Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Fate of the 2015 Red Sox to be decided in the next 4 weeks

In 4 weeks we'll know if the 2015 Red Sox season will be something to be ashamed of, or proud of. Will the 2015 Sox be an embarrassing failure or an inspiring success? Will they be potential buyers at the July 31st trade deadline, or sellers?

The Sox beat the Blue Jays 4-3 Tuesday night, ending June with a 3-game win streak and a 14-14 record for the month. It was only the third 3-game win streak of the season. They have yet to push any of those to 4 games. It's said that momentum is only as good as next day's starting pitcher. Unfortunately Wednesday's starter for the Sox is 4-8 Rick Porcello. So my hopes aren't too high that the Sox will extend their streak to 4.

Now is the time to get busy winning or get busy losing. It's July. The trade deadline looms at the end of the month. If the Sox can't win their way back into the hunt, they will be compelled to be sellers at the deadline. If out of contention at the end of the month, they can't afford to pass up the opportunity to rid themselves of dead weight and/or acquire promising talent for the near future.

A 6 game deficit in the division and for the wild cards doesn't seem like much. However, 4 teams stand in the Sox' way in the AL East, and 9 for the wild card spots. Some of those teams are bound to get hot, so closing the gap against them will not be easy.

The Sox play 16 of their next 18 against good teams. Ground must be gained during this stretch. They don't have to gain 3 or 4 games a week, but over the next 4 weeks they must steadily close the gap between them and a playoff spot. Treading water isn't good enough. It's time to swim.

The Sox can't afford more 3 game losing streaks (they had 5 of those in May). No more settling for split series, or taking 2 of 3 from one team then losing 2 of 3 to another. Playing .500 baseball won't be enough to bring the Sox closer to a playoff spot.

Porcello will likely make 5 starts in July. It's time for him to do his job, or at the very least stop sucking so terribly at it. Clay Buchholz needs to stay healthy and sharp. If the Sox get themselves in the race, he needs to handle the pressure of pitching in meaningful games again. And Eddie Rodriguez needs to stop tipping his pitches. Watching him on the mound is like watching an instructional video on poker tells.

Photo Credit: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Dear South, the Confederate flag is a symbol of losing to the North (for a horrible cause)

The Confederate flag is already being removed from state property in some Southern states. This open letter to the South addresses people who view the flag as a symbol of their heritage, and why they should reconsider doing so.

An aside to Northerners who display this flag (just go to CountryFest at Gillette Stadium in August to see what I mean), you really don't have any excuse or reason to brandish a Confederate flag. A Southerner can claim this flag as heritage (as misguided as that is), you can't. Stop using it.

Dear South,
You lost the Civil War, South. To be fair you never had much of a chance. The North had more people, more industry, a navy, an economy that wasn't based on exporting cotton. In college football terms, North vs. South was Ohio State vs. Arkansas-Little Rock. As Shelby Foote (Civil War historian and Southerner) said "The North fought that war with one hand behind its back." You were fighting against a much stronger force and you lost.

There's no shame in that, but there's not much to be proud of either. The South being proud of the Confederate States losing the Civil War to the Union is like Tulane celebrating a loss to Auburn. A loss from 150 years ago. Who cares? I mean, who would want to raise flags or banners that are reminders of their defeat?


And this was not a close loss, either. At halftime the South was still in the Civil War, maybe even leading it. But after Gettysburg and Vicksburg in 1863, the North pulled out a commanding lead. Atlanta was burned, Richmond was leveled, Sherman shredded South Carolina, the Southern economy collapsed, food grew scarce. The South was so desperate at the end that they armed black slaves to fight, alongside old men and young boys.

The South led the Civil War 17-14 at halftime, but the North wound up winning 77-20. It was a blowout. Not something to be proud of.

Southern soldiers fought valiantly. Southern generals like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were strategic geniuses. But they fought for a stupid cause inspired by a horrible institution. The idea of individual states having the right to ignore the Federal government is moronic. Leaving the country over that issue is something an immature child would say to his father. "I don't have to follow the family rules because I'm leaving the family."

The inspiration behind this stupidity was even worse: the preservation of slavery. The South was afraid that Lincoln and his fellow Republicans, backed by the growing size and power of the North, were a threat to the Southern economy and culture, both of which were based on slaves.

The South had 80+ years from the Declaration of Independence to the 1860s to figure out how to modernize and move on from slavery. The Industrial Revolution happened, but instead of building factories the South grew more dependent on slaves to pick cotton, which was sent to textile mills in the North and in Britain. So as the North moved into the modern era, the South moved further away from it, into a feudalistic aristocracy dominated by wealthy landowners.


The South chose to justify slavery as something morally right, instead of trying to grow out of it. Slave owners convinced themselves that they were taking care of inferior subhumans, conveniently in exchange for back-breaking labor that made the slave owners monstrously rich.

And when the North threatened to be the South's moral conscience, the South got scared. They decided to leave the country. The South seceded because they were worried the North would politically force them to do the right thing.

Then the South started a war against the North. Because the South wanted to protect its right to own other human beings.

The Confederate flag doesn't represent the valor or bravery or honor of the men who fought for the South. Just like the Nazi flag doesn't represent the bravery of German soldiers in World War II. I'm not comparing the Confederates to the Nazis. One was a group of people who felt that they were racially superior to another group, and they could do whatever they wanted to that inferior group regardless of how any outsiders felt about it. The others were Nazis.

I've seen the slogan "heritage, not hate" to describe the Confederate flag. I've heard the flag being defended as a symbol of the South and of Southern culture. But is it a symbol of the whole South, or just the white South? The flag doesn't seem to have been accepted by most black Southerners as a symbol of "heritage" or of their region. How it can symbolize heritage and culture if a large portion of the population don't identify with it, and many despise it?

By definition, the flag is a symbol of divisiveness. It was a symbol of states that tried to divide themselves from the rest of the country. Furthermore, the flag's resurgence in popularity coincides with Southern resistance to the Civil Rights movement. The flag became a symbol of the white South's resistance to integration and voting rights.

That's George "Segregation Forever" Wallace, not William Wallace

Ultimately, the Confederate flag represents a war the South started and lost. Badly. It represents a cause that was foolish. It represents the fight to preserve a horrible and evil institution. Why is any of that anything to be proud of?

I love southerners. They're polite, they're passionate, they're patriotic, they're fun. Overall, Southerners should be proud of their heritage and history: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, the Kentucky Derby, the Masters, country music in Nashville, jazz in New Orleans, rap in Atlanta, Elvis, barbecue, Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Bank of America, FedEx, Whole Foods, moonshine, NASCAR, NASA, CNN, SEC football, ACC basketball, Mark Twain, Martin Luther King, Jackie Robinson, Hunter S. Thompson, William Faulkner, Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman...

So, South, you can focus on these great aspects of Southern heritage and history. Or you could continue to honor a flag that symbolizes utter defeat in fighting for a dishonorable cause.

Sincerely,
Your Northern Friend

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rainier Ehrardt

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tom Brady's DeflateGate appeal should be televised by the NFL


Tom Brady vs. Ted Wells. Face to face. The Rings vs. The Report.

Tom Brady's appeal of his 4 game suspension will be heard Tuesday morning. And how much would you be willing to pay to watch it? Would you rather watch this hearing or a crappy Thursday Night Football game? Think of the ratings potential for this 4 hour DeflateGate hearing.

Why the hell isn't the NFL broadcasting this?

I'm not joking. Not completely, at least. The NFL should put this on TV. Put it on a tape delay so the League can prevent sensitive information from being aired (and also so that info can be leaked to reporters from Indianapolis). Have a halftime show with analysts from football, law, labor relations, and science to break down the hearing. Then on Tuesday night, broadcast a condensed 60 minute version of the hearing. The ratings will be through the roof.

Look at what's on the NFL Network Tuesday morning: a show about LaDainian Tomlinson, something about Dwayne Bowe as a rookie, an episode of Hard Knocks from 2010, and a countdown of the best Brady vs. Manning games.

Brady vs. Wells would get better ratings than any of that. Everyone in New England would be glued to their TVs, along many more people across the country. You could stream it online so people could watch at work.

This could be to the NFL Network what the OJ Simpson trial was to Court TV. Players appealing the arbitrary disciplinary decisions handed down by the NFL could become regular programming. And with Goodell's office in charge of discipline, there would be no shortage of material. There could even be highlights of historic appeals, packaged like NFL Films, with slow motion replays and invigorating classical music playing while a deep voice narrates the action.

Vegas could take bets on the results of appeals (if they haven't done so already):

Brady's suspension to remain at 4 games: 5 to 1
Brady's suspension reduced to 3 games: 3 to 1
Reduced to 2 games: EVEN
Reduced to 1 game: 5 to 2
Reduced to 0 games with a fine: 6 to 1
Reduced to 0 games, no fine: 10 to 1
Reduced to 0 games, no fine, Goodell resigns: 20 to 1

There could even be Fantasy Appeals Hearings, with lawyers, players, investigators, and arbitrators earning fantasy points. Think of what gambling and fantasy sports have already done for the ratings of NFL games. Add those elements to appeals hearings and you'll have high demand TV content 365 days a year.

This could be the biggest TV product created by the NFL since RedZone.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Pablo "Panda" Sandoval thinking with his bamboo stick during game

If Pablo Sandoval and this Atlanta Instagram girl hook up, and it's the 200th girl he's banged on the road, will he keep the condom wrapper or some other memento, and put it next to his 200th double ball?

When the Red Sox acquired Pablo Sandoval, I didn't love the move, didn't hate it. His regular season numbers weren't impressive (hadn't hit 20 HRs, had a .350+ OBP, or a .450+ SLG since 2011) so the Red Sox PR machine focused on his post-season stats. He was slow and his fielding was shaky, so the Sox focused on his "panda" nickname and jolly attitude. The Sox acted like they'd signed a great player, and they paid him like a great player, when in fact he was just a good player.

And now it seems as though he was looking through his Instagram during Wednesday's loss to the Braves, and liking some provocative pictures posted by a young woman in the Atlanta area. At least that's what Barstool Sports discovered.

I could understand if a girl had messaged him on social media and he responded. Why should he wait until after he and his teammates lose again in order to arrange some post-game plans? But this is him opening an app, finding the pictures, and liking them. These are the actions of a disinterested man. These are the actions of someone LOOKING for something to distract him.

It's a reflection of Pablo Sandoval being disinterested in the team, but it's also evidence that the team itself is something not worth interest. They're out of contention before summer officially starts. They lost after being up 8-1. The manager has no idea how to manage a pitching staff, and coddles his starters even after they throw temper tantrums in public.

I can understand Pablo Sandoval's disinterest, but I still don't like it. When I'm at work, even if I'm bored, I don't go through my phone looking for something to distract me unless I'm on my break, or on the john. If someone messages me, I'll answer. But when I'm working, I'm working.

I never liked Pablo Sandoval, but now I officially dislike him. Checking Instagram is just the visible tip of a much larger ice berg of his actively seeking distractions. I also didn't like how he demanded the ball for his 200th double the other night. Who the hell cares about 200 doubles? Sandoval isn't even in the top 1,000 all-time in doubles.

Sandoval is in danger of becoming the face of the unlikable 2015 Red Sox. He's already a disappointment as a hitter. He's already overpaid. He already sucks in the field. He cares more about 200 doubles than his team losing. And he'd rather look for pictures of local girls on Instagram than watch his teammates play.

Overrated, overpaid, under-performing, selfish, carefree, undisciplined. Sounds like the 2015 Red Sox to me.

Friday, June 12, 2015

LeBron James is trying to get hurt, media wants to see him get hurt

The story of LeBron James, a.k.a. King James the Great, was already written and published long before he set foot on an NBA court. Years before he was old enough to enter a casino and gamble recklessly with Michael Jordan, LeBron's legacy was already being compared to MJ's. It was foolish and unfair to compare someone who had barely played the game to the greatest who ever played. It's like seeing Johnny Depp act in a high school play, then comparing his acting ability to all of Marlon Brando's work.

LeBron's legacy and legend have always preceded him. He was a great player before he ever played. He was a winner before he won. He was one of the greatest of all time before he had played enough time to do anything. The story of LeBron James's career has always been told before the facts had a chance to catch up.

And now to enhance that legacy and justify their LeBron worship, ESPN and the rest of the sports media want to see LeBron suffer some sort of injury, then play through the pain, and carry his team to victory. They want LeBron to have his Willis Reed moment, they want to see LeBron have the equivalent of Michael Jordan's flu/hangover game against the Jazz. And so since it would bolster LeBron's legacy, each minor malady that afflicts him becomes the focus of attention. Because it's an opportunity for reality to fulfill the prophesy of LeBron's legend.

And LeBron is no passive victim of expectations in all this. We shouldn't blame him for being overrated, but we can blame him for overrating himself. LeBron also wants to enhance his legacy with a memorable injury-game. Which is why he turns every pain into a show. Every bruise causes an awkward limp. Every fall elicits a scream and the cradling of possibly injured limbs. Every cramp requires a grimace between plays. And each corpuscle of blood shed becomes a gusher.

And he wants to get hurt. He dove into the photographers on purpose Thursday night. He launched himself into them. Why? So he could get up gingerly. Or stay on the floor in a fetal position, yelling and screaming in agony.

The reaction of the media was so dramatic after he was cut Thursday night, I'm surprised that the Cavaliers didn't initiate an emergency blood drive in the arena, and give LeBron rapid transfusions during TV timeouts.

LeBron got hurt, which is exactly what he wanted. It's what the media wanted too. They got a raging LeBroner as the man lived up to the legend. As CBS Sport's Ananth Pandian marveled "That LeBron James is one tough guy."

I don't know who was happier about LeBron getting hurt, himself or the sports media who want facts to justify the legend they built around him.

Photo Credit: Ken Blaze, USA Today Sports

Monday, June 08, 2015

Broken bat incident at Fenway should trigger investigation into ballpark safety

When Brett Lawrie's shattered maple bat flew into the second row at Fenway Park Friday night, it nearly took the life of Tonya Carpenter, a 44-year old resident of Paxton, MA, who attended the game with her 8-year old son.

In the aftermath of the near tragedy, questions arose about increasing protective netting to shield fans sitting closest to the field. There were also questions about the types of wood Major League players' bats are made of.

Lawrie's bat was maple. For most of the 20th century hitters preferred ash bats. Then in 2001 a maple bat in the hands of Barry Bonds was smashing baseballs and records. Since then, more and more players have opted for maple.

Maple bats may be better for hitting homeruns, but they're also more likely to shatter. When the insides of ash bats crack, hitters can feel it and see the wood starting to flake, so they can discard the bat before a pitched ball smashes it to pieces. Cracks in maple bats are more difficult to discover. Hitters don't realize that they're swinging a bat that has already cracked inside. Then ball hits bat, and bat explodes.

In short, ash bats crack, maple bats shatter. Broken ash bats get tossed aside whereas maple bats spray shrapnel around the field, and sometimes into the stands.

I'm not going to jump to a conclusion and blame the bat just because of some anecdotal evidence I've read. However, it is up to Major League Baseball to look into this with intense scrutiny, and if they find that a certain type of wood is a problem, take swift and decisive action. MLB investigated bats breaking in 2008, and took some measures to reduce broken bats. However, maple bats are still commonly used by hitters. And shattered bats are not uncommon occurrences.

The onus is on Major League Baseball to investigate this incident and all the questions it has raised, from bats to nets. And if maple bats are proven more likely to shatter, they should be banned. Period. No discussion, no debate, no typical "that's just baseball" reluctance to change. Brett Lawrie has already concluded his maple bat isn't a problem:

"I really don’t feel like it's necessary to change bats or anything like that. It's just one of those things that's part of baseball and unfortunately, everything is so close behind there and there's limited netting."

Major League Baseball needs to be more scientific and thorough than Lawrie was. If the NFL can spend $5 million to investigate the air pressure of footballs, MLB can spend some time and money to figure out if the game is as safe for fans and players as it can be.

Frankly, scrutinizing fan and player safety should always be a priority. It shouldn't take something like this to be an impetus to make the ballpark as safe as it can be to watch or play a game.

Thankfully the response of Fenway Park's medical personnel was rapid and pro-active. Thankfully ambulances at Fenway are stationed near canvas alley, which makes it easy to transport patients from the field. Thankfully those ambulances have quick access to the street (as we saw in the climactic shootout scenes of The Town). Thankfully Fenway is close to hospitals which have some of the best doctors in the world (Beth Israel Deaconess is less than a mile away). Thankfully Tonya Carpenter now has a good chance to recover.

Photo Credit: Charles Krupa/AP Photo

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Jon Lester was 4-1 in May, but is too old to have helped the Red Sox

The Red Sox were 10-19 in May. Former Sox Ace Jon Lester (yes, he was an Ace) was 4-1. All 6 of his starts in May were quality starts. He had a 1.76 ERA in the month. His loss saw him strike out 10 and allow only 1 earned run in 7 innings.

Red Sox pitchers made 29 starts in May. About half (15) of them were quality starts. Sox pitchers had a 4.21 ERA in the month, 23rd in baseball. They were 24th in opposing OPS and 26th in WHIP.

You might then think that Jon Lester could have been a big help to the Sox the last few weeks. But you're wrong. You must remember that he's 31, which is old. And his being so old trumps anything he might have been able to do on the mound for the Sox.

All of the current Sox starters are 30 or under. When assembling their rotation the Red Sox very correctly preferred to focus on age instead of performance. They chose guys like 26 year old Rick Porcello over 31 year old Jon Lester. Porcello was 2-2 in May with a 5.40 ERA. And Porcello will be making $20+ million next year, because he is 26. And 26 is younger than 31. Lester is practically a senior citizen compared to him. A

So even though Jon Lester had a terrific month of May and Rick Porcello's month was poor, what matters most is that Lester is a few dozen months older than Porcello.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Patriots now more likely to win another Super Bowl after Goodell provided them with adversity

There's a factory in Foxborough, Mass. that takes the raw material of adversity and somehow turns it into wins. A few months ago the workers there turned an overblown story about under-inflated footballs into a shiny silver trophy. Several years ago they turned an uproar over videotaping signals which were visible to tens of thousands of people, into a nearly perfect season. The year after that, they went 11-5 despite losing their All-Pro quarterback. And a few years before that, a team that lost 31-0 to the Bills went on to win 21 games and 2 Super Bowls in a row.

The team most likely to succeed in adverse situations is the New England Patriots. They've gone through more -gates than a flight attendant. They survived the Aaron Hernandez arrest. They endured the hype around Tim Tebow.

Tom Brady will miss up to the first 4 games of the regular season. Those are against the Steelers, Jaguars, Bills, and Cowboys. Two good teams, another that always plays the Patriots tough, and the Jaguars. Fortunately, only one game is against a divisional opponent, and only one game is against another contending AFC team. Unless Goodell suspends Brady for appealing his suspension (he already suspended him for not submitting his cell phone, so don't dismiss it), Brady should return to play the Colts on an extra-dramatic Sunday Night Football, then the Jets and Dolphins.

Obviously without Tom Brady those first 4 games will be tough. This team might find itself 1-3 or even 0-4 to start the season.

Then again, it's plausible (or shall I say "more probable than not") that the Patriots can manage to go 2-2 in those games. Going 3-1 is within the realm of possibilities. And although it's unlikely, a 4-0 start isn't out of the question.

So the Patriots could start the season 2-2, and then get even better by adding Tom Brady to their active roster. This team started the 2014 season 2-2. We all remember "We're on to Cincinnati." The Pats then won 13 of the next 15 games, and the Super Bowl.

So as far as the impact of this suspension goes, I don't think it's incredibly severe. And considering how the Patriots rally when they perceive the world to be against them, I think they are now more likely to win the Super Bowl then they had been before Goodell threw the book at Brady.

And if the Patriots do win the Super Bowl in a few months... I don't think I'll ever stop laughing.

Photo Credit:
USA Today/Sports Illustrated