Monday, June 28, 2010

Volume 5, Number 16: Baseball All-Star Tweaks

Recently, Bud Selig made a couple changes to the All-Star Game that I feel are a joke. First and foremost is expanding the All-Star Game rosters (like the game hasn’t been slowed down enough with all the substitutions already being made now in an effort to get every player to make his appearance). That also cheapens the value of making the All-Star team. The second is having the DH rule every year, regardless of whether the host city/ballpark are in the American League or not. Uh, given that the All-Star Game determines home field advantage in the World Series*, and you’re a National League manager, you should be fuming that every single such game will now be played under the AL’s rules.

* (That’s another Selig tweak I was never fond of—home field should always go to the team with the better record, like in the NBA and NHL.)

I do believe changes need to be made. But the ones I have in mind are different. I mentioned them back in 2006, and I’ll reiterate them below:

First, and a number of baseball writers have said this, it's not necessary to have every single team represented at the All-Star Game because it leads to crummy players making the All-Star rosters while more deserving players are forced to miss out. Take Mark Redman of the Kansas City Royals in the 2006 All-Star Game. Any pitcher with an ERA over 5 (as Redman did that year) should not be allowed within 1,000 feet of the ballpark, much less be on an All-Star roster.

Second, and this one may be met with some disagreement (but just hear me out), is this: Being a top vote-getter in the All-Star balloting should guarantee that they will play at least 3 innings in the All-Star game, nothing more. The managers should be allowed more power in determining the starting lineup.

How do I back up my argument? Two simple words: Reggie Jackson. Some of you remember the early '80s, when Jackson was a perennial top vote-getter (indeed, one of the most popular players the game has ever seen). Trouble is, his defensive skills had eroded so severely that AL All-Star managers at that time cringed at the prospect of having to start him in right field.

One factor that favors my second little tweak is television. I'll bet that the majority of viewers will tune away from the All-Star Game by the time the 6th or 7th inning rolls around. Would they tune away so quickly if certain favorite players had just gotten into the game (or were still on the bench, waiting to enter)? I don't think they would. Going back to Reggie Jackson, it would have been more intriguing to see him come into the game in the 6th inning as a pinch-hitter for the pitcher (supposing for the moment that said game was being played in an NL park) than to see him butchering the NL team’s base hits in the bottom of the 1st.

In summation, the question driving the ballot shouldn't be "Who do you want to start in the All-Star Game," but just "Who do you want to SEE in the All-Star Game?"

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Volume 5, Number 15: The Post-World War III NFL-USFL Merger

Today, I was going through some old creative writing of mine and came across an idea that basically came from mixing two interests: Alternate history stories and fantasy sports.

Some time ago, I imagined a TV series in which a newspaper columnist finds himself stranded in a parallel universe, a world in which (among other things) the United States lost 12 western states to the Soviet Union in March 1986, during the Third World War.

One of the more trivial ramifications of such a loss would take place in the world of sports. Both the National Football League and the nascent United States Football League would have lost franchises as the result of the Soviets taking over the 12 western states and thus would have had to merge into a new NFL. To wit, here is how such a merger would have looked. The franchises added from the USFL are indicated in red.

NFC East:
Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Redskins
New Jersey Generals

Notes: The St. Louis Cardinals moved to Phoenix in 1985, so the Cards were stranded in the new Soviet States of America (Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico).  The New Jersey Generals were a talent-rich team, having merged with the Houston Gamblers following the 1985 season.  NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle did not want the New York/New Jersey market to have a third NFL team, but with gas becoming a precious commodity--especially with the loss of Alaska--he could not force Generals owner Donald Trump to move his team to, say, St. Louis.

NFC Central:
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings

Notes: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers left for the newly-formed NFC South division (below). This division is thus the same as the NFC North division we have today.

NFC South:
Atlanta Falcons
Birmingham Stallions
New Orleans Saints
San Antonio Bandits
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Notes: Birmingham finally became a big-league city as the NFL added the Stallions. The San Antonio Bandits are the result of merging one of the USFL's better franchises, the Tampa Bay Bandits (who could not compete directly with the Buccaneers and had been opposed to the USFL's decision to switch to fall football for that reason) with the San Antonio Gunslingers (one of the USFL's less successful franchises). San Antonio was one of the few markets left that might support an NFL team. The Stallions are in the NFC South--as opposed to the AFC South--so they can enjoy rivalries with the Saints (another Gulf Coast state) and the Falcons (in the neighboring state of Georgia).

AFC East:
Baltimore Stars
Buffalo Bills
New England Patriots
New York Jets

Notes: The Stars, the only team to appear in all three USFL championship games (winning two), had relocated to Baltimore from Philadelphia after the USFL's pre-war decision to compete directly with the NFL. What great timing. Baltimore gets an NFL team just two years after losing the Colts to Indianapolis, and get to play against three of the Colts' old rivals (but not the Colts themselves; they relocated to the AFC Central).

AFC Central:
Cleveland Browns
Cincinnati Bengals
Indianapolis Colts
Kansas City Chiefs
Pittsburgh Steelers

Notes: The Chiefs are the only surviving team from the old AFC West. The Houston Oilers got moved to the new AFC South division (below). The Colts join the AFC Central because, after moving to Indy, they're closer to Cincinnati and Cleveland than they are New York and New England (and the postwar American government prefers that the NFL's teams minimize all logistics costs).

AFC South:
Houston Oilers
Jacksonville Bulls
Miami Dolphins
Orlando Renegades
Memphis Showboats

Notes: The Bulls looked to be a stronger franchise after merging with the Denver Gold following the 1985 USFL season, and had great fan support already (in fact, in our universe, Jacksonville's support of the USFL Bulls was why the NFL gave that city an expansion franchise in 1995). The Renegades and Showboats were two of the teams that were preparing to play a 1986 fall season in the USFL and were more than happy to play that season as NFL teams. The Dolphins leave the AFC East for two intra-state rivalries (Bulls, Renegades), a cheaper, less tiring travel schedule, and in the short run, a much easier schedule (in addition to three ex-USFL teams--more than any other division--the 'Fins would have two games against an Oiler team that went 5-11 in 1985). Incidentally, the Dolphins and Oilers would revive a short-lived divisional rivalry; they were rivals in the old AFL Eastern Division from 1966 (when the Dolphins joined the AFL as an expansion team) to 1969 (the last season before the AFL-NFL merger, in which the Oilers moved to the newly-minted AFC Central).

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Volume 5, Number 14: To Be, Or Not To Be... Smart

A few years ago, I wrote this blog entry about how I did better in courses where the right answers were clearly defined (like math and spelling) than subjects in which students could answer various ways, depending on how they interpreted the subject material (like social studies and English literature). I mentioned that I developed the need to have as many "right answers" as possible, which is why I did well in spelling bees and trivia games.

Recently, however, it dawned on me: Being smart isn't about knowing all the right answers beforehand. Being smart means asking questions when you need answers. It means knowing which question to ask to get that answer, and in some cases, finding out who to ask. Long ago, I used to think that if someone asked a question in class that they must not be smart because it meant they were having trouble grasping whatever subject the teacher was teaching.

Back in high school, I was too proud to ask my English teacher to give me a literal interpretation of certain phrases in Shakespeare--I could have sworn that some of them read like Yoda the Jedi Master had written them--because I thought the teacher was already expecting me to interpret Shakespearean correctly. Meanwhile, my mind was getting lost in words that felt like they weren't being used properly because I kept thinking of how they are used to today (e.g. it didn't occur to me that "soft" actually meant "stop" or "be quiet"; I sure could have used a reference like this back then). I never understood what the characters were really saying until recently, some 20 years later, when I saw the 2009 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet, starring David Tennant as Hamlet and the recently-knighted Sir Patrick Stewart as Claudius (he also played the ghost of Claudius' brother, Old Hamlet). I strongly recommend you see it--you may have to buy the DVD as it aired on PBS a little over a month ago--but I digress here.

Point it, I could have asked other students in the class after school as to what certain words meant or how certain parts should be read. An example is Act I, Scene II: I failed to figure out that Claudius' lines at the start of the scene were intended as a speech to the other characters on the stage, not just to one or two (and certainly not a soliloquy); and furthermore, that speech is divided into separate parts (first about his marrying Gertrude, then about Norway's continuing war with Denmark under the leadership of young Fortinbras). When I first read Hamlet, that speech seemed like nothing more than one long, rambling stream of words.

Obviously, it's better to ask a stupid question now than make a stupid mistake later.

And sometimes failing to ask questions can be the stupidest mistake of all.