Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sports Labor

One of the four billion things that confuses me about sports fans in this country is why people get so upset with "millionaire athletes" and how "overpaid" athletes in this country are. They get terribly upset about the "greed" of athletes striking or holding out and yet they rarely, if ever, criticize the equally, if not more, greedy owners. It's weird to me that organized labor in this country's history was looked upon so rosily as recent as a generation ago except the great-grandchildren of the generation that died, literally DIED, for your right to get a lunch break, get a decent wage, and not have to shit yourself is looked at so negatively as athlete's salaries rise.

Consider this: while most of the people reading MY blog know about Curt Flood and what he represents, many still don't. Curt Flood was a baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1970s. This was a time when something called the Reserve Clause essentially indentured athletes to their owners. There was no such thing as free agency. An athlete could either sign with the team that owned him, or not play at all (which is what Dodgers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale tried in the early 1960s). This gave the owners (historically remembered as one of the worst collective groups of greedy, racist, conglomerates of the twentieth century) absolute power over their employees. After Flood refused a trade in which he did not approve of, with the help of frontier attorney Marvin Miller, Flood changed the landscape of professional sports forever, at the same time ending his career and ruining his public image for years. Today, Flood is remembered as an ahead-of-his-time soldier who sacrificed his career for the rights of those to follow.

However, after Flood, two things happened simultaneously, and somewhat symbiotically: athletes' salaries exponentially climbed to retarded levels and sports in this country went past mainstream and became a multi-trillion dollar a year business. No one, and this is a goddamned fact, no one has profited more in the last twenty years than the owners and CEOs. To illustrate this, at this current moment, it would be easy to argue that Lebron is the most visible athlete in the country. He produces movies, he stars in the league, he does endorsements for every market, and his own brand may be one of the more recognizable on the planet. It's easy to understand the millions of fans who would be off-put by seeing this kind of heavy-hitter as a part of a union that next year is threatening to strike over a new CBA. It is really hard to pay 140 dollars for shoes, 250 dollars for a ticket, and then see the guy jockeying for more by denying the fans the right to see him. I understand that, but understand this: Lebron's net worth is somewhere near 200 million dollars. A lot, but the owner of the Cavs, the guy that cuts Lebron his paycheck, Dan Gilbert is estimated to be worth near 500 million dollars. And then this: Phil Knight, the co-owner of Nike who also cuts Lebron a sizable check, is worth about 9.8 BILLION and is Forbes' 30th richest man in the country. (still 10 billion behind Blazers owner Paul Allen)

So my point is that while it's easy to target greedy athletes during labor struggles, how come no one points to the greedy owners (even though history tells us that in retrospect, we will). This trend works best in football where many fans consider football the best sport because of the incredibly rigid salary cap which supposedly creates an even playing field and the much desired "parity" of play. In football, contracts are NOT guaranteed which means that if a player shows up out of shape or ages quicker than expected, he can be cut and replaced with a much cheaper option. On paper, this looks great for the fans. And at first glance, it is; I mean, we're the ones shelling out retarded ticket prices and laboring through countless commercial breaks to pay these players, they SHOULD show up. The common fan thinks "If I showed up to work unable to do my job, I would certainly get fired." However, they're ignoring two things:

1. Their job doesn't consist of getting the ever-loving shit kicked out of you for 7 months a year leading to post-football health problems, risking serious, VERY serious injury on a day-to-day basis, and the lack of any decent pension programs for the thousands of ex-players who now have to work manual labor because of their lack of education, injuries, or other circumstances.

2. When an owner cuts a high-priced player for a lower-priced option, USUALLY, and I know this isn't always the case, but usually, the higher-priced option was a better player that simply cost too much, and do you think that money saved is used to cut ticket prices or show less commercials? Of course not, that money is funneled back into the league's revenue sharing program and spent on horseshit promotions or short-term investments that benefit all thirty-two of the league's owners.

And furthermore, football is NOT the league with parity. Look at the current season: right now there are SIX teams with winning %s less than .200. Baseball has three teams under .400!!!!! How can you call that parity? There is the belief that the salary cap is what is responsible for the "any given Sunday" phenomenon; the belief that on any given Sunday any team can win, although that is less true in football than ANY OTHER PROFFESSIONAL OR AMATEUR SPORT. Rigid salary caps don't promote parity, or hard work, they put more money in the hands of the league and the owners, and are in DIRECT contrast with the ideals of the US labor movement.

Which brings me back to my original point: why are we taught in history class the triumphs of Samuel Gompers and John L. Lewis, but not Curt Flood? Why do we watch films like The Inheritance in schools, a film that teaches us that it is our inheritance from our parents and grandparents that we have workers' rights, and fair pay BECAUSE they fought, and FUCKING DIED, for us, but we view players strikes as examples of greedy players wanting more? No, I am not comparing the plight of those stuck in Sinclair's Jungle with Latrell Sprewell, and I don't think that their working conditions are terrible. What I am saying is that workers, even if those workers are paid large sums of money in either guaranteed or non-guaranteed contracts have the right to unite and fight just like those before them. And I just think that it's weird that we view the owners in such sympathetic light despite their greed, exploitation, and drive to make the sports more profitable (see: the NFL) at any cost.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tonight's the Night

I write four types of blog entries. Cultural criticism, which is my desired career path, and the reason I even have this thing; ranting and raving, which is only applicable when my girlfriend is tired of hearing me complain about white people and Santa Monica (usually both), intellectual sports analysis, which is what I call it, not you; and highly personal, empirical musings on the plight of being a sports fan in Cleveland which are directed towards and usually understood by two people who happen to share a set of grandparents.

Today, you get the latter.

The 49ers won Super Bowl XVI a week before I was born. The NBA season had begun 4 months earlier. So, since the day I was born, 26 NBA seasons have begun, 26 football seasons began, but three were absent of the Browns, and 27 MLB seasons started, but only 25 finished (one will conclude next week, the other was 1994 and….well…I think the Expos won it all). So, 77 Cleveland sports seasons have begun, and 77 sports seasons have ended. Three times, we were one step away. Seven ended two steps away. In a few minutes, season number 78 begins.

Tonight, I have nothing to say except for this: I believe—remember I am as pessimistic and indoctrinated with the pain of the last 27 years to know—that it ends here. Tonight, the Cavs embark on the season that will end this joke. In eight months, amongst spring time, and the heat of a congressional election, while the Tribe will be floundering in June, and training camp will have not yet begun in Berea, we will look back on October 27th and remember a more innocent time when we were STILL the butt of the joke, STILL the answer to the trivia question; a time in which we were a sports montage artists wet dream, when the question about Lebron leaving was more important than erasing the misery, pain, and failures of 45 years (and MOTHER FUCKING COUNTING); and you will think about reading this and thinking I was insane. You will think about the time, 9 8 months ago, when you read crazy Matt Glassman's wild-eyed prediction that seemed to contradict EVERY SINGLE analyst on Earth, and thought to yourself "What an idiot," but then you felt warm because at least someone, with at least some sort of a semblance of sanity, KNEW that this would happen.

Tonight will not be like April 1996, when the addition of Julio Franco was not enough to overcome the eventual World Champion Yankees on opening day following a WS defeat the year before. Tonight will not be like September 2003 when Kelly Holcomb, Willie Green, and Mush Davis made us quickly forget that Pittsburgh game. Tonight will be the start of a NEW story. Tonight will be the first clips on that video we get when we all subscribe to Sports Illustrated in 9 months. Tonight will give us hope, tonight will give us a reason to tune in tomorrow, and tonight will be the start in the greatest sports season in Cleveland since my father was 10 years old.

Tonight we're gonna take no prisoners/tonight we're gonna live a dream/tonight the Wine and Gold delivers/hard workin' town hard workin' team.


Tonight the hardwoods burnin' and the cavs will keep on workin, get behind the wine and gold, with all your might.


Cavs Basketball tonight's the night


Cav's basketball tonight's the night.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Case Against the Lakers

The Case Against the Lakers

OK, I admit 100% this is hopeless rationalizing, and that if none of this comes true I will look like a complete idiot, but this is just a very early point of view that I think has to be taken.

The Lakers last year were MOST LIKELY the NBA's best team. How they would have fared on the road against Cleveland is up for debate because of Cleveland's 3rd round departure, but given their win in early February in Cleveland, one can assume they would have won. But things have changed.

The most obvious difference is the sort-of trade that brought Ron Artest to town for Trevor Ariza. While, on paper, this trade appears very good for the Lakers consider this. The Lakers are at their best with Kobe creating for himself, and finding open teammates. Other than point guard Derek Fisher and Bryant, the ball rarely touches the ground for the Lakers. The Lakers have been very quick to adapt to the "slash and kick" idea of basketball. Ariza was PERFECT for this style of play. His contract/ego didn't demand a lot of touches, his athleticism got him open all over the court, and—especially in the playoffs—he knocked down open threes.

Has anyone watched Ron Artest over the last four years? He pounds the ball into the floor, he forces horrible shots, and late in games he has the tendency to think he's a star. I know he's never played for Kobe and Phil before, and I do expect some early adjustments, but what about later in the year? What if there's a losing streak, or worse, what if Kobe gets hurt for a week and Artest IS a primary offensive weapon?

And then there's defense. Artest has survived for QUITE a long while on his defensive reputation. He's always been considered one of the best defensive players in the league. And while he remains one of the most PHYSICAL defenders in the league, he wasn't even the best defender at his position on his TEAM last season. Did Michael Lewis write his incredible, league-shaking piece on Artest's merits last year? No, that was teammate Shane Battier. Ariza on the other hand, is an athletic, defensive oriented kid. Sure, he gives up some pounds to bigger perimeter guys like LeBron or Pierced, but Kobe has seemed to take that burden on in recent years.

The point I'm making is that while on paper Artest is an improvement, off-the-court issues aside, I think that Ariza is a MUCH better fit to play 4th banana on a team that just won a ring. And I think that would be hard to argue against.

Then there's the obvious post-ring let down. Last year everyone had something to prove. Kobe (obviously), Phil, Lamar, Fisher…everyone. After 2008's loss to Boston, after Shaq's 2005 ring, these guys needed to prove they had what it took to take a team from the lottery to the Larry O'Brien. And they did it. Wire to wire. This year, there's less of that. There ARE storylines. Kobe vs Shaq, Kobe vs Lebron, Phil vs Red, Lakers vs Celtics…but these aren't necessarily the most compelling "no one believes in us" storylines. They got their ring. I'm not saying they won't go all out, but I am saying that when push comes to shove in June, they may have a LITTLE less shove in them, and I'd be interested to see, in today's incredibly high-level NBA, if that makes a difference.

And the big thing: Kobe. 1200 games? Are you kidding? Look, I know he's young. But the guy has gone through a LOT in his life. More than Michael. He's played a lot of games, and he's played the last three years in "fuck you" mode more than anything. He had a lot to prove, and to me, he proved it. He led the Lakers, without Shaq, to a ring. Fuck you mode is OVER. The first 2/3 of his career is OVER. And if you ask me, Kobe as an unstoppable force for 100 games is OVER. There will be moments, there will be stretches, but last year Lebron passed him. This year Wade passes him and MAYBE Durant passes him. Kobe is the same age Michael was when he returned from baseball to win three rings. But remember, the late 90s NBA was arguably, along with the late 70s, the worst era in history. The Iverson, Pierce, Kobe class was too young, the Ewing, Malone, Drexler class was old. The game was in transition from the Lakers/Celtics 80s to the bullshit individual 90s. Jordan's biggest hurdles were an aging Malone and Stockton, an aging Ewing, and a not-nearly-as-good-as-today's-stars Reggie Miller. Not to mention, Jordan was about 275 games short of Kobe at this age. Kobe is on the wrong side of this hill.

Look, I'm not saying he's not a star. I'm not even saying he's not the second-best player in the NBA (though I may be saying that in about three months), I'm saying he's not going to single-handedly carry anyone to a ring while not in crazy-ass Fuck you mode. I think short of a new rape case, a Shaq/Lebron collaborative rap about Kobe's diminishing skills, or another crazy event that turns him into the Incredible Hulk, Kobe is about to be passed. Toss into this an aging Fisher, a crazy off-season for a troubled player in Lamar Odom, an increasingly less interested Phil, and a not-quite-as-good-as-we-thought-they'd-be corps of youth (Farmar, Bynum) and the replacing of Ariza with Artest, the Lakers are OLD. Not Celtics old, but old. This stuff matters when you go up against Wade, Durant, Roy, Paul, Melo, Lebron, Howard, and Rose.

The changing of the guard has been READY to happen for two years. Only the Garnett trade and the Gasol trade have delayed the passing of the torch from the draft of '96 to the draft of '04. I think it happens this year. I don't know who wins, but I don't think it will be the Lakers.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Smoke up Johnny

Smoking in Bars

I've never been a smoker. I mean, I've smoked, and for a regrettable 9 days in the spring of 2006, I tried to become a smoker; but for the most part, I think I've probably bought 11 packs of cigarettes in my life. In addition to this, I'm not a drinker. This may come as a surprise given my profession (bartender), or my roommate (Olsen), but I probably have no more than three drinks a week. I think being drunk sucks, and the alcohol that I like to consume is too damn expensive in this town. All of this being said, I think one of the greatest travesties in this country over the last decade has been the vilification and criminalization of smokers in bars and restaurants.

Last weekend, I watched Chasing Amy, which, given its place amongst mid-90s icons, holds up today. The movie made me nostalgic for many things—clothes, language, New York—but more than any of these things, the movie made me nostalgic for a time when smoking in public was not such a stigma. It made me nostalgic for sitting at a bar with people my age, talking about things people my age talk about, and going through half a pack of cigarettes throughout the night. (How I became nostalgic for an activity that I have no memory of ever participating in, I don't know).

Unfortunately, my generation grew up in the Nancy Reagan, "Just say no," drugs are bad but booze is good, "smoking kills" horseshit era. They lambasted us with classes in school and lessons at home with how bad smoking is. They ran commercials on TV reminding us of the dangers of cigarette smoke. Ironically these commercials ran in between commercials for fast food and inane busy-time tv that corrupted my generation into believing that the couch was more valuable than the front door. Wait, you mean sucking down tar-filled smoke into our lungs isn't good for us? You're shitting me?!?!? Oh shit!!!


But the worst thing they did was make smoking—the act of smoking as opposed to the act of consuming nicotine—a bad thing. I remember growing up and looking down on smokers. I remember learning that my grandparents had been smokers in an earlier era and thinking of this as some sort of incurable character flaw. Something was wrong with them, so surely, someone that chooses to smoke today is bad. And I'm not the only person that was indoctrinated with this garbage. We all were.

Smash cut to twenty years later when we, of legal drinking age, head to a bar to consume alcohol, eat garbage, and do everything possible to end the night in a stranger's bed. All of these things are not only acceptable in society, but encouraged. These are the noble things that our generation does. But if you want to have a cigarette, you have to go outside. FUCK YOU, and I don't even smoke!

It all started here, in Los Angeles: a city where people feign a health-conscious, environmental lifestyle for all the wrong reasons. People drive Range-Rovers on their way to pick up low-energy light bulbs. They buy crates of organic fruits and vegetables despite the devastation of land that these farms exploit. They pretend to care about world issues despite shopping for clothes made by 8 year olds in Bangladesh. And they spend RETARDED amounts of money on staying healthy. Recently it was brought to my attention that certain gyms in this city cost up to 120 dollars a MONTH to join. Obviously this unreasonable fee is for those SoCalites who need EVERY angle possible to feel better about themselves including pretending that their treadmill is better than the one down the street. Hey retards, guess what, everyone is laughing at you.

It is these people who convinced lawmakers that banning smoking around food would be a good idea. "Yeah, how am I supposed to shove my 8 oz. bacon cheeseburger down my throat while my lungs are being poisoned by second-hand smoke." Meanwhile, they stripped the rights of millions upon millions of people that have been smoking since the dawn of FUCKING time. And while I sit here and try to point out the obvious contradictions in these retards' arguments, I offer you this argument:

Bars are not supposed to be health clubs. Bars are where subversive things happen. And there are bars for EVERYONE. If you are a health-conscious, not-that-fun person, I'm sure there are plenty of bars for you. But for the rest of us, those of us who's idea of a bar is a dark, smoky, subversive place romanticized in every genre of film and literature from the Old West Saloon, to Marlowe's Hollywood, through Woodie Allen's Manhattan, we need certain things, like scotch, sexy women, and cigarettes. Bars are not for children. They are not for people paying 120 a month for a gym. Bars are places to meet girls, places to get in arguments over politics, history, music, and sport. Bars are places to see bands, consume poisons that we have cleverly renamed "liquor," and inhale large clouds of first-hand, second-hand, and if you're there long enough, third-hand smoke.

It is unfortunate that we have been indoctrinated by the same assholes who give us BULLSHIT like American Idol, Budweiser, and Jay Leno, to believe that not only are cigarettes bad, but so are smokers. And please believe me I sympathize with those of you who feel as though bars are better places without smoke, but after growing up in a bar and working in one my whole life, I can assure you that there are not as many of you as you think. You are a very small and meaningless minority who do not come in enough, do not drink enough, and do not understand exactly what it is a bar is there for. Next time you roll into a bar six-deep at 11:15 PM and you walk past that group of 15 people huddled outside around an ashtray, remember that they've been there since before the band came on, they are drinking more than just a round of Bud Lights, and contrary to you, they don't give a FUCK what you do at a bar.

And if you happen to be in Santa Monica, the town that my bar is located in, you won't see this group of people; for in Santa Monica, smoking is all but illegal outside of your own home. So to those of you who think that you have made the world a better place, remember that taking away someone's right to smoke is the same thing as taking away their right to have an abortion. If you want a smoke-free environment, go back to your overpriced gym and please leave those of us who are nostalgic for a time that they can't even remember alone with our booze and our smoke. Thank you.

The Big Blue Bus

If you've ever used public transportation west of Sepulveda, you've probably been on the Santa Monica "Big Blue Bus." The Big Blue Bus services all of Santa Monica, much of Venice, West LA, and UCLA in Westwood. It is often considered one of the best metro bus lines in the western United States. And I am here to question its anthropological context.

Santa Monica is a really weird place. It is one of the few independent cities in Los Angeles along with Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. Santa Monica is essentially a city that thrives with the tourism industry. The city is much bigger then most cities with only 90,000 people and that is because on a given day, the population will be well over 100,000 due to the massive amounts of tourists walking around. For this reason, the western section of town (west of Lincoln) is dominated by over-priced restaurants and boutiques. The other dense business area is about three miles east near the intersection of the San Diego Freeway and the Santa Monica freeway. Both highways offer nice locations for many company's offices and people from all over the city come each day from about 8-6 to add to the population.

In between the 405 and the beach, however, about 85,000 people make their homes. There are scattered businesses serving these people along Wilshire Blvd, and this stretch of suburbia is by NO MEANS desolate. In fact, this area is essentially the true Santa Monica in that it serves those who LIVE in the area, as opposed to those who are visiting. But these homes are still "near" the beach. Housing prices and rental costs are still exorbitantly high thanks to one of the most famous beaches on Earth being a short bike ride away. So, like most beach towns, Santa Monica is strictly bourgeoisie, although unlike most beach towns, Santa Monica is big, and a real, self-sustaining city. This fact requires that public transportation, something that is rarely seen in small beach towns, be efficient. This is where the Big Blue Bus comes in.

The Big Blue Bus acts as the mass transit system for people paying at least 900 dollars a month for an apartment. See, in our culture, The Bus (notice the caps) represents something that is not present here. The Bus is perhaps the most iconic symbol of the working class. Especially in a city like Los Angeles, where the Bentleys and Beamers seem to outnumber the pedestrians, a bus stop is chock full of symbolic associations of the proletariat. Bus stops all over the country, and especially in LA, are homes to the brown and black people that are cleaning the homes, washing the dishes, and building the 3 million dollar homes of the people driving by in their 75,000 dollar range rovers. Metro bus systems aren't an exercise in environmentalism—a tool to lessen our footprint—they are a tool to get to work for those without cars. Metro bus lines across the country are filled with working-class people on their ways from working-class neighborhoods to places like Santa Monica. The Bus (still in caps) is how burgers get flipped, hotel rooms get cleaned, and Hummers get waxed.

But Santa Monica is a town without a working class. That is not to say there are not workers, there are plenty of people who go to work every day. But these people tend to be white people working white collar jobs—people who in New York or Chicago would be using trains to get around, but thanks to LA's sprawl, aren’t offered this opportunity. Full disclosure here, my girlfriend works in Santa Monica, and often takes the Big Blue Bus—she, like many residents, work as hard as any busboy or caddy, but is not a member of the working class. We are middle-class through and through. And here is the problem. Middle class people in other cities don't take busses. But here, they need to. But just because they need the bus (no caps), doesn't mean they want to ride The Bus (caps). So the Big Blue Bus offers an alternative.

By renaming the bus line to invoke images of a cartoon, the Big Blue Bus has taken steps to remove the proletariat stigma that The Bus invokes. Beyond the name, by cutting off service at UCLA, the Big Blue Bus services exactly ZERO working-class neighborhoods hence, it allows citizens of one of the richest cities in the country, and students at on of the most prestigious universities on the West Coast to happily get from point A to point B without waiting at a bus stop with the black and brown people that are synonymous with our idea of a bus stop.

Furthermore, instead of marketing to what the bus actually does (take people around), the Big Blue Bus markets itself as a green alternative to driving. And while this fact is 100% true, it still doesn't compensate for the fact the Big Blue Bus still is a Bus, and its meaning isn't a green alternative to driving, but in reality, it is a way for people to get to and from work. But by limiting the range, using the "green" fa├žade as marketing tool, and of course removing the symbolic associations of calling it The Bus, and instead creating its own symbolic association that seems to attempt to place it amongst a Richard Scary fantasy town, the Big Blue Bus has removed any misconceptions that the riders on this bus are anything like the thousands of riders on busses across the country.

I can't decide whether this strategy is an incredibly insensitive exploitation of the citizens of Santa Monica, or an absolutely brilliant marketing tool. I will say this, Santa Monica, despite having only 90,000 residents, somehow supports five Whole Foods. Whole Foods is not just expensive, but overpriced, exploitive, and just unnecessary, yet somehow five big "grocery" stores are supported in this town. This phenomenon—that of "organic" being such a powerful marketing tool—is most likely akin to the Big Blue Bus. Perhaps if the Ralph's or Vons in LA were renamed "Green Organic Markets" they would cease to service working class people hence making them more appealing to middle classers. I really don't know what all this means, but I think I don't like it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Why the NFL SUCKS, part II

Because of the idiots that support the league:

First off—let me get this out of the way: No, I do not think that just because you watch the NFL that you are an anti-intellectual, racist, idiot. I am merely pointing out the connections between the two, and obviously would be equally as ignorant if I tried to pain the entire fan base of one of the most popular things in this country as red-state idiots.


I have held that this statement is true: "Not all Republicans are racists, but pretty much all racists are Republicans." It would be really hard to argue that, even a republican. And PLEASE spare me with the radical left-wing bullshit—it's a fact that 99% of all modern-day, redneck racists, with confederate sympathies vote fucking republican. OK.

Now, what does this have to do with the fan base (and hence production) of NFL football? I am arguing that while not all NFL fans are antiquated, meathead, anti-intellectuals, I am pretty sure that most meathead, masculine, idiots, are big fans of the National Football League.

It's like this: In the last fifteen years, congruently with the explosion of anti-intellectual reality TV such as American Idol, as well as the two elections that somehow put someone who didn’t know how to read into the highest office in the land, Mass culture has found a pigeonhole in exploiting and manipulating the lowest common denominator of the American population. Network TV, national radio, the two Bush campaigns; these are examples of using very simple and anti-complex themes to appeal to the retards that make up this country. All of these ventures have been VERY successful.

The NFL, a league that has been on the cusp of being the most popular sport in this country for four decades, finally took on this method in the last fifteen years and the league, and especially the fans of the league, have come to resemble the same slack-jawed rednecks that voted for Bush or make shows like Idol the most important things on Earth.

I DO believe that the NFL is something that could be discussed on a VERY intellectual level, and can come to represent very significant moments in American culture. But for the reasons mentioned above, the league has instead chose to appeal to those most easily entertained. We get absolutely TERRIBLE announcers, day in and day out, in order to not confound the viewer with facts or opinions that might stimulate brain activity. We are exposed to countless hours of ridiculous and mundane "commentary" on ESPN, the NFL Network, and tens of other outlets whose main goal is not to advance thought about the sport, but instead to regurgitate the same facts over and over, as if it was a common case of Herpes. And then the league is marketed to the base of the American population as a national holiday. The Brett Favre story became so iconic for this phenomenon that The Onion ran a headline last week: ESPN completely misses Brett Favre/Packers story.

Yes, it's kind of funny, but it's also commentary on how simple the league's main audience has become. I listen to these sports commentators who tell the same stories, regurgitate the same information, and NEVER offer an independent original thought lest offend the gigantic fan base that comes to pray to the altar of idiocy each Sunday.

My two favorite example of this is the NFL draft.

The Draft is silly because it is one of the biggest crap-shoots on Earth. Each year, GMs take turns throwing darts at a draft board and selecting guys that have exactly a 50/50 shot of becoming players. Yet SOMEHOW, we watch this draft as if there is any formula or skill involved and give guys like Mel Kiper Jr. the respect not only to watch him, but to establish value in the market. This past year, Kiper (and about every other person who had ever watched football in their lives) had Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree rated as the number one receiver. But when archaic Raiders owner Al Davis selected Maryland's Darius Heyward-Bey over Crabtree, Crabtree actually used Kiper and others' opinions as contract leverage against the team that drafted him. Needless to say, the contract is not signed, and it's now week 6.

Four years ago, someone (probably Kiper) determined that Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler was less of a NFL prospect than Texas's Vince Young or USC's Matt Leinert. Despite better numbers and a more polished set of skills, the fear was that Cutler's college experience "in the shotgun" would not translate over to the NFL. Of course, this line of thinking is ridiculous because skills are skills, and Cutler could be taught to QB from two steps forward (and also because 30% of his snaps are in the shotgun anyways). But somehow, this became the predominant flaw against Cutler. The NFL fan base, and its inability to form their own original thought, all of a sudden had an opinion. I can remember 4 separate people telling me why Leinert or Young would be more successful, and it was all due to Cutler's shotgun experience. Of course these people never saw Cutler throw a single pass, and had no clue what they were talking about, but these talking points became Cutler's downfall. This line of logic is not dissimilar from the "swift-boat" technique that brought John Kerry down in 2004, and most likely was appealing to the same idiots.

Young was selected third overall. Leinert tenth. Cutler went eleventh. Today, Cutler is the starting QB for the Chicago Bears with a career 87.3 QB rating. Leinert and Young are either backups or third-string (depending on who you ask) for teams with 37 year-old starting QBs.

This year, this retarded crap shoot will be broadcast in prime time for the hordes of zealots and nuts that think of this as substantial television. They will watch names they only know through Kiper's inane ramblings, and the hundreds of pointless hours of coverage the draft receives despite the utter irrelevance of 95% of the picks.

So, by now, 1000 words into this, you're waiting for me to say what the hell all of this bitter rambling has to do with meatheads. Have you been to a sports bar recently? I went to one two weekends ago for the Browns-Bengals game. The bar was showing every game at that time, and I was one of 50 people on the back patio. Now, I admit, that this is my own personal opinion, but if you are reading my blog, I assume my opinion means something to you (either direct or inverse), but I have done everything in my power in the last twelve years to avoid being around these people. Well, everything short of giving up the NFL. They are stupid, they are misogynistic, they value masculinity and individual prosperity far more than myself, and their concern for deeper issues or further explanations of things they have been taught are turn-offs. Now, how do I know this about someone's inner-character merely by getting a cursory glance at them during one fo the hundreds of commercial breaks we are forced to endure? Obviously, I don't, and I am making a sick and gross assumption about people I don't know. But this is the image they give off. This is the contiguous character that comes off in between their sets at the gym and their inability to use words bigger than Favre. Essentially, these are the people that put George W. Bush in office, not once, but twice! THERE, I did it!

Take a look at where football is most popular. The flagship for the sport of football is Texas where Friday Night Lights illuminate America's team. Where kids are bred from age 6 to play football. Where Varsity Blues meet Hook em Horns. Where G.W. Bush was governor, where John Kennedy was murdered and where Lamar Hunt realized that no matter how many rings he won, he would never win the hearts of the Cowboys fans. And outside of Texas, where else is football most iconic? Canton, OH. Now, I know I know a lot of you from Canton, and I know you are not all bad people, but it's not exactly a bastion of critical thinking. Instead, the McKinley v Massilon game (the biggest high school game in the country) is a breeding ground for future Buckeyes, and future wife-beaters; future NFL player, and future Idol viewers. The point is that the associations that SURROUND the sport, are not progress, thought, and compassion, but instead Hank Williams III, Air Force flyovers, and Rush Limbaugh.

And speaking of Limbaugh, it was he who just this morning said that, despite his banishment from the potential ownership team trying to buy the Rams, that he "remains one of the sport's biggest non-paid promoters."

So here it is. No, I don't think that just because you like the NFL, that you are Rush Limbaugh, but I'm pretty sure that all the racist, repugnant, and anti-intellectual Rush Limbaughs of the world are big fans of the league.

Playoff DIscussion

Mike "the bot" Hearn:

This morning, I calculated this:

[Sport/Full Season/First Round Playoff Length/Percentage] –

Conclusion: baseball has the shortest first-round playoff of the three major sports by more than 50%.

[Sport/Winning percentage of top quarter of teams/Winning percentage of bottom quarter of teams/Difference] –

Conclusion: baseball has more parity by far than the other sports, meaning odds of the better team winning are lower than in any other sport.

Together these two conclusions essentially mean that a five-game playoff series is a coinflip. After 162 baseball games, the good teams and the bad teams are only separated by 19% points, so imagine the parity of putting almost equally good teams together and having them face-off in a series that is not long enough to statistically determine who is better. It’s meaningless.

What if a prize-fight only lasted one round? Or if the Super Bowl were 28 minutes (which is 3% of a total season, by the way)? It would be bullshit, and no one would accept that the victor was the better team because there WASN’T ENOUGH TIME TO DETERMINE ANYTHING. In a five-game baseball series, your star pitcher could have a bad day or A-Rod could go 2-12, whatever, and your season is OVER. Randomness rules over consistency as time span decreases.

To properly choose the length of the playoffs, two factors need to be considered: parity, and boring the crap out of people. Now to TRULY establish which team is better, a series would have to be INFINITE games, and the wins/losses would slowly approach the true mean of how good two teams are. In 1997, maybe in an infinite series the Indians would win 60% of the games and the Marlins 40% (but the Marlins win 4 of the first 7, sucks for you guys). However, infinite series are obviously unfeasible. So you need to pick the highest sample size (i.e. number of games) that will reflect the quality of a team without boring the crap out of an audience –

This is when parity comes into play. If in an infinite series (the ideal), one team wins 51% of the games while the other 49%, in reality you would need A LOT of games to establish this. Whereas if the split was 90%/10%, you could probably establish it in a 5 or 7 game series. This is why football (differential: 52%) can survive on one-game playoffs – because the good teams beat the bad teams. Same for college basketball’s March Madness. The NBA is king here – they have high parity (45% differential), and a high season/playoff % (8.5%). This is why the same good teams tend to win the championship: Bulls in the 90s, Spurs, Lakers, Pistons. The good teams win the championship. Astonishing.

Alternative #1: 9 game series. Why the fuck do baseball teams take breaks in between games in the playoffs? They have like one off-day every week during the season, then all of a sudden during the playoffs they get like every other game off. Play 9 games in 11 days. Fuck it. Also, your good pitchers would go 3 times, your good batters would get more than 15 ABs in the series.

Alternative #2: Bring back the old East/West system. There are 162 games in a season; it’s a pretty good system for figuring out who are the best teams, so you don’t need an elaborate playoff. Why are 8 teams in the playoffs? Just put the two clearly best teams into the AL/NL Championship series and then the winner plays in the World Series. It worked for like 60 years, FUCK YOU BUD SELIG.

Alternative #3: Allow steroids. This would not fix the parity issue but I’d get to stop hearing about it and that is so much better than having a legitimate champion ever year.

Matt Glassman

Ok, first off allow me to say that I think playoffs in ALL sports are bad. They are outdated. Playoffs were originally intended to find out which of the two leagues (AL and NL), two leagues with different governing bodies, different rules, and different groups of players was superior. Now, you have a standardized canon of rules, one draft pool, and 162 games to figure out who the best team is. If it were up to me, the NY Yankees would be hoisting a trophy right now. This is why I think the much beleaguered college football system is the best right now. Each week, regular season games are really fucking important. Baseball games are irrelevant for the most part.

Second off let me say that of the 3 major sports playoff systems, I think baseball is the most entertaining and BY FAR the best judge of superior talent, and I will explain in a moment.

In his e-mail, the bot showed a very well-researched and incredibly shortsighted and closed minded argument. First off, his formula to find parity is a very rudimentary and simple one. It ignores the fact that as teams play an amount of games approaching infinity, they will approach a .500 winning %, so of course baseball has the most parity, they play 10 times more games than football. Furthermore, he ignored the middle half of teams, which is where parity is usually found. 2 years ago, the super bowl winner was outside that top quarter and yet crowned champion, a glowing example of parity, but one ignored by the Bots formula.

Furthermore, he spends a lot of time on the percentage of the regular season that the playoffs represent, and I just don't see how this is valuable. In fact, I feel like one could make a very strong argument than the SMALLER the % of the regular season the playoffs represent would be more desirable hence placing a higher premium on the 6 month, 162-game regular season. This argument is easily made by looking at the utter irrelevancy of the NBA regular season given the 2 month-long, up-to-28 game playoff season nullifies so much of the regular season that it becomes almost boring. But that is not the crux of neither the Bot's nor my argument. Just something that should be noted.

He also points out that the first series is a "coin-flip." Well, bot, consider these facts: In basketball, the number 1 seed plays the number 8 seed in the first round. Often this is the best team in the league against the 16th best team in the league. Considering there are 29 teams, the top team, the favorite to win it all, is playing a team that finished 2 spots closer to last place than they did first place. That's a considerable adv. In baseball however, the Dodgers are the 4th best team against the 7th best team. The Red Sox and Angels represent the 2nd against the 3rd. The Phillies are the 5th and the 6th, and the Yankees are the best against the 8th. All of these are fairer and hence lead to a more "coin flip" atmosphere. Obviously if infinite games were played, the better team would always win, but in this case, that is not possible, and 5 games will have to do.

It should also be noted that when the NBA did have 5 game series, that the 8 seed only beat the 1 seed twice in history - once in the strike shortened 1999, and once in what many consider to be the greatest playoff upset in league history, the 1994 Denver Nuggets. So 5 games was always enough for the better team to win in basketball.

As far as football goes, it is true that their one-game playoffs are exciting and proportional to the regular season, but a football game more than any other sport is a coin-flip. Football games (between two good teams) essentially come down to 5 big plays. The bot argues, "what if a pitcher has a bad game, or A-Rod goes 2-12?" Yeah, but what if a QB hurts his ankle on Friday and can't play? What if a star running back has his first fumble in weeks during a critical drive? What if a kicker, who hasn't missed all year, misses a 40-yard field goal as time expires (see 2005 Colts/Steelers.) Things happen, bot. It's the playoffs. And considering the season starts in trianing camp in May, and can end on the mistake of one man's foot in January is doubly as unfair as CC having two consecutive bad starts in the 2007 ALCS. The season ending because of a bad pass interference call (see 2008 Colts/Chargers) is wayyyyy worse than A-Rod failing to get an RBI in 4 straight games in the 2004 ALCS. Sorry, but that argument doesn't fly.

And then he makes the argument that the NBA consistently puts the best teams in the finals because of their marathon playoffs. Well, I have two responses to that.

1. If that were the case, than wouldn't baseball's regular season consistently put better teams in the playoffs year in and year out due to having twice the regular season? This year, 50% of baseball's 8 playoff teams repeated as playoff teams. Last year's top 8 in basketball repeated 62.5% of the playoff teams. Despite having 50% the games. Which brings me to point #2.

2. The nature of the games--basketball and baseball--are different. In basketball, having a super-duper star like Lebron or Kobe essentially guarantees you a top 8 spot, while in baseball, the Yankees finished outside the top 8 in 2008 with the most super stars. The sports are just different and hence the results of the champions should be different.

Now I will address his ways to make it besser:

1. 9 game series. . What you said about playing every day for 9 games and the best pitchers pitching 3 times. Assuming they play 6 games, day off, 3 games. The best pitchers would pitch twice. Games 1 and 6. The same amount of games the best pitchers pitch now: twice. In addition to this, the number 5 starter--the guy who under the current system doesn't make the roster would pitch twice as well--including game 9. So the World Series could come down to Paul Byrd against some musher on the Cards. That's fair. Joke. Not really.

2. I'd be all for bringing back the old East v West system, but what's the point? You still have a 7 game series to even play for the World Series. This is a small band aid that doesn't solve anything.

3. I'm all for bringing back steroids.

Also, it should be noted that the bot is basing this info on numbers alone. He doesn't watch the games. He doesn't remember the magical 95 Yankees Mariners series, or the 1999 Tribe Red Sox. Watch a baseball playoff game and tell me that it is not the best system. Look, unless you played an unlimited amount of playoff games, you're never going to figure it out. But consider this bot, 2 years ago; the New England Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season. First team to ever do that. They were the best team, maybe in NFL history. Then, they lost to the New York Giants in the super bowl who finished 10-6, the same record as the Cleveland Browns, who didn't make the playoffs. So somehow, to you, a system in which a team with the same record as a non-playoff team, beating the best team in NFL history is a fine way to judge, but 19 games in 4 weeks started by the best pitchers in the game, in the loudest stadiums where every pitch matters is bad.

The Bot:

Hey glass, thanks for the response.

I'll start off by clarifying the parity situation:

If I flip a coin 1,000,000 times it will come up 50/50, because both heads and tails have p=.5 chance of coming up. Not the case in sports. In a theoretical infinite series, the better team will win > 50% of the games. If the Yankees and my local little league team played an infinite series, the Yankees would still win 99.99% of the time despite the infinite nature of the series. It would never approach 50%, it would approach the true mean of their team's abilities. Baseball has an incredibly high sample size, 162 games, and yet their parity difference is only 19%. Football's difference was 52%, which I admittedly based only on the past season, but I expect if I took winning/losing percentages of the top/bottom teams from each of the last 10 years (meaning 160 games), the difference would still be roughly 50% (meaning the good teams win 70% of their games, the bad teams win 20%).

In these sports, it doesn't have to do strictly with the sample size, it has to with the odds that in ONE GAME a good team will beat a bad team. In baseball, there's a higher probability of this happening than in other sports -- I don't know why, but that's how it is. The best record of all time was only 116 wins for the Mariners (71% win percentage). Four NBA teams had a higher percentage of wins LAST YEAR -- Cleveland (80%), LAL (79%), Boston (75%), Orlando (72%). That's just how it is. In a baseball game, a worse team has a statistically higher chance of beating a good team than in other sports. In my first note, I demonstrated this with the parity calculation using win percentages of good and bad teams, but I'll just say it in plain English -- in baseball, worse teams win more often, and the randomness of any particular game is much higher than in other sports. This is objective. If the Cavs played last year, they had an 80% chance of winning. If the Mariners played, they had a 71% chance. Which game would you bet on?

So -- having said that: due to the closer parity, you NEED A GREATER SAMPLE SIZE to have a truer determination of the better team. That's all I'm saying. A five game series is utter randomness because ANY TEAM CAN WIN when the difference in win % between the two teams is minimal. If I have a coin, in a 5 game series heads might win 3-2, or 3-1 or even 3-0, but in an infinite series it will approach 50% for each. Similarly in a 5 game series between baseball teams, even when one team might win 60% of the games in an infinite series and the other 40% (which, note, is roughly the parity difference in baseball as a whole), the worse team has a good shot of winning a 1 game series, a slightly worse but still good shot of winning a 5 game series, same for 7 games, 9 games, etc -- but as the series gets longer, the worse team's chances of actively winning the series decreases. In a 99-game series, the better team will win about 60 games, the worse about 40. When I say "approaching the mean", that's what I'm referring to.

Other notes:

--The baseball season does a great job of putting the best teams in the playoffs. I'll never counter that. A 162 game season is great at that. It's the playoffs I take issue with.
--In a 9 game series -- c'mon, you know managers would throw their aces out there in games 1, 5 and 9. They try to pull that shit in 7 game series, usually to catastrophic results.
--In football it's true that one individual play can change the outcome of the game, yet despite this the good teams still win a higher percentage of their total games than good teams do in baseball (football: 80%; baseball: 60%). I don't know why this is, but football is apparently a much more controlled game than baseball.
--In this argument, I'm not taking into account how good teams are across seasons, because so many factors can change. Somehow the Yankees weren't in the best 8 teams in 2008, despite their stacked roster. The 162 game season is more than enough sample size to prove this. Something on that team was wrong that couldn't be accounted for in their lineup (wait, their pitching -- it was terrible).
--The east/west series works because it keeps the riffraff (i.e. the wildcard) out of the playoffs (a clusterfuck where anything can happen); basically, it prevents undeserving teams from benefiting from the randomness that extreme parity the playoffs results in.
--The 2007 Giants are an interesting example of the randomness of having a one-game playoff system. I can't really account for them, other than to say that if football had a 3 game series in each round, the Giants likely would not have won. Again, sample size is important, but I accept the one-game series in football because of the lack of parity (i.e. better teams usually beat worse teams).
--Basketball, again, is the gold standard of the best team winning the playoffs. I don't know why they got rid of the 5-game series for basketball's first round, frankly, because if ever there was a sport that could actually use LESS GAMES, it's them. Good teams win 80% of their games, and they're usually playing terrible teams in the first round. They don't need 7 games to figure this shit out. I think the Bulls swept their first-round series in the 90s, like, every time. They could also cut off the first round entirely; because again you don't see the #16 team every winning shit, but whatever. I'll let basketball do what it wants.

Closing argument: the baseball playoffs may be exciting, but the wildcard has won the World Series FOUR TIMES since 1994. That is bullshit. But because in the baseball playoffs anyone can win when the series is short, they have to either (a) make the series longer to make sure the wildcards get beat by the better teams, or (b) make the playoffs more exclusive and eliminate average teams from benefiting from the almost coinflip results of a baseball series.


OK, I'm going to re-address the bot's issue with the MLB playoffs. First off, allow me to say that I think that the parity question really is an example of how you want to measure parity. One way of looking at it, is to compare the top to the bottom and how far they are from each other (which is what the bot has done.) Another way would be to look at how many teams comprise the middle (or in this case, low-end playoffs teams) in which case football would far and away win. Another way to judge parity would be to examine how often the same teams repeat in the playoffs, in which case basketball would be the sport with the most parity. In any case, it is somewhat of an irrelevant question.

The bot points out that the wild card has won the World Series 4 times since 1994 (there was no WS in 94, so he means since 95). He uses this is as an argument to prove that too often, a bad team (what he refers to as "riff-raff" wins the world series over far better teams, hence proving that baseball's playoff system does not provide a solid enough foundation to put the better team as a champion). What he leaves out is how baseball's wild-card system works. He assumes that the wild card is the 4th best team in each league and represents the 7th and 8th best reg. season records. That could not be further from the truth – in fact, the wild-card team regularly is not in the bottom tier of playoff teams. This year's wild cards, the Red Sox and Rockies were the 3rd best and 6th best teams in the major leagues respectively. By the way, both of these teams were eliminated in the first round. Last year, the Red Sox (4th best team) and Brewers (6th best team) were the wild cards and while the Red Sox beat the Angels in the playoffs before losing to the Rays, the Brewers were swept in the first round.

He then mentions that 4 wild card teams have won the championship, and that that is BULLSHIT. Unfortunately, he declines to note that in that same time period, 4 NFL wild-card teams have ALSO won the championship, and ignores this significance.

The 4 wild-card teams that won the championship are the 2004 Red Sox, the 2003 Marlins, the 2002 Angels, and the 1997 Marlins. These teams were the 3rd best, 6th best, 5th best, and 4th best teams in the MAJOR LEAGUE'S respectively. I'm sorry, but in 15 years, having the 6th best team in baseball win ONCE, while the rest of the teams have come from the top 5 doesn't seem so bad to me.

The 4 NFL wild card teams that won the super bowl are a different story. These teams are the 2007 Giants, the 2005 Steelers, the 2000 Ravens, and the 1997 Broncos. These teams were 9th, 9th, 3rd, and 4th best teams in the NFL. Somehow, this fact is OK.

He also points out that the NBA's marathon playoffs are the best to determine the best team, and while I agree KIND of on that, I stick by my argument that it is too long and arduous and nullifies the regular season. I will expand on this argument more in a moment.

By the way, his main argument is against the randomness of the 5 game first round series. Yet somehow, despite coin-flip odds, the NLCS is a rematch of last year's NLCS and the team with the better regular season record won every series this year. In fact, let's look at something really quick.

In the last three years, the MLB's first round (the round of 8), the team with the besser regular season record is: 10-2. This is 5 game "coin-flip" series, over the course of three years. In that same time period, in the round of 8 in basketball (7 game series, better judge of the besser team), NBA teams with a besser record went 9-2, with one series pitting two even teams against each other. So by default, baseball did besser, but even if one says even, to call the MLB first round BULLSHIT, when in the last three years if has performed as well, if not besser than the gold standard NBA is bullshit in itself. In case you were wondering, the NFL's round of eight in the last three years, is 4-7 (with one game featuring evenly matched teams).

The point is this: playoff strength boils down to a philosophical question. The NFL is the league the best rewards its teams for a strong regular season, DESPITE the regular season meaning nothing. The top 4 teams in the league receive BYES, making a first round victory a literal certainty. Furthermore, the best teams need to play ZERO road games. However, despite this advantage, the top 4 regular season teams are 9-11 in the last three years of playoffs with one champion. I don't get HOW the fuck the bot is fine with that.

The NBA, which obviously is the longest, and probably best, who also rewards the best regular season teams quite handsomely (Games 1 and 7 at home, in the sport with the greatest home-field adv BY FAR). The top 4 teams in the league in the last three years are: 24-10 in series with two champions.

The much-maligned MLB, with it's "coin-flip" playoff scenarios, and limited home-field adv. is somehow 14-10 with two champions. Also keep in mind that baseball teams aren't afforded the 1-8, 2-7 matchups that basketball teams are. Remove those from the NBA and they go down to 13-9, pretty even with major league baseball, with the same amount of champions.

The philosophical question is this: why do we have playoffs. Is it really do find out who the best team is? Because I feel as though 162 games tells us that. And if it really is, than anomalies like the 2007 NY Football Giants and the 2005 Steelers should NEVER happen, let alone twice in three years. Baseball is the best regular season because of its length and because of its symbolic meaning. But if you made the playoffs any longer, they would stretch into November, with rain, snow, and freezing temperatures, as opposed to the occasional game like Sunday's CO/Phi game, that would be the norm.

I agree that 5 games is a short series, but I disagree that it nullifies the regular season or that it is not fair. The team with the besser record has games 1 and 5 at home, as well as a 60%- 40% home field adv, as opposed to 56-44 in basketball or 100-0 in football; the best pitcher in the series will pitch twice, and if needed the second best pitcher will pitch twice. It allows the wild card, which despite the bot's RIDICULOUSLY short-sighted analysis ACTUALLY allows for a top tier (meaning top 5 MLB) team to get into the playoffs despite their unfortunate division placement. It gives hitters 20-28 at bats—more than enough for averages to matter—and exposes teams weaknesses (see: Bullpen, Rockies; lineup depth, Stl). Furthermore, these series have consistently been exciting, worthwhile, and competitive (as opposed to the NBA first round) and consistently allows the better team to advance (as opposed to the NFL).

Playoff baseball is DIFFERENT than reg. season baseball. Your top 2 starting pitchers become MUCH more important, and your bullpen and defense get exposed, but it was like this BEFORE the wild card, and before the fucking AL/NL CS. That's one of the beauties of October baseball.

Now, I think I'm done, I have to go get ready for the second round, featuring the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th best regular season teams in baseball. Bot, you have officially been served.