 28-7. Again, many saw poor sportsmanship in the play call and again, I disagree.

Here's the deal. A key responsibility for a college football coach is to manage the emotions of a group of young males and get them into the right state of mind at the right time. It is a constant challenge to keep them from peaking in frenzy too early in the week and to keep them from sinking too low at any point for any reason. One key to maintaining a healthy level of confidence and competitive will is to instill a winning attitude that carries your own team and intimidates the opposition. This "swagger", as it is often called, is elusive but can be bottled up occasionally if you are ready for the opportunity. Smashing USC in the mouth and going for 2 needless conversion points was a great example of a smart coach seizing a rare opportunity to give his team the kind of attitude that USC teams have used to their advantage for a decade. Harbaugh was not guilty of poor sportsmanship; he was guilty of smart coaching.

Here's another perspective. College football players are essentially auditioning for the NFL and need to do whatever they can to stand out. A coach can't ask them to run at half speed with a big lead because there is too much at stake for them. Similarly, a coach can sit his stars and play the backups but the backups are auditioning to become starters so they can audition for the NFL. Again, he can't ask them to back off.

With regards to Pete Carroll taking a knee on first down and then throwing long on second down, that was perfectly justified. When UCLA called timeout, they stated their intention to call three successive timeouts and, unless USC could get a first down, regain possession of the ball. They forced USC to go for a first down which, as we know, is no easy feat. To do so, offensive coordinators must draw on their entire playbook and take the most likely path depending on what the defense gives them. In this case, it was a long pass.

My bottom line is that being better than your opponent is not a sign of poor sportsmanship, even if you are much, much better. Coaches and players don't spend practice time perfecting mediocre plays designed to let the opposing team save face. They have one attitude, one mentality, one objective, and one level of effort they know how to give.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Just Call Me Murcury

Interesting relationship I've had with Mercury Morris over the course of my life.

He was a prominent member of the powerhouse Dolphins teams in the early 70's when I first became a football fan. I thought he had a cool name and a cool number (22) and I even had a poster of him on my wall that I rotated with others depending on the season and, of course, at the mercy of my whim.

Later, I came to view him as somewhat petty for surfacing every year in the middle of the football season espousing the same tired message. Year after year, when the schedule whittled the teams down to its last undefeated franchise or two, Merc would go on talk radio and glorify the '72 Dolphins while belittling which ever teams happened to be mid-way through an undefeated season.

I always thought he had no argument based on how much easier it was to go undefeated in the "old days" prior to a 16 game season, prior to the salary cap era, and prior to free agency. Math doesn't lie and it is progressively more difficult to stay undefeated as you play more games. Without a doubt, the other changes brought the league a step closer to parity which has also increased the difficulty of staying unbeaten.

A coupe of years ago, when the Patriots were vying for perfection, I came to despise Morris (and to dislike Shula) for his thinly veiled attempts to besmirch the Patriots season as one that had been tainted by cheating. No coach or analyst agreed with that perspective but several former Dolphins players and coaches, panicky about the possibility that their achievement would be eclipsed by a modern team with a tougher challenge, got plenty of air time and had me grumbling at my TV on several occasions.

Now I see two teams (Saints and Colts), both of whom beat the Patriots in the past two weeks, both of whom are well on their way to perfect seasons in this modern environment that I have described as so difficult. In my mind, the Patriots 16-0 performance currently stands alone as a singular achievement. And here is the part that is difficult to admit, I don't want any other teams coming along and etching their names on that particular trophy. In this way, I have a new-found kinship with old 22.

I need to check the attic to see if I can find that old poster.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

More Evidence that Modern Pirates are Sissies

I implied as much in my earlier post but now there can be no doubt: modern pirates are sissies.

A couple of weeks ago, the US Maersk Alabama, a cargo ship that passes regularly near Somalia, was attacked for the second time in seven months. Imaginary readers may recall that in the first attack, the captain was captured and later rescued. The image of the Navy sharp shooters sailing up to the pirate's rubber raft and picking them off when they bobbed up on a wave should have painted an appropriately wimpy picture. If not, the loud pirate whining in the days that followed surely let the world know that the character of the modern pirate has devolved.

Now we learn, as reported here, that the second attack was repelled by....are you ready? a "high decibel noise device". That's right, scared off by loud noises.

In the future , the image of the scarred-face pirate with a hoop earring, an eye patch, and a gold tooth sailing through the fog on a dark, canon-laden ship will be replaced by the image of wimps in a rubber raft wearing life preservers and ear-muffs. Good thing Hollywood already made a bunch of pirate movies because that genre is heading for oblivion.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Personal Privacy

I recently touched on the topic of privacy without expanding much. That particular blurb was inspired by a story I had heard on NPR about a small village that had posted cameras on the only roads leading into and out of town as part of a plan to thwart auto theft.

Naturally, in that small village, there was an outcry from those citizens who felt victimized by a perceived loss of privacy. Had I written more expansively, I would have pointed out that those same people already have their locations registered if not tracked on a regular basis by the cameras at banks, stores, gas stations, and parking garages. Every time they use a credit or debit card they leave a geographic trail as well as a pattern of consumption. And as we all know, their internet habits form a record that can be mined to assemble a rich and detailed picture of their personal interests and activities.

Most importantly, today's cell phones are like beacons that can be plotted through space and time to reconstruct the owners movements with alarming accuracy. In this respect, a new camera in a tree on the road out of town is hardly an infringement. People just like to cry victim.

I was prompted to come back and write more on privacy because I have heard too many times over the past few days that the people have "a right to know" what happened to Tiger Woods the other day.

No they don't.

The argument is that "he leads a public life" and has "made millions off his fame" so volunteering details is the price he must pay. Actually, having the media dig up details about his private life is the price he must pay, and he has been paying it for his entire adult existence. He needs not volunteer a thing and no one has a right to know.

I understand that people are curious but the claim of a "right to know" is the opposite of the "right to privacy" that began this post. Here's how I see it: First and foremost, we all have a right to privacy. However, we need to be realistic about how most of us have already (voluntarily) undermined those rights by carrying cell phones and using the internet. I think many fear losing a level of privacy that they have probably already forfeited.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Laws of reason

Contributed by Auggie
I heard on the news this morning that Colorado has become the latest State to adopt a no-texting-while-driving law. What would be most surprising – if these things surprised me anymore - is that it needs to be a law at all. It seems that common sense might prevail once and awhile but apparently not. A wise man once told me that “driving is a privilege, not a right”. It’s a shame that more people don’t hold that view.

Since we’re writing laws against foolhardiness, I would also like to see the following acts banned while driving.

• Shaving
• Reading the paper
• Eating a three-course meal
• Applying make-up

Yes, I have witnessed all of the above on my daily commute. Furthermore – wait, I gotta go, the light just turned green.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Blog Cliff Notes

What would Den say? Lately, based on the lack of postings here, it looks like he wouldn't say too much.

But don't be fooled; I am still muttering to myself and reflecting on those things that strike me as odd, interesting, or flat out wrong. I've just been intensely busy for the past couple of weeks. Here are a few of the topics I would have blogged about had I found the time to do so:

1. Privacy - Not sure why I am not outraged by perceived threats to privacy like so many others seem to be. If you want to know what I buy at the supermarket or what I search for on google, I would be happy to tell you.

2. Health guidelines - Not saying I agree or disagree with the new recommendations from the US Preventative Services Task Force about fewer mammograms and no self examined breasts, just saying these are the types of approaches (controversial as they are) that can help us get a handle on the overall "cost of health care" problem.

3. Persnickety existence - I have passed my father and now I am working on becoming my grandfather. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to get drivers in my neighborhood to stop cruising though stop signs on the streets where my family walks, bikes, and plays. It's more of a courtesy issue than a danger issue but we grumpy old men do not like to tolerate discourteous young whipper-snappers; we prefer to lecture them.

4. Brett Favre for MVP - Must maintain my quota of BF references. His stats for the year are much better than any of the three years when he won MVP awards and he has his team in first place. Even Fran Tarketon was heard praising his leadership this week on the radio.

5. The Blind Side - I read this book when it came out a few years ago because it was Michael Lewis' follow-up to MoneyBall (and you know how I feel about MoneyBall). I loved The Blind Side and recommended it to many but have never met another person who read it (maybe one). Now it's a movie which I saw with my wife on the night it opened. Very well done and every bit as poignant as the book.

I may circle back and write in more detail about one or more of these. Don't know. We bloggers are a mysterious and independent lot.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Free lunch?

Contributed by Auggie
If not for the health care debate, there might be more publicity surrounding the energy debate which is also a hot topic, so to speak. What I find interesting as I listen to the discourse on energy alternatives is that some people still think you can get a free lunch. You can’t. Every energy alternative has a cost to society from someone’s perspective, there are no exceptions.

The usual suspects are well known. Coal fired plants produce large amounts of CO2 which contributes to global warming, and burning coal leads to smog, acid rain and other toxins that threaten our health. Nuclear is far cleaner than coal and has the potential to be an abundant, low-cost source of energy but the fear of radioactive waste has made it prohibitively expensive and politically challenging. Natural gas? Same problems as coal but not quite as bad. When you talk about “green” energy like wind, hydro and solar you would think that the most environmentally conscious people would be in favor of those, but in reality it seems to be the opposite. It’s the environmentalists who don’t want wind turbines because they destroy the beauty of nature. That is why wind projects have a difficult time getting approved for example on mountain ranges, or as some people like to call it “where the wind is”. In addition to aesthetic problems, wind turbines are a known source of noise related issues for people who live near them, and they disrupt bird migratory patterns to name a couple of cons. Well surely solar has no cons, unless you consider the annoying little fact that the sun needs to be shining for that to work. Even so, solar has some of the same issues as wind – it takes vast tracts of land and that can’t help but disrupt certain wildlife, even if it is in the desert. Not to mention the production of solar panels is very expensive and energy intensive in and of itself. There is certainly potential but you can’t supply the world’s energy needs with solar. Tidal power sounds exciting. One method being tried is the use of underwater turbines which work on the same principle as wind turbines, but they use the energy of the tides instead. This is all well and good except that you might kill a fish. It’s ok to fish the oceans dry so Biff and Muffy can enjoy their sushi, but kill a fish producing power and Green Peace will be strapping themselves to the turbine blades. Another argument against tidal power, ironically, is that the underwater equipment will interfere with the fishing industry. (My head hurts). Hydro would be a perfect complimentary energy source if only it didn’t flood certain areas that weren’t meant to be flooded, change the local ecosystem, and render the down steam portion of the river useless.

Here is a suggestion: Any published opposition to any source of energy should include that person’s proposal for meeting the energy demand. It’s easy to poke holes in an idea if you’re not part of solving the problem. And conservation doesn’t count as an alternative unless the proposal is to use zero energy – in which case that person would be deemed a nut job and we wouldn’t listen to them anyway.

Contrary to the tone of this blog, I’m not diminishing or belittling any of the concerns people have about the consequences of our actions on the environment. In fact, the world is a better place because of these people. Without them, near-sighted power hungry fools would surely run amok with our resources and destroy the earth in no time. I’m only trying to highlight the fact that whatever source of energy you favor, there is a cost.

Fusion anyone?

Selective Perception

Among all of the "expert" opinions condemning Bill Belichick's decision to go for it on 4th on 2 from his own 28 the other night, I am astounded at how partial and selective professional sports analysts are allowed to be with the facts. I think you can make a case that he should have elected to punt but, if you made that case based on a selectively supportive subset of the facts, then I would probably feel the need to blog about you too.

Here's an obvious reality that must be considered (unless you are trying to garner ratings with your besmirching authoritative expertise). I am sure Belichick took into account that an average punt with an average return would have left the Colts somewhere near mid-field. The Patriots would certainly have resumed their deep safety coverage giving the Colts as many 10-15 yard underneath throws as they cared to take. This means that the Colts would have had to use two or three plays and maybe a half a minute off the clock to get to the Patriots 28 anyway. In that regard, the decision was between "getting a first down and winning" or "missing the first down and allowing the Colts to arrive at the 28 with a needless, extra half-minute on the clock". Going for it was a defensible option.

I am especially struck by the commentary of Teddy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison, former Patriot defensive players who respect Belichick but hated this call because, as they said, "it sends a signal to the defense that he has no confidence in them". What? He had so much confidence in the defense that he wasn't worried about giving the Colts the ball with 28 yards to go. I think his decision sent the opposite message. He believed they could either get the 1st down and ice the game or else the defense could keep the Colts out of the end zone.

Either way, it's a good week for the Belichick haters. However, I think that they out-played the undefeated Colts in Indianapolis and then faced national mockery in the aftermath. This looks like it might be one of those "good losses" that always helps the Patriots burn their way through the play-offs.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Deceiving Children

I know that seeing great wonder and the joy of discovery on the face of your child is a delight like few others. I have witnessed and experienced this first hand on many occasions. On some of those occasions, the wonder was manufactured by my own lies about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and most elaborately, the Tooth Fairy.

One of my children lost a tooth tonight and is sleeping with that tooth under her pillow right now. Before going to bed, I will sneak in and replace that tooth with some cold hard cash. It's a fun ritual for everyone involved and it is one of life's small pleasures for which I am thankful.

The only problem is that my children have taken to leaving notes for the Tooth Fairy and, having set a precedent by responding to the first note, I am now locked in to an ever increasing chain of deceitful responses. They have asked many written questions and I have left detailed explanations about where the fairies live, how they got their names, if they know one another, what they do with the teeth, how they get inside the house, etc. These notes get saved and referenced by my kids as they generate more questions based on past answers. When I leave a reply that contradicts an earlier message, they grill the Fairy at the next lost tooth and I am left to spin an ever far reaching explanation to reconcile the expanding web of lies.

I know I should not get hung up over this but I really do not feel good about deceiving my children. Even though it is done for their entertainment and is not likely to cause any damage in any way, it just doesn't feel right to lie to them. I would be happy to play along if they didn't ask me such direct questions and didn't study my face so intently as I answered.

They are remarkably perceptive. This gives me great angst about the prospect of being caught lying to them but great hope that they will understand why I've done it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Baseball Rituals

As we all know, watching sports in real time is a luxury enjoyed by men with no kids; highlights were invented for the rest of us. Nonetheless, I was somehow afforded the opportunity to sit down and watch the final two innings of the 2009 baseball season this evening.

I enjoyed this brief opportunity to watch two very skilled teams compete but I was struck by several prominent rituals I observed. Now, I don't know if I like rituals or dislike rituals but I can tell you that I am keenly aware of them when they unfold before me. This is especially true when it is unclear to me how the ritual began or why it has persisted.

What is it with the spitting? I know about the old tobacco ritual and understand how that was a prominent habit in the game for decades. Somewhere along the line I tried chew and I remember how it compels the need to spit. Today though, the tobacco is largely gone from baseball but the spitting has remained a part of nearly every player's between pitch routine. That strikes me as odd.

I guess gathering at the mound in a team embrace and hopping in unison is a pretty well entrenched ritual for celebrating a world series win. I have to say, it just doesn't seem spontaneous. It looks to me like the players do it because it is expected; perhaps believing that is what they are supposed to do. Perplexing ritual if you ask me.

I really don't get the immediate donning of championship hats and T-shirts as a celebratory ritual. I've played lots of sports and had many victories that were very important to me. I never once felt a natural desire to express my joy with head wear and I remain skeptical that a World Series win would trigger such an emotion. Somehow, the silliness and shallowness of a "Champions" hat does not belong in the same moment as the genuine and well deserved joy that is so clearly evident on the player's faces

Finally, and most importantly, I am shocked by the loser's ritual of sitting stoically in the dugout and watching the winner's tired charade. I know they are disappointed and I guess assuming a listless existence is probably a pretty natural reaction. Still, it shocks me that not once, has any player, manager, or coach from the losing team ever mustered the maturity to step on the field and offer a congratulatory gesture to the victors. When that happens, the man who does it will be an instant hero to me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cool Things with No Purpose - Part V

This cool thing is actually related to me.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Blame Game

Contributed by Auggie
Proud member of the dwindling "never-been-sued" group
We live in a blaming society, pure and simple. I’m not sure how it devolved to this point but negligent behavior is never the fault of the perpetrator, and accidents simply don’t happen. Every undesirable event can ultimately be blamed on a person or organization. This fact is clearly evident in the quantity and content of lawsuits that flood our legal system. There is purported to be a law against frivolous lawsuits, and lawyers could purportedly be disbarred for bringing such suits. But the frivolous lawsuit is a lot like Bigfoot – it’s never really been proven to exist.

I never cease to be amazed by the absurdity of lawsuits I read about. I believe you would be hard pressed to present a hypothetical lawsuit that could be deemed frivolous in the actual world. A hypothetical example I have often used when discussing the topic is this: If I went to the sporting goods store, purchased a baseball bat, and then beat myself to a pulp with the bat, could my family sue Hillerich & Bradsby? After all, the bat has a nice grip and it’s certainly made for hitting things. It’s “foreseeable use” as they like to say in the legal community.

I always thought of my hypothetical example as a sarcastic diatribe against our society’s pervasive and illogical pursuit of legal recourse. So imagine my surprise when I opened the paper this morning and read that someone had indeed sued H&B - and won! Not for the reason I described above, but on the spectrum of absurdity it’s darn close. The case involved the family of a 17 year old boy who was pitching in an American Legion baseball game when he was struck and killed by a batted ball. This is a sad and tragic story beyond words, but does that make the bat manufacturer negligible? Perhaps the family should go after the ball manufacturer as well, and even the organization that built the ball field. And the descendants of Nelson Doubleday could certainly be had. Honestly, I don’t know how any company dares to put any product on the market.

I’ll need to come up with a new hypothetical question to demonstrate how ludicrous I think our legal system is, but I’m no longer sure there are limits. Can I sue my neighbor for emotional distress if they don’t say ‘good morning’? Can I throw my dog out of a moving car and then sue the auto manufacturer for making windows that open? I would no longer be surprised if the answer to both is yes.

If anyone is offended or annoyed by anything I’ve written please remember, it’s not my fault.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I don't now what this says about me but I am sure it says something. I hate bellhops. Where did that word even come from?

I guess I don't really hate bellhops, I just hate being confronted by them. I know they mean well and it is their intention to help me but, for some inexplicable reason, I STRONGLY prefer to carry my own bags to my room.

Ditto for the whole valet parking concept.

Perhaps it is tied into my affinity for low maintenance people; I pride myself on being fairly low maintenance. Maybe all that unrequested help somehow undermines my self-image as an independent person. Like I said, I don't really know what it means, I just know that when I checked into my hotel today I found it annoying that a cheery bellhop snagged my bag from the taxi and whisked it to my room against my will.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Conference Room Comedy

Somewhere, in the conference room of a large corporation, I can imagine a certain ritual. The ritual is probably enacted a couple of times per year when the boss is on vacation. Elements of this ritual could block me from ever becoming President of the United States.

In my imagination, there is a group of workers involved in customer service. They are charged with improving the experience for callers who interact with the company's maddening, computerized phone interface. They survey customers, attend conferences where system improvements are discussed, and generally work to make the system better. They also review actual recordings of callers to gain insight into how effectively the system routes calls to the correct destination. To amuse themselves, they collect the digital audio files of particularly upset callers who lose their patience and go ballistic. They save the most prolific examples of exasperation and string them together in a "best of" collection.

I star in several of these recordings.

I imagine that, when the boss is away, they play these creations over lunch in the conference room and laugh until milk comes out of their noses. Perhaps they have a competition to see who can unearth footage of the most upset caller. It could be that such a competition has lead them to purposely build design-flaws into the system in order to illicit entertaining reactions from callers like me. I wouldn't be surprised.

Since I am usually calm and rational at the beginning of these calls, I offer all sorts of definitively identifying information. This means that if I run for President and these recording air, there will be no denying that it is me making the calls. The voters will know that I can sometimes be transformed into a vituperative lunatic spewing the raunchiest, curse-speckled diatribe imaginable.

I know it's a computer on the other end of the line -- just a bunch of electronic circuits and silicon with no empathy or consciousness. I realize that exploding in violent anger is a complete waste of energy and shows a lack of intelligence and control. It is totally embarrassing but entirely effective in terms of processing my frustration.

On the other hand, I might be completely wrong. Perhaps "the people" can relate. Maybe they would feel close to the chain of command if they knew that the President might be in the oval office at any given moment, tormented with rage, whacking the receiver repeatedly on the desk, and using the loudest voice he can muster to scream at a computer.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Non-News in the News

As is often the case in the for-profit world of media, stories are spawned, nurtured, and then beat to death based on the smallest of important or interesting nuggets of information. Case in point, Rush Limbaugh's recent role as a minor stakeholder in a bid to buy the St. Louis Rams.

I get that the ingredients are interesting. Rush is a blowhard with a following; a legitimate public figure. That's interesting. The NFL is the most popular and most profitable professional sports conglomerate in the country. That's interesting. The potential association of the two, therefore could reasonably command a modicum of media coverage. An actual association, like say if Rush really became an owner, would be bigger news -- perhaps worthy of a small article somewhere in the business section of a national publication and in the sports section of St. Louis publications.

What we have seen over the past few weeks makes no sense to me. He was part, a small part, of a bid, along with five or six other bids, and the story has been central in the national sports conversation for three weeks. He was dropped from the bid a week ago and the story is still going strong.

To be fair, the stories that continue to circulate are about racism and freedom of speech and whatever other social issues a journalist can shoe-horn into a column. I agree that such social issues can be (and should be) worked through in public forums. But all of those issues can be discussed without attaching them to a story where they were not really present.

We're talking about a business deal here. Nothing more. A group of bidders were aggregating capital to buy a team, Rush had some cash so he joined the group and they submitted a bid. The NFL, which can choose owners based on any criteria they wish, made it clear that Rush was not scoring well on their criteria so the bidding group kicked him out. No hurt feelings -- just a day in the business life.

In my opinion, all of the analysis of Rush's past quotes about the NFL and racism should never have been a part of this non-story. In fact, trying to analyze such complex social issues in a contrived setting, just because the protagonists are interesting, is a detriment to constructive discourse.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Icing the Kicker - a Strategy for the Absurd

Some things just don't add up. Let me lay a few things on the table to make my point.

It's a pretty common tactic for an NFL team to call a time-out prior to an important kick attempt by their opponent. They call this "icing the kicker" and the theory is that it gives him too much time to think which, supposedly reduces his ability to perform.

This is fairly consistent with the old adage spewed by "experts" in many sports that you need to learn your position and learn the game so well that you can just react and execute during the game as opposed to thinking. The notion is that, in live time, there is no time to think so reacting (reacting correctly based on your learning) is the only path to success.

The hurry-up offense contradicts this. Rushing to the line of scrimmage and starting a play before the defense can think through its schemes and coverages eliminates their opportunity to become paralyzed by thought. This is the anti-strategy to icing the kicker yet both are used by the same coaches. One way or another, we have stumbled onto something absurd.

Spare me the crap about how a hurry-up offense prevents defensive substitutions and down-specific packages (since the media no longer covers that level of depth, I can't be expected to know about it - don't get Auggie started). Besides, if minimizing defensive substitutions is so important, offenses should run the whole game at warp speed (in fact, I often wonder why they don't).

Let me lay it out for you NFL coaches: Icing the kicker helps your opponent. Giving any professional athlete an extra moment to collect his thoughts, visualize success, and prepare mentally for the play will increase his ability to perform well. I am especially dumbfounded by the recent tactic of icing him after the players have lined up and the snap count is in progression as this scenario brings an off-sides penalty into play (off-sides penalties out number false starts by a three to one margin in the NFL) that might result in a first down for the kicker's team .

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Jerks and Runners

One of my favorite cartoons from The Far Side shows God in his kitchen molding the orb of earth in his hands. He has a thought bubble over his head where he is thinking "Just to make things interesting..." as he sprinkles on some particles from a salt shaker that is labeled "Jerks".

Alas, it seems as though jerks are in fact everywhere. They are not really plentiful, but there seems to be one among nearly every large group you might encounter. Having said that, it has struck me recently that the running community appears to be refreshingly jerk-free.

I meet many runners on the trails, most wave or offer some type of head-nod greeting. I have gathered among thousands of runners at the starts of races, stretching and chatting, and noted nothing but courtesy and warmth. Same thing at the finish line. Sometimes I will sit next to a runner on a plane or at a public event (serious running shoes offer clear identification), and they are always amicable and unpretentious. They work and shop in running stores, they write in running magazines and on running websites, they volunteer at races, and generally permeate society. Yet, over the course of the last five years during which I have counted myself among this group, I cannot recall encountering a single jerk.

Could there be a causal relationship? Does running purge us of the stresses that cause jerk-like behaviors? Are jerks too busy annoying people to get out for a run? Anyone got a theory here?

Maybe...oh no...what you think it's me? Maybe I am the jerk that has been sprinkled into this group? I'll need to give this some thought.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

NFL Expands to Switzerland?

Or is this just more mindless brand dilution?

I was looking forward to the Patriots/Broncos telecast but when I tuned in, I noticed that the Broncos had given their slot to the Swiss Bumble Clowns whose uniforms were inspired by the Swiss guard.

I know the imaginary readership is not grasping this concept but I am telling you, the emotional bonds between fans and teams, already under pressure from fantasy games that diminish the importance of teams, are crumbling and the NFL is apparently either unaware of or unconcerned about this phenomenon.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Cleaning Vomit

Bear with me on this one.

You know there is a whole new class of "gurus" out there these days. They are experts in social media marketing. According to their claims, they know how to help entities build an electronic audience through savvy use of facebook, twitter, linked-in, blogging, search engine optimization, and the like.

A key tactic for engaging imaginary blog readers, according to this erudite group, is to write tantalizing titles. In fact, so they say, you can actually learn a lot about your audience by seeing which titles attract readership. (Note: If you are thinking about clicking away right now to conceal your morbid fascination with vomit, it is too late. I also took the expert advice of setting up some Google analytics on this blog which instantly track my reader's moves. I already know you are here.)

By the way, I did have the opportunity to clean vomit over the weekend and, as usual, I found it unpleasant. I may write a legitimate blog about it so keep an eye out and be sure to read it if it shows up again.

The "Wins and Losses" Farce

One of the key metrics for evaluating a pitcher in baseball is their record of wins and losses. It is essentially an accounting of how many runs opponents scored off the pitcher and his 8 defensive teammates relative to the number of runs the pitcher's 9-man batting order scored during the time when the pitcher was in the game. If it sounds like the pitcher plays only a fractional part (albeit an important fraction) in the final outcome, that is because it is so.

So why do we continue to track and consider this statistic as important? Obviously, good pitchers on poor teams can out-perform bad pitchers on strong teams and have an inferior Win/Loss record. It makes no sense.

Unless you look at it in relative terms.

Relative to the trend of looking at Win/Loss records for NFL quarterbacks, rating pitchers on that measure seems comparatively brilliant. Of course that is only due to the unfathomable absurdity of hanging a win or a loss for a 53-man football team on one player.

It is all over the news today. With last night's win over the Packers, Favre has become the first QB to defeat all 32 active NFL football teams in his career. I guess he did it all by himself. Forget the fact that the Vikings held the Packers to zero points through three trips to the red-zone and had 3 take-aways in the game. Forget the special teams play. Forget football's best running back, Adrian Peterson, who drew a stacked box all night and opened up the passing lanes for a talented core of Vikings receivers. Forget all the coaching, and scheming, and game-planning, and play-calling. Favre did it alone.

How can smart guys, who played the game and then became analysts, spew this crap? I can tolerate it in baseball because sometimes a pitcher throws nine innings of excellence and deserves recognition as the key contributor to a win. But in football, I cannot abide this emerging trend.

Monday, October 5, 2009

NFL and Madden and Branding and Vindication

Just a quick blurb to draw your attention to this story in today's LA Times. It's about John Madden, who has been featured in this blog before, and how he is spending time in retirement.

What is noteworthy is his comment (last full paragraph) about NFL uniforms and how their inconsistency is a detriment to the brand.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Public Education Today

Either I am confused, or I am a hypocrite, or education has really changed since I was a kid. I hope it is only the latter but I am sure a case can be made for all three.

On the one hand, I comment to my wife about once per week about what a good education our kids are getting. The teachers at their school are engaged and committed, the facilities are fantastic, and a hands on approach to discovery has been masterfully intertwined with spontaneous thought and problem solving activities since I last sat in front of a droning "teacher".

On the other hand, I am aghast at the daily inquiries I receive from recently graduated job-seekers who cannot write a grammatically correct cover note. I am even more dumbfounded that an old joke I enjoyed as a youngster, about a man who was really hungry so he asked for his pizza to be cut into more slices, is no longer funny because the teens in the pizza joints today actually think that the "number of slices" is an accurate indicator of pizza size. Don't take my word for it, run to a pizza place right now and ask the pierced fellow behind the counter "how big is the medium" and he will give you a number-of-slices based answer. He will do this in complete earnestness and will fully believe he has provided a useful reply to your question.

I know my angst must be akin to that felt by my elders when many of us began to rely on calculators for basic math. They felt we would lose the ability to perform calculations manually (I suspect they were right to a degree) but it is difficult to discern any lasting detriment that may have caused. I find it much more distressing that we have all lost the ability to write with respectable penmanship and I sometimes wonder why there is not a more vocal outcry about that. At the end of the day, I recognize that different skills may be promoted and/or de-emphasized across generations of students.

So am I confused? Is education getting better, as I presume it is from observing my children's experience? Or is it getting worse as job seekers and pizza joint workers lead me to conclude? If it is one or the other, then I must be some form of accidental hypocrite (if that is possible). Or is education just evolving and emphasizing different skills? If this is the answer, how am I ever going to know how much pizza to order?

NFL Players at High Risk for Dementia

Attention Imaginary Readers: This has a slightly different tone than my usual posts as I pulled it straight from the Brain Today Blog where I breakdown daily news stories about Brain Health.

This headline is not surprising. Such a conclusion is perfectly consistent with our best theories as well as our casual observations. The fact that persons with a history of head trauma have greater risk for dementia is well documented and the connection to the NFL has been highly speculated for some time.

Now, as reported in the NY Times, the NFL has released the results of their own study on the matter. As part of a phone survey conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research last year, 1,063 retired NFL players were asked questions on a variety of health topics. The conclusions were stark, especially for younger aged retirees.

According to the survey, 6.1% of players aged 50 and older had cognitive impairment which is five times higher than the 1.2% rate of prevalence in the general population. More importantly, 1.9% of younger players, aged 30 to 49, had impairment which is nineteen times higher than the .1% rate seen in general.

These figures are even more alarming than many experts would have presumed and will undoubtedly raise new questions about the prudence of suiting up 9-year olds and sending them onto the little league field to bang heads. I love football as much as anyone but it is looking more and more like the costs of the game are greater than the enjoyment it provides.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Socialized Medicine: Truth or Dare

Earlier I wrote about why I thought the US government should take steps to ensure that all citizens have access to medical insurance. I did not suggest that the government should also provide the care; I was merely stating an opinion about one facet of the overall health care system.

The posting stirred lots of commentary and it is obviously a topic of interest and concern to many of us. As I continue to grapple with my own stance on how best to improve the system, I find myself reading opinions from many sources. Some are cogent and fact-based and can help one understand fundamental truths about how we might derive health and economic benefits from a revised approach. Others are drawn from religious devotion to a particular political philosophy and use scare tactics to persuade the audience. These are also informative as they can help one to understand the pragmatic issues around implementation and resistance to anything that threatens the status quo.

Recently I came across this well written piece describing why socialized medicine would be very, very bad for us all. I think it is a mix of the two approaches and I found it to be interesting reading. The writer clearly has his mind made up and makes some giant leaps of logic in his conclusion. That said, I appreciated his description of the macro-problems generally ascribed to socialism and I recognize that a complete nationalization of the health care system would be fraught with potential peril.

Let me know if any of you figure out the solution.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Branding 101

The Red-Sox have worn at least nine different jerseys and three different hats on the field this year.

I have never claimed to be a marketing expert but I have been exposed to the basic principles and understand which ones have been tested and proven. I know, for example, that branding is a successful tactic for building an emotional bond with a consumer.

This is important because it has also been well proven that emotionally involved consumers are more loyal and more likely to exchange their money for your product. So how do you stir emotion and create a bond with your consumers? The answer is pretty complicated (translation: got me...) but I know that it starts with recognition.

Your audience must consistently recognize your product among the myriad of consumer messages that bombard them up to 10,000 times per day (according to reliable sources). In this regard, a consistent look is key.

In the corporate world, the term "logo-cop" is commonly attached to the marketing people charged with protecting the integrity of company trademarks to ensure that whenever they are used, they show exactly the right colors, precisely the right type-face, appropriate white space, agreed tag-lines, acceptable associations, and complete adherence to all of the guidelines in what they call a "graphics standards manual". That's right, they have an entire manual about how to use the company's logos.

So why on earth do MLB and the NFL screw with helmets and logos and uniforms on such a regular basis? If every MLB team is wearing a red cap on a certain day to "honor fallen soldiers", it builds emotional distance with the fans and dilutes the impact of the tribute. It's like a bunch of strangers honoring your relative, not your favorite player paying homage. When all teams wear camouflage uniforms to show support for the military, it may be patriotic but it comes at a cost that the league may underestimate.

The NFL is much worse. It seems like they appreciate branding when you read about fines being levied for uniform violations. Then you watch a game and it's all throw-back uniforms and referees dressed in prison garb. Rather than seeing an intra-conference rivalry that resonates with historical context and pulsates with urgency and significance, I feel like I accidentally tuned into an NFL Europe game that means nothing to me.

I guess the owners are the ones who need to get the message: design a uniform that communicates what you want it to say about your team and stick with it. Always. Forever. Don't blow up the connection with your fans and start over every couple of weeks.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Turn the key, be idle free.

Contributed by Auggie
Now I’m no card-carrying member of Green Peace, and I don’t buy carbon credits to offset my consumption of fossil fuels, but I’m at least somewhat conscious of my actions and how they impact the environment and/or our dependence on foreign oil. That’s more than I can say for some people.

Recently I’ve noticed an annoying behavioral pattern. Whenever I go to the local supermarket (which is quite often since I’m void of the meal-planning-ahead gene), I find at least one car idling in the parking lot. And I’m talking about a 68-70 degree pleasant evening, so I doubt these people are keeping their cars warm/cool for comfort. Sometimes the car is empty and sometimes there’s a person in the passenger seat. I can’t help wondering about the motivation for leaving your car running while shopping (it’s illegal in many places). I would ask one of these people, but I’m afraid they would sense my contempt like a dog senses fear and promptly twack my Adam’s apple with a four-bevel architectural scale.

Surely the reason is not, no . . . it can’t be! Someone please convince me it’s not pure laziness. That would be absolute zero of the laziness scale.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Small Market Baseball Teams

As I have made clear to you imaginary readers, I loved the book Money Ball. Part of my enjoyment of that book came from my appreciation of small market baseball and all that is wrapped up in the twin concepts of winning with fewer resources and competing as a team as opposed to as a cluster of stars with a supporting cast.

By most informed opinions, market size refers to the population of the team's geographic audience or team's cut of income derived by the league from TV revenue. Both of these are reasonable proxies for "how much total revenue can the team generate". Turns out, "small market" is a nebulous term and some of the teams that I thought qualified for inclusion in this group actually play in large markets.

I loved the Money Ball premise of getting value for players to compete in an economically unbalanced league. The Oakland A's were the example in that book and the evidence was compelling that they had found a formula for success. Since reading it, I have kept a keen eye on the success of Oakland, Minnesota, San Diego, and Kansas City, as teams I considered to be "small market" because their star players always seemed to end up in New York, Chicago, LA, or Boston through free agency.

Somehow, I have come to equate "no stars" with "small market" which still seems like a reasonable perspective. That is until you look at the statistics below:

Markets of more than 10 million people

21,199,865 New York Mets, New York Yankees
16,373,645 Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers

Markets of 5-10 million people

9,157,540 Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox
7,608,070 Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals
7,039,362 Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants
6,188,463 Philadelphia Phillies
5,819,100 Boston Red Sox
5,456,428 Detroit Tigers
5,221,801 Texas Rangers

Markets of 3-5 million people

4,682,897 Toronto Blue Jays
4,669,571 Houston Astros
4,112,198 Atlanta Braves
3,878,380 Florida Marlins

3,554,760 Seattle Mariners
3,251,876 Arizona Diamondbacks

Markets of 2-3 million people

2,968,806 Minnesota Twins
2,945,831 Cleveland Indians

2,813,833 San Diego Padres
2,603,607 St Louis Cardinals
2,581,506 Colorado Rockies

2,395,997 Tampa Bay Devil Rays
2,358,695 Pittsburgh Pirates

Markets of 1-2 million people
1,979,202 Cincinnati Reds
1,776,062 Kansas City Royals
1,689,572 Milwaukee Brewers

Oakland plays to a bigger audience than Boston? St Louis, recently glamorized in this blog for their star studded history, is in the bottom few? Beneath Minnesota and San Diego? What gives?

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Brett Report

I know that Favre gets a lot of media attention and that many people find that irritating. That's why this short note is not about "Favre the football player" but about "Brett the person". Okay, I guess that's the same thing but bear with me, at least it's not about football.

One personality trait that is high on my list of endearing charcteristics is the ability to poke fun at oneself. I learned today that Brett has this ability.

I learned it on the radio while driving to work when I heard a Sears advertisement about the TV's they sell. Favre was the shopper and his over-publicized voice was easy to recognize. In the ad dialogue, the sales assistant expresses surprise that Brett makes up his mind so quickly and so definitively about which TV to buy. At first, Favre seems testy that this would be surprising and suggests that he doesn't wish to be seen as a waffler. But here is the closing dialogue:

Favre: I'll take it.
Assistant: Great!
Favre (with great uncertainty): I don't know....

Clearly, he is aware of his image, knows the image is at least partly deserved, and is willing to publicly accept his own role in crafting that image. Good for him.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Courteous Drivers

I am a courteous driver and I appreciate other courteous drivers. Really.

However, I do not appreciate "over-courteous" drivers. These specimens can be difficult to discern from a similar group (and may in fact be the same group) that we know as "drivers with their heads stuck up their anatomy". I don't dislike these people but I dislike their driving and wish they would understand why they are dangerous.

You might see these people yielding to other cars when they in fact have the right of way. That is noble and I encourage it when you are leaving the jammed parking lot of a Thin Lizzy concert*. However, when in the flow of moving traffic, many nearby drivers will be operating under the assumption that traffic rules will be obeyed, those with the right of way will proceed, and those required to yield will do so. When one driver decides to change the rules out of politeness, it is very disruptive to all other drivers who expect traffic rules to be followed. This even includes the recipient of the polite gesture.

Because these courteous drivers interrupt the expected flow of traffic, they in fact drive unpredictably, which is to say "dangerously".

* Thin Lizzy is still drawing the hip crowd, dog.

Sympathy for the Devil?

Contributed by Auggie
My contempt for the sports media has been well documented in these pages, but more recently I’ve lightened my attitude. The key to my attitude adjustment is accepting the fact that the media’s true mission doesn’t necessarily meet my expectations as a consumer. Media outlets today are not about sports reporting - they are about sports commentary, opinion and hyperbole. They serve a market of sports fans that apparently thrives on this type of content. If that’s the business model that works, and the market responds, then so be it. If I don’t like it then I’m the one with the problem. Now that my expectations match reality, I simply filter out the insipid drivel and focus only on content that matters to me while my self-induced stress level plumments. However . . . I still have a set back now and again. The latest example involves Terrell Owens of the Buffalo Bills.

Let me begin by saying this: in my entire sports viewing life, there has never been an athlete I disliked more that T.O. I just can’t stand the guy. But even I have to stick up for him in this case. It seems he’s being ripped by some members of the media for not commenting after the Bill’s disappointing loss to the Patriots Monday night. Let’s see, there were 44 other active Bill’s players for the game that could have commented just as easily. Owens’ performance did not stand out positively or negatively, so why was it so important to get his take on the game? I’ll tell you why: the so-called reporters were hoping to prod him into a controversial comment that they could parlay into a “story” - a story that would spawn follow-up “stories” and faux analysis. In short, they were exhibiting the laziness we’ve come to expect and trying make their jobs easier at the expense of professional pride. Heaven forbid they would write a story about football. If T.O. had thrown one of his teammates under the bus, they would have had the story they craved, but when he doesn’t comment then he’s “not facing the music” and “not being a leader”. The guy can’t win, even when he doesn’t comment, he’s the story.

For fans interested in real football, and reporters interested in writing about football, I would recommend reading Allen Wilson of The Buffalo News. The following article provides some good insights including offensive line play, defensive formations, down field blocking, matchup advantages etc. Actual on-the-field game stuff. Thanks Allen, there is hope after all.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Jordan's Acceptance Speech

Note: This is a shortened version of his full speech which ran about 30 minutes total and had much more emotion at the beginning.

As I have written before (here and here), speeches matter. Especially these days when real life gets digitized and preserved forever online. It will be interesting to see how, if at all, this touches Jordan's legacy.

I heard about this speech before I actually heard the speech. Once I watched and listened, I went searching for more video that matched the descriptions I had heard. I guess I just don't see what many others claim they see.

It seems like every blogger and sports talk host with an ax to grind took the opportunity to paint Jordan as a disgruntled bully with no grace or sense of gratitude. I agree that he used this platform to remind us of the various grudges he carried through his career but, unless you are purposely ignoring the structure of his message, it's obvious that he used those stories as literary props along the path to a bigger message. He was speaking about his sources of motivation and, I thought, paid respectful tributes to those who had challenged him along the way.

Throughout his career he played to win, stayed out of trouble, and served as a daily example of the relationship between hard work and success. Jordan is not the self-deprecating type and it would not have been fitting to see him take the stage and affect the kind of over-the-top humility that so many others invoke just because that is the socially expected approach to accepting an honor.

I thought his speech was honest and genuine and I give him credit for entering the HOF with the same flair and originality that earned him his entrance.

Friday, September 11, 2009

At a Complete Loss of Blog

I am flabbergasted.

My plan was to use this blog as an outlet for when I had some burning comment to make and no one interested in hearing it. Figured I could give the old imaginary readers an earful and move on.

Now I am faced with an unfamiliar circumstance. Something has me riled up but I can't find the words to describe the magnitude of my exasperation. I have the "burning" without the "comment".

Apparently, political partisanship has become so ingrained in certain sectors that some people were actually upset that the elected President of the country addressed school children last week. They said he was planning to "indoctrinate them with presidential thinking". They said this as if it were a bad thing and threatened to keep their children home, out of harm's way.

I wonder who would be an acceptable speaker in these people's minds. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone has a message. Seems like letting your children be exposed to a speaker who was elected President by the nation's citizens would be about as safe as you can get.

I am so astounded by the absurdity of this story that I just don't know what else to say. I am at a complete loss of blog.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Birds of prey

Contributed by Auggie

When the Tampa Bay Rays went to the World Series last season, you could be forgiven if you had to pause and ask yourself “are they in the American League or National League?” Not much of a baseball tradition in Tampa Bay. In fact, the last decade or so has seen several newbie’s rise to prominence. In 1997 the Florida Marlins won the World Series in only its fifth year of existence (Cubs fans everywhere were seen pouring gasoline on their heads). The Arizona Diamondback topped that by taking the prize in 2001 in only its fourth year (sales of nylon rope spiked in the North side of Chicago). Florida won it again in 03, and more recently the Colorado Rockies and Rays have made it to the series before losing. If you root for underdogs, or typically embrace the latest rage, then those were glory years for you. But, if you have an affinity for baseball tradition like I do, then Booorrring! I suppose all traditions need to begin somewhere, but if we could just slow the pace a little that would be great, thanks.

One team with a rich and illustrious tradition is the St. Louis Cardinals, and they are in the thick of the race again this year - as they so often seem to be. For baseball afficionados, the Cardinal’s tradition rivals any other. All-time greats include the likes of Roger Hornsby, Dizzy Dean, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Stan “the Man” Musial, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and Ozzie Smith to name just a few. It's current star Albert Pujols will no doubt rank high among the greats when all is said and done. It's storied history includes classic events that define not only to the Cardinal’s tradition, but embellish baseball’s tradition as America’s pastime as well. Notable events include: winning 43 of their last 51 games in 1942 before beating the Yankees for the Championship; the 1946 seven game WS classic against the Red Sox when Enos Slaughter dashed home from first on a hit to left-centerfield in the bottom of the eighth; Bob Gibson’s dominating performance in the 68 series against the Tigers; and the famous Don Denkinger blown call in the 1985 I-70 series against the Royals of Kansas City.

Witnessing the storied history are fans that are devout, knowledgeable and classy. The mid-western fans appreciate the game, and seem to lack (in relative terms) the odious disposition of their kinfolk in the Northeast corridor (I’m looking at you Philly, NY and Boston).

The Cardinals are currently battling the Dodgers for the National League’s best record. They have legitimate Cy Young candidates in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainright, an MVP candidate in Pujols, and their key mid-season acquisition, Matt Holiday, has not disappointed. Don’t be surprised to see them in the fall classic yet again. The tradition endures

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I like interesting numbers.

Today's date is a great one that comes in bunches of twelves at the beginning of each century. We always get a 01-01-01 and an 02-02-02 and so forth right through 12-12-12 every hundred years. If you are unlucky in the year of your birth, you can live a long life and never enjoy one of these dates.

I am sure many of you have noted that just after 4 am last July 8th the time and date read: 04:05:06:07:08:09. This is another phenomenon that repeats in bunches after long lapses.

Just to erase any doubt about my peculiarity, I always note when the odometer on my car reflects a palindromic total. I observed this morning that the odometer hit 86,100 and I made a mental note that, most probably on Friday, I will see 86168 on my commute. Sometime around Thanksgiving I will get to see 88888. That will be a good day.

When I was younger, I made a note of the date when I turned 10,000 days old and celebrated briefly at a bar after playing squash with colleagues. I was living in Italy and solicited presents at the office (albeit unsuccessfully) in early 1996 when I aged to 1 billion seconds.

I am especially amused, in some inexplicable way, by prime numbers. Something about the way they are distributed unevenly through the counting system makes them mysteriously appealing to me.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Mt. Rushmore

Let's be honest, Mt. Rushmore is cool. It was a great concept executed brilliantly and now it's a unique landmark of splendid grandeur. I went to see it once and it did not disappoint; it was every bit as awe inspiring as I suspected it would be when I first saw photos of it as a kid.

I like to use the Mt. Rushmore ideal in other realms as well. That is, I like to think in terms of "who would be represented on the Mt. Rushmore of ________". For example, who would be on the Mt. Rushmore of medicine? of film directors? of Standford University? of philanthropy? All difficult questions that are fun to consider. Such an exercise is surprisingly hard and makes me wonder how much debate and negotiation went into the design of the mountain.

Here are my thoughts on a couple that are sure to inspire disagreements among the imaginary readership:

Mt. Rushmore of the Boston Red-Sox:
Ted Williams, Cy Young, Babe Ruth, Carl Yastrzemski

Mt. Rushmore of the NFL:
Jim Brown, John Madden, Al Davis, Joe Montana

Mt. Rushmore of the NBA
Wilt Chamberlain, Red Auerbach, Julius Erving, Michael Jordan

Mt. Rushmore of Golf:
Jack Nicholas, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Tiger Woods

Mt. Rushmore of Rock and Roll:
Mick in the 60's, Mick in the 70's, Mick in the 80's, Mick in the 90's

Of course there are no right answers here; I look forward to any thoughts you care to share.