Our National Pasted Time

by Bob Sparrow

The World Series is over!  If that’s news to you, you’re not alone.  It concluded last weekend sometime with a team from Texas beating a team from Pennsylvania, taking the series four games to two.  I assume there were lots of home runs, lots of great defensive plays, lots of strikeouts, actually, I heard there was even a no-hitter (although it took four guys to do it.  The only other no-hitter in a World Series was done by one guy, Yankee, Don Larson, pitching the whole game!), but few people watched or cared for that matter.  It didn’t help that there was not a team from the west coast in the series, but regardless of what team is playing, TV viewership has declined significantly over the last several decades.  In the 80s viewership for the World Series was between 55-60 million, compared to the last three-year average of around 10 million.   So, why have people stopped watching America’s national pastime?

I could suggest that the World Series comes at a time when college football, the NFL, the NHL, and the NBA are all in full swing, so there are just too many other sports to watch.  But I recently read an article by Derek Thompson, in The Atlantic that had a different answer to that question, which helped me understand why I didn’t watch any of the World Series games this year. I understand that I run the risk of you not reading any further about the decline of a game that you cared little about in the first place, but it’s a break from the political ads with which you’ve been inundated via mail and TV for the past month.

There really are a number of disassociated events that helped cause the lack of interest in baseball; first there was:

  • Players cheating:
    • Using steroids and other PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs) to hit the ball harder and farther

      Batting helmet with earphones

    • Corking a bat to create a trampoline-effect to hit the ball farther (physics research has shown that it really doesn’t work)
    • Pitchers using ‘foreign substances’ on the ball to make it do funny things on the way to the plate
  • Teams cheating, like the Astros who stole the pitcher-catcher signals and uniquely passed them along to their hitters while at the plate

But Mr. Thompson suggests another reason, simply saying, “You can make a thing so perfect that it’s ruined.”  To him It all started with a term, aptly portrayed in the 2011 baseball movie, Moneyball . . . analytics, defined as the systematic computational analysis of data or statistics.’  Yes, the geeks took over baseball and ruined it by being catastrophically successful.  Through crunching the numbers, they found:

  1. If managers wanted more strikeouts from their pitchers, they needed to cut down on the number of pitches by each pitcher and thus use more pitchers during a game. They found that with fresh pitchers, the average velocity and spin rate per pitch, increased.
  2. Hitters responded by increasing the launch angles of their swings, raising the odds of a home run, but this adjustment also caused more strikeouts, quite a few more. In the 1990s, there were typically 50 percent more hits than strikeouts in each game; today, there are consistently more strikeouts than hits. Singles have swooned to record lows and hits per game have plunged to 1910s levels.

So today, watching a baseball game is akin to watching two guys play catch, while another person swings wildly at some pitches and mostly misses, but occasionally hits one out of the park.

The article I read offered no solutions to the declining popularity of the game, although it mentions a few changes, that have come very slowly, in order to improve the game or the pace of the game.  For example, in an effort to make it more palatable to the consumer, in 1973 the American League installed a ‘designated hitter’, typically for the pitcher. So we wouldn’t have to watch the pitcher strike out every time he got up to bat.  The National League just adopted the rule this year!  The ‘intentional walk’ used to require the pitcher to pitch four straight pitches out of the strike zone before the batter was given first base.  It wasn’t until 2017 that they eliminated pitching and just sent the batter to first base.  But neither of these changes had a dramatic affect of the palatability of a game that needs more hits and more runs, i.e., more action!

So what needs to happen to change the game?  If you ask me, and no one has, or will, I’d say move the pitcher’s mound back about 10 feet or so, maybe back by second base.  Then, teams can use as many pitchers as they want, but the ball is going to be moving much slower when it finally reaches the plate and the batter will have a much longer look at the ball.  Thus more hits, more runs, more fun!

Someone let me know if they ever do something like that; I don’t watch baseball!

 

When NFL Scouts Get It Wrong

by Bob Sparrow

NFL scout career path

Last week Sis gave a great history of the NFL Draft as well as some interesting sidebars.  As luck (not sure if it was good or bad luck) would have it, I was in Las Vegas last week during the festivities, although far enough from ‘The Strip’ to avoid most of the hoopla, but close enough to feel the vibe.

Suzanne mentioned the embarrassment of quarterback, Brady Quinn (or most likely the draft organizers) who was put in a very visible spot, thinking that he was going to be drafted in the first or second round, when in fact he wasn’t picked until round 22!  So, he surely entered the NFL with a chip on his shoulder.  Unfortunately, that chip was probably on his throwing shoulder as his NFL career was less that sterling.  He ‘played’ in the NFL for 7 years, was on 5 different teams, only played in 24 games in his total career, and had more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (12).  So, the NFL scouts got that one right.  But before you feel too sorry for Mr. Quinn, he currently works for Fox Sports as a football analyst at a salary of $715,000 a year and has a net worth of over $10 million.

Giovanni who?

But many times, in fact more than you’d think, the scouts get it wrong.  I say more than you think, because the process of hiring an employee in the NFL is very different from most businesses.  Employers, rather than looking at resumes that most likely have a few hyperboles in it, and having an hour-long interview with a potential hire, NFL scouts have several years of game films to look at, doctor reports, work outs at the NFL Combine and extended conversation with a potential employee’s last boss (college coach).  So, getting the draft wrong would seem highly unlikely, but it’s not.

The quintessential “NFL Draft Oops” was in the 2000 draft when Tom Brady, now arguably the greatest player to ever play the game, was picked in the 6th round, making him the 199th player selected – six other quarterbacks were drafted before him – you’re not alone if you don’t recognize any of their names, Spergon Wynn, Tee Martin, Chad Pennington, Chris Redman, Marc Bulger and Giovanni Carmazzi.  I’m not making these names up!!

NFL’s biggest flop

Other notable ‘Oops’ are Shannon Sharp, drafted 192nd in the 1990 draft, who became an All Pro tight end and was ultimately inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.  Joining him in the Hall was Joe Montana, drafted 82nd in the 1979 draft and lead the 49ers to four Super Bowls.

The scouts get it wrong the other way as well.  Ryan Leaf, was the 2nd player picked in the 1998 draft behind Payton Manning.  In his NFL rookie year, Leaf threw 2 touchdowns and 15 interceptions; and that wasn’t the worst of it, he was a jerk who was despised by both his teammates and his coaches.  He played four uneventful seasons in the NFL and threw for 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions.  But, apparently being a ’NFL Quarterback Bust’ is a career path to being a football analyst for a major network, as that’s what Leaf is doing now for ESPN.

I’m guessing that some of those scouts involved in the aforementioned draft picks are now working for Fox or ESPN . . . as janitors.  With the NFL draft now over, football season cannot be far off – can’t wait, especially for the colleges!  Go Utes!!!

The ‘Madness’ Continues

by Bob Sparrow

2020 Headline

We thought we knew what ‘March Madness’ was until last March when suddenly restaurants, schools, bars, churches, gyms, salons, etc., etc., etc., were suddenly closed for the better part of a year – now that’s MADNESS!

Last year’s ‘other’ March Madness, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, was cancelled due to a new thing called the Coronavirus Pandemic.  This year, in our effort to return to ‘normalcy’, the tournament is back, albeit with a few restrictions around Covid and woke correctness:

  • All players must wear a mask and a shield while playing
  • Coaches over 55 cannot attend the game in person, so must coach from home via Zoom
  • While on the court player must socially distance, making sure they get no closer than six feet from anyone
  • The ball must be sanitized following each team’s possession
  • During the game, all players must be able to show proof of a hook shot, a jump shot and a Pfizer shot
  • Cheering is not allowed, as it could show favoritism to one player over another
  • There will ultimately be no winner and more importantly, no losers – all players will get a trophy

OK, perhaps I’ve stretched the truth a bit, but there are some real restrictions:

  1. To prevent excessive travel, all games will be played in the Indianapolis area
  2. Capacity of games will be limited to 25% of arena capacity
  3. If a team can’t play due to Covid, it will be treated like a loss and that team will be elimination

Former UCLA Coach John Wooden

Most know that the ‘Final Four’ is the last team standing from each division – they play for the championship.  However, the ‘First Four’ is made up of eight teams that are on the ‘bubble’ of getting into the tournament; they play the week before the tournament starts (which was last week) and the four winners advance to round out the 64-team field.

The classic match up in last week’s ‘First Four’ game was UCLA vs. Michigan State.  These two schools have historically been perennial basketball powers and would typically be in the Final Four, not the First Four.  UCLA has made 49 appearances in this tournament, made it to the Final Four 18 times, won the tournament 11 times and was undefeated for the year four times.  Michigan State has made 33 appearances in the tournament, made the Final Four ten times and won the championship twice.

UCLA won last Friday’s ‘First Four’ game in overtime and thus receives an invitation to ‘The Dance’.  Aside from the overtime game, the other three First Four games were decided by 1, 1 and 8 points – this is going to be one great tournament!  Michigan State will be joining  a couple of other basketball powerhouses, Duke and Kentucky, on the sidelines this year.  The last time those two teams were NOT in the tournament, Gerald Ford was president – that was 1976!   A “does-history-repeat-itself” aside: As many of you will recall, Gerald Ford’s assent to the presidency is unprecedented. Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned due to charges of extortion, bribery and conspiracy, President Nixon appointed Ford, who was then the House Minority Leader, to be vice president.  Then, less than a year later, the Watergate scandal forced Nixon to resigned, making Ford president.  Does the absence of these teams from this tournament mean we’re going to see some unprecedented movement at the top of our government? Or have we already see it?

But enough about those who didn’t get voted in.  One of the favorites in this year’s tournament is the Gonzaga University Bulldogs, a school with an enrollment of around 7,000 undergraduates in Spokane, Washington.  They are the only undefeated team in the tournament, as well as being a #1 seed along with Baylor, Michigan and Illinois (who got beat in the first round last week!)  This small university in the northwest has been to the tournament 22 times and, in fact, played in the championship game in 2017, when they lost to North Carolina.

Even if you think you don’t like to watch basketball, I would bet that if you start watching this tournament, you’ll find yourself hooked and rooting for, or against various teams – you’ll end up having a ‘favorite’ that you’d like to see playing for the championship on Monday, April 5th.   After this Monday’s games, we’ll be in the ‘Sweet 16’Pac-12 fan are loving the tournament so far, all five teams made it through the first round, including both UCLA and USC.

I think you’ll find the tournament a nice break from the latest Netflix series or another one of those ‘fake’ reality program – this ‘show’ is truly unscripted reality!

The Game, the G.O.A.T.s and the Guacamole

by Bob Sparrow

Young G.O.A.T. and Old G.O.A.T.

I’m writing this before ‘the game’, with the exception of a few comments (in red) that I will squeeze in on Sunday night (assuming I’m relatively sober) or early Monday morning (assuming I’m not too hung over).  For me the Super Bowl is a bitter-sweet occasion, as it’s the best two teams in football squaring off, yet it marks the end of this football season. In January, colleges ended their season with the College Football Playoff National Championship and now this . . . it’s over and I don’t have my Covid-19 or my ‘Football’s Gone’ vaccine – I don’t know if I have the virus, but I am feely depressed.  Perhaps Pfizer can work on a vaccine for that!

So, here’s my preview and review of the events from Sunday’s Super Bowl LV (That’s 55 for those that don’t speak Roman)  Either the young G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time), 25 year old, Patrick Mahomes or the old G.O.A.T., 43 year old, Tom Brady, won the game.  (the old G.O.A.T. was the clear winner!) With my 49ers watching at home, I was ambivalent about the outcome, but rather hoping for a good game, whoever wins.  Another reason for hoping that the game was at least a close, good one (which it wasn’t), was that, for me, much of what surrounds the game is the usual pseudo-hype and frivolous fluff.

I had reviewed all the game’s advertisements on line last week and found them to be lacking in creativity, humor and impact, but they were diverse.  Prior to the National Anthem being sung, America the Beautiful was performed by Gabriella Wilson, who goes by the name H.E.R. (An acronym for Having Everything Revealed.  I’m hoping that it didn’t get to the point of Janet Jackson’s ‘wardrobe malfunction’ during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show).  The National Anthem was sung by R & B singer, Jazmine Sullivan and country western singer Eric Church – I hope it was recognizable and that everyone stood at attention with their hand over their heart.  OK, I can hear you now, “What century were you born in, Bob?!!!”

The Guac

The halftime show featured The Weeknd, (yes, that’s how you spell it), a three-time Grammy winner, who is known for his graphic music videos and performances featuring blood and violence, but the three-time Grammy winner said he will tone down his act during this show – let’s hope he did; there was probably enough blood and violence during the game.

If you’re feeling like that New Year’s resolution diet just got blown up, it probably did, as Super Bowl is the second most glutenous day of the year, trailing only Thanksgiving.  Like the turkey at Thanksgiving, the avocado is an endangered species during Super Bowls as over 100 million pounds of guacamole were consumed on Sunday. Avocado growers refer to the Super Bowl as the ‘Guacamole Bowl’.

Too late for you now, but I’ll make a few ‘prop bets’ – promise I won’t change them after the game:

  • What color Gatorade will douse the winning coach? And if you’re really into this one you can also make a bet as to whether an offensive or defensive player will be the one dousing. (Orange is the favorite color, I’d bet defensive). (Gatorade was blue and I don’t know who poured it, but it was probably an offensive player)
  • The easiest bet is the coin flip – it’s never landed on its side, so it’s a 50-50 proposition, but because the head side tends to be heavier, I’ll take tails. (it was heads) 
  • Will the first score be a field goal or a touchdown? Better odds on the field goal, but better payout on the touchdown.  With these two teams I’m going with the touchdown. (it was a field goal)
  • How many times will Gisele Bundchen be shown and How many times will Roger Goodell be shown? I’m betting on and hoping it was Gisele! (Unfortunately Goodell got much more screen time)

This is feeling more like my last trip to Vegas!!!

Just in case you were wondering, there were 25,000 real Tampa Bay hometown fans at the game and 30,000 cardboard cutouts – not sure where they were from.

I’m going to have to face the facts that football is over . . . for now, but the vaccine is on its way, isn’t it?  There are rumors that college football may begin in the Spring.  But I’m not going to bet on it!