Friday, June 1, 2007

Breaking Baseball's Hallowed Records & More

I read an interesting article today about the next record that will be rewritten in baseball's history books, and it's not the one you may think it is...

John Donovan, baseball beat writer extraordinaire for, wrote a great piece today about the lost art of arguing with umpires. What brings this art to the attention of the national media today? The record is soon to fall. Bobby Cox, who has managed the Braves since the Roosevelt administration, is closing in on his 131st ejection from a major league game. That would tie the record, and 132 will break it. Donovan wanted to investigate the art of the ejection a little bit more, so he went straight to the Picasso of Picking a Fight, the Van Gogh of Getting the Boot, the Da Vinci of Da Gate, none other than Baltimore Oriole legend Earl Weaver.

It came as a shock to me to learn that The Earl of Baltimore did not hold MLB's ejection record of 131. It is actually held by John McGraw, a manager from the turn of the century. Interestingly enough, Cox has technically already broken the record for ejections by a manager, since McGraw was ejected 14 times as a player. But if you're going to break a record and carve your name into baseball's record book, go for the gusto and do it right (Barry Lamar Bonds). The Earl is actually fourth on the all time list with 97. It may just be me, but I would be in favor of rehiring the Earl just long enough so he could be ejected three more times and break 100 (come on, it would only take three games).

To say that Earl wrote the book on getting ejected just doesn't say enough. Earl was the original, the innovator, the creator of the ejection (all this coming from someone who never saw the man coach a game... but his best ejections can be found on YouTube). Before Earl there were none, and after Earl it is just not the same. Earl was a fire ball from start to finish. He was shorter than the average person to begin with, and that made it all better. The fire was more concentrated throughout him and therefore more potent, which led to better arguments and better ejections. Earl would cuss, rant, rave, kick dirt, throw hats, throw dirt, turn the hat around to get closer to the target (read "umpire"), and on one occasion even got ejected before the game started. That's absolute skill, a master of his craft.

The thing that shocks me about Bobby Cox potentially breaking the record is that Cox is so much more mellow than Earl. Cox doesn't have the same emotions on the sleeve fire that Earl did. Cox's arguments rarely get out of hand, and never make SportsCenter. How could an argument truly be an argument if it doesn't even land on SportsCenter. If it's not even good enough for ESPN, it's probably just a tea party with the umpires in which Cox brought Earl Grey tea instead the ump-preferred Green Tea. This is not to take away from Cox's accomplishment, it's just to say that while he will hold the record, nobody did it better than Earl. It's kind of like saying that Bonds will one day hold the record, but nobody hit homeruns like Ruth, except in that situation I take everything away from Bonds.

So what is all the hub-bub about getting ejected? Why is it a good thing to leave your team halfway through a game and strand them manager-less? Because it shows you care. It wasn't too long ago in this space that I wrote about a manager that doesn't care, and how it's reflected by his players. Getting in the face of the umpires to argue what is right shows the team that it can never, ever give up the fight, no matter who it is against, and no matter what the odds. If Sam Perlozzo had the same fire that Earl Weaver had, the Orioles could be in first place right now. Instead, the Orioles' most recent managers (Ray Miller, Mike Hargrove, Lee Mazzilli, and Perlozzo) have all lacked the all important fire. The result? Ten straight losing seasons. Coincidence? I think not. If you give the O's someone like Weaver or Cox or maybe even Lou Piniella, they might not suck. They would show the same emotion that the manager shows, and the team would be full of feisty go-getters like Jay Payton.

To read all of John Donovan's Earl Weaver article/ interview, click here .

In other news this day, May 31st has come and gone, which means the deadline to submit any uniform changes for the 2008 MLB season has come and gone. Why does that matter, Kurt? Because now we must suffer another year of the Orioles' away jerseys reading "Orioles", as opposed to the more customary and less alienating "Baltimore".

Uniform tradition in almost any sport dictates that the home jersey of a franchise read the team name, since the fans will undoubtedly know where the team is from. The away jersey traditionally has the city name, so the opposing fans would know from where the team hails. It most likely dates back to when teams first started to travel, and people in the stands would actually not know where the opposition was from. It would be convenient for them to look down and say, "Oh, they're from [insert city name]". If they were playing the Orioles, however, they would say "Oh, they're from Orioles. That's strange... they're the Orioles Orioles". Now that just sounds stupid.

So now the deadline has come and gone, and we are again stuck pleading to fans of Washington to not abandon us. That's what it all boiled down to. In the 70's, after the Senators left Washington (again!), the owner of the Orioles felt that in order to reach out to the newly orphaned fans, he would remove Baltimore from the away jerseys, so as to give everybody a baseball home. That was great for DC, but a huge slap in the face for the people that actually support and pay for the team. All these years later, the away jerseys are still wrong, even after DC got yet another team. I think the time has come for the Orioles to finally stop alienating the fans of Baltimore, and tell the DC fans to go watch their own team if they can't be loyal because of the city on the uniform.

The problem is, of course, Peter Angelos. Since his normal course of action is to hear what the popular voice is and then do the exact opposite, Angelos keeps stalling Orioles' officials long enough to let the deadline pass. It seems as though Angelos is still under the assumption that DC fans can be kept on our side simply by making the team geographically unaffiliated, but that simply won't work. And if that's the case, why don't we rename the team the United States Orioles in order to attract fans from all over the country; afterall, Hawaii and Alaska are baseball orphans as well. Apparently, Angelos has not talked to his accountant though. If he had, he would have realized by now that changing the uniform means they get to sell new uniforms, and that would just be money in the bank for Angelos and the Orioles.

In the grand scheme of things, adding "Baltimore" to the away jersey is a small change and a small gesture to the city. With the way things are, however, and the Orioles mired in a ten year slump that has seen us become the laughing stock of Major League Baseball, a small gesture could win back a lot of fans who feel alienated by the team. I see it as a no lose situation, and yet still, here we are, wondering why it still says "Orioles" on the away jersey of the Baltimore Orioles.


Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bloggin' From Work (Shhhh!)

I feel like I'm stealing company time by blogging from work, but they aren't keeping me busy, so it's their fault. I'm also on my lunch break...

It was announced today that more disillusioned morons with money want to try and test their mettle against the NFL. An investment banker, a VP at Google, and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban have banded together to create an upstart United Football League. The idea? Actually compete with the NFL (a moment will be given to squelch any laughter).

My question for these fellows is why? Why even bother to try and compete with the NFL? It's not possible. It's not even plausible. It's certainly not probable. There are no more p-words to describe the money that will be lost in this endeavor. There are currently 4 major sports in the U.S (football, basketball, baseball, and either hockey or NASCAR, depending on if you live in the North or South). There are, by my count, 7 legitimate (read "air on ESPN") professional sports leagues (the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NASCAR, MLS, MLL [lacrosse, people]). There's no more room for the UFL on ESPN, let alone in the landscape of American sports. And if you are crazy enough to start some upstart league, why go after the NFL, the king, the shah, the sultan, the Grand Poobah of all American sports?

Baseball and basketball are the NFL's closest competitors, and trust me, close is a very loose term. The NFL sold out every game in the first 6 or 7 weeks of the season last year. Even Arizona was enjoying sellouts for a while. Most baseball teams can't even sell out on opening day, and some teams have tickets left over during the playoffs. Basketball fares slightly better because it has fewer games and teams, but it still can't touch the NFL. The NFL steamrolls these leagues every year in TV ratings, merchandise sales, and the all important ticket sales. The most watched sporting event any year? Not the World Series. Not the NBA Finals. It's always the Super Bowl. Even when two teams who nobody cares about are in it, people still watch just to complain that the right teams didn't make it. So if people already care more about the NFL than the MLB and NBA, my next question becomes who is going to watch the UFL Bowl?

The fact that they are challenging the NFL is not even the most fatal flaw that the three investors are making in this costly endeavor. The worst idea they have had so far is that all their franchises will be based in cities without NFL teams. I give them an A for creativity, but an E for results. Going by their logic, they will have Los Angeles, and very little else. If a city does not have an NFL franchise, it is for good reason: the NFL does not want a franchise there (except LA, but they don't support their teams anyway). The NFL has the big markets covered: New York, New England, Washington, Bay Area California, Miami, Green Bay (just kidding). That leaves the UFL with what? LA. Mark Cuban wants to put a franchise in Las Vegas, and will receive no complaint from the NFL. The remaining cities have yet to be announced, but they must be somewhere along the lines of Memphis, Birmingham, Orlando, Portland, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City. These cities are definitely deserving of franchises, but also have NFL teams nearby to crush any UFL competition. Fans wouldn't abandon the Titans or Dolphins or Cowboys or Seahawks to root for lesser caliber teams in a lesser caliber league.

That brings me to my next point: think about who is going to play in this league. It will be full of NFL castoffs, college superstars who couldn't cut it in the real league, and average schmucks who want one last shot at glory. Who wants to watch that? That'll be like watching a high school reunion game or an old timers game. It won't be fast. It won't be fun. There will be very little scoring, and almost zero passing or defense. The players that end up in the UFL also have to be rejected from the mildly successful Arena League, which means they are truly of poor caliber. To recap, it's going to be crappy football played in cities that can't support teams by players who really should have other jobs. Well, let me set my Tivo (shut up, I know I don't have a Tivo).

Other people have challenged the NFL before. When was the last time anybody spoke about the World Football League, the USFL, or the XFL? All of these leagues folded in less than four years, and they had franchises in major markets. The UFL is making an unnecessary attempt to topple a giant that can't be toppled, using tactics that won't work, in cities where it won't happen. The UFL is slated to start play in 2008. Depending on which month it starts, I predict it will be in the annals of bad ideas by late 2008 or early 2009. I just thank God that Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore, and we don't have the possibility of getting stuck with a UFL team.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Sorry for the sporadic postings, but I'm trying to get into a work rhythm, and blogging hasn't fit into yet. That'll change, I promise...

Yesterday was not only Memorial Day, but also the National Men's Lacrosse Championship. That means it was the one day 0f the year that I watch the Official Team Sport of Maryland (look it up). As it so happens, Maryland was again well-represented, with Johns Hopkins making it to and winning the National Championship Game. In addition to Hopkins, Loyola, UMBC, Maryland, and Towson also went dancing. Yay for Maryland. What was the world talking about, however? A private, rich, predominantly white school in North Carolina.

The Duke lacrosse team looked poised to make a story book ending to their past 18 months, when Hopkins snatched it away in one of the best lacrosse games ever. Duke's rape scandal almost cost the school the entire program, so be back in the limelight so soon is a major feather in the cap for Duke and other accused and acquitted rapists everywhere.

Lets recap why Duke should not have been afforded a made-for-TV-movie ending. They brought their problems, their "trials and tribulations" (no pun intended) upon themselves. Nobody forced them to have a party. Nobody forced them to have alcohol at the party where most people were under aged. Certainly nobody made them order a stripper. Yes, the stripper turned out to be crazy and a liar, but that doesn't mean that the Duke boys made some bad decisions.

As rich, white, athletic young men with much to lose, they should have known how much of a target was on their collective backs from the beginning. There is an understandable income gap between the types of people who attend college in Durham, NC and the type of people who live there. The stripper (smarter than the average bear) saw the opportunity to take advantage of the wealth and vulnerability of the boys, and she did. It didn't work out in the end, but credit her for taking the chance. The boys should have known it was coming from the minute they invited her to the party, and their shock when the allegations were brought against them is unfounded.

Is it sad they lost their season? Yes. Should the players from that team be granted an extra year of eligibility to compensate? No, because they still got the time to practice and hone their skills that year, and it's entirely their own fault they lost the season. This team isn't the Marshall Football team that came back from a horrific plane crash. They came back from losing very little due to their own bad judgement. Hopkins did the right thing by beating Duke and denying everybody the story book ending. For that, I am grateful.