WINNING & MUSING…VOLUME 5.21   

Greetings sports fans, & Happy Halloween Week. There’s a lot going right now, so sit back, relax, grab a warm beverage, & let’s discuss some issues that have absolutely no direct impact on our lives. 

The initial College Football Playoff rankings are just days away, and I am genuinely intrigued. If the committee follows what other polls are doing then the playoff teams right now would be Georgia, Cincinnati, Alabama, & Oklahoma. However, let us consider a few things. First, the committee plays by its own rules and seem to make things up as they go along. Secondly, kudos to the undefeated Bearcats, but are they a legit playoff contender?? Beating Notre Dame…especially in South Bend…has to count for something, yet the rest of their schedule leaves much to be desired. We can’t overlook the fact that the CFP is a television event, and Cincinnati would get obliterated by atleast two of those other teams. To be honest I’ll be surprised if they’re in the CFP’s top four. Alabama & Georgia will probably meet in the SEC title game and determine one playoff berth, but that’s down the line. At the moment the Bulldogs should be the unquestioned #1 team, while ‘Bama shouldn’t be in the top four but undoubtedly will be. And what about Oklahoma?? Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and the Sooners might be the luckiest team in America. I wouldn’t put them in my top four, but the committee will. So if it was up to me who would be the four playoff teams right now?? Georgia, Michigan St., Ohio St., & Michigan, with the loser of the upcoming matchup between the Wolverines & the Spartans falling out afterward and obviously the Ohio St./Michigan matchup at the end of November looming as a possible elimination game. Keep your eye on Notre Dame. If they win out things could get interesting. Also Oregon, although that overtime loss to Stanford is an issue. They’ll need some other dominoes to fall even if they win the PAC 12.

I’m pretty old-fashioned. Thru the years I’ve expressed a deep & abiding affection for smashmouth football, my preference that the designated hitter rule remain only in the American League, & disdain for conference realignment, amongst other things. I’m one step away from being the grumpy old man that yells at kids to get off my damn lawn. Having said that, allow me to make a radical proposal. Going forward, all newly built stadiums should have a retractable roof, and all current stadiums should be retrofitted with one if at all possible. I know absolutely nothing about construction or the cost of building such structures. Perhaps my idea is crazier than I realize, but if it is feasible then why not?? There’d be no more rainouts in baseball, and football teams would be able to run their plays without battling inclement weather. Fans would always be comfortable. Everybody wins. 

I don’t give a damn about the NHL unless the Pittsburgh Penguins are competing for the Stanley Cup, but a shout out to the league’s newest franchise. Seattle Kraken is a cool name. Sadly they play their home games in something called Climate Pledge Arena, which is asinine. Actually, Amazon owns the naming rights and that’s the kind of woke stupidity they came up with. Not that I’d ever root for anyone other than the Pens (and I barely pay attention to them), but I’m already out on the Kraken. The hippie dipping leftists in the Pacific Northwest will surely enjoy them though, which is nice. 

Rumor has it that the Miami Dolphins might trade for current Houston Texans’ quarterback Deshaun Watson, which means they’re giving up on Tua Tagovailoa, their 2020 first round pick. In my opinion that’s crazy. Look, I freakin’ love Watson. Yes, I am aware of his private…proclivities, the legal action pending against him, & the likelihood of a future suspension by the NFL. In my opinion there have been players who have done much worse, paid the price, and recovered to have a good career. Watson is one of the best QBs in football and he’s only 26 years old. That being said, Tua is only 23 and it is way too soon to call him a bust. If…if…the Texans are smart enough to get him in the deal in addition to a gaggle of draft picks they could turn into a playoff team rather quickly. If Miami makes a separate trade and gets little to nothing in exchange for Tua it’ll be a huge mistake and whichever team swindles them will look brilliant in a couple of years. 

My Pittsburgh Pirates won the seventh game of the 1979 World Series on Wednesday, October 17, 1979. Four decades later the 2021 World Series begins tomorrow and will not conclude until November 3 if it goes to a Game 7. Perhaps MLB should look at revising their schedule. Anyway…Houston Astros vs. Atlanta Braves. I have zero interest. None. The Astros being in the World Series (again) is embarrassing for Major League Baseball given the fact that they are known cheaters that received absolutely no punishment for their ill gotten gain. Not only should Houston have been stripped of their 2017 championship, they also should’ve received a five year post-season ban for defrauding the game of baseball. If they were playing almost any other team in this series my rooting interest would be an easy decision, but my disdain for the Braves goes way back to the early 90’s. Like a man without a country I am a baseball fan with nowhere to turn. I suppose I’ll just look forward to spring training and try to convince myself that the Pirates may finally get their shit together. 

WINNING & MUSING…VOLUME 3.21 

Y’all know that I try to keep the sports content to a minimum during the football season due to our weekly picks, but since a) we haven’t done WM since February, and b) there are other things besides football to discuss, I’m going to suspend my own rule. Rest assured there is plenty of other content in the hopper for those that don’t enjoy ball games & such as much as the rest of us. 

The baseball playoffs have begun. In the American League it’s the Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, & Boston Red Sox, while the National League has the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, San Francisco Giants, & Los Angeles Dodgers. I had thought I’d watch a lot more baseball this season after the virus-shortened, empty stadium anomaly of 2020, but oddly enough I think I’ve watched even less. The Manoverse knows that I’m a lifelong Pittsburgh Pirates fan, which means I had absolutely no interest in or reason to watch many games this year. I try to find some level of enthusiasm for the playoffs and choose one or two teams to cheer for. I wasn’t sure that was going to be possible this year, but thankfully the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game, so that’s something.

I haven’t really made a big deal out of my feelings about COVID related subjects like vaccines, masks, & mandates outside of the meme zone that is my Instagram because…well, just because. I have very strong opinions, but realize there are folks with polar opposite views. It is what it is and I see no reason to argue about it or negatively impact relationships I value. That being said, it has been announced that mandates in California & New York will require players and fans attending basketball games to be fully vaccinated. I assume hockey players & fans will be affected as well, especially since Canada has already become an outright fascist hellhole anyway. For the first time in my life I am not envious of people living in big cities with access to professional sports venues. I can’t wait to hear the spin when NBA & NHL players and vaccinated fans start testing positive like crazy for The Sickness. Oh sure, they are unlikely to end up dead or even hospitalized, but of course there is a 98% chance they wouldn’t have gotten that ill without the “vaccine”. Atleast I’ll be able to enjoy the games in the freedom & comfort of my own abode. 

Congratulations to Team USA for bringing home the Ryder Cup. I didn’t watch as much of the competition as I’d anticipated, and I think that had a lot to do with guys like Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler, & Phil Mickelson being absent while newer players like Colin Morikawa, Bryson DeChambeau, & Daniel Berger took center stage. I’m old enough to remember Ryder Cup teams featuring legendary golfers like Tom Kite, Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd, & Fuzzy Zoeller, so I just need to get used to these fresh faces. 

Okay okay, my intention was to stay away from football at this particular moment, but I don’t think I can. There is an elephant in the room that needs addressed, and that is my Pittsburgh Steelers. Hindsight is 20/20, and in an effort to think positive I had them as a playoff team in my season preview. Sadly I do not think that is going to happen. QB Ben Roethlisberger is getting most of the blame, which isn’t totally fair. Yes, he is showing his age. At 39 years old he has certainly declined and definitely isn’t performing at the same level as contemporaries like Drew Brees (who still looked pretty decent last season at 42 before retiring), 37 year old MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers, or Tom Brady, who is apparently a 44 year old unicorn. That being said, it must be noted that the Steelers are starting a very young offensive line that hasn’t jelled into the cohesive unit one would prefer. Big Ben was never fleet of foot, but once upon a time he had a unique escapability that allowed him to keep a play alive long enough to make something happen, and that skill has diminished significantly. All of this has affected the perception of RB Najee Harris, Pittsburgh’s first round draft pick. It doesn’t help that former starting tailback James Conner has amassed 172 yards & 4 touchdowns in four games while being the Arizona Cardinals’ backup compared to Harris’ 185 yards & one TD. Do I think drafting Harris was a mistake?? I’m not ready to go there just yet, but I understand the opinion of some that the team should’ve used that pick on an elite lineman. At any rate, whether one chooses to blame Roethlisberger, Harris, head coach Mike Tomlin, or GM Kevin Colbert the fact is that the Steelers are probably facing their first losing season since 2003. I don’t believe that backup quarterbacks Mason Rudolph & Dwayne Haskins are the answer, so even if Roethlisberger retires and a quarterback is taken in the draft we’re probably looking at another tough season next year. At this point my hope is that 2023 will find the team with a young QB we can believe in, an experienced offensive line, the core of the defense intact (mainly linebacker TJ Watt & safety Minkah Fitzpatrick), Najee Harris at full throttle, and the receiving corps of JuJu Schuster, Chase Claypool, & Diontae Johnson still in Black & Gold. Perhaps then we’ll have something to cheer about. 

NASCAR is also in the midst of its “playoffs”, a system I’m still not sold on. There are 12 drivers left in the chase for the championship, and honestly I don’t have any feelings one way or another about most of them. I have paid a bit more attention to racing than baseball the past several months, but that is damning with faint praise. Not only is Dale Earnhardt dead & Tony Stewart retired, leaving me with no one I’m really invested in cheering for, but Jimmy Johnson & Jeff Gordon are also retired, so there is a lack of villains to dislike outside of Kyle Busch.  There are five races left, and I suppose I’ll check out bits & pieces of them, but mostly my eyes will be glued to NFL Redzone every Sunday. 

Winning & Musing…Volume 4.19

Apologies non-sports fans!! As has become my custom I have attempted to minimize sports related content in the midst of autumn since we do our weekly football picks and that feels like enough. Having said that, there are occasions when it becomes necessary to break the rules and address some stories that need attention. Fear not…I have plans to introduce a couple of new projects in this space during the new year, and I suppose there’ll be some Christmas related content in the very near future in the course of the holiday season, so if you’re not into football, basketball , etc. just stick with me.  Thanks in advance.

 

 

 

 

 

I suppose congratulations are in order to the Washington Nationals for winning the World Series. To be honest I didn’t have a dog in the fight…I’m just glad it wasn’t a Yankees/Dodgers Series. At first I was cheering for the Nationals, but then President Trump showed up to a game and the crowd was…well, let’s just soft sell it and say they were quite disrespectful. In that moment I realized that the fanbase of the Nationals are what some of us refer to as The Swamp…out of touch government types that take a lot more from than they contribute to society. So then I decided to pull for the Astros, but it was too late. I’m not upset at all though. We got a really entertaining seven game series without the big market “usual suspects” involved, and that’s cool in my book. Yes yes yes…I’m aware that Houston, TX is the fourth largest city in the United States and the Astros have been rather successful lately, winning the World Series in 2017 and appearing in the last three ALCS. However, before that they’d only appeared in one Series, losing to the Chicago White Sox in 2005. During my youth in the 70’s & 80’s the Astros were a prosaic team with only an occasional above average season, so right now I’m not tired of their success just yet.

 

 

 

As a lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan I feel obligated to weigh in on the recent Thursday Night Football kerfuffle with the Cleveland Browns, which was one of the more odious things I’ve seen in sports during my 47 years on the planet. A few thoughts:

  • Myles Garrett is a piece of garbage who should never play another down in the NFL. Right now his suspension is “indefinite”, and I’m guessing that means he won’t play again this season but will be allowed to return in 2020. I don’t think that’s enough, but I don’t make those decisions.
  • To all the people who are saying that Steelers’ QB Mason Rudolph should’ve been suspended a game or two because “he started it”…just shut your ignorant piehole. Your response is tone deaf and moronic. The NFL should fine Rudolph $1. That’s it. Nothing more, He was the victim!! The man almost had his head bashed in with his own helmet and people think HE should be suspended?!?!?? That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. Anyone expressing that opinion not only should lose their jobs immediately, but they should also be sterilized because that kind of stupidity shouldn’t be passed on to a new generation.
  • Steelers’ center Maurkice Pouncey is appealing his three game suspension and I hope it atleast gets knocked down to one game. He does not deserve harsh punishment for his actions…he deserves a bonus & a damn medal. He was sticking up for his quarterback and very well may have saved his life. Pouncey is a hero in my book.
  • While Pouncey received a three game suspension Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi only got one game for blindsiding Rudolph in the midst of the fight. In my opinion those suspensions should be reversed. Referees don’t hesitate to call stupid penalties nowadays on “blindside blocks” & “defenseless players”, and Ogunjobi laying out Rudolph from behind seems like it fits the definition. Garrett won’t be around when the two teams meet again in a few weeks, but Ogunjobi will. Stay tuned…just sayin’. He might want to watch his back.
  • I hadn’t had much exposure to Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens before all of this, but my God…what a clueless redneck twatwaffle that guy is. Undisciplined teams are a direct reflection of a piss poor head coach. Browns’ ownership should fire Kitchens immediately. He was a terrible choice in the first place and has done nothing to change that perception.
  • I would be remiss not to acknowledge that the Browns did indeed win the game. Pittsburgh played terribly in all three phases and Rudolph didn’t exactly make Steeler Nation feel confident about Life After Ben. To be fair it must also be pointed out that injuries have hit the Steelers hard all season long and they were playing with a skeleton crew. No excuses though…they should have won the game.

 

 

 

I’m not a fan of style over substance. It may be unfair to chime in since I’ve never been there, but my perception is that Hollywood specifically and California in general is a lot like The Capitol in The Hunger Games…self-absorbed, hedonistic heathens whose wealth far outweighs their common sense. That’s why I chuckled a bit when it was announced that this year’s National League MVP was Los Angeles Dodgers’ outfielder Cody Bellinger and the American League MVP is California/L.A./Anaheim (I’ve lost track) Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout. The Dodgers did atleast make the playoffs before being ousted by the Nationals, while the Angels finished 35 games behind the Astros in their division. Individual honors are nice, especially for those players, but team sports are…well…about the team, and I am always amused when I see small market teams like the Minnesota Twins, Oakland A’s, Cleveland Indians, & Milwaukee Brewers achieve some level of success while teams like the Angels spend a ton of money and it does them absolutely no good. Even funnier is the case of Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper, who signed with Philly last winter for $330 million over 13 years. The Phillies finished with a .500 record in 2019, 16 games out of first place in their division. Harper’s former team?? The Washington Nationals. Sure, $330 million is nothing to sneeze at, but almost any professional sports player whose career lasts more than a few years is going to retire a very wealthy person these days, and I’m guessing most of them would trade half their money & individual accolades for a championship that many will never see.

 

 

 

In 1975 Boston Celtics’ center Bill Russell was voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. However, at the time he was the first black player to receive the honor and refused to attend the ceremony. Russell didn’t feel right about being the first and thought others should be inducted before him. Recently Russell finally received his Hall of Fame ring in a private ceremony. Obviously there have been a lot of black NBA legends inducted into the Hall of Fame in the past four decades, but the mystery as to why it took so long for Russell to finally accept his ring can apparently be solved with one name: Chuck Cooper. Cooper was an All-American for Duquesne in the late 1940’s and was the 14th overall pick by the Boston Celtics in 1950. He didn’t have a statistically notable pro career, but was the first black player drafted into the NBA. Perhaps one could think of him as the Jackie Robinson of basketball. Cooper was finally inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame a few months ago (35 years after his death), which is what likely persuaded Russell to accept his honor. There’s a lot to unpack here. We’ve got virtue signaling all over the place, which y’all know drives me nuts. I suppose there’s no big issue with Cooper being inducted into the Hall of Fame, but on the other hand it’s worth pointing out that his numbers on the court didn’t seem to justify it for more than a half century. It wasn’t until the “woke” 21st century when simply being a certain race, religion, gender, orientation, etc. is deemed worthy of accolades that someone somewhere thought Cooper’s standing as an NBA trailblazer makes him a Hall-of-Famer. Jackie Robinson…besides being a more famous trailblazer himself…actually had a Hall of Fame career: Rookie of the Year, six time All Star, World Series champion, National League MVP, National League batting champion. Nevertheless, I suppose putting Cooper into the Hall of Fame is a nice thing to do. But Russell refusing his induction for 40+ years is just weird. I’m reminded of actor Marlon Brando refusing the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1973 for his role as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather because he was protesting Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans. What good does any of that do?? Bill Russell was one of the greatest basketball players of all time and he delayed his Hall of Fame induction for what?? Craziness!!

 

 

 

Well, they finally did it. The Pittsburgh Pirates cleaned house. They got rid of manager Clint Hurdle as well as pretty much the entire front office. Hurdle seems like a nice man, but in the past couple of years it felt as though he’d given up, knowing that he could never have a team that would flourish with the current Pirates ownership. He’s not wrong, but for the sake of the team I think it’s important to have a manager with enough idealism & passion to atleast believably feign faith in his club’s potential instead of a tired old man so worn down by life that his boredom is palpable. Energy & enthusiasm aren’t going to be enough to turn the tide in Pittsburgh, but it’s a good start. The new front office is taking shape and I expect Hurdle’s replacement to be named before Thanksgiving. Years…decades…of futility have taught me not to get excited at all about the Pirates, but after one of the most demoralizing seasons in team history it’s nice to know that steps are being taken and something new is being tried.

Winning & Musing…Volume 6.17

Sorry non-sports fans…there are a few things going on about which I feel compelled to comment. Take heart though…the holidays are coming up soon so there is some fun stuff in the pipeline, and of course there a couple of long term projects that I need to complete plus one or two that I need to actually get started on, so if you’re not into football or basketball stay with me…I won’t forget about y’all.

 

 

 

 

Congratulations to the Houston Astros for winning their first World Series championship. I didn’t think I’d be all that interested in the Series this year, but a disaster was averted when Houston beat the New York Yankees in the ALCS because a Yankees-Dodgers World Series would’ve had zero appeal for me. I know that sounds strange, but as a sports fan I need an underdog, a little engine that could, to root for. I enjoy a good David vs. Goliath story. I realize that’s not how the real world works. In reality the bigger, better entity with more power, money, & influence wins the vast majority of the time in virtually all walks of life. However, part of the romance in sports is that sometimes the little guy actually wins, and that’s not just a fantasy birthed in 1976 with Rocky. In my opinion it’s kind of weak & uninspiring to jump on the Goliath bandwagon. Before this season the Astros hadn’t won a division title since 2001 and had only made the playoffs once since 2005. They’d played in just one World Series since the franchise’s inception in 1962, losing to the Chicago White Sox in 2005. In the past decade they’d had seven losing seasons, including a three year stretch from 2011-13 in which they were a combined 162-324. So even though Houston itself is the 4th largest city in America the Astros have never been among baseball’s elite…until now. It doesn’t hurt that the games themselves were really fun to watch, and anytime we get to a Game 7 in anything it’s pretty cool. I’m sure the L.A. Dodgers will be back in the thick of things next year. They’ll go out and buy a couple of bigtime free agents or make a blockbuster trade. Same with the Yankees. Second place isn’t good enough for such teams. They think that, because of their huge TV market and bottomless coffers, they’re entitled to a trophy. But all of that just makes me yawn.

 

 

Speaking of yawning…

I guess the NASCAR season is almost over?? Honestly I haven’t watched a race since…the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day Weekend…I think. And unlike the past couple of years when I was consciously objecting to NASCAR for various reasons, in 2017 I haven’t even given NASCAR a second thought. I just don’t care. They totally lost me as a fan. Their “playoffs” are stupid, their stage racing is stupid, and their drivers are boring. I’m probably supposed to get all misty & nostalgic about Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement, but I don’t care about that either. He’s just a sellout who has never been worthy of carrying his father’s name. Good riddance.

 

 

Dear ESPN: Declining ratings for football has EVERYTHING to do with anthem protests and politics interfering with our enjoyment of sports. Y’all can try to spin things all you want, blaming injuries and weak teams to deflect from the controversy, but just as your ratings have deteriorated due to not-so-subtle sociopolitical propagandizing with which a sizeable portion of the audience disagrees, football is suffering for also promoting a provocative agenda unrelated to the sport that fans tune in to watch. These people are so insufferably full of themselves and impressed with their own intellect that they’ve become totally out of touch with the viewing public.

 

 

It’s still really early in the NBA season, but I can’t help but chuckle at the fact that the Cleveland Cavaliers & San Antonio Spurs are off to subpar starts, and the Golden State Warriors have lost more games in the first few weeks of the season than they did before the end of November last year. Perhaps if players & coaches for those teams had spent the offseason appreciating their success and preparing for more of the same instead of flapping their gums and displaying their ignorance about real world issues they’d be winning more games right now. Sadly it is probable that all three teams will be just fine, make deep playoff runs, & battle for the NBA Championship, but I’d like nothing better than for them to struggle all season and make early playoff exits. Just as the NFL is learning, the NBA needs to eventually realize that we just want them to shut their pieholes and play ball.

 

 

As recently noted, I have no issue with the initial College Football Playoff rankings that put Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame, & Clemson at the top for the moment. But you can bet that if the final four team field includes two teams from the same conference & an independent and excludes three of the Power 5 conference champions that playoff expansion debates will heat up really quick. We’ve known all along that it would happen eventually. Expansion of the playoff has been inevitable from the beginning. I’d like to see a six team field, with the top two teams receiving a bye, but I assume that what we’ll get at some point is an eight team playoff. I don’t care what the talking heads say…if conferences are going to continue to exist then conference championships need to mean something, otherwise what’s the point??

Winning & Musing…Volume 5.17

I have avoided doing a W&M for awhile, especially since football season (and our weekly picks) already takes up regular space here. However, there are a few things to address and so we shall. Being a sports fan has become increasingly difficult in recent months, and I’d be lying if I said I was as passionate as I was just this past spring. Too many “real life” issues have invaded sports, and I don’t think I’m the only person who hates that. Nevertheless, a lifetime of fandom doesn’t disappear overnight, so I move forward in hopes that watching a ballgame will eventually get back to being the frivolous distraction it is meant to be.

 

 

 

 

The baseball playoffs begin tomorrow. The New York Yankees will host the Minnesota Twins for a chance to join the Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox, & Cleveland Indians in the American League field. The Colorado Rockies will travel to the Arizona Diamondbacks to decide who will be in the National League field with the Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs, & Los Angeles Dodgers. In the American League I know I hate the Yankees, but other than that I don’t have any particular love or disdain for the other teams. As far as the National League goes, the Cubs won it last year and the Dodgers are a big budget, big market team that has the resources to buy a title just like the Yankees, so I’ll be rooting against both of them, to the level that I’ll be cheering for or against anyone at all, which isn’t saying much. I am a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, so basically I stopped paying attention to baseball a couple of months ago. I suppose I’ll watch the playoffs here & there, but to say I’m excited about the post-season would be a huge overstatement.

 

 

There are 32 NFL Teams, with 53 Players on each roster. That’s nearly 1700 players. Of those, 871 are convicted felons. 871!!!! That’s over half of the league!! That should provide a little insight into what these “protests” are really all about (other than a giant ant-Trump temper tantrum). Don’t misunderstand…I am not defending President Trump’s comments about the “sons-o-bitches” needing to be fired. In an effort to bond with Joe Sixpack and make himself seem like a down to Earth guy Trump oftentimes speaks about things which are beneath his pay grade and in a manner that, rather than making him sound tough & hip, offers ammunition to his critics on a silver platter.  Nevertheless, these “protests” have exposed a seedy side of professional sports, one that has always been there but that fans happily ignore. The bottom line is this…just because one has a right to do something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

 

 

I haven’t really paid that much attention to the Louisville basketball scandal. As I understand it the feds are investigating the program for paying players via the Adidas shoe company. Head coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich have been put on “administrative leave”, which sure sounds like they’re out of a job to me. Pitino had previously been in hot water a few years ago for cheating on his wife with the wife of the team’s equipment manager, and not that long ago there was a ruckus about the program hooking players & recruits up with strippers. I’m sure there is more to come with all of this, so stay tuned. The sad thing is Pitino will probably be coaching again in a year or two…either a lower level college team or maybe even in the NBA (again).

 

 

The less I say about ESPN’s Jemele Hill the better off I’ll be. I’ve never really enjoyed her shtick, and certainly now I immediately turn the channel whenever she appears on my TV screen. Your mileage may vary and that’s okay.

 

 

Where are all those talking heads who were predicting an undefeated season for the New England Patriots hiding now?? lol The Pats are currently 2-2 and behind the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. I know I know…they’ll almost assuredly rebound, win the division, and be a significant threat to any playoff opponent. I totally understand that. But for now allow me to bask in the glory of their mediocrity and wittily mock anyone who seriously thought they had a chance to finish undefeated.

 

 

Speaking of the Pirates…..

Well, what else is there to say?? 2013, 2014, & 2015 were a mirage. The Pirates remain the epic embarrassment that they were from 1993-2012, and it appears that things will remain that way for the foreseeable future. Both GM Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle signed contract extensions recently and, while I don’t think that the failure of the team should rest completely on their shoulders, the refusal of ownership to see that the status quo isn’t good enough is an indicator of more mediocrity to come. In my assessment of the 2013 season I wrote “the years of completely rebuilding over & over again look like they are done…a solid foundation is in place and now it is just a matter of doing some tweaking”. Oh how wrong I was. Things looked okay for a couple of seasons, but then it all fell apart. Perhaps extending Huntington & Hurdle means that ownership believes they can guide the team back to that success of a few years ago, but that seems unlikely. Almost all of the players that fans once anticipated being called up from the minors are now a part of the big league club, and it hasn’t made a difference. There is no good reason for optimism. There really is nothing left to say.

Just Another Losing Season…or Not

Oops…they did it again. They played with my heart. They lost a lot of games. But hey, I should have known better so I’m not completely innocent.

 

One year ago today I wrote here in this space that there was reason for optimism but that I had very little faith that the front office of the Pittsburgh Pirates is capable of putting together a winning team. I begged them to prove me wrong. They didn’t.

 

Oh sure they had a lot of folks fooled for awhile…even me. On August 8, 2012 the Pirates were 16 games over .500 and in the thick of the hunt for an NL wild card. It looked like the worst case scenario was a 3rd place division finish, narrowly losing out on a playoff berth, and finishing with a winning record for the first time since the Bush 41 administration. I think most fans could have lived with that. I wrote back in the middle of July that “I just hope they don’t fold like a cheap suit like they did in 2011”, but also apprehensively noted that the general consensus seemed to be that that would not happen. The general consensus was wrong. I began to get a bad feeling in the middle of August when the Pirates dropped 2 out of 3 to the San Diego Padres, a team even worse than the Buccos, at PNC Park. Then they lost 3 out of 4 to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Less than a week later they were swept by the Padres in San Diego. That’s when I knew it was over. Winners don’t lose games they are supposed to win. That is how quickly it all fell apart…within two weeks. I thought the past 19 years had been painful, but now I am not sure which is worse…knowing for sure that a team is horrible and has no chance to be competitive, or believing there is a chance for some small sliver of success only to see it inexplicably implode.

 

So now even the “worst case scenario” isn’t happening. The Pirates will finish 2012 with a losing record for the 20th straight season. They will finish in 4th place in their division. There are individual bright spots. Outfielder Andrew McCutchen is a star who is going to narrowly lose the National League batting title. The long awaited debut season of young OF Starling Marte has given fans reason for optimism. Pitchers Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole are still in the minors, but I would not be shocked to see them both on the big club sometime in 2013. However, at this point it is difficult to get excited about anything when it comes to the Pirates. There seems to be something systemically wrong. I used to blame owner Kevin McClatchy, but new owner (since 2007) Bob Nutting has been only marginally more successful. I used to blame managers, of which there have been several in the past two decades (Jim Leyland, Gene Lamont, Lloyd McClendon, Jim Tracy, John Russell, and now Clint Hurdle). But Leyland (who did lead the Pirates to three straight NLCS before Barry Bonds left Pittsburgh and all this futility began) has gone on to be quite successful with the Detroit Tigers (where McClendon and Lamont are on his staff), even leading them to one World Series. He also led the Florida Marlins to the World Series championship in 1997. Jim Tracy now manages the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies are about as good as the Pirates these days, but back in 2009 in Tracy’s first year they were good enough to get him named NL Manager of the Year. The evidence seems to support the idea that it doesn’t matter how good a manager is…he cannot be successful in Pittsburgh. One cannot help but wonder which lucky team will win a World Series with Clint Hurdle at the helm after his inevitable departure from the Pirates.

 

I don’t buy the “small market” excuse either. The Pirates have always been one of the least wealthy teams in MLB, yet they still won World Series in 1909, 1925, 1960, 1971, and 1979. They have won multiple division crowns and league pennants. Other small market teams like Oakland, Tampa Bay, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Seattle have all been more competitive than  Pittsburgh the past two decades.

 

The question then is…if it isn’t ownership, management, or the economics of baseball, then what the hell is the problem?? Why haven’t the Pittsburgh Pirates been able to put together atleast a couple of successful, winning seasons in the past 20 years?? Dear Lord…even a broken clock is right twice a day for Pete’s sake!!

 

Quite honestly I don’t know the answer, and I am not inclined to waste time & energy trying to figure it out. One of the saddest things I see on TV is the sight of post-game analysts Kent Tekulve (who was one heck of a closer in his day) & Paul Alexander, not to mention game announcers Tim Neverett, Bob Walk, Greg Brown, John Wehner, & Steve Blass, trying to resolutely stay professional & upbeat while continuously having to explain away the latest loss and point out anything remotely positive. Holy cow that job has to totally suck. I mean really…how does one come up with the words to put an optimistic spin on a loss 82+ TIMES?? One of these days when someone asks a goofy question on the Ask Teke segment of the post-game show I half expect Tekulve to go postal, throwing down his microphone and screaming “What the hell do you want me to say?? There’s nothing more I can say!! They suck!! This is not a major league team!!”. That would be the most entertaining thing I’ve seen on a Pirates broadcast since 1992, which of course means it’ll never happen.

 

Unfortunately the Pirates have the nicest baseball stadium in the country and fans keep flocking to it, meaning the owners are making a profit each year despite losing a ton of games. As long as that is the case I doubt very seriously any kind of significant money will be spent for any major upgrades. That means, fellow Pirates fans, that what you see is what you are going to get for the foreseeable future. The only hope we have is that the young players they have drafted develop into legitimate stars. Can a team with McCutchen, Marte, Taillon, & Cole and a bunch of role players right the ship?? I’m not holding my breath. I think they need atleast two more position players who can hit and one additional pitcher, and the powers-that-be have demonstrated an inability to make good trades and an unwillingness to sign anything other than subpar bench warmers in free agency. A pattern is beginning to develop. The PR machine will try to get the fanbase excited in the spring (“This is our year!!”). The team will show signs of life clear thru July and maybe into August. And then the inevitable implosion will happen, complete with lame excuses like “So & so got inured” or “The pitchers arms got tired”. Lather, rinse, repeat. I hate to say this ladies & gentlemen, but after 20 years we might only be halfway thru this losing streak. I hope I am wrong, but I honestly don’t think I am. I’ll say what I said one year ago to the Pirates brass…prove me wrong. I don’t think you can.

 

 

 

 

 

Winning & Musing…..Volume 8.11

Congratulations to the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals for grinding through the l-o-n-g baseball season and making it to The World Series. To be honest I was pulling for the Detroit Tigers because I have always been a big fan of manager Jim Leyland, who I believe to be one of the genuine good guys in sports, but as long as the NY Yankees are sitting at home instead of still playing then it’s all good.

 

“Be careful what you wish for” is timeless advice that just might apply to quarterback Carson Palmer these days. Palmer won his months long pissing contest against Cincinnati Bengals’ management, only to be traded to the Oakland Raiders, a franchise not entirely unfamiliar with dysfunction. Let’s check back in a year or two and see who really came out ahead.

 

As usual I am rooting for complete chaos in college football when it comes to the flawed BCS system, but somehow things always seem to work out and end up with a legit #1 vs. #2 title game. Right now it is theoretically possible that as many as a half dozen teams could finish undefeated, which would wreak the desired havoc quite sufficiently. However, I am not holding my breath.

 

Three things I would do to improve baseball:

Shorten the season to 138 games. Each team would play the other 3 teams in their division 24 times (6 four game series) and the remaining 8 teams in their league 12 times (4 three game series). Each division would meet their counterparts in another division in the other league for one 3 game series. The season would begin in early April and be over by the first week of October.

Constriction. Reduce the league from 30 to 24 teams. The Washington Nationals would be absorbed by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Florida Marlins would fold into the Tampa Rays. The Oakland A’s & San Francisco Giants would be combined into one franchise. The California Angels would be absorbed by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Houston Astros would absorb the Colorado Rockies. The Kansas City Royals would fold into the St. Louis Cardinals.

The post-season see each league’s 2nd & 3rd rated division winners match up in a Best-of-3 series. The winner would then face the top division winner in that league in a Best-of-5 League Championship Series. Then of course we’d have the traditional Best-of-7 World Series.

 

Rush Limbaugh was right and we’re seeing the proof right now. Quarterback Donovan McNabb has always been overrated, and now to complicate matters he is washed up. The 35 year old signal caller is about to lose his starting gig in Minnesota to rookie Christian Ponder after “leading” the Vikings to a dismal 1-5 start. But hey, the flaming liberals in the sports media can now turn their attention to anointing Carolina Panthers’ QB Cam Newton as their new Chosen One. Atleast he has genuine talent.

 

The NBA has already cancelled the first two weeks of the season and seems to be on the verge of eliminating games through December. I am actually a little bit excited about these developments because I am sincerely hoping that in place of games normally broadcast on Christmas Day ABC might treat us to a couple of classic holiday films like Miracle on 34th St., The Polar Express, The Santa Clause, or one of the bazillion adaptations of A Christmas Carol.

 

I am not a huge fan of open wheel racing except for the requisite impure thoughts about driver Danica Patrick and the annual tradition of watching The Indianapolis 500. There are just too many road courses and foreign influences for my tastes. But the recent death of driver Dan Wheldon was a tragic event and a reminder of just how dangerous auto sports can be. Since the accident that claimed the life of the legendary Dale Earnhardt a decade ago Nascar has taken huge leaps in safety, but I am not so sure the folks in charge of Indy cars can do the same. The machines themselves are just so small, and there is no roof on them at all. If there is a unanimous calling for reduced speeds that may help a little I guess.

 

Halfway through the college football season here is who I would invite to New York for the presentation of The Heisman Trophy:         Stanford QB Andrew Luck, Michigan QB Denard Robinson, Alabama RB Trent Richardson, Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson, and Oklahoma St. WR Justin Blackmon.

 

The recent brouhaha involving San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz was laughable and a bit pathetic. Both men share equal blame…Harbaugh for being a disrespectful jackass to the person whose team he’d just defeated, and Schwartz for reacting like a pre-teen drama queen.  Grow up gentlemen.

 

 

America’s Pastime??

Barry Bonds in action.

Barry Bonds

I had every intention of doing a full blown 2009 baseball preview. That obviously didn’t happen. Opening Day has come and gone and so it seems a rather pointless exercise.

I remember not that long ago when Opening Day was an event. Everyone, even the most fair weather baseball fans, knew when it was approaching. I suppose it’s still a big deal for a significant amount of baseball aficionados, but it certainly doesn’t seem to have the cachet that it once did. I didn’t even realize it was occurring until I heard it mentioned on the radio in my car about an hour before the first pitch was to be tossed. There didn’t seem to be much coverage of spring training this year, or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.

There are probably a lot of reasons for the decline in popularity of baseball, atleast in relative terms when compared with our ever-increasing love affair with football. For me personally I’m a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, and they haven’t been anywhere close to competitive for about 17 years. We Pirates fans have no real reason for hope or anticipation and usually quit paying close attention before summer even officially begins. I’m sure this apathy spreads to fans of other teams like the Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals, and Cleveland Indians, whose teams are rarely that good. This can be traced to the lack of a salary cap, something football has and baseball sorely needs. There are also the constant scandals that have rocked the sport for the last couple of decades. I don’t believe it’s out of bounds to hypothesize that the beginning of the end for baseball started with the downfall of Pete Rose about 20 years ago. Then in 1994 there was a players’ strike that cut the season in half and forced the cancellation of the playoffs and World Series. Baseball has never fully recovered from that season and the wrath it instilled in loyal fans. It came very very close to a much desired reconciliation with its public in 1998 due to the excitement involving Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s chase of Roger Maris’ vaunted home run record. But during the past 4 or 5 years even that progress has been unraveled as we’ve learned that all those home runs were likely a mirage, the numbers skewed by illegal substance abuse. One by one mighty heroes of the diamond have fallen from grace, from Barry Bonds to Jose Canseco to McGwire to Alex Rodriguez. Even pitchers, chief among them the legendary Roger Clemens, apparently aren’t above cheating.

We also cannot ignore the changing landscape of our nation. We prefer fast and frenetic these days, as opposed to slow and easy. Football appeals to our more modern, chaotic sensibilities, while baseball seems nostalgic and bucolic. Baseball is a relic, a living monument to a bygone era we recall with a certain sense of wistful wonder. It’s a nice place to visit occasionally, but it’s not something we can really sink our teeth into for the long haul. And with its 162 game season plus playoffs and then a World Series baseball definitely encompasses a long haul. Transversely, football season seems much shorter, even though it really isn’t. Close examination reveals that baseball opens in April and concludes in October…..7 months. Football, if one takes into consideration both college and the NFL season which basically overlap, begins in late August and climaxes in early February…..7 months. Of course there is a significant difference when one factors in that each team in football plays once per week, while in baseball your favorite team likely plays 4 or 5 times. Youngsters today consider baseball slow and boring. They have so many other choices…..video games, the internet, DVDs, Ipods. Our culture is on sensory overload, and baseball easily gets lost in the shuffle.

Football has better PR as well. Does anyone think football players don’t use performance enhancing drugs? If you do, you’re more than naïve. But no one seems to make nearly as big a deal out of it. Also, when was the last time you watched or attended a college baseball game? College baseball has an extremely limited following, while college football is HUGE. We are able to follow our beloved football players every step of the way from their recruitment to the university of their choice, through their entire college career, to speculating who’ll choose them in the NFL Draft (does anyone actually watch the MLB Draft? Ummm…no), through their (hopefully) long NFL career. We’re invested in football every step of the way. Baseball…..not so much.

This examination is not meant as an insult to baseball. I’m still a fan. I just find it unfortunate that circumstances have converged in such a way that prevents me, and legions of others, from being a passionate fan. Calling baseball America’s Pastime is nothing more than a marketing tool. It is more a reflection of America’s past.