I was chatting with a neighbor tonight, and it he’s in charge of replay at an NFL stadium. Despite my semi-purposely misleading post-title, he’s not an official, but he’s basically in charge of running the replay feed. Here are some interesting nuggets I learned tonight.
- There are no “special feeds” at the stadium. What you see on television is what the referee is watching, and is what is available to the folks upstairs.
- That said, the people in the booth can recommend shots and angles that they think provide a good look at the play.
- The final call on the field is technically made by the referee. The replay official in the booth can make recommendations and suggest what he thinks is the right call, but the referee makes the final call. That said, in all the time he’s done this job he’s never seen the referee go against the booth official.
- As an employee of the NFL he can’t have a favorite team or root openly in the booth. He once audibly “oh noed” a dropped past and the replay official reprimanded him.
- The network provides the camera crews and technical staff. Though it’s usually a regional crew, he does not interact that much with the network folks.
Long story, I now know which of my neighbors has the most awesome job.
Dan Shaughnessy knows what ails the modern sports fan: the brave anonymity of internet commenting. Shaugnessy’s latest attempt to get people to pay attention to something he’s written is related to Eric Winston’s comments after the Chiefs game on Sunday. Winston castigated fans who cheered when Matt Cassel went down with an injury. I happened to agree with Winston, and think that those who cheer when athletes get hurt are truly despicable. And what is to blame for this boorish behavior:
It’s an issue about civility in America today. It’s about accountability. It is about angry fantasy football players who do not know how to look someone in the eye, or hold a face-to-face conversation. It is about fanboy bloggers who kill everyone and everything under the brave cloak of anonymity. It’s about instant tweets fired from the safety of your basement. It is about anonymous bullying with the World Wide Web serving as the new bathroom wall.
This is just lazy sports writing. Shaughnessy constructs his argument based on the silly stereotype of fans “trapped in their mom’s basement.” There are multiple problems with laying the blame here.
First of all, it’s based on the idea that fans are actually rowdier or more obnoxious than they were previously. It was a sentiment echoed by Michael Kay, who tweeted this after the Braves-Cardinals Wild Card game the other night:
What’s happening with the fans in Atlanta is just a window into how people are taking sports a bit too seriously. Scary for the future.
As I tweeted back, imagine the scene if an umpire had made a similar call at Yankee Stadium circa 1977. Does anybody remember Disco Demolition Night? Is there really any proof that fans today are more obnoxious or take the games more seriously than fans of previous eras?
Second, Shaughnessy is a hypocrite. There’s no substantive difference between casting verbal bombs behind a typewriter, as he has done for decades, and bloggers doing so behind a computer keyboard. Shaughnessy is essentially doing what he is accusing others of doing, namely making sweeping generalizations without actually knowing anything about the people he’s writing about.
Third, are the people that Shaughnessy is singling out the true culprits? It depends. The internet is a haven for idiots – just read the comments on any ESPN or Yahoo Sports blogpost. On the other hand, there is a segment of internet sports fans who are quite savvy, and in fact I would wager are more talented writers than the curly-headed Bostonian. These are precisely the types of fans who mock the angry dunderheads who call into sports talk radio and spout nonsense. Are they as guilty for the general state of sports fandom today? If not, then lumping them all in together makes little sense.
Miguel Cabrera is baseball’s first triple crown winner since 1967, meaning that the debate over the MVP award is going to get even more intense. Aaron Goldstein chides Brian Kenny for dismissing the triple crown, but I have to agree with the latter, as I expressed in my previous post.
As Cabrera has vaulted to the top of several random categories, a quaint bit of nostalgia has come roaring back to blind those still clinging to the stats rooted in Civil War-era tabulations: the Triple Crown.
It’s not that batting average, home runs and RBIs are meaningless. It’s just that they are nowhere near the three most important offensive categories in baseball.
Let’s just deal with batting average, since it is one of the three categories that some believe should almost automatically bring an MVP to Cabrera. John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, called batting average a “venerable, uncannily durable fraud” in his book “The Hidden Game of Baseball.”
“Time has given the batting average a powerful hold on the American baseball public; everyone knows that a man who hits .300 is a good hitter while one who hits .250 is not,” Thorn wrote. “Everyone knows that, no matter that it is not true. You want to trade Bill Madlock for Mike Schmidt? BA treats all its hits in egalitarian fashion. A two-out bunt single in the ninth with no one on base and your team trailing by six runs counts the same as Bobby Thomson’s shot heard ’round the world.”
Thorn wrote that in 1984. He must be amazed, as a pioneer in sabermetrics, to see analytic departments in Major League front offices while the media clings to batting average.
Let’s go through the rest of the big three. The weakness of RBIs are obvious. It is very much a team-dependent stat. Certainly driving in runs is important, but it is very much a result of the number of times your teammates get on base.
Home runs are important to tabulate. But what about doubles? Or triples? Don’t those count? Adam Dunn has more home runs this year than Robinson Cano, Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout, Chase Headley and Prince Fielder. To borrow Thorn’s methodology, do you want to tell me you’d take Dunn over any of those five? Not a chance. So let’s not blindly follow any of these stats, let alone all three thrown together.
And there’s more, as he makes the argument that when it comes to judging the MVP, it’s important to evaluate the player’s entire game.
Besides if we take Kenny’s argument to its logical conclusion if someone comes along and hits .400 then you can also argue that achievement wouldn’t be important because batting average is a mere “Civil War-era tabulation.”
But that misses the point. Kenny’s not devaluing the importance of the triple crown because the statistics are of an ancient vintage, but because they aren’t the best measurements of a player’s performance. I would slightly disagree with Kenny on the triple crown being of no import – it’s still an impressive feat and you do have to be pretty good at baseball to lead those three categories. But as Kenny explains, they are insufficient when stacked up against things like on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Goldstein also goes on to note that Cabrera’s team made the playoffs while Trout’s didn’t. Again, though, the MVP is an individual accomplishment, not a team award. Furthermore, Trout’s team actually won one more game than the Tigers. The Tigers benefited from being in a division with the three worst teams in the American League, while the Angels fells short to two great teams that won over 90 games. Moreover, Trout’s team was over ten games below .500 before he was even called up. So I fail to see how Cabrera’s team making the playoffs proves that he is inherently more valuable.
Naturally in the comments we get the usual brainiacs ranting about neeeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrds. What amuses me about this is that the people who complain about sabermetrics and the overuse of numbers also rely on numbers themselves, the only difference is that they rely on a crappier set of numbers than those who are into sabermetrics.
I apologize for not writing more, and now that I’ll be going out of town there won’t be much content. Here’s a Fangraphs article that looks at historical triple crown winners, and how they all tend to be pretty awesome. Here’s my takeaway, as it applies to the American League MVP race:
1) Mike Trout still deserves to win the MVP, regardless of whether or not Miguel Cabrera wins the triple crown. Trout has had an historic season, made all the more remarkable by the fact that he missed almost an entire month. The triple crown is an amazing accomplishment, as the FG blogpost explains, but it is sort of a statistical anomaly that doesn’t totally capture a player’s full worth. Of course the usual argument that gets trotted out is that he’s not on a playoff team. Well, there have been plenty of other players on non-playoff teams that have won MVPs, and almost none of them had as good of a season as Trout is having this year. Also, his main competition for the award also plays on a team that is most likely not going to the post-season. And when you look at the likely playoff teams, is there anyone who has been remotely as good as Trout or Cabrera?
2) Miguel Cabrera is awesome at baseball. He somehow flies under the radar, but there are few if any hitters in the game that are better than he’s been over the past decade or so. And despite his reputation, he’s actually not that bad a defender.
If you’re wondering what the title of this blog is about, it’s an allusion to ESPN, which is is headquartered in Bristol, Connecticut. I am one of those cantankerous sports fans who despises most things about the four-letter, and who thinks that it has done for sports what MTV has done for music.
Yesterday I was flipping the dial on my radio and listened briefly to the national ESPN affiliate. It was a man and woman team, and they were discussing Steven Strasburg’s shutdown. The female host intimated that the Nationals had “zero percent” chance of winning the World Series without Strasburg. In order to win the World Series, she explained, a team needs to have an absolute shutdown starter, and the Nats lack this without Strasburg.
This observation is fundamentally stupid on two levels. First of all, you have to go back all of one year to see a team that won a World Series with its best starter sidelined. The Cardinals lost Adam Wainwright before the season even began, yet they somehow managed to not only get into the post-season, but win it all. I know that historical memories are short, but how hard is it to recall something that happened a whopping ten months ago?
Second, it reveals the broadcaster’s bone ignorance about the Nationals. Even without Strasburg, a fairly good case can be made that this is still the best pitching staff in the National League, if not baseball. Bleacher Report (yes, I know) highlights a few of the reasons the Nats will be tough anyway, including their top flight bullpen. But the most important fact is that their rotation is still phenomenal.
While acknowledging that pitcher WAR is not a perfect measurement, the Nats have four pitchers in the top 20 among pitcher WAR according to Fangraphs. According to both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs, Gio Gonzalez has in fact been the ace of the Nationals staff, and according to Baseball Reference, Jordan Zimmerman has been ahead of Strasburg. Even going by traditional statistics, it’s clear that Zimmerman, Gonzalez and Strasburg are all basically neck and neck. Strasburg strikes out more than either guy, Zimmerman walks fewer than either, and Gonzalez has the best ERA of the bunch. Honestly, you can flip a rare triple-sided coin between them all.
And that’s not it. Ross Detweiler and Edwin Jackson are hardly slouches. Detweiler has had slight BABIP luck, but he’s put up numbers that would make him a solid number two or three on most staffs, and yet he’s the fifth starter in Washington. Jackson’s been the most inconsistent of the bunch, and yet he’s on track for a 3 WAR season, a sub-4.00 ERA, and striking out nearly eight batters per nine. Considering that Jackson and Detweiler will be the Nats 3rd and 4th starters in the post-season, what team will be able to match the Nats when it comes to pitching depth?
You’d be a fool to suggest that the Nats are better off without Strasburg, or that losing him doesn’t hurt the Nationals at all. And though I think the Nationals have made the right decision in shutting him down for the season, it’s certainly a legitimate debate. But if you’re a nationally syndicated broadcaster employed by the biggest media outlet in the world of sports, perhaps you should give some indication that you know what the hell you’re talking about.
Then again, this is the place that just basically signed Chris Berman through the end of history, so standards might not be so high in Bristol.
I am shocked – SHOCKED! – that Joe Theismann has an optimistic appraisal of the Redskins.
“The Redskins, to me, are the most underrated football team in the National Football League,” he said then. “People don’t know how good the Redskins are gonna be, and they’re gonna find out on Sunday afternoon.”
. . . “They get the meat of their schedule in November,” Theismann said of the 2012 Skins. “I’ll tell you, I think they can be 6-2 going to the midway point. I really do.”
Dan Steinberg throws a bit of cold water on Theismann’s predictions.
(Of course, Theismann also argued that, in Rex Grossman and John Beck, the Redskins “have a couple quarterbacks that can play,” and that “there are places like Carolina, where they’d love to have one of our guys to be able to be the starter.” Whoops.)
(Plus, the Redskins only won five games. Whoops again.)
If it’s September in Washington, DC it means one of several things: it will be hot as hell a few days before Fall begins, Congressional interns will be getting drunk and hooking up, and Joe Theismann will be spouting irrationally optimistic things about the Redskins.
Oh Joe, never change.
Tonight Chipper Jones heads to New York to begin what will be the future Hall-of-Famer’s last series against the Mets. For 18 years Mr. Larry Jones has tormented the teams and its fans. He’s had any number of big hits against the Mets over the years, but his performance in a three game set in September of 1999 when Atlanta swept the Mets still stands out. Jones almost singlehandedly earned his MVP during that series, and helped knock the Mets out of contention for the eastern division title – and helped propel a tailspin that almost knocked the Mets out of the playoffs completely.
Over the years there would be a lot of back and forth between Chipper and the Mets fans, though Chipper always seemed to get the last laugh. Mets fans have peppered Chipper with chants of “Laaaaaary, Laaaaaaaaaaary,” which is a bit strange when you think about it. Our best effort at insulting Chipper is by calling him by his real name. Meanwhile, Jones named one of his kids Shea, in homage to the road park where he did his most damage. While some fans may have felt that that was the ultimate dig, I think it gets to the heart of the relationship between Mets fans and Chipper Jones, and that it’s a relationship built on grudging mutual respect.
For a short time there was one man in Atlanta who earned more ire from Mets fans than Chipper Jones. John Rocker had already established his status as public enemy number one by the end of the 1999 season. Rocker taunted Mets fans whenever he had the chance, and even dared to state that Yankee fans were better than Mets fans when the Braves and Yanks squared off during the 1999 World Series. Then there was the infamous Sports Illustrated interview in which Rocker managed to offend the entire city. I was at Rocker’s return game to New York in June of 2000, and it was certainly an ugly scene, even if the Braves’ announcers hilariously over-stated the cases, conjuring up imaginary scenes of massive battery tosses. Soon Rocker faded into oblivion, Chipper re-emerging as the primary target of our “affection.”
I bring up Rocker to note the differences. Mets fans hated Rocker because he was simply a douchebag. Sure there were things that irked Mets fans about Larry, from his stupid little nickname to the way he wore his socks, but the enmity was based on the way he performed. Mets fans hated Chipper Jones because Chipper Jones always found a way to beat the Mets. It was frustrating to watch the one guy you absolutely did not want up in an important situation come to bat and do what you feared he was going to do.
Chipper Jones was and even still is a great player, and by all rights he should be making his acceptance speech in Cooperstown in August 2018. Anybody who doubts his Hall of Fame credentials simply doesn’t know the game of baseball. He was the leader of a team that won 11 straight division titles during his first 11 years in the game, though the Braves would not win another World Series after his rookie season. Mets fans can appreciate greatness, and so our booing of Chipper Jones is based on a genuine admiration for the ballplayer. Which is why I hope Mets fans send of Larry Jones the only way we know how: by booing our asses off for him in his final at bats in Citi Field.