Friday, June 15, 2007

A Tale of One City

First and foremost, I would like to congratulate the San Antonio Spurs for winning the NBA Championship. More importantly, I would like to congratulate myself for predicting that the Spurs would win the NBA Championship over one month ago, when they were still hip-checking Steve Nash into the scorer's table. So yay for the Spurs and yay for me. Enough self-promotion, I've got the rest of my life for that. On to more pressing issues...

It's the worst of times, soon it will be the best of times. They're the worst of teams, soon to be replaced by the best of teams. We're the least feared city, soon to be the most feared city. In one short month, Baltimore will go from being a laughingstock of the sports world to a capitol of the sports world. How?

The season will change. Baseball will turn into football, and Baltimore will be defending a division championship rather than fighting to stay out of the cellar. Sure it will be with different teams, but the city will be viewed differently. Teams will fear coming to Baltimore, and fear when Baltimore comes to them. Inconsistent, erratic play will give way to lock-down, beat them up bruisings. The Sun sports section will have positive things to report on, all because one team dominates their sport, and the other is dominated by their sport. So how can Baltimore boast one of the best football teams, while also having to endure arguably the worst baseball team? Let us count the ways the Orioles and the Ravens differ.

First, the Orioles. The older child. Perennial losers. Situated in one of the most beautiful athletic venues in the history of the world, the Orioles are result of 14 years of shoddy ownership. With a penny pinching lawyer at the helm, the O's have fallen from grace and seemingly find a new rock bottom to land on every year. The Orioles lack fan support, and justifiably so. The owner is a jerk, the manager doesn't care, and the players don't try. Some would argue that the ticket prices are reasonable, but they have to be in order to retain the meager 20,000 fans that go to games (I'll be one of them tonight). Even at $6 student night prices, fans feel like they have over spent to see good talent play poorly as a unit.

Not only do O's fans not get enough bang for their buck, but they also cannot access the players they pay to see. O's players are generally cut off from the paying public, with maybe one or two players signing autographs before games. Other than that, Photo Day (always on a weekend, so as to not be giving fans access for bargain/ discount prices) is the only opportunity to really get a chance to meet and greet the players that break your heart on a nightly basis. So the Orioles are a collection of losers, owned by Satan himself, who lack fan support because they cut themselves off to the world, and are easily the laughingstock of the league. It's no wonder they are always out of it by July.

Then there's the Ravens. The prodigal son. Perennial powerhouses. Aptly situated in one of the most daunting venues in sports (there's friggin' gargoyles on the side!), the Ravens continue to thrive year in and year out because of their consistency throughout the organization. It starts at the top. The Ravens are owned by a savvy and smart businessman who built a billion dollar corporation out of his basement. The Ravens are owned by a go-getter who understands the fundamental business concept that you have to spend money to make money. As such, he signs and retains quality players, and does what he has to to keep them happy. As a result, the Ravens enjoy one of the most loyal and dedicated followings in all of football. Maybe because we are a city once burned by a beloved franchise, and we are afraid to lose another, but the Ravens are one of the few teams in the league that get to run their entire training camp in front of thousands of fans.

As a reward for the undying support of the fans, the Ravens keep the players accessible. Not only do the Ravens admit any and all to training camp (for free), they also outfit every player who comes off the field after a hot 3 hour practice with a sharpie, so that the fans may get a chance to be up close to their favorite Raven. To recap, the Ravens are a collection of winners, owned by a godsend, who enjoy the treatment of royalty in the city because they treat the city like a kingdom. The Ravens are a benchmark franchise for the entire NFL both on and off the field, and it's no wonder why come July, Baltimore's weary sports fans come crawling to the Ravens for help.

So now that we understand what each franchise is, we can try to figure out why the franchise is the way it is.

The Orioles are a gang of hapless losers because nobody on the team, from the owner to the bat boy, takes accountability for their own actions. Case in point: after last night's embarrassing loss that resulted in a sweep at the hands of the looooooowly Nationals, O's reliever Chad Bradford was asked to explain what happened that led to him giving up the game losing RBI. Bradford's response? "I don't know what to say. [Things] are just kind of going that way." No, they really aren't, Chad. You are making them go that way. If you want things to go your way, make them go your way. Pitch like your life depends on it. Don't let batters have a chance. Don't let teams have a chance. Take it upon yourself to go out and get a win, instead of sitting back and waiting for the win to come to you. That rings true for the rest of the team as well. The Orioles' website went so far as to say the "bats had an off night". To me, it looked like an on night. An off night is a 16 hit, 10 run night, not that miserable crap we always see. So, instead of saying "woe is us", go out and earn a win. For the prior 20 (!) games before last night's, the Orioles had led in every one, and were an embarrassing 10-10 in those games. For a team to lead every night, and only win half the time, is just sickening. And it's because nobody on the team takes responsibility for what is happening. If everybody were more accountable, and said after a loss "I didn't get the job done, I need to fix myself first", I might not be writing about how sad the O's are every week. Things are kind of just going that way? Only if you let it.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Ravens are coming off a 13-3 campaign and a division championship because they all hold themselves and each other accountable for everything. Case in point: the defense. The Ravens' high risk/ high reward defense is founded on the principle that if all 11 men do their job, then the winning will take care of itself. The Ravens enjoy success because they do what they need to do to secure a win, instead of doing the bare minimum to put themselves in position for a win and letting fate decide the rest. The Ravens believe that everything that comes their way is earned, through practice, hard work, studying, and taking care of yourself. The Ravens held mini-camps the last few weeks where Pro Bowlers (Bart Scott in particular) were participating, even when league norms dictate otherwise. The Ravens are not naive enough to think that practice makes perfect. They know that perfect practice makes perfect (ironic source of the phrase), and as such, are willing to put in the time necessary to make every aspect perfect. And when one person lets down the rest, he's going to know it, and he's going to work that much harder to make sure it doesn't happen again. Earning wins is slowly becoming the "Raven's Way".

It's possible that the natures of the two games account for a vast majority of the differences in the teams. Obviously, the Orioles have to hold spring training in a warm weather climate, so practice isn't open to casual fans. But that doesn't mean the team needs to be so closed door and hush hush the rest of the year. And sure, losing one game of baseball is not as devastating as losing one game of football, but when the losses start piling up the way they do for the Orioles, it becomes a rather slippery slope. Consider this: baseball season is 162 games, football season is 16. That means roughly 10 baseball games equal one football game. At this point, the O's would be approximately 3-4, but fading as fast as they can. Using that logic, the O's have finished 6-10 or 7-9 every year for the last ten years. Just know that if the Ravens did that, they would probably be getting the same treatment from the fans. The catch is, the Ravens as an organization would never have let it get that bad. Here endeth the lesson.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Seek Counsell-ing

Well, we aren't even to the All-Star break yet, but two things are certain: The Orioles will not be anywhere near the World Series, and I know who will win the World Series...

You may be asking how I know who will win the World Series. You've obviously forgotten whose blog you're reading. Kurt Nose Best. Hello. It's in the title. I nose best, and I nose that this year's World Series Champion will come from the National League. The National League Central, more specifically, for the second year in a row. Furthermore, I know why this team will win the World Series, and I have evidence to prove that my prediction will come true.

Without further ado, I give you this years World Series Champions.... The Milwaukee Brewers. I know, you're all thinking I've fallen off my rocker. How could a team that has only 11 winning seasons in 38 seasons be on pace to win it all? How could a team that has a lifetime .471 winning percentage win the big one? What evidence could I possibly have to support this outrageous claim? My evidence is two-fold. One is the city factor, the other a glaring x-factor.

First, the city. Milwaukee. Home of the Brewers, the NBA's Bucks, and not much else. They brew beer (hence the name), eat brats, and enjoy losing. Or so we thought. Prior to the Brew Crew, the city was home to the Milwaukee Braves (now Atlanta), and one Henry "Hank" Aaron. They were proud, they were winners, and at one time, they even went all the way. The year was 1957 (wow, that is a looooooooong time ago), and the Milwaukee Braves were less than ten years away from relocating to Atlanta. It just so happened that they won the World Series in 1957. That was 50 years ago.

Fast forward to 1982. The Braves have been in Atlanta for 16 years, and are long forgotten in Milwaukee. The city has the Brewers, and it looks as though 25 years after winning the World Series, the city will once again be the pinnacle of the baseball world. The Brewers actually made it to the World Series in 1982, but alas, the tradition of the Braves was not enough, and the Brewers fell. That was 25 years ago.

So here we are in 2007. The team and the city have been miserable for the better part of 25 years. But the city is cyclical. They won the championship in 1957, lost it 25 years later, and therefore are primed to win another world championship in 2007. It's been 25 years since Milwaukee's last appearance in the show, and 50 since a win. Ipso facto, the signs point toward Milwaukee making another quarter-century showing in the World Series, and a half-century win is on the docket this year. The evidence is all right there. The city goes dancing every 25 years, and it's up to this year's Brew Crew to make sure the city has a party every 50 years.

As if the cyclical nature of the city's baseball history is not enough to convince someone that the Brewers are going to hoist the hardware this year, the team went ahead and added the ultimate insurance. They signed a player so dynamic, so versatile, and so clutch that he already boasts two World Series rings of his own. He stands at a tall 6' 0". He weighs in at a lean 175 pounds. Give it up for utility man extraordinaire, Craig Counsell.

That's right, Craig Counsell, journeyman utility infielder, is here to help Bernie Brewer slide down his slide with a ring on his finger. Again, let's look at the evidence. Counsell already has two world championships, delivering for Florida in 1997 and Arizona in 2001. Both of those teams celebrated their first World Series wins thanks largely in part to Craig Counsell. Milwaukee as a city already has one World Series, but the Brewers as a franchise are in search of their first title. Enter Counsell, who already has experience in that field.

Furthermore, let's compare the Marlins and the Diamondbacks the year that Counsell led them to the promised land. Both teams finished with a 92-70 record, good for a .567 winning percentage and a wild card berth. Both teams were huge underdogs in the playoffs, and had the deck stacked against them in the Fall Classic (Florida played a heavily favored Indians team, the D-backs KO'd the Yankees). Both teams needed Counsell's heroics during the series, then jettisoned him soon after.

Compare those two teams with the Brew Crew. Right now, they sit 34-30 (.531), meaning they need 58 more wins for the rest of the season to reach Counsell's magical 92-70 plateau. That is certainly doable, and practically done. 58-30 over the final four and a half months of the season is not that hard, especially when fate is on your side. The key may be the wild card berth. Right now, the Brewers lead their division, which is testing fate since the others were wild cards. If the Crew happen to fall and finish as the wild card, that would all but seal it. Finally, who wouldn't list the Brewers as a heavy underdog in any playoff series?

The evidence is all there. I have made my prediction, and backed that prediction with history. Many will challenge my logic, but I'll be the one laughing when the season is over. You heard it here first... the Brewers are going to win the World Series.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Own Up To It

You find the best blog-worthy articles on the entire internet when you don't do anything at work for the first hour...

I read an article today on compiling the opinions of several writers as to who they thought were the best owners in the NFL. Naturally, ESPN only surveyed 4 writers, because they did not want a sample that reflected the true feelings of the population. As such, the vote was split between two owners: New England's Bob Kraft, and $h!++$burgh's Dan Rooney. The latter, of course, did not sit well with me.

The problem I have with this simple survey is that the writers read "Who is the best owner" and voted for who they thought was the best team of the last ten years. I fail to see where either of these two owners strive above and beyond the rest. Kraft has won three Super Bowls recently, but how much of an impact has he really made? All he does is sign the players his coaches and scouts tell him to, and wait for Tom Brady to make another daring and dramatic fourth quarter comeback. Kraft gets the glory and gets to put the Lombardi Trophy on his mantle, but his role in the whole ordeal is truly minor.

Rooney somehow made the list, and he does significantly less than Kraft. Rooney doesn't even make the effort to retain the players they do have. Rooney has let players like Kevin Greene, Kendrell Bell, Jason Gildon, Kordell Stewart, Plaxico Burress, Joey Porter, and Keydrick Vincent depart via free agency because he's too cheap to resign them. Rooney abuses a player until it's time to reward the player for the job they have done, then tosses them out into the street like it didn't even matter. If anything, Rooney has done more to hinder his team than to help them.

Naturally, when 30 out of 32 owners are left out of the discussion, the fans will speak up on their behalf. The message boards were alive with fans demanding to know why Pat Bowlen (Broncos), Jerry Jones (Cowboys), and even Dan Snyder (some delusional nut thought the 'Skins owner was worthy) weren't even included in the discussion. And of course, jokesters were out in full force in mock support of the Ford Family (Lions), Al Davis (Raiders), and the Bidwell Family (Cardinals). One obviously knowledgeable poster even mentioned a Mr. Steve Bisciotti as an up-and-comer to watch.

I know what you're all expecting. You're all expecting me to rant about how Steve deserved to be on the list, and how he's the best owner, and that it's wrong that he's not on there. To be sure, Steve does deserve it, but he's still so young and so fresh as an owner that he should pay his dues before being mentioned as the best owner in the league. That day will come, but it's not here yet.

Instead, I would like to make a case for the owner that should've been #1 with a bullet. Drumroll please.... the best owner in football is.... the owners of the Green Bay Packers. Don't know who it is? Go to Green Bay and ask anybody there, and they will probably tell you that they own the team. And they wouldn't be lying. Green Bay is the only professional sports franchise in the country that is actually owned by the fans. And it's a glorious idea.

Think about it. The city owns the team, so the team can't relocate. The citizens of the city have a genuine vested interest in the team, because they own it. Proceeds from merchandise and tickets and vendor sales all go back to the owners, which is the city. The citizens get to help make the decisions, because they own part of the team. I could go on and on, because this is clearly the best way to own and operate a franchise.

I wish other cities had the gull to run a team like Green Bay does. Truth be told, it's probably the only way the Packers can be run, because they reside in the smallest market of any team. One person can't front enough money to run the franchise on his/her own and keep the team in Green Bay, so why not just draw from the wells of the taxpayers. If Baltimore owned the Ravens, I wouldn't mind paying taxes so much, because I could see the tax dollars being put to a legitimate, good use (OK, I know I barely pay taxes, and I don't technically live in the city, but you get my point).

I know it's just idealistic thinking, and it would never fully happen, but it would be a pretty cool day if all cities owned and operated their sports franchises. People would be so passionate about their teams and players, and care so much more about how things are run and who is playing and coaching. It would be like every pro franchise had the same type of following that a college team does. There are no fans more passionate than college fans, because the team they root for represents them directly. Now everybody take a second and think how great it would be if just one particular, Mid-Atlantic based baseball team were actually owned and operated by the city in which it resides. What a great day that would be.