Monday, April 30, 2012

   Eight years ago, ESPN compiled its official list of the best sport movies since its inception. There are twenty-five movies on the list, baseball of course, is represented. There are quite a few memorable comedies that have baseball as the subject such as Bull Durham (no.4), A League of their Own (no.11), and Major Leagues (no. 14). As much as baseball pulls from its nostalgic roots, as is the case for Field of Dreams, it's also a topic to flex its comedic muscle.

   I believe that the leisurely pace of baseball gives it the perfect comedic timing. Football or boxing with its quick pace is more in line with the action movie; in boxing though there is more of a dramatic flair. Because baseball reflects a more realistic and endless stream of time, it seems that there is time enough to tell jokes. With baseball's pace thoughts do not always have to focus on the intensity of competition, but also, "cutting loose."

   One prime case is the classic Simpson's episode, "Homer at the Bat" which pokes fun at baseball while embracing it. The episode works within the culture of baseball from the quirks of Mr. Burns' baseball signs to more nostalgic references taken from "The Natural" to the use of signing the biggest names in the sport for tactical advantage. It eventually culminates in Homer's at bat. One where eight out of nine players go missing for various wacky reasons and he has to bat for (now) former Met slugger Daryl Strawberry. It's Homer's final do-or-die, as the game's now in his hands after being benched for superstars.

   There is real life basis for this kind of characterization as some of baseball's personalities have been known to have a goofy sense of humor. Four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux was known to wipe his snot on other players as a joke. Kent Hrbek, according to ESPN's Tim Kurkjian, would go camping and played tape recordings of his "best" farts. This doesn't just happen to individuals, but between organizations, such is the case when the independent Northern League traded one of their own players for sixty cases of beer.

   There are plenty of angles at work in the National Pastime as I've mentioned earlier: nostalgia and hope. But there is also the laughter that bridges the gap between innings and is a component that give baseball its unique identity. As famed Cubs announcer Harry Caray once said, "I'll tell you what's helped me my entire life. I look at baseball as a game. It's something where people can go out, enjoy and have fun. Nothing more."

Monday, April 23, 2012

Monday, April 16, 2012

Scott Boras and the Rising Tide

   Since 1982, there has been no other man that can attain bigger record setting deals. The superstar-in-need of the big payday has him at his side. He is their weaponry against their employer, but a shark to owners. There are a bevy of All-Star players that have enlisted his services: Carlos Beltran, Barry Zito, Alex Rodriguez, and many more; not to mention those that will continue to seek Scott Boras.

   Even as owners and fans roll their eyes at some of these excessive contracts in the $200 million range, it is refreshing to note that this is not a corporate outsider working into baseball, but one that has a connection with it. Scott Boras received a baseball scholarship to the University of the Pacific in 1972, leading his team with a .312 batting average. Four years later, he would be named All-Star of the Florida State League, and had played four minor league seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs. Unfortunately, he would not make the majors because of knee problems; from there he has gone on to pursue a law degree and found the Boras Corporation, having been there for more than thirty years.

   If there could ever be a non-baseball candidate for the Hall of Fame, he would certainly be the first. The influence Boras has had in affecting the machinations of the sport are numerous, all in his role of a high-profile agent. His stratagems to secure the best, has forced the MLB to take counter measures in the free agency, salary arbitration, and the draft. He has manipulated the system by: secretly having a high-school client enter the draft pool, and having not been selected, becoming free to negotiate with any team; he has exploited some of the most obscure rules, such as in 1996, when after fifteen days, he had his clients declare free agency because their respective teams lost their rights to the players (a rule teams did not pay attention to). This eventually led to an immense bidding war, with baseball having to clean up the mess and close tight the loop hole. If anything, Boras has shown how much of a master he is at manipulating MLB's free market.

Carlos Beltran & Scott Boras
   To paraphrase journalist Hunter S. Thompson, just as it seems this great wave of free agent boom grows and grows, there comes appoint where it finally settles and crashes. Why organizations continue to chase down these kind of contracts is perplexing. These hundred million dollar contracts are not paid in one lump sum, but over a period of years, usually five or more. In the long run, it is a burning hole in any teams' fat wallet. It goes without saying that money may be flowing throughout Major League ownership, but prudence is a rare commodity. Players who sign these contracts are usually at or about to hit their prime, but by contracts end their production enters a steep decline. Some cautionary tales include: Carlos Beltran in 2005 ( seven years, $119 million dollars), or Barry Zito in 2006 (seven years, $126 million). The most ridiculous of these contract's is Alex Rodriguez's latest signed in 2007 for 10 years ($275 million) where he will be signed until he is 41, and just as his production starts to decline.

   The wave might just break. There is a new trend in baseball management which tries to stem the flow of these aggressive contract hikes. Organizations are now quickly paying extensions to their star players in order to avoid a bitter bidding war. Some of the new beneficiaries of these extensions include: two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and 2010 National League MVP Joey Votto. This is incidentally, also is a way of coping with the long economic recession as well.

   Just like all good history, it remains to be seen what will cool the fires of free agency. I'm sure that when Curt Flood made the first step towards free agency in days-gone-by, none could have figured the gargantuan offers that are thrown around to day. Who knows if this will be the beginning of smarter contracts, but if there's a way through the tightening of the purse strings, then it remains to be seen if Scott Boras is still worth his salt in the final negotiation.

Monday, April 9, 2012

   Religion and sports have co-mingled since early civilization. From the first ancient Olympic games to Medieval jousting (where prayer was prohibited lest one should gain an advantage) to the New York Jets. Tim Tebow has arrived.
   It's funny to see that most of the skill that Tebow has, or what he even makes due with, is lost to the public. In its stead, is a hot, white light of religious discussion. Many have gone on to love and support him solely for this reason, and just as equally hated because of it. It gives one to question: why is so much attention being given to him based on religious grounds?
   In a society where cynicism is increasing; Tebow's sign of religious profession is what polarizes people; it has also become popular within the youth culture. This is called Tebowing.

   The public showcasiing of faith is also among the MLB's Latin Players, most famously Sammy Sosa.

   Before the steroid scandal that destroyed his career and his legacy, Sosa was the most popular player in baseball. In his heyday with the Cubs, he was a six-time Silver Slugger winner who was known for his own unselfishness (1998 Roberto Clemente Award winner). According to a 2005 Sports Illustrated article detailing Sosa's return to the big leagues: "attendance at Wrigley Field increased 50% from his first season to his last." And yet as he crossed himself before his at-bats or after his lengthy home runs, he was never as heavily scrutinized as Tebow.

   If one were to look at Census records, the statistical analysis for religious affiliation is ever-present. In today's legal culture, there is ever the emphasis of separating Church and State; this argument cannot be deemed as new. Since the period of the Enlightenment, the issue of how much role religion can play in politics and the legal sphere has been debated, but with the new modes of information which include a twenty-four hour news cycle and the high-speed of internet, the spot light on said debate has narrowed into a white-hot blaze. It would seem that it is a battle between snarky secularists and outraged defenders. It seems that the stats would point likewise as there are a growing number of the non-religious from 14,331,000 (1990) to 34,169,000 (2008). This is far more than Sammy Sosa's time. The population shows that there has also been an increase in the Christian population as well and that they are still the overall majority.
   The increase of the non-religious has always been seen by Christians as a sign of decline; could it be that the secularist movement is the beginning of the end? Has religious tolerance shifted so much since Sosa's prime? Even though the "non-religious" increase probably helps make Tebow a star, the fact that there are so many Christians make it look as though it should be a smaller issue.
   Maybe there is a more broad issue at work than religious divide. In an insightful article by Daniel Foster, circulated by the National Review, he dissects what's at the core. Foster deems Tebow the "last boy scout." It's not so much a religious struggle as it is a skepticism of authenticity. There are many athletes and high-profile people who have thanked God, but all of them seem trite and insincere. People who have celebrated Him, have gone on to disparage His image with their actions (a very human thing to do). Foster final paragraph encapsulates his message perfectly: 

   For the faithful, Easter is a reflection on the life after. It seems that even if it is right to assume that the division between Church and State is widening, there is still a religious zeal. A zeal, which in sports at least, has found a center in Tebow. If anything, at least, it will open the average sports fan to the philosophical challenges of metaphysics and that the worth of a man is in his deeds.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Death of a Star 2: End of Spring

   The time is finally coming for the day of judgement for those lovable schmucks: the New York Mets. Will they be in the race for the playoffs or the race to remain relevant? And what about shortstop, will anyone step up? Unlike shorter seasons of NFL or NBA, baseball is a little more cruel. It's an arduously long marathon, and when your team's dead, they're going to be dead for three more months. The bleeding doesn't seem to end quick enough.

   According to, Jose Reyes ranks fifteenth overall in W.A.R. (wins above replacement), and only second in his position to Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki. The next player to have been on the Mets is Carlos Beltran (thirty-six), and he was traded away before the season closed down on this hapless team. Jason Bay is the highest active Met at number sixty-four, a player who over the last two years has had career lows in home runs (six and twelve). It doesn't look to good for the Mets.

   Reyes' replacement Ruben Tejada is not fairing much better because it seems he will start out the season with a day-to-day left groin strain. Met staff believe he can be a decent player, and it seems manager Terry Collins will not bat Tejada in the lead-off spot so that he won't be lost in Reyes' shadow. Tejada is not the only injured player though; it seems that the Mets are compiling a complete lineup of the injured. Unfortunately, this list includes the backup, Ronny Cedeno.

   It's going to be a year of teasing the fans. The chances of making the playoffs are still slim given the fact the postseason will expand, but according to MLB's network, it's quite possible they can be in third place.There seems to be some viable pieces around this club, unfortunately, a lot of them are young and inexperienced. Even with a decent lineup and maybe some good starting pitching, their biggest weakness just might be their own division. The NL East is stacked with talent from the perennial contenders The Phillies, to those that will remain in contention for a postseason spot (Marlins and Braves), and finally the Nationals whose improvements seem to make them tough to beat. Not only will they have to deal with others, but themselves, as it seems the medical staff needs the most improvements and right now, they aren't getting to the best of starts.

   It seems that this will be a year of appreciating the little things. I believe manager Terry Collins can coach the Mets to be competitive. Just about near the end of last season, the Mets were coming up with some impressive wins even as they were out of contention. One stretch that exemplified this was a series against the Cardinals which could have spoiled their season.

   Right now, all a fan can do is hope. Right now every team is undefeated. When the gun pops and the race begins, every fan is going to hope that their team can surprise a few, and continue to give off some fighting spirit. And as the season gets into its dog days, one can hope that their team is primed for the finish. And for the Mets... hopefully, a few miracles.

Monday, March 19, 2012

And your Winner of the 2012 World Series is...

   According to the preseason hype of the past couple of years or so the New York Yankees have dominated, winning five World Series, second only to the Philadelphia Phillies set of four. Who knows what this season's speculation will crown the supreme champion of baseball. In all the fracas though, what does reality say about the past ten years? Angels (2002), Marlins (2003), Red Sox (2004), White Sox (2005), Cardinals (2006), Red Sox (2007), Phillies (2008), Yankees (2009), Giants (2010), Cardinals (2011). Looks like the predictions aren't so clear-cut after all.

   What makes a team so hyped year after year after year? Sure, it's probably the talent, but how do you get that talent? By using a lot of money. This is probably the biggest reason why the Yankees are always favored; because they have the finances to make these glamorous moves. This is such a part of their identity that fans of rival teams accuse them of buying championships. It is a wide spread notion that clubs which spend the most will be prematurely ordained winners. From a more sullen angle this can be said of the NY Mets. In referencing the movie, Moneyball, Jon Stewart quipped, "Do you think they’ll ever a make a movie about a big-market team that has the money to spend, but still sucks. We could call it something fictitious, like, the Mets."

   If one looks the amount spent and who actually wins, you'll get a different picture. Last year, for example, the combined payroll of both World Series opponents (Cardinals and Rangers) was still just four million shy of the the Yankees' top spending ($201.7 million). For eleven consecutive seasons, the Yankees have spent the most, winning one World Series in that duration. I'm sure its infuriating to hear that, if you're a Yankee fan, but it's annoying for a regular fan. Currently, gambling odds are in favor of the Phillies winning it all this year, with the Yankees second.

   There is also the other side of the spectrum. Instead of spending a boatload, spend the least amount possible, but focus on statistical similarities to richer teams. What I am referring to is Moneyball. It pretty much consists of building a competitive, efficient team with the lowest possible payroll. So far, all that it has proved is you can keep a team competitive. In their prime years, the Oakland A's who were the main proponents of this system, went to the playoffs four straight times, never making passed the first round; the farthest they ever got was to compete for the pennant in 2006.

   There is no one way to win it all, but focusing on the amount of money spent doesn't guarantee anything. It's almost ludicrous how much objective analysis becomes blinded by all the money one organization can throw around. Even in the case of a Moneyball themed organization, there is still the fact that baseball has implemented a luxury tax. This is supposed to take money from those who spend more to those who have less; so, small market clubs do need financial help and not all can contend like the Oakland A's.

   Analysis should stop favoring the richest and actually try to find who has the best chance my examining talent and experience. Added to this now is the MLB's new playoff system which will add one more team to the mix, in a one game elimination. This would make the final number of postseason teams five for both leagues. Baseball is a marathon and the one that survives will only gain a chance to play fall ball. Nearing the end though, there is always one team that is on a hot streak that most of the analysts don't predict. Teams can't "buy" their way to a World Series anymore, but like the rest of us they need to spend their money well, and with a little bit of luck, can be champions.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Cry for Justice

   It must be infuriating when the system fails. It's actually quite perplexing how legal goings-on progress; a bureaucratic system tied up with so many rules seems to be walking quite warily lest it should fall trip on itself. The breaks of the few are the exceptions to the rule, and what a travesty it seems when these escapes are unfair loopholes.

   It wasn't long ago when Ryan Braun was respected as last year's MVP (though I believe it should have went to Matt Kemp). Long story short: Braun was tested for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and failed. Twelve previous players came up to bat to appeal their tainted tests, and all twelve went down swinging. So, after four innings, baseball's drug testing system had a no-hitter going, then up steps the Ryan Braun. Surely, Braun struck at this rigid testing with all his might, shaking it to its very core, a herculean blast as it were. But, no! Instead, it was a desperate jab, a bloop hit that ended the MLB's streak.

   What happened? He got off on a technicality. Because his samples weren't sent immediately, the results were null and void. Is there justice? What does it say to that affect? I remember a debate between linguistics expert Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault, a leading French intellectual of the day, debating what is justice and does it exist?

   Though the debate is more befitting of the mechanics of society, it can still be impressed upon this smaller example. Arguing from a Marxist-influenced perspective, Foucault believes in the clash between those who are the means of production (the players) and those who control production (the MLB). This theory is not so far fetch when it comes to labor relations within the sport; just as any collective bargaining agreement in any major sport winds down, there are always some legal troubles that ensue and ultimately, what can occur is a complete lockout. If one follows down this cynical road, which says there is no justice, but struggle, then Braun's motives are sinister. He does not fight against the establishment because he is innocent, but because he can win ground in the players versus ownership struggle in his own way.
    In his defense of traditional justice, Chomsky argues: "power doesn't imply justice or even correctness." I believe power relations is a substantial claim to add to the mix of things, but its almost as if one cannot be without the other. Justice has always been apart of civilization and is used as power, but instead of being indifferent in its aims, it tries to do what is right and fair. Ryan Braun may have eluded these charges, but does that make his results any less tainted or the anger of the fans any less satiated? No. Whatever the final outcome is, it now becomes(as paraphrased from Chomsky): how does justice "evolve," so that travesties such as these cease to occur in its continuing work to serve what is righteous.

   It is not only the values which become tested, but also those involved in the final resolution. Ryan Braun was dead to rights, but what about the arbitrator who ruled in his favor? It seems that the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly against Braun. The one who ruled to overturn, Shyam Das, still has to be examined. When guilt was the only answer, what evidence did he finally see that would vindicate Braun, is it possible their was some tampering in the midst of the testing, or was Das a slave to the letter of the law? If Ryan Braun's innocence is faulty, it remains to be seen how Major League Baseball can pick itself back up and close any such maladjusted loopholes. It will be quite a revelation to hear Das because his written opinion will be revealed thirty days after the ruling, giving fans enough time to mull over the nature of this spectacle.