Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Category: Sports

Boxing Promoters

My friend Chris taught me a valuable lesson after the Pacquiao/Cotto fight. When I told him the $54.99 PPV was great for the first six rounds and blah for the last six, he laughed and spewed, “That’s why they’re called boxing promoters.”

That’s all I can think about during all the back-and-forth between Floyd Mayweather and  Pacquiao for their supposedly canceled March 13th fight. As I said in an email with some friends, I’ll believe they’re not fighting when it’s March 13th and they’re not fighting. Even if they do scrap it, it’ll only end up to boost the profile of whenever they eventually do go at it (and they most definitely will) — which would, at least to me, cast doubt on whether there was ever really a March 13th agreement in the first place.

Battle of the Bookmarks

I have some sites I like, and some sites I really like, and those go in the bookmarks of my work computer. Here are two in the “sports blog” section:

The “CF” is for Cleveland Frowns, a blog written by a friend of mine who has been engaging in something of a Socratic dialogue defending Browns coach Eric Mangini for the past two months. I often get into it with Pete (the author) in the comments, mostly to help him refine his argument.

Anyhoo, Pete, an Akron native and resident, has harbored a grudge against Joe Posnanski, one of my favorite sportswriters, for not being “Cleveland” enough (He would probably deny that this is the reason). Joe is based in Kansas City now and grew up in Cleveland, and penned a Sports Illustrated cover story during the NBA Playoffs that really rubbed Pete the wrong way. Then Joe wrote an anti-Mangini column, and Pete really got mad.

Well, today Joe finally acknowledged Pete’s argument and made a full post on it, praising him for his hard work, even if he disagrees. I’m happy he did so. Now Pete can go back to liking Joe Pos, whom he once described as “proper.” I agree.

Football Picks

Every week I submit football picks for a mixed college/NFL poll on Cleveland Frowns. It is, for various reasons, called the Cheddar Bay Reality Football Extravaganza (alternately, Invitational). I make six picks per week, one of which is worth three points, and at least one of which has to be chosen in each league (NCAA/NFL). It occurred to me I could reproduce them here at absolutely zero cost to anybody.

TCU -44.5 vs. New Mexico* (3-point pick)

I don’t read all that much about college football, but I read somewhere this year that New Mexico may be the “worst team in college football.” They’re playing at the number four ranked team in the last week before conference championship games start? I would take any line on this game. To me, 44.5 is a gift.
Saints -1.5 vs. Patriots

I discussed the line with a friend before it came out, and I settled on opening at 3, dropping to 2.5. It opened at 3 but briefly went up, which could be a case of the wiseguys hitting it. It’s now down to 1.5, which means the public is bringing Patriots money. I honestly think the Patriots are going to win the game, but based on the numbers alone, the smart play is the Saints here.

Vikings -11 vs. Bears

Have you noticed the Vikings tend to cover at home? And on the road?

Navy -9.5 at Hawaii

So let me get this straight. Navy travels 5,000 miles and six time zones and they’re still giving 9.5 points? I’m going with the “They’ve gotta be freaking good” angle rather than “Wow, that’s a lot of points” angle.

Notre Dame +10 at Stanford

DO IT FAH CHAAAAHLIE

Flordida St. +25 at Florida

I’m really feeling a 24 point game here.

Baffling (UPDATE)

Of all the baffling things about the Pats’ loss last night, perhaps the least baffling is Bill Belichick’s decision to go for it on 4th and 2 from his own 28 yard line. Seems like a simple calculus: Will it be easier to get 2 yards or stop Peyton Manning? You play to win the game, not delay your opponents from winning it. I was all for the fourth down decision, and I thought it had worked. I was wrong.

Outside of that I’m completely baffled. I have no idea how the Pats lost, outside of Peyton Manning simply being incredible. It was just… I try not to get worked up about games any more. I try not to let them affect my outside life. Today I am a miserable failure. I had to compose myself for 30 minutes before coming to work on the off chance that someone mentioned anything to me about this game. This week is going to be brutal. I know, intellectaully, that the Patriots are going to bounce back, but if they feel anything like I feel I can’t imagine how that’s going to happen. The truth is they feel worse, I’m sure, it being their livelihood and all.

Maybe this corn muffin will bring me joy.

UPDATE: Numbers people Joe Posnanski and Brian Burke who are not as non-war-related shell shocked as I bring you explanations.

UPDATE 2: Nate Silver weighs in on the call, defending it. I only wish all this logic permeated the media I usually consume.

Herman Edwards Defends Joe Girardi

Yankees manager Joe Girardi had an unlikely defender Wednesday: former Jets and Chiefs coach Herman Edwards.

Girardi was second-guessed by several outlets for pitching A.J. Burnett on three days’ rest instead of using fourth starter Chad Gaudin on four weeks’ rest. New York Magazine’s Joe DeLessio writes:

With a 3–1 cushion, though, Gaudin versus Lee isn’t nearly as crazy. By starting Gaudin last night, the Yankees would probably be conceding the game, since you can’t realistically expect much from a guy who hasn’t started in over a month. (Lee wasn’t particularly sharp last night, though, so who knows?) But Girardi would have been making a trade-off: Greatly weaken their chances in Game 5, but strengthen the rotation down the line, especially for Game 6.

In such a scenario, A.J. Burnett could have pitched tomorrow on full rest, and Girardi would even have an option for a potential Game 7: Andy Pettitte on full rest, or Sabathia on short rest. As it stands now, Pettitte — who’s 37, by the way — will likely start on three days’ rest for the first time since doing so with Houston in 2006. Girardi could have weakened the team for just one game; now, he’s weakened them for the final three.

I was sitting next to Herm when I read this on my MacBook Air (I own several of them), and I passed it over so he could see it. He had been smiling, but now his face was scrunching, and he looked at me with that familiar, disgusted look:

Picture 1

“Bryan!” he said. “Didn’t I solve this problem a long time ago? Didn’t I say the one thing that matters in this situation?”

I stammered, trying to make some excuses for DeLessio, but he wasn’t having it.  He continued.

“Give up a World Series game?” he asked, incredulously. “You…” he started. “You play…” he started again, a little unsure. “You play to…” He fumbled for the words. He clearly couldn’t remember them, and was hoping I could help him out.

“Win the game?” I suggested.

“Exactly!” He said. “YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!” Now he was getting aggravated. He looked at me again…

Picture 1

… and continued. “HELLO?” he asked. “YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!”

He was right. The thought that the Yankees should have given up a game in the World Series to “increase” their chances of winning other games is ludicrous. Remember when Bob Brenly pulled Curt Schilling in game four the 2001 World Series so that he could start a game seven, if necessary? The Diamondbacks lost that game—and there was a game seven—only because he pulled Schilling, who gave way to a man named Byung-Hyun Kim. Herm’s lesson is clear and unmistakable: you play to win the game. The real reason the Yankees lost, per Baseball Prospectus‘ Joe Sheehan: “A.J. Burnett didn’t allow six runs in two innings because the Yankees started him on three days’ rest. He allowed six runs in two innings because he’s A.J. Burnett, and he sometimes shows up with nothing, and the Phillies will kill you if you show up with nothing.”

That’s about as concise as you can say it, and I was going to show it to Herm until he tossed my MacBook Air across the room, scattering it into hundreds of little pieces. This is what happens when you take a man away from the game—unresolved tension. He immediately realized what he had done and looked at me, sheepishly, and offered to buy me a new one. “It’s okay,” I said, “I got a million of’em.”

The Series of the Whole World

The World Series is not named after the world. It’s named after the long-defunct New York World newspaper. It’s a good thing that it wasn’t the New York Crab or something similarly ridiculous, because otherwise it would be hard for us to conflate the results of up to seven baseball games with ruling the Earth. But as a good friend of mine reminds me: don’t take points off the board. The World Series it is, and you can make of it what you want.

Already, I’ve seen one of my friends from Chicago say he tuned out baseball a month ago, implying that what we’re doing out here, one local and three express train stops from where I’m typing, is a fancy little East Coast party in which “real America” has no interest. Well, “real America” can bite my b***s. Your teams had a chance to make it, but your teams sucked. Plus, the writer in question roots for the Cubs. Which is its own problem.

This World Series may be East Coast-centric, but it has the chance to be the best since the 2002 series, which pitted NoCal (Giants) vs. SoCal (Angels) in a Bonds-fueled fight to the finish. I didn’t hear anyone complaining about West Coast Bias then, but that’s because almost nobody watched. Anyone skipping this year’s game has the potential to miss a Fall Classic that lives up to that capital C.

To put it simply, both these teams are bad-ass, and feature awesome and compelling baseball players. Even better, both teams deserve to be there. These have been the best teams over the course of the season, and they’ve pulled off the rarest of modern feats by turning April to September skill into October magic. These teams aren’t just happy to be here, nor did they expect to be. They went out there and kicked butt every day to get to this point.

In that sense, this Series has a distinctly retro feel, and not just because these teams are both more than 100 years old. This one harkens back to the days of AL winner vs. NL winner, stacked club vs. stacked club. Furthermore, you’ve got the historically best franchise against the defending champion, which makes for all sorts of compelling, if possibly silly, storylines. If Cliff Lee is nervous enough to be intimidated by the Yankee Stadium atmosphere, he’d probably have quit playing after A ball.

Lee is one of two midseason Philly acquisitions that pushes this series over the top. The other is Pedro Martinez. Lee and Pedro will start games 1 and 2 in Yankee Stadium. I’m a little worried about that second one. Here’s where nostalgia may work against the Phillies. The idea of Pedro pitching a World Series game in the Bronx is cool on the surface—but, like the Limericku, in practice it might be clunky. I see Mark Teixeira batting against Pedro and I can feel the fear in my stomach.

Alas, after that the pitching matchups turn in favor of the Phillies if pretty boy Cole Hamels can put it together. And if you thought this series was East Coast-centric now, wait until game four, which is scheduled to take place four hours after the Giants/Eagles game ends, across the parking lot. If there’s such thing as a New York/Philly rivalry, it is most usually most loudly demonstrated in Giants/Eagles. If you’re turned off by East Coast sports, this isn’t the day for you.

But you know what days will be? Games 5, 6, and possibly 7. At some point, this series is going to become good enough that any baseball fan won’t be able to afford to miss it. This is the real deal, and the type of World Series matchup we’ve waited for for almost a decade—a pairing worthy of the name.

Sports and Life

It’s amazing how life works. One day, you will have a set of circumstances. Then something will change. Things will become “different.” And yet there you are, in the exact same body doing the exact same things you did before. The “difference” is all outside yourself. The only thing that’s limited is the future. But that doesn’t exist.

That’s why I love sports. The progress toward certain ends is insistent, unceasing. Unlike virtually everything in life, you are guaranteed when things will begin and end. You know before the season begins exactly how much time you will have to savor, lament, or despair upon your team’s performance. There are inflexible lines and boundaries that don’t exist in the rest of life, and there are tangible, tactile responses to the things that happen on the field. If you cross that line, the ball will end up there. If you shoot the ball through the hoop, you will get two points. Sports are not a metaphor for how life is, or used to be, or should be—they are a metaphor for what life isn’t.

If you write that report, you will get the promotion. If you kill a man, you will go to jail. These are things that are told to us and we tell ourselves, but they are simply not true. When the actions described fail to produce the results that are described, we call them “unjust.” But justice as a concept is inherently ephemeral. You can’t close your fist around it. Even if that burglar gets locked up, maybe you think the law is fundamentally unfair, or that God forgives him, or he’s your brother. In sports the rules are the rules, without apology. The concepts of the aesthetic of a sport are worthwhile conversation pieces, but the playing fields are the playing fields. The rules are the rules. Flouting these rules is seen as “unfair,” but in a way that leaves no wiggle room for the clear-headed. If a cheat is successful in flouting a rule, you might argue that he has done a disservice to the game, which relies on a single set of rules. You might also argue—in substitution or addition—that you don’t care that he broke the rule because he helped “your” team win. In which case, you’re admitting your biases: it means something to you when your team wins, or loses.

And sports mean something to a lot of people. People scream, jump and and down, riot, cry, break things, and drink to excess when their team wins or it loses. A particularly tough loss can send a whole region into shock, and a win can throw people into ecstasy. The shared experience of sports is powerful.

But the shared experience of sports is the only part that really matters. If the Yankees win this game tonight, it won’t make one bit of difference to me, sitting alone, if the game is off. Nothing will have changed. I’ll have the same body, go to the same job, everything else will be different except for the things I talk about. All the screaming and whining and moaning in my life could have been avoided simply by turning off the TV, and changing the subject when football came up.

Those were never things I wanted to do. Sports got me at a young age, and I was hooked. Later in life, you start to choose your relationships carefully, because you don’t want to pick things that will end. Why? Because after all of it, you’re just going to be the same person doing the same things. In the last few years, I had begun to resent how much I liked sports, and seriously reassessed their place in my life. I wanted to choose to love them. I have. The best part is that if I care about the Red Sox, they’re not going away tomorrow. This isn’t an invective against the things that are gone. It’s just a love letter to things that aren’t.

Blame Bradford Campeau-Laurion

The 2004 title wasn’t enough. The Red Sox humiliated the Yankees in the ALCS, won the World Series, and got the so-called monkey off their back. Still, Yankees fans brought the bravo. Instead of “1918” T-shirts, Bronx-ers parroted lines like, “There was no curse… you just sucked for 86 years” and “26 to 6… who’s counting?” Humbled they weren’t, even if they had become the historical standard for in-series futility. They were the Yankees. The ship would right itself.

In 2005, the status quo reigned. The Yankees and Sox both went out in the first round of the playoffs. The Yankees took their series to the seventh inning of game five; the Sox got swept.

In 2006, the Yankees crept back up to the top. The Red Sox finished third in the American League East, which drew chuckles around these parts. Sure, I was laughing when Kenny Rogers absolutely b*tched the Yankees in the playoffs, but there was a real concern that 2004 was just a fluke. A beautiful, miraculous, oh-my-God it happened fluke, but just a giant speedbump on the Yankees dominance train.

Then came 2007. The Red Sox won the AL East and won the World Series. They could compete with the Yankees on a decade-long basis. Good. But the cycle wasn’t fully complete. The Yankees still made the playoffs. They didn’t get to feel what it was like to sit at home in October, watching an octet of other teams compete for their trophy. They hadn’t seen the bottom.

And then, last year, it happened. In the farewell season to The Stadium, it was hoped that the Yankees would close it with a bang and title number 27. Instead, their playoff chances were done by September 27. Now they were the third place team, the second-class team, the funniest team money could buy. They were finally just another team, and it was glorious.

Unfortunately for all of us, they had sown the seeds of their resurrection. They just didn’t know it. In a September game, they kicked out a fan for attempting to pee during God Bless America. That man’s name is Bradford Campeau-Laurion. Bradford Campeau-Laurion is a Red Sox fan. And Bradford-Campeau Laurion is a bastard. You see, we finally had everything that we wanted. And then he had to go and ask for more.

Campeau-Laurion contended that the Yankees had violated his first amendment rights by preventing his tinkle, and sought to have them apologize and end the policy. Sure, he was completely legally right and was right to challenge the policy, but that’s hardly the point: Campeau-Laurion taunted the beast. “Look,” God said, “What else do you want? You’re not even asking for money. I gave you everything you wanted, and you want more. Remember everything I did for you to get you out of this mess. I think you’re being greedy.”

Campeau-Laurion was taken aback. “I don’t think I’m—”

“SILENCE!” God said. “I’ll be the judge of that.”

While He was judging , the Yankees signed CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Mark Teixeira. A-Rod got called out to the point where he stopped caring about what other people thought of him, and simply cared about hitting a baseball. The Yankees finished a stadium with a 150-foot right field porch, and hit approximately 75 home runs in April.

I’m not saying God is all “Go Yankees!” They’re in the World Series now, and I doubt God has a preference between them and the Phillies. But something changed this year, and I refuse to believe it’s a long-overdue balancing of the scales. No, I believe other forces are at work. Campeau-Laurion won his lawsuit in May, getting his lawyer’s fees paid for and a small, unsolicited payout from the city. The Yankees also agreed to forever allow peeing during God Bless America. Unfortunately, that includes during the World Series, too. Ergo, Brad’s fault.

I hope you’re happy.

Content vs. Promotion

Minor League Baseball teams are masters of promotion. Last night, I was watching an episode of Man vs. Food where Adam Richman traveled to three separate minor league stadiums to sample their gimmicky food items. I saw him eat a bacon cheeseburger with a fried Krispy Kreme donut bun in Sauget, Illinois and a five-pound, five-cheeseburger Super Burger in Grand Rapids, Michigan, before I changed the channel. You’d never see these food items at a major league ballpark, not leastwise because healthy-eating groups would have a field day (One can only imagine Mayor Bloomberg’s reaction if the Yankees started selling a five-pound burger. He’d outlaw all stadium food, and spend $20 million to do it.) You see it in minor league stadiums because minor league baseball needs to give fans every reason possible to come to the park to watch something that is an inferior product.

Those who argue that promotion is more important than content on the Internet could learn something here. Superior products sell themselves. Major League Baseball has an advertising budget, to be sure, and has blistered the airwaves with their “Beyond Baseball” commercials this fall. But they do it because they’re competing against other forms of entertainment for dollars—not other forms of baseball. Geographic factors aside, Major League Baseball does not need to worry about Minor League Baseball stealing its market share. It’s just not happening.

But wait, promotion junkies might say: what if Minor League Baseball had Major League Baseball’s advertising budget? Then the playing field would be even, except it wouldn’t: MLB would still have the product.  MLB has long been accused of not selling the game well enough in the “hip-hop era” (I can’t believe I just used that term), yet attendance is up and while food at the ballgames is a draw, it’s not the draw. There are easier ways to get Shake Shack than to go to Citi Field. There aren’t really easier ways to get five-pound burgers than to go to a West Michigan Whitecaps game.

It’s the same on the Internet. As my friend Dustin, a comic strip artist, wrote in response to my previous post, here’s the phenomenon of Digg, in a nutshell:

Let’s say you get on the front page of Digg. I’ve done it a few times. You get 3,000 Diggs, it translates into 100,000 hits in one day. You’re like WOW, fuck yeah, this is awesome! The next day you get maybe 15,000 hits. The next day 3,000. Then it gets smaller and smaller and next week you are back where you started. That’s the thing with social media. It doesn’t build your fanbase unless youre constantly generating content that does well. It just gives you spikes in traffic.

Those Diggs are like the Krispy Kreme burger. They’ll get people to come to your MiLB game despite its obvious inferiority, but eventually the popularity will wane. (A result of a Lipitor scarcity, perhaps). That’s why MiLB are constantly running ridiculous promotions, like one in Pennsyvlania where 800 kids stood on the field as a helicopter dropped 100 pounds of marshmallows and 100 pounds of candy toward them. Or the one from 2008 where the Quad Cities River Bandits of Davenport, IA (hey, I’ve been there!) offered free season tickets to anyone who got a team tattoo. For Minor League Baseball, promotion is a full-time job because the product is inferior. The promotion is the product. If you’re starting a blog and have an inferior product, yes, you should focus on promotion. But the better solution would be to spend most of that time creating better posts.

UPDATE: The minor league hijinks are not, it seems limited to baseball.

The Myth of NFL Parity

American sports are supposed to be about balance. That’s the thinking, anyway. If every team doesn’t have a chance to win it all every five years or so, there must be something wrong with the system. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and a championship are things we believe to be human rights.

It’s galling, then, when your team is out of it from day one. Ask any Kansas City Royals or Pittsburgh Pirates fan how it feels, and they’ll tell you it’s downright un-American. They don’t have a snowball’s chance in August at beating the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, or Mets who toss around money without looking at the numbers on the bills.

To be fair, this works for baseball’s owners—the only people that the sport is set up to serve. Perhaps that’s why, despite record attendance and viewership, baseball can’t compete with football’s popularity. Or maybe it’s the nature of football that makes it so appealing: fast-paced and, with its once-per-week, short-season setup, well-suited to the short attention spans of the HD era. Finally, it could be the old saw that the NFL is the exemplar of “parity”—that American ideal that your team will, at some point soon, get a chance to win it all. What could be more compelling?

The problem is that the last part isn’t true: there’s no more parity in football than there is in baseball. And the problem might be even worse.

The difference is that while baseball fights over money, football teams stock up on brains. Managerially-speaking, baseball is an easy thing to master: get the best players, make sure they get along, and go. Football’s the opposite. There’s so much to know that’s exclusive to the sport that there are precious few people who have it down cold. There are rules on top of rules on top of rules for everything from the draft to the those the penalty mask penalty, and they change every year. Mastering it is a mix of game theory, attention to detail, and brute force. It’s like knowing the code for Deep Blue, or reading a map of Queens. It’s incredibly hard to do.

For all the talk of NFL parity,there have been more World Series winning teams (8) this decade than there have been Super Bowl winners (6). This year, while some new teams (like  the Vikings and Jets) have joined the traditional powerhouses (Colts, Patriots, and Steelers) amongst the league’s elite, there is a slew of teams that will be luck to win four games. The Chiefs, Browns, Raiders, Rams, Pathers and Lions are symbols of the futility of hope. What are they playing for? Not much. At least baseball’s fickle enough to give teams a glimmer of hope for a couple months. In football when it’s gone, it’s gone.

What’s the cause of this? The strength of organizations. The Steelers, Colts and Patriots understand how the game is run: they supplement star players with replaceable ones, and employ a buy-low, sell-high philosophy. It sounds easy, but it’s not, and it takes supreme know-how to pull it off at every level of your organization: CEO, GM, coaches, players. Everything is constantly in motion, and having everyone keep pace is what makes the great teams great. It’s anything but a numbers game.

That’s what makes it harder than baseball, and why football won’t even out anytime soon. In baseball, a good numbers man (or woman) can still exploit the gaps and give the little team a fighting chance. In football, it’s one giant gap to be exploited, and the people who do it at a championship-caliber level are far fewer in number than their baseball counterparts. Football’s not considered a thinking man’s game, but if you look beyond the line of scrimmage, it’s exactly that. It’s like 53-person chess. If you’re good, you’re good, and if you’re not, you’ve got a better chance hoping for a miracle at a Mets game.