Monday, July 06, 2015

I like the US Women's Soccer team much more than the US Men's team

Team USA reclaimed the Women's World Cup on Sunday with an impressive 5-2 victory over Japan. The USWNT (US Women's National Team) was so dominant that they scored as many goals for Japan as the Japanese did. It was a perfect way to end the 4th of July weekend.

I like our women's team so much more than the men's team. And here's why:

The women win:
I don't expect the men's team to defeat the likes of Germany or Argentina and win the World Cup. But beat Ghana, please. I don't think that's asking too much. Beat teams that you're supposed to beat, and then don't act like it's a major achievement to beat them. It's embarrassing to be an American and be surprised that the US men's team barely beat Algeria.

The women won't settle for less than victory:
I hate when the men's team gets praised for losing a close game to Germany. Or ties Portugal, or loses to Belgium, and gets even more praise. There's no shame in losing to Germany, but it's not something to boast about either. After these World Cup games last year, American pundits lauded Team USA for not getting annihilated by the Germans, for scoring 2 whole goals against Portugal, and for taking Belgium to extra time. Why don't we just do what the Colts do and put up banners commemorating all of these glorious defeats? Since when do we celebrate losing in this country?

Unlike the men, the women's team won't get praise or glory unless they win. And that's the American way.

No Landon Donovan:
I hate Landon Donovan. Overrated, under-performing, and completely infatuated with himself. There's no doubt that he's the best American player of all-time. And he knows it. The thing is, being the best all-time for a country that didn't qualify for the World Cup for 4 decades isn't too amazing. It's like climbing the highest "mountain" in Kansas.

At the global level, Donovan simply wasn't that great. He's scored a couple of goals in World Cups, the biggest being against the mighty Algerians. Wow. For major European clubs he scored 2 goals in 28 games. Yet US Soccer people talk about him in reverence and awe. They worship Landon Donovan. Both Donovan and his fanatical supporters make the US men's team very annoying to watch.

In contrast, the USWNT had lots of star forwards in this tournament, but eventually went with a single forward lineup. Because teams win championships, not individuals. Good luck convincing Landon Donovan of that.

Less diving:
This probably also applies to all the other teams at the Women's World Cup, who seemed to dive less than all the teams in men's soccer. As well as all NBA teams. Maybe the women dive less because they feel more motivation to show their toughness and strength. Whatever the reason, it made watching the game more enjoyable.

They're hot:
This isn't sexist. Female sports fans get to cheer on their favorite male athletes while also getting turned on by them. How many women in New England get excited to see Gronkowski score a touchdown, then even more excited when he spikes the ball? Derek Jeter, Tom Brady, David Beckham, they've all been making female fans get flustered. So it's not sexist for me to enjoy seeing Alex Morgan score while also thinking about scoring with Alex Morgan.

In order to remain classy, I decided not to use one of the multitude of Tom Brady ball deflation jokes I came up with.

They're the best:
It's hard to be the best at something. Striving to be the best is what America is all about. We're a country that's simultaneously the fattest in the world AND wins the most Olympic medals. Everything we do, we want to be the best at it. And these women were clearly the best.

So congratulations to the USWNT for winning the World Cup. And thank you for being more likable than the men's team.

Photo Credit: Getty

Red Sox almost blow rubber game against Astros

The Red Sox took 2 of 3 from the Astros over the weekend. It could have been a sweep, but the Sox blew Friday night's game. And they almost blew the rubber game on Sunday.

Hanley Ramirez (who didn't know the count at one point during Friday's loss, and stood at home plate after taking ball 4 until the umpire told him he'd walked) hit a 2-run homer on Sunday that won the game. (seriously though, how does a hitter not know the count, especially since there are big green and red lights in left field telling you how many balls and strikes there are?)

Ramirez's homerun came after Alexi Ogando surrendered the lead by allowing 3 runs off a pair of homers in the 7th. For some reason John Farrell didn't take Ogando out, even though this year he has struggled when throwing 25+ pitches (12.1 IP, 12 H, 7 ER in outings of 25+ pitches). Junichi Tazawa was evidently available, as he came in to pitch the 8th. So I really don't know why Farrell left Ogando in, or didn't have someone warming up.

David Ortiz was on base when Hanley homered. He drew a walk. Apart from that his afternoon was quite horrible. He struck out with 2 on and no outs in the 3rd. In the 5th he grounded out with runners on the corners. He's hitting .155 with runners in scoring position this year and that's inexcusable.

Ortiz was playing first base, which thankfully meant Mike Napoli was not in the lineup. Shane Victorino did go 0 for 3 as a heartfelt tribute to Napoli.

Hanley Ramirez had the big hit, but the working class hero of the game was Ryan Hanigan, who hit 3 singles, knocked in 2 runs, and walked.

Eduardo Rodriguez was okay. He held the Astros to 1 run, but his rising pitch count limited him to 5 innings. He struck out 8.

The bullpen is an issue. When every other part of a team struggled, sometimes it's hard to notice a bad bullpen. Now that the bullpen has leads to protect, we're starting to see how vulnerable and shallow it truly is. On Friday night the Sox were tied 8-8 in the 10th inning and were forced to send Noe Ramirez to the mound to make his Major League debut. He gave up 4 runs. This was after Breslow struggled, which was after Masterson made a horrible start.

I'm not dwelling on the negative. The Sox are 6 games out in the AL East. They just took 2 of 3 from a good Houston team. It would be a shame if this last ditch effort to fight for a playoff spot were undermined by a shaky bullpen, a manager who makes bad decisions, hitters who forget what the count is, fielders who forget how many outs there are, and baserunners who don't know when to steal and when not to.

Photo Credit: Steven Senne/Associated Press

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Rick Porcello is product of Red Sox Front Office arrogance

The Red Sox acquired Rick Porcello and then extended his contract because the 26-year old fit into the new philosophy recently developed by the Front Office. Instead of paying extra for pitchers over 30, and taking the risk of their performance falling off at the end of a contract, the Sox would target younger pitchers. These players wouldn't be as proven as the older pitchers, but that would actually make them a better investment, because that would make them less expensive. Furthermore, the potential upside for younger pitchers made them an opportunity, not a risk.

Compare this pitching philosophy with stock investments. Would you rather buy part of Facebook when it opened publicly, or when Mark Zuckerberg was still living in a Harvard dorm? Getting in early is less expensive, you get more for your money, and the sky is the limit for increased value.

John Henry and Larry Lucchino aren't "baseball people." They know their baseball intelligence isn't sufficient to beat the baseball people who run the 29 other teams. So they try to think outside of the diamond and gain an advantage using ideas like this investing strategy. Sometimes it works. These guys have built 3 World Series winners, after all. But with Rick Porcello, it hasn't worked.

Henry and Lucchino were drawn to Rick Porcello because of one number. Not his ERA or WHIP, not his WAR or K/9. It was his age. He was 26. He had 6 years of MLB experience. And he'd shown some signs that he could be a very good pitcher. So before he ever toed the rubber in a meaningful game with the Red Sox, his contract was extended for 4 years, paying him just a tick over $20M per year.

The deal would keep Porcello in Boston until he was 30. His prime years would be in a Red Sox uniform, but the Sox wouldn't have to worry about his performance falling off due to age.

The Sox dismissed doubts instead of considering them. Porcello had a career 4.30 ERA in a pitcher-friendly ballpark and in a division that didn't have many potent offenses. He only had one truly good season, and had shown inconsistency in his 6 Major League years. He had more seasons with an ERA over 4.50 (3) than with an ERA below 4.00 (2). His stuff wasn't amazing. And he pitched to contact, inducing groundballs, instead of amassing strikeouts.

These concerns probably didn't worry the Sox. If they had, they would have waited a few weeks before extending his contract. The issue of pitching to contact was likely dismissed as something that only outmoded and archaic "baseball people" would worry about, an antiquated notion of how the game should be played. And the statistical inconsistency was because Porcello was still a young man. He'd shown his potential in 2014 with 15 wins and a 3.43 ERA. The other seasons were part of his growth and development.

The Sox were so confident in Porcello's inevitable success, that they signed him as early as possible to avoid having to pay him more as his value increased. Henry and Lucchino probably imagined him having a 4-1 April, and then refusing to sign an extension. So they locked him up for 4 more years.

Unfortunately, the deal also made him untradeable. The Front Office didn't give themselves options if Porcello disappointed, or if he was good but the team disappointed, allowing him to be traded at the deadline. Investors should always give themselves options.

The assessment of Porcello wasn't the only mistake the Front Office made. The philosophy itself is flawed. Older pitchers cost more because their performance is proven. The risk with them is that their performance might fall off. You don't know how many good years you'll get. Younger pitchers also carry significant risk. There's a risk you might not get any good years at all.

The Sox paid a premium for Porcello's youth. Which is like paying someone extra for a product that hasn't been tested. They ignored obvious reasons to have second thoughts about extending his contract. They didn't try to find any reasons not to extend him. They built a philosophy based on their relative ignorance of baseball, then arrogantly assumed they were smarter than traditional baseball thinking.

It's okay to pay extra for something proven, especially something as rare and important as pitching. It's not okay to give someone who is killing your team a raise to $20M/year. But John Henry and Larry Lucchino thought they knew better than everyone else. Sometimes smart people do the dumbest things.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP

Thursday, June 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Northern Friend

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rainier Ehrardt

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

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

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

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

Why the hell isn't the NFL broadcasting this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 12, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Ken Blaze, USA Today Sports