The sport isn’t in decline. Football isn’t more competitive. So why do people say otherwise?
Read more. [Image: AP Photo/ Gene J. Puskar]
As a kid, it was easy to root for the improbably perfect rookie. But as Jeter’s mythical status faded, I learned to see Derek for Derek.
Read more. [Image: Charlie Riedel/AP]
Historical events may be static, but our perceptions of them ceaselessly change. To those who lived through Pearl Harbor, to use a most dramatic example, the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 felt very different than they did to those of us born after the cauldron of World War II. And to our children, barely alive when the Twin Towers fell 12 years ago, that awful day surely feels differently than it does to us. The same will always be true of the deadly Boston Marathon bombing, on Patriot’s Day just six months ago, as much a part of the city now as Fenway Park itself.
This is an inescapable, immutable reality: As mortals, we can do no more or less than absorb the world through the prism of all we have absorbed before.
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In 1960, the great Roger Kahn wrote in Sport magazine that “There is no denying America’s love for baseball, but increasingly the greater excitement seems to be coming from football fields, and that is where it’s likely to be coming in the future.”
This was two years after Johnny Unitas, the Baltimore Colts, and the National Football League burst onto the national scene when the Colts defeated the New York Giants in a sudden-death championship game. Historians call it “the greatest football game ever played,” though a better title might be “the first pro football game that most Americans noticed.”
Kahn’s piece, to my knowledge, was the first shot in the ongoing “baseball vs. football” debate. But 63 years later, the topic still heats up again every year around World Series time, and sure enough, in the September 29 New York Times, Jonathan Mahler asked, “Is the Game Over?”
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This year’s World Series has had enough controversial calls to make a case for the MLB stepping into the 21st century. But will the game still need old-fashioned judgment calls?
Read more. [Image: AP; Matt Slocum]
The 2002 Oakland A’s are one of baseball’s legendary teams. A hugely bestselling book by Michael Lewis and a popular, critically acclaimed movie starring Brad Pitt, both named Moneyball, will always be synonymous with those A’s.
Those A’s famously had no superstars; they won 103 games by acquiring bargain-price players who excelled in often overlooked statistics such as on-base percentage. They won the American League West, losing finally in the playoffs to a wealthier, big-market team.
But as I wrote in 2011, the legend doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny. Even after losing Jason Giambi to free agency (and to the New York Yankees after 2001), the A’s had several players who were in the superstar category; shortstop Miguel Tejada was in fact the league’s MVP for the 2002 season. All-Star third baseman Eric Chavez had 34 home runs and drove in 109 runs, and their powerhouse trio of starting pitchers—Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder—won 57 games. For some never-explained reason, these five players were scarcely mentioned in Michael Lewis’s book and not at all in the movie. Some of the Athletics’ key players, like Scott Hatteberg, were not acquired at bargain prices; in 2001 Hatteberg was paid a little over $1 million by the Red Sox and over the next three seasons with Oakland he made almost $5 million. Moreover, the 2002 A’s didn’t have an exceptional OBP finishing the in the AL. They won because of their pitching, which delivered the lowest ERA in the American League.
And they didn’t lose in the playoffs to a bigger-market team; they lost to a smaller one, the Minnesota Twins. According to Forbes, for the 2002 season Oakland’s operating budget was No. 24 at $172 million with an operating income of $6.6 million while the Twins were ranked 27th at $148 million with an operating income of $400,000.
Well, as Maxwell Scott says in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “When fact becomes legend, print the legend,” and there’s no doubt the printed legend surrounding the 2002 A’s will continue to overshadow the facts.
Read more. [Image: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez]
On September 12, 1992, the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 9 to 7 in front of 22,857 fans at Veterans Stadium for their 82nd win of the season. Though the win guaranteed that the Pirates would finish the year with a winning record, the milestone passed with little notice. Pittsburgh was well on its way to a third consecutive National League East division title, after all, and would finish with 96 wins overall.
But the next season, the Pirates didn’t make it to 82 wins. Or the year after that. Or the year after that. In fact, in every season from 1993 to 2012—20 consecutive years—the Pirates lost more games than they won, setting a record for futility unmatched in the history of North American professional sports.
To put the streak in perspective, consider that, in between winning Pirates seasons, Major League Baseball added four new franchises—two of which have won the World Series. Twenty-three teams—including the Pirates themselves—have built new stadiums. In September 1992, Nolan Ryan, the now 66-year-old president of the Texas Rangers, was still an active major league player. Alex Rodriguez was in high school. Bryce Harper, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year, was not yet born.
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Baseball writers have long been fond of exaggerating the Commissioner of Major League Baseball’s authority, even going so far as to call him “the Czar” of the game. Over the last few weeks, for instance, much has been made of the clause in the Basic Agreement between players and owners that gives the commissioner the power to act “in the best interests of baseball.” Many thought Commissioner Allan “Bud” Selig would use this supposed power to ban Alex Rodriguez from baseball for life after he was recently discovered to have used performance-enhancing drugs.
But in truth, there are a number of restrictions, plus more than half a century of baseball history, that undermine the idea of the all-powerful MLB czar.
Read more. [Image: Reuters/Dominick Reuter]
A curious interview was posted on ESPN’s Outside the Lines last Thursday, July 25, under the headline “Biogenesis Whistle-Blower Speaks Out.”
Porter Fischer, the former Biogenesis clinic employee who sparked the current performance-enhancing drug scandal in major-league baseball by turning over documents to the Miami New Times earlier this year, told ESPN’s T.J. Quinn that there are at least a dozen more athletes, whose names haven’t yet been revealed, who received PEDs from the Biogenesis clinic, adding, “This isn’t a 2013 thing or a 2012 thing. Some of these people have been on the books since 2009.”
Though he didn’t name names, Fischer did tell Quinn that there were other major-league baseball players who have not yet been exposed — as well as athletes from professional basketball, boxing, tennis, mixed martial arts and, perhaps most intriguingly, the NCAA. And yet, Fischer says the only authorities who have contacted him are from the office of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.
Read more. [Image: ESPN screen grab]
On June 16, Mariano Rivera struck out Albert Pujols to nail down a 6-5 win for the New York Yankees over the Los Angeles Angels.
It was nothing terribly surprising; Rivera has more strikeouts and more saves than any closer in baseball history. But what was unusual about this particular at-bat was what followed: a loud cacophony of boos and cat calls. Pujols looked puzzled. In his 11 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, he had never been booed.
Read more. [Image: AP/Nick Wass]