Friday, May 26, 2006

Where Should Your Rooting Interests Lie?

by Rob Hyman
I recently spent a few days in Las Vegas and while I was there on official business, I did take some time to check out the sites, so to speak. One of the more entertaining things to do is spend some time at a sports book. What better place to watch a game, but even better, watch the conflicting swings of emotion minute by minute.

That got me thinking, for a non-sports better, my team affiliation and fantasy baseball affiliation often come in conflict. But how does sports better do it?

Here's an example. Joe Better has Albert Pujols on his fantasy team. Obviously he wants him to succeed at all cost. But does he? After all, Pujols is up against the Mets who is his beloved team. Also, he's got his ace pitcher Pedro Martinez on the mound. Conflicting enough? Well, let's say the over / under in the game is 7½ and Joe's feeling lucky during his time out in Vegas and, sensing a low scoring affair, he puts $50 on the under.

Let's head down to the floor of the MGM Grand's sports book to interview Joe:

Rob Hyman: Hey Joe - how's it going? Looking like we should have a good one on our hands tonight. I see you have your Bobby Bonilla Mets jersey on - what devotion to your team. I hope you hadn't put money on those '92 Mets, however. Anyway - I assume you're rooting for the Mets tonight? Nothing like a good ol' fashioned Mets / Cardinals pitchers duel. Brings me back to the days of Gibson vs. Seaver or Tudor vs. Gooden.

Joe Better: Ummm...Yeah rooting for the Mets, yeah I guess a pitcher's duel would be great, I think.

RH: Joe?

JB: Well of course I want my Mets to win, but I need more power numbers for my fantasy team so I'd love to see Pujols hit a homer, but not against Pedro because he's on my team. So I'd love to see Pujols do it late in the game. Although a late homer might mean that Pedro won't get the win, and I need wins for my team, and I want the Mets to win. Plus if Pedro isn't in late in the game and Pujols hits a homer, that might mean that the score is on the higher side, so my bet would be in jeopardy.

RH: Ummmm - okay so what is it that you want to happen?

JB: Yeah - well I'm rooting for 9 scoreless innings from Pedro but for the game to go to extra innings and Pujols hits two home runs in extra innings, but the Mets still pull out the game 4-3.

RH: Okay Joe - good luck with all that.

For someone who attempts to root for their beloved team, fantasy team and betting interests, conflicts are inevitable. While it's easy to say that your first should always be to your favorite team, sometimes bragging rights with your friends takes priority and of course it's always nice to line your pockets. So where should your rooting interests lie? I say, like in baseball, just hope you can win two out of three.

Rob Hyman's column, "The Weekend Warrior", appears alternate Fridays

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Steinbrennerization of Baseball

by Scott Silversten

It’s all George Steinbrenner’s fault.

Wait! Before you get ahead of yourself, this is not a column about the bloated payroll of the New York Yankees. Despite what many think or say, any other owner with Steinbrenner’s riches would be doling out the same amount of cash each year in an attempt to give his city a championship team.

Rather, this is a column about the mentality that Steinbrenner has fostered since purchasing the Yankees in 1973, and more specifically, a mindset that has overtaken so many during the course of the last decade.

When exactly it reached ridiculous proportions is up for debate, but there is no denying the absolute mind-blowing, hard-to-comprehend overreactions of the New York baseball fan to any minor thing that goes wrong during the course of what used to be a long season.

The Yankees and Mets no longer play a baseball season that once consisted of ups and downs, good and bad streaks, high and low moments. Rather, now both teams play 162 separate and individual seasons that all must be judged on a daily basis.

This past weekend’s “Subway Series” was just the latest example of the way individual and team performances are blown out of proportion by fans and, lest they be absolved of blame, members of the media. Talk radio is a major culprit, but mostly, it’s the “Steinbrennerization” of the New York baseball fan.

The definition of “Steinbrennerization” reads as follows: The inability of an individual to see the big picture in a sport in which failure is commonplace for even the greatest teams and players.

In the opener of the latest most over-hyped series this side of Yankees-Red Sox, the Mets got off to a nice start with a dramatic 7-6 victory on Friday night. The win came in large part due to the ineffectiveness of Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who allowed a pair of doubles (ok, David Wright’s game-winner was officially a single) in the ninth to suffer the loss.

So what do we get? Panic from Yankee supporters about the decline of their “once-dominant” closer along with cries that the team just can’t compete with top-level competition this season.

Of course, all doubts about Rivera were pushed aside the following afternoon, when the righthander tossed two dominant innings as the Yankees posted an extra-inning triumph. No, Saturday night and Sunday morning were reserved for panic about the Mets closer, Billy Wagner, who imploded by allowing four runs in the ninth of a game his team had led, 4-0.

“How can the Mets recover?” came the cries of the Orange and Blue faithful. “It might take days to put this one behind us,” they yelled.

Well, the only reason it took one day is because Sunday’s game wasn’t until 8 p.m. The Mets rebounded with a victory, Wagner was again dominant and all was right in Flushing.

With a day off in Queens on Monday, the Yankees moved on to Boston and a date with their rivals. In the opener, they were clobbered, 9-5, the final score only looking respectable after Alex Rodriguez delivered another “non-clutch” homer in the top of the ninth.

“This is it,” extorted the Bronx faithful. “Two more games with Boston, too many injuries, we’re going to be eliminated by Memorial Day!”

So what happens? The Yankees get a strong outing from Jaret Wright on Tuesday, Rodriguez finally hits a big homer (although not REALLY that big, because the Yankees were already winning) and the American League East is once again a race.

As you read this on May 24, the season is essentially one quarter over. ONE QUARTER! It’s a cliché, but needs to be repeated: baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. There are a lot of hills and valleys along the way to October. The best teams will lose 60 games, and the best players will not get a hit in roughly 6 ½ out of every 10 at-bats.

And each failure doesn’t deserve to be greeted with catcalls. As Carlos Beltran rounded the bases in the 16th inning on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, do you think Mets fans recall the many boos they showered on their centerfielder during April’s opening week?

Actually, forget April, the opening week of May ended with the Mets leading the Atlanta Braves by nine games, a margin that was cut in half within less than three weeks with still another week of games remaining before the calendar flips to June.

A former assistant football coach at Northwestern and Purdue, Steinbrenner has treated every Yankees loss over the last three decades like it was going to cost his team a spot in the Rose Bowl. Ironically, things have only gotten worse since 1995, when the Yankees began a streak of what now stands as 11 straight postseason appearances.

Taking the temperature of teams every 24 hours is an approach that just doesn’t work in baseball, with its daily grind and, sometimes, mundane routine.

There is a scene in the movie “Fever Pitch” in which Jimmy Fallon’s character and his friends are sitting around a bar sulking about that day’s tough loss by the Red Sox. They glance to a nearby table, and see a few members of the team eating dinner, acting like nothing is wrong.

It is at that moment that Fallon realizes a simple truth; players are not easily affected by a loss. They go home, eat dinner, and come back tomorrow in an attempt to do their job better than the day before. Anything short of that approach would essentially drive players, coaches and managers into an insane asylum before summer even arrives.

It is only fans, the media and George Steinbrenner who can’t seem to grasp this concept.

Scott Silversten's column, "Age of Reason", appears every Thursday

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Most Amazing Season

For this week’s Wild Card Wednesday, we examine what I think may just be the most amazing season ever. What season? The 114-win 1998 New York Yankees? No way. Impressive? Of course. But give Billy Beane double the payroll of every other team, and we’re talking 120 wins. Plus, the Mariners won 116 three years later. How about the 1962 New York Mets and their 120 losses? While perhaps as equally improbable and amazing as 114 wins, the 2003 Detroit Tigers almost toppled them just a few years ago.

The 1988 Baltimore Orioles (0-21 start)?The Amazin’ 1986 New York Mets? The 2004 Boston Red Sox? The 1984 Detroit Tigers?

No, no, no and no. Have you guessed it yet? No? Well, I’m talking about…the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers!

I know what you’re thinking…the 1987 Brewers? What they do? Did they win the World Series? No. Did they even make the playoffs? Nope. However, what they did do is have one of the most amazing seasons, or at least the most amazing start to a season, in baseball history.

It all started on Monday, April 6, 1987 in Milwaukee. Teddy Higuera shut down the Red Sox with seven shutout innings and the Brewers downed their AL East rivals, 5-1.

After an off day, the Brewers won again on Wednesday. The next day they completed the sweep and were off to a solid 3-0 start.

Going on the road to Texas didn’t stop their momentum. The Brew Crew swept that series and were 6-0. Next series with the Orioles led to another sweep. 9-0. In fact, it took over two weeks for the Brewers to finally lose. On April 21, after a 13-0 start, the Brewers suffered their first defeat, falling 7-1 to the White Sox in Chicago.

So, let’s take a pause here. 13-1 start. Obviously, no team can sustain a .929 winning percentage. Certainly, the Brewers would come back to earth.

After their first defeat, they returned home for three against Baltimore. 3 days later, 3 more wins. 16-1. In Anaheim the next day, they win in 12 innings. 17-1.

They take 3 out of their next 5.

20-3.

Winning 20 out of 23 makes you a good team. Doesn’t make you great, but you have talent. Let’s put it this way…the 2005 Royals aren’t going on a streak like that anytime soon.

20-3 qualifies as one of the best starts ever. Not quite 35-5 like the 1984 Tigers, but 20-3 immediately makes you a contender. And indeed, on May 2, 1987, the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers held a 5 game lead over the New York Yankees.

Unless you are a Brewers’ fan or have a great memory, you probably are not sure what happens next. Of course, I already mentioned they didn’t make the playoffs, so you know they would come back to earth.

Let’s just say the next few weeks weren’t as kind to the Brewers.

They lost the next day. 20-4. And the next. 20-5. And the next. 20-6.

No need to panic.

They then got swept at home by the Mariners. 20-9.

Dropped two more at home to the A’s. 20-11.

Look, still 9 games over. Still in first place (by percentage points over the Yankees).

Swept by the Royals in K.C. 20-14.

Dropped their next one at home against the White Sox. 20-15.

And won the next day! Here we go. 12-game losing streak over.

They win again the next day. Winning streak! 22-15.

Then they lose their next 6. 22-21.

Think about that. A 20-3 start….and then 22-21! Amazing. In a span of 20 games, the Brewers managed to go from 1st place with a 5 game lead to….5th place, 6 games out.

They then went on a 6-game winning streak. 28-21.

And that, my readers, is in my opinion, the most amazing start in baseball history.

The rest of the story is not quite as interesting. For the rest of the season, their longest winning and losing streaks were 5 and 4, respectively. The Brewers finished at 91-71, finishing 3rd behind the Tigers. A solid season, for sure, but hidden in that 91-71 record is perhaps the most amazing first few months in baseball history.

13-0. 17-1. 20-3. 22-21. 28-21.

Amazing.

"Wild Card Wednesdays" appears every Wednesday

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Babe’s Tainted Record

by Jeremy Bird

As Barry Bonds hit No. 714 this past week, baseball pundits across the country began the constant debate about the historic mark.

For some reason 714 has become one of baseball’s most memorable figures. In fact, the average person is more likely to know of 714 than 755, despite the fact that Aaron broke Ruth’s record more than three decades ago.

Part of the reason 714 has become so enshrined in baseball lore is that Ruth has become such a mythic figure. David Zirin, in The Nation, writes:

Babe Ruth "remains the most treasured and important figure in baseball history. Home runs are still called ‘Ruthian.’ Yankee Stadium is still the House That Ruth Built. Ruth is the man with the fifty-four-ounce bat, someone so portly the famed Yankee pinstripes were first stitched on just to make him appear less rotund.”

But, Zirin also notes something extremely important about Ruth's record. The Babe played the game in an entire era that should have an asterisk next to it.

“Ruth’s 714 home run record lacks the spit-shined purity his backers trumpet. The Sultan of Swat made his bones playing against only a select segment of the population because of the ban on players whose skin color ran brown to black. Ruth never had to hit against Negro League greats Satchel Paige or Lefty Mathis to amass the magic 714. Yet no asterisk for institutionalized racism mars the Babe’s marks.”

Exactly. What is not mentioned in all of this 714 talk is that fact that Ruth’s record is unambiguously tainted. No, the Babe was not shooting up. The only performance enhancer Ruth used were hot dogs and beer, as the Phillies fans reminder Bonds on a recent road trip.

However, Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs in a league without the best players of the day. Babe Ruth never faced Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige or any other black pitchers who then threw in the segregated Negro Leagues. There were no Hispanic pitchers in the majors either.

Imagine hitting in the game today without pitchers like Dontrell Willis, CC Sabathia, Pedro Martinez, Freddy Garcia, Livan Hernandez, Jose Contreras, Ervin Santana, or Carlos Zambrano. The list goes on.

True, The Babe hit in larger ballparks, in a league with fewer teams, and in an era without a juiced baseball (or players). Yet, he still played in a tainted league that barred many of the best players of the time from pitching in the majors.

Baseball purists believe that Barry’s numbers should contain an asterisk to highlight its impurity. As far as I am concerned, any record amassed prior to Jackie Robinson breaking the racial barrier in 1947 is a flawed record that should have a larger asterisk next to it than Barry’s.

I am no Bonds apologist. However, I also think we should stop and think about baseball’s own tainted past. Babe Ruth was a great player, but he played in an era marked with racial injustice. Like the current juiced player era, all records prior to Jackie will be forever tainted.

Jeremy Bird's column, "Bird's Eye View", appears alternate Tuesdays

Monday, May 22, 2006

Yankee Diary #6

by Michael Carlucci

Sunday, May 21

The Mets. New York's -- and Major League Baseball's -- afterthought. Losers since 1986, they've shown a little spunk so far this year. So now their fans are giddy. One such fan had the audacity to call me in the middle of tonight's game to opine on the majesty of David Wright's home run. Anticipating the motivation for the call, I opted against answering. I find Met fans objectionable.

But I find a lot of people objectionable. Met fans are simply a proxy for the real enemy, the Yankee hater. A Yankee-hating commentator with a column to fill recently attributed several hysterical remarks to "Yankee fans." His point was that Yankee fans are spoiled, greedy, and unable to accept anything but the inevitable championship. In fact the Yankee fans I know are dealing quite well with the rash of injuries we've sustained. But these Yankee haters don't want such emotional equanimity, because then they lose their entire argument. So, with your permission, here's a memo to Yankee-hating, lazy writers: at least get a real quote from a real Yankee fan next time you decide to write an entire article about the obnoxiousness of Yankee fans.

There. Now my rant is over. We can now turn to the subway series.

So let's assess the damage. There were three one-run games, of which the Yankees should have won two. But we only won once -- the one game we should have lost. Tonight's game was frustrating because we managed to have about 15 baserunners and only scored three runs. Friday's game was horrible because Randy Johnson was staked to a four-run lead before he threw a pitch and we still lost.

Randy. He is perpetually frustrated on the mound. It's because he's too old to be consistent. Everybody but Randy knows this. The pitches that used zip past the hitters are now sailing over the fence. And it shouldn't be surprising. The pitches are slower, and are more often right down the middle. Even a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer is overmatched by advancing age. The Yankees can't win with Randy pitching as poorly as he has the last month, and it doesn't matter who the competition is. Randy's task now is to find a way to be effective without a 98 mph fastball.

A-Rod has a task as well. And that is to get a hit when it counts. Tonight he had a chance to tie the game in the eighth inning but instead grounded into an inning-ending double play. I will hold most of my invective while we wait for the upcoming Red Sox series. But my patience is running out.

Now that we're halfway to the halfway point, I think it's safe to say the following:
1) Even without Matsui, the Yankees should have enough hitting to win.
2) The Yankees never had enough pitching to win.
3) Derek Jeter is having his best year since 1999.
4) I hate the Red Sox.

Michael Carlucci's column, "Yankee Diary", appears alternate Mondays
"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
- Carl Erskine

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