Friday, April 9, 2010

Braves Caught in Unfair Schedule

Before we get to today's blog, a few notes about the competitive imbalance whining that people love to moan about in baseball and some observations from baseball's first few days. Three games into the 2010 season and 29 of the 30 teams already have at least one loss. Which means, for those of you scoring at home, 29 of the 30 teams also have at least one victory. And the lone remaining undefeated team is not the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox or Philadelphia Phillies or any of the usual suspects. And the lone remaining winless team is not the Washington Nationals or New York Mets or Kansas City Royals. It is a team that should be a pretty good team this year, that has a payroll north of $80 million.

Other early notes-

The Red Sox better find some consistent offense and soon, otherwise, not only will the Rays blow by them, but the Sox will find themselves in a battle for 3rd place with Baltimore.

The White Sox have really good pitching.......and no offense. Maybe it's just a Sox thing.

Jon Rauch seems to be sliding into that closer's role in Minnesota without a hitch - 2 for 2 in saves, on the road, in Anaheim. Joe who?

The Phillies are good. Really, really good. But.....

I still think the Cardinals are better.

The Dodgers look very disjointed out of the gate. Most people knew they would struggle stopping other teams from scoring, but if they can't get consistent offense, it could be a very long season in Southern California.

Personally, I am over the moon that the last remaining unbeaten team is San Francisco. And the fact that they did it not only with outstanding pitching....but that they also found what appears to be a pulse on offense. I don't know if it will last (Renteria is allegedly 34 years old, Molina looks like he weighs 300 lbs and I still don't trust Aubrey Huff), but if they keep scoring 4 or more runs a game, they are going to be very tough to beat.

The Atlanta Braves finished their game with the Chicago Cubs a little after 10pm last night. If they showered, dressed and hustled to the airport for their charter flight, after passing TSA inspection, maybe, and I mean maybe, they took off by 11:30 pm. The flight from Atlanta to San Francisco is approximately 5 1/2 hours. That's 5am eastern time / 2am pacific time. By the time they get their bags and get to the hotel, it would have been after 6am eastern time / 3am pacific time. They play the Giants today, in the Giants home opener at 4:35 eastern time / 1:35 pacific time. This means the Braves would have to be at the field by 10:30 am pacific time. Even as the world's biggest Giants fan, I see a major problem with this. The Giants got to rest comfortably yesterday, after finishing their series in Houston on Wednesday, and having yesterday off to rest.

I am not 100% sure, nor am I going to sift through the MLB Constitution, but I am pretty sure there is a rule against exactly what the Braves are being asked to do. It is my understanding that barring playing a make up game of some sort, a team can not play a night game in one city and then turn around and play a day game in another city. Let alone 3,000 miles away. It is my belief that if the Giants were adamant that they wanted their home opener to be a day game, that MLB should have had the Braves and Cubs play a day game in Atlanta yesterday so that the Braves could have gotten on an early flight to San Francisco. Otherwise, they should have scheduled the Giants home opener as a night game to give the Braves players a chance to rest today. In either case, the Braves are being asked to do something that is unfair and I'm pretty sure against MLB regulations. I am assuming the Braves and/or the MLBPA would have to have approved something like this. And if so, kudos to the Braves for agreeing to this. But it's still not really fair to the players.

Oh, and as long as we are discussing this weekend's Braves-Giants series, be sure to tune in Sunday for what promises to be a really fun showdown. The Giants will send their ace, Tim Lincecum to the hill (he of back to back Cy Young awards, all 5'9", 150 lbs soaking wet of him) to face the Braves' newest phenom hitter, Jason Heyward (the man who went deep on his first MLB at bat, and 6'7" 270 lbs). That will be a fun battle to watch.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

NBA & NCAA make dollars....but no sense.

Ohio St guard Evan Turner and Kentucky guard John Wall both announced they will be forgoing the remainder of their college careers to enter this summer's NBA Draft. Both Turner and Wall project to be top-5 picks - possibly even going 1-2 in the draft. There is no doubt that both of these players have massive NBA potential, and should make their new teams better. All this, and yet I see no problem with Turner going pro....and a huge problem with Wall's ability to go pro. I have nothing against John Wall. I've never met him. He seems like a good enough kid, and he should make a very good NBA player. As a matter of fact, he should be fighting for NBA Rookie of the Year right now.

After the 2004 NBA Draft, the NBA decided to force high school basketball players to attend college for at least 1 year before being allowed to turn pro. The logic that David Stern used was that the 18-year old kids were not ready for the rigors of the NBA lifestyle and it gave them another year to mature. So, in one year - of not attending classes (because exactly what incentive do they have to attend classes if they are going to be bolting after one year?), not really being a college student, other than wearing the school name on their jersey twice a week, they are supposed to magically be more mature a year later? Really?

Let's say I graduate high school and I know that the profession I will be going into doesn't require college. Sure, going to college and getting a degree would hone my skills, but it is not I now forced to at least "experience the college lifestyle" for a year before going into that profession? Um, no. College is not for everyone. Athletes are in a unique position to get to use their skills to get a college degree. If they so choose. By telling them they have to attend college for one year, they are experiencing nothing. They are not true student-athletes. They are merely athletes who may or may not be getting paid by the university in order to get the University more money - from boosters, TV deals and going far in the NCAA tournament so that the coach can then go out and recruit the next batch of 17 & 18-year olds who plan on spending exactly one year at the University. How exactly does this help that child grow up?

MLB has a enter the draft directly out of high school or you attend college for at least three years before you can re-enter the draft. The NFL's rule is simple - you can not enter the NFL draft until you are three years removed from high school. I like Major League Baseball's rule better, but I am good with both. MLB has their rule, mainly because 99% of players spend a couple seasons in the minors seasoning anyway. But I am good with both leagues' rules because it forces the student to commit to at least three years of college study before he can turn pro. So at least in theory, they have to somewhat care about classwork, or risk being suspended during their season.

Additionally, these universities are committing scholarships to students who plan on spending no more than one year at their institution. Meanwhile, the marginal player who will commit to spending all 4 years in school, and maybe even attend a class or two, now must live on a partial scholarship or no scholarship at all. Essentially, we have turned the NCAA into the hired gun league. 4, count them, 4 freshmen from this year's Kentucky basketball team are turning pro. Honestly, what was the point? Kentucky had a great team. Unfortunately, they could not have played in the NBA though, because they wouldn't have fit under the salary cap (ok, obviously, the last part is said tongue-in-cheek, but you get the point).

Ask Kobe or Dwight Howard or LeBron if they've had trouble adjusting to the NBA lifestyle. In 2004, Howard was selected first overall instead of UConn Center Emeka Okefor. At the time, the pick was widely criticized- because Okefor had college seasoning, while Howard was coming straight out of high school. Any questions now?

The NCAA did not like seeing George Mason get to the Final Four. They did not like seeing their product "watered down" because their best talent was jumping right to the NBA. So, they needed to create a way to have the best players show up for at least a year. And from that standpoint, it worked - Derek Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Xavier Henry and the like, have all shown up for one year, made their teams better, and excited college crowds. To the benefit of............the NCAA. Derek Rose allegedly didn't even take his own SATs. He allegedly paid another student to take them for him so that he could get into Memphis and play basketball for one year. So really, what's the point? Rose should have had the ability to say, you know what, my one discernible skill in this world is that I can see things on a basketball court that less than 1% of 1% of the rest of the population can see. I can run the point better than 99.99999% of people can. And therefore, I don't need to take an SAT in order to earn millions. But David Stern and the NCAA said he did. And the sad thing is, he probably never even took those SATs.

David Stern is one of the biggest scam artists in all of sports. His drafts are rigged, as are his playoffs. He is the architect of two very juicy conspiracy theories - that he forced Michael Jordan into retirement for two years as a way of suspending him for his gambling problem without actually suspending him; and sending one of his top officials - Gary Bettman - to go run the NHL into the ground, right as the NHL was about to pass the NBA in American popularity. He runs these scams and we let him get away with it. And now he is forcing 18 year old kids to go to college for one year, and probably receiving a healthy kick back from the NCAA for his cooperation.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I want my Opening Day back

Imagine the following scenario....
It's the first Monday in April. You call in sick to work. You go grab your son/daughter after letting them take a half day from school. You arrive at the ballpark about an hour and a half before the game to watch a little batting practice. Your child gets some autographs from the players and chows down on his/her hot dog. The sun beats down on both of your faces as you sit and admire for the next 3 hours. On your way out of the stadium, you buy both of you team hats. You walk out to your car and drive home. Both of you smiling, laughing and reminiscing about what you just witnessed. After you get home, you pop on the TV to watch some of the late afternoon games. After a little dinner, you go outside and have a catch. After that, you come back in for the night games. You let your child stay up just a little later than usual, to watch some of the night games with you. After all, it's opening day. A brief interlude - to flip over and see how the NCAA Championship game is going - then back to baseball. Finally, after a day of baseball, shared with your child, you crash. Your team is 1-0 (or 0-1). As a matter of fact, 15 teams are 1-0, and the other 15 are 0-1. When the day started, all 30 teams were 0-0. And now, every team has 161 games left.

THAT would be a perfect day. And it could happen. I know this, because it used to happen. Just like that. Baseball had an Opening Day that everyone looked forward to. It wasn't a game that was an event. It was an all day spectacle. The tradition was so rich that it could not be matched by any other sport. The first pitch of the season was always thrown out in Cincinnati. That's where the season began. Period. After the Reds game got underway, then and only then, could every other game get going. It's different in the other three major teams sports, because no other sport has ever been able to match the traditions of baseball - particularly on Opening Day. Football has had Monday Night Football for over 40 years now, so even on Opening Sunday, fans already know that 2 teams won't be a part of it (and now there are two Monday Night games on Opening weekend, so now 4 teams don't play on Opening Sunday). And the fanfare just isn't the same for NFL's opening weekend. And as far as the NHL and NBA are concerned, they have zero tradition when it comes to their opening games. A few teams start on one night, a few more another night, and by the time everybody has played one game, some teams have played 2 or 3 games. Not exactly awe inspiring tradition. But baseball had that. They had it. And they blew it.

The Opening Night Sunday Night game, the night before the season starts, began a few years ago. It is nothing more than a TV, dollar-grabbing sham. There is no other good reason for it. It negates everything that made the first Monday in April so special to so many. Sure, your team might be having it's Opening Day (at home or on the road - I sat on my couch yesterday and watched the Giants Opening Day in Houston, just as happily as if I was at the ballpark) on Monday. But, some of the luster is gone, because two teams have already played. There is now an Opening Night and then a subsequent Opening Day. And it makes no sense.

Baseball has a unique opportunity to create an unofficial holiday. If all 30 teams played their opening game on the first Monday in April, it would create massive buzz around the country. 15 cities opening their seasons at home on Monday......and then the other 15 cities opening their seasons at home that Friday (it could be done, trust me).

Baseball's popularity took a hit after the strike of 1994. After it rebuilt it's popularity, it took another hit this decade with the steroids scandal. Of course, the dirty little secret that seems to elude the Commissioner's office, the fans and the media is that it was because of these bulked up hitters and massive home runs that the game even got it's popularity back in the first place following the strike of '94. But now, if baseball wants to reclaim it's rightful spot as this country's National Pastime and the popularity it once had, it needs to not go for the money grab, and go for some good, old fashioned traditionalism. Bring back Opening Day. Scrap the Sunday Night Opening Night crap.

I want to wake up on April 4, 2011, with all 30 teams 0-0. All 30 teams with statistically the same chance of winning their divisions....just for that one day. If my hometown team is home that day, I want to take the day off of work, take my son out of school early and drive down to the ballpark with him - and throngs of other parents and children - and take in the spectacle that is Opening Day. I want 15 cities to get to experience this next April 4. And quite frankly, there is no good reason for it not to happen.

Oh, and happy belated Opening Day to the Orioles and Rays. While all 28 other teams have already played, you two get to open the season today. That's just wrong.