Monthly Archives: April 2008

The Problem With the Debate

Last night, Bob Costas hosted a live (or partially live) episode of his HBO show, Costas Now, to address the changing sports media landscape.  The press release:

Segment Two: The Internet and Impact of Bloggers. Video package interviews: editor Will Leitch, TV writer and media critic Michael Schur and Washington Post columnist and PTI host Michael Wilbon. Live panel: Pulitzer Prize winning author Buzz Bissinger, Will Leitch and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards.

So, there was a taped roundtable with Will Leitch of Deadspin, Michael Schur of FireJoeMorgan, and Michael Wilbon of ESPN and the Washington Post, which was followed by a live discussion with Leitch, Buzz Bissinger, and, bizarrely, Braylon Edwards.  I haven’t seen the show, but I assume Costas was involved in every segment as well.

The seemingly uniform reaction, at least from blogs (I haven’t found any mainstream opinions on the episode yet), is that Bissinger, simply put, lost his mind.  From MDS at the AOL Fanhouse (who had the first reaction I could find):

Bissinger launched into a profane rant against Leitch, Deadspin, blogs in general and “Big Daddy Balls,” the latter being the name that Bissinger incorrectly used for the blogger who goes by the pen name Big Daddy Drew. Bissinger was completely unhinged. Cleveland Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who for some odd reason was on the panel as well, looked frightened.

“This guy, whether we like it or not, is the future,” Bissinger said, jabbing his finger in Leitch’s direction. “The future in the hands of guys like you is really going to dumb us down to a degree that I don’t think we can recover from.”

Of course, Bissinger couldn’t be bothered to cite even one example of anything “dumb” Leitch has ever written. And neither Bissinger nor Costas seemed to know the difference between a blog post and a blog comment.

Summing up: Costas holds a live panel featuring old-head sportswriter Buzz Bissinger, and new-guy Will Leitch.  Buzz bashes blogging in the person of Will so fervently that Leitch doesn’t even has a chance to defend himself.  Not that he needs to, as the fervor of the attack is absurd enough to sink itself.

Again, I haven’t seen the segment (though I hope someone will post it shortly), so the following comments are based on the idea that the essential uniform reaction from the various commenting members of Blogfrica weren’t, ya know, lying or exaggerating or whatever.  Given the tone (somber) and the (unsettling) lack of swearing and snark, I can only assume that we’re all taking this pretty seriously.

Leitch himself checked in this morning with a couple of salient thoughts, most notably, this leading remark:

Here’s the important thing to remember about Buzz Bissinger, and whatever the heck happened on “Costas Now” about two hours ago: Buzz is not alone. Sure, he might be metaphorically alone, raining spittle on the imaginary demons that clearly haunt him. But if you don’t think that almost every single person — with obvious, clear exceptions — who was on all those panels last night didn’t come up to him afterwards and give him a fist pound and a “yeah, we really struck back tonight!” well, you weren’t there. This really is what many of them think. Though most are a little calmer about it.

Leitch doesn’t indicate who those exceptions might be (though I assume “obvious” and “clear” would work nicely for those who saw the program), but it seems that the segment was designed to publicly hang the appointed representative of Blog.  If, indeed, many of the other panel member congratulated Bissinger on his rantings, the only reasonable conclusion is that the program was less a discussion of the changing face of sport media, and more a reminder of who’s in charge around here, who’s sitting pretty in the press box, and who’s watching athletes from their mom’s basements.  People who share Bissinger’s view possess a mentality of Writers vs Bloggers, Us vs Them.

And there lies the first issue.  There is no “them”, or rather, changing perspectives, there is no “us”.  Sports bloggers have only a few connecting points.  Generally, they all like or love sports.  They have personal interest in the topic about which they write.  Beyond that, though, I’m unsure what there is.  I’m not certain if Orland Kurtenblog and Free Darko have much in common, in terms of content.  Kurtenblog (The KB, to you), consists of enthusiastic fandom for hockey as a sport, which is coupled with frequent, short posts to dissect the news of the game while maintaining the lighthearted spirit that helps make the sport, itself, so wonderful.  Free Darko is more nebulous, interpreting basketball as something poetic and revolutionary, composing posts as manifestos as though the Atlanta Hawks represent something greater, more significant, than one of the better teams in the NBA.  They’re both wonderful blogs, but for totally separate reasons. Any criticism you can apply to Free Darko almost certainly does not apply to the KB, and vice versa.

Criticizing blogs for being inaccurate or inelegant or vulgar on the basis of a few selected posts is like criticizing magazines because of Hustler, or bashing newspapers because of the Weekly World News.  I used to work for an environmental company, and was asked to represent the company at a national meeting for a student’s environmental action group.  Unbeknownst to me, the group had opinions and did work in non-enviromental areas.  One of these areas was (and I assume still is) GLBTQ relations.  They argued against discrimination against queers (their umbrella term) by saying that “everyone is queer”.  They accomplished this feat–of making everyone queer–by defining “straight sex” as “a man having sex with his wife, in bed, man on top, for the purpose of procreation”.  I cannot recall if the procreating has to be successful or not.  Anything else, is, at least a little bit, queer.  This, of course, is a silly tactic, defining your opponent by using incredible narrow terms.

Of course, this is what Bissinger is doing.  He’s trying to reduce the thousands and thousands of blogs out there to some kind of narrow definition of the term, imagining a sports blogger as a Rick Reilly ripoff crossed with cheap tabloid journalism, David Mamet’s vocabulary (but not his plotting), and just a bit of Larry Flint, for flourish.  And while many blogs contain one or more of those elements, hardly any contain all of them.  And far more blogs focus on elements not included in Bissinger’s narrow view.  Blogs, simply put, are far too diverse for any sort of singular criticism to be reasonably applied across most of the board.

Here’s the other problem I have with the apparent nature of the program last night.  There is no discussion from the mainstream media about the changing nature of sports writing.  Rather, there is only a recognition of something different, blogs, and an immense crush against what these blogs fail to do.  For that matter, many blogs, in their criticism of the mainstream media, either ignore or downplay what newspapers do well, and focus instead on what they do poorly, or do not do at all.  What needs to occur that hasn’t, I think, is a thoughtful recognition of the successes and failures of both media formats: blogs and newspapers (including online newspapers).

Bissinger isn’t the man to have that conversation, and, even if it ever takes place in a meaningful way, it seems unlikely that Buzz would care for it.  If it ever happens, I’m not even sure if Leitch is the guy to represent the vast and vaguely associated legions of sports bloggers out there.  He might be, but I’m not sure.  But there are significant differences between journalism and blogging, and it would be nice if the mainstream media could come around and think of blogs as something different, instead of something inferior and dangerous.

UPDATE: I just saw the segment in question (or, at least, most of it) on Awful Announcing.  Even hearing about it, so much this morning, I found the whole thing somewhat shocking.  While haranguing Leitch, Bissinger asks, about blogs, “What does it add?  What does it contribute?”  I’d love to redirect that question to Costas and Bissinger.  What did they add last night, other than bile and venom, to the landscape of sports media?  Bissinger’s hysteria seems, to me, akin to the cries of “Witch!  Witch!” in Salem, MA.  Bissinger didn’t seek to inform anyone about blogs–not even of their faults.  He merely evoked the authority of volume and pronounced blogs a retardant of society.  And I’m unsure why, exactly.

Other posts about this:

Every Day Should Be Saturday: A Brief Statement on Blogging

Awful Announcing: First Reactions to Bob Costas’ Foray Into Sports Media

Deadspin: Friday Night Blights

Fire Joe Morgan: A Few Words on “The Internet”.

Dan Shanoff: Buzz Bissinger vs Will Leitch: The Day After

Dodger Thoughts: The Rime of the Ancient Sportswriter

The Big Lead: “You’re Like Jimmy Olsen on Percocet” and Bob Costas’ Feeble Attempt to Destroy Blogs

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Bloggers For Life

A few weeks back, the New York Times wrote a ludicrous article about bloggers dying from, ya know, blogging.  For a refresher, here’s a short quote from the piece:

To be sure, there is no official diagnosis of death by blogging, and the premature demise of two people obviously does not qualify as an epidemic. There is also no certainty that the stress of the work contributed to their deaths. But friends and family of the deceased, and fellow information workers, say those deaths have them thinking about the dangers of their work style.

Well, finally, an official rebuttal, thanks to CNN.  Apparently, while 3 weeks ago, blogging could kill you, now, blogging can save your life:

James Karl Buck helped free himself from an Egyptian jail with a one-word blog post from his cell phone.

Buck, a graduate student from the University of California-Berkeley, was in Mahalla, Egypt, covering an anti-government protest when he and his translator, Mohammed Maree, were arrested April 10.

On his way to the police station, Buck took out his cell phone and sent a message to his friends and contacts using the micro-blogging site Twitter.

The message only had one word. “Arrested.”

Within seconds, colleagues in the United States and his blogger-friends in Egypt — the same ones who had taught him the tool only a week earlier — were alerted that he was being held.

So, there ya go.  Blog at home, and die of a heart attack.  But, take that shit on the road, and it’s like a Get Out of Jail Free card.  Glad to know that the bloggers, at least, will be safe at the Olympics this year.  In all seriousness, we hope Buck’s translator, Mohammed Maree, is safe and sound, wherever he is.

CNN:  If One Word Posts Can Save a Life, What Am I Doing All This Typing For?

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A Stupefying Loss

We may be moping around after the Flyers were cheated out of a win last night by the referees, but even our disappointment cannot compare to that of young goaltender Michael Leighton:

The Phantoms set franchise records for shots by beating host Albany, 3-2, in a staggering fifth overtime in the longest American Hockey League game ever played. The Phantoms took an even more staggering 101 shots to obliterate their previous playoff record of 64.

The shot that counted came from Ryan Potulny 2 minutes, 58 seconds into the fifth OT to give the Phantoms a three-games-to-two lead in the AHL East semifinal series.

River Rats goaltender Michael Leighton stopped a stupefying 98 shots. And lost!

The marathon was the first AHL game ever to reach a fifth overtime. The previous record was 114 minutes, 56 seconds (74:56 of overtime) on May 30, 2003, when Hamilton beat Houston, 2-1.

Game 6 is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. tomorrow at the Wachovia Center.

For the unitiated, the average goaltender sees about 30 shots a game, and still lets in about 3 of them.  That’s a hard luck loss right there.  After 100 shots, I imagine he was just damn tired.

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Thursday Night Marauding

What to do tonight?  Find your favorite pub with TVs, and watch the Flyers take on the Habs in Game 1.  We’ll be getting our first taste of the new Memphis Taproom.

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My Own Private Liquor Store

Lew Bryson wants to dismantle the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board:

The PLCB exists because at the time of Repeal, Pennsylvania had a governor, Gifford Pinchot, who still ardently believed in Prohibition, and a legislature that believed Repeal may well be temporary and that Prohibition was still a strong political force — to be fair, a belief that was prevalent in the day. Few people knew that Prohibition as a political force was deader than a doornail, in a state of complete collapse.

Working with what they knew, Pennsylvania’s legislators put together a “control” system that was actually fairly common among states. They would control all sales of wine and liquor (note that beer was not included) through state-run stores. The clerks would simply deliver the bottle; they would not make recommendations of any one brand over another, a policy rooted in a brute force approach to fairness that would unfortunately lead to a total lack of any kind of service mentality. “We got it, you want it: play by our rules or get lost” was the attitude that ruled in the State Stores, and largely still does, despite the recent development of a human face.

The PLCB justifies itself by the revenues it brings in, by the supposition that it ‘controls’ abusive and underage drinking better than privately-owned businesses would, and by the money it “infuses” into the state economy by paying landlords for leases on the stores and the wages it pays its employees. It is a system that works so well that Pennsylvania is surrounded by great liquor stores across its borders.

I say we take it down.

If nothing else, you have to love Lew’s enthusiasm.  He’s right, too.  PA possesses some of the more archaic liquor laws around, and just about everyone in the Philadelphia area (at least, the ones who are into wine and liquor, and even beer) have headed down to Delaware and Maryland, or just across the river to New Jersey, for the better selections and (often) better prices of private liquor merchants.

Naturally, Pennsylvania, being a government and all, is slow to change, especially in regards to making drinks with alcohol more available to its residents (after all, think of the children!).  So, even though Lew is getting plenty of support, this is going to take time.  There are a lot of surrounding issues for privatizing liquor sales (for instance, the state employs a lot of people in those stores), but we have no doubt that between now and the Rapture, Uncle Lew will cover most of them.

Of course, the next question, the next step can only be: who is going to go undercover in the enemy’s lair?

Lew Bryson: The Revolution Is Nigh, PLCB

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Playing Favorites, NL

Here we go with the overly long follow up to Sunday’s AL-edition of this meme.


Who. Mike Fetters
Why: A few Twins fans might remember him, and everyone else just sort knows him as a journeyman reliever.  However, he was a beloved pitcher among the members of my uber-competitive Summer/Fall 2002 Wiffle Ball League.  Why?  Because Fetters took the mound standing upright, facing third, and then would sharply snap his head toward home to take the sign.  There was something comical about this, and by the end of the year, every wiffle pitcher dabbled in Mike Fetters impressions.
Wear the Jersey? Despite the semi-hideous nature of the 2002 D-back uniforms, I probably would.


Who. Bret Saberhagen.
Why: I don’t feel good about this.  There are plenty of guys on and off this list for whom I have more affection than Saberhagen.  But, truly, I can’t think of a single damn Rockie for whom I have any positive feelings at all.  Maybe one of the big cats.  But probably not.
Wear the Jersey? No.  Definitely not, for every possible reason.


Who. Andy Ashby.
Why: Doesn’t everyone like Andy Ashby?
Wear the Jersey? Nah.


Who. Orel Herschiser.
Why: Nerdy pitcher, and holder of one of the more impressive records in baseball: 59 scoreless innings.
Wear the Jersey? Eh, probably not.


Who. Juan Marichal.
Why: There are just too many things to love about the Dominican Dandy.  The high leg kick, the blazing fastball, the clubbing of Johnny Roseboro, the general insanity.
Wear the Jersey? With pride.


Who. Andre Dawson.
Why: As a child, it would’ve been Ryne Sandberg, who played second well and could hit a bit.  But the older I’ve gotten, the more unbearable (to me, at least) Sandberg has become.  So, with all that in mind, I choose Andre Dawson, who, of course, is at the tops of the list of players who were more exciting than good.
Wear the Jersey? No.


Who. Rob Deer.
Why: Like there’s any other choice.  I’m a longstanding member in the Rob Deer Fan Club.
Wear the Jersey? 8 days a week.


Who. Bobby Bonilla.
Why: In my mind, as a child, he was Barry Bonds, but bigger, stronger, and, therefore, “better”.
Wear the Jersey? Almost certainly not.


Who. Roy Oswalt.
Why: I like that Drayton McLane gave him a tractor after winning a playoff game.  I once read a story about Oswalt that mentioned that he intended to retire after his 10th year in the majors so he could go back home and farm.  I loved that story.  Of course, that story changed a bit when the Astros decided to give him $73 million, but, maybe, just maybe, he’ll walk away from it all after the 2010 season, anyway.  It’s not that I really want him to retire.  I just like the mythology of it.
Wear the Jersey? Maybe.  I’d probably wear that red alternate jersey.


Who. Ray Lankford.
Why:  Excellent player, though overlooked while discussing the better players of the 1990s.  Looking around at Cardinals outfielders, they’ve really had an impressive string of players manning CF.  Stretching back to the late 1970s, they’ve had George Hendrick, then Willie McGee, then Ray Lankford, then Jim Edmonds, and now Rick Ankiel.  There was also a year of the young JD Drew in there.  None of these guys are Hall of Famers, but, really, the Cardinals have hardly had a complaint about CF in 30 years.
Wear the Jersey? Probably not.  Something about the team just rubs me the wrong way.


Who: Joe Morgan.
Why: The Reds, honestly, have an extraordinary number of people to choose from.  Adam Dunn!, screams the RDFC member inside me.  Pete Rose is about as much fun to watch (ya know, as a player) as anyone I can think of.  Johnny Bench is, justifiably, a legendary player, and the absolute pinnacle of his position.  But Joe Morgan, despite the frequent crotchety insanity of his broadcasting, was, I think, an even better second baseman than many people realize.  This is a Hall of Famer, with a couple of MVP awards, and a place of honor on one of history’s great teams, and I’m saying he might be a touch underrated.  Joe recently remarked that Utley might be one of the better second basemen in baseball history.  I’m not even sure if Joe’s considerable ego realizes how much better Utley has to get to justify the comparison.  And Utley is, like, really, really good.
Wear the Jersey? Almost certainly.


Who. Tom Glavine, but only if I can get some kind of mention of his final start as a Met.  Otherwise, Turk Wendell.
Why: Glavine’s lousy performance gave the division to the Phils on the final day of the season, before the Phils even started playing a must-win game.  Turk Wendell just batshit crazy.
Wear the Jersey? Glavine, almost certainly not.  I don’t actually like him, I just like what he ended up doing for my favorite team.  Wendell, maybe.  Definitely while drunk.


Who. Greg Maddux.
Why: There are so many reasons to love Maddux.  The speed at which the games he pitches move along (quickly), the absolute dominance of his career, the longevity, the stories of him peeing on rookies in the shower.  Really, he’s the whole package.
Wear the Jersey? Really, my anti-Wahoo sentiments (perhaps best expressed by the second song here), extend to Braves and the Redskins and the rest of the clubs that use Native American stereotypes.  It’s silly, and dumb.


Who. Walter Johnson
Why: I have no interest in considering the Nationals to be the same thing as the Montreal Expos, and though I’m too young to remember the old Washington Senators, the Nats are too young to have earned my affection.  Incidentally, are there any pictures of Johnson pitching?  Or was his pitching motion just that relaxed?  All the Google images are like the one I’ve got, or pics of him looking like he’s just lobbing a ball, as if to a small child.
Wear the Jersey? Depending on which one.  I’ve got mixed feelings about that collar.


Who. Vlad Guerrero.
Why: Vlad is everything Andre Dawson fans wish Dawson was.  Or, at least, as an Expo, he was.  Absolutely incredible arm and bat, and, once, an excellent fielder.  Absolutely unique style of play (as shown by the fact that no scout will ever write the words “looks like a young Vlad Guerrero” about a prospect).  Somehow, despite swinging at everything, he’s walked more than he’s struck out 4 times in his career.  Arguably, the most exciting player of my lifetime, thus far.
Wear the Jersey? I’d even dance with Youppi while wearing it.


Who. Michael Jack Schmidt.
Why: I love Chase Utley.  I love Jimmy Rollin’s charisma.  I love everything about Pat Burrell.  I love the nostalgia of Richie Ashburn, and I miss having him in the booth.  I love Steve Carlton’s slider, and that he was a pioneer in the field of “personal catchers”.  I loved both Curt Schilling’s mouth and his fastball, and how he signed autographs when the grocery store near my parents’ house opened up.  I’ve had bizarre adorations of Mickey Morandini, who could field and hit triples, and David Bell, who could field.  I loved Dykstra.  I love, love, love, Tug McGraw (“Tug, do you prefer grass or astroturf?”  “I don’t know.  I never smoked no astroturf.”).  I loved John Kruk, as a player.  I even loved Geoff Geary’s shortlived, up-and-down, middle relief career as a Phillie.  I loved the disaster that was Turk Wendell.  I rooted so hard I’m sure I’ve ground my teeth down to flat stones while watching Joe Table collapse time and time again.  I can name hundreds of Phillies players, many of whom played before I was born.

But there is only one God, and his name is Mike Schmidt.

Wear the Jersey?  You bet your ass.

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Squeezing the Zone

We’ll get onto the Playing Favorites in the NL soon, but for now, just a quick Pitch F/x aside.  I was at the Phils – Mets tilt featuring Johan Santana and Cole Hamels on April 18th.  The two were pretty even in their handling of the opponent lineups, until the 8th inning, when the opponents started handling them.

Two men in the row behind me commented that the umpire, Brian Runge, appeared to be squeezing the strike zone on Hamels, or stretching it a bit for Santana.  I’m not sure if any of the wizards at Baseball Prospectus or elsewhere have tracked any sort of tendency among umpires to give better calls to the larger celebrity among players, and we’re not about to go in a full-blown study here, but we can at least look at the location of the calls from that game for both pitchers.

All these charts are taken from Jnai’s website, which can be found here.  If you have any interest in Pitch F/x, I cannot recommend this tool highly enough.  It’s thoroughly wonderful.  And a big thanks to TangoTiger, who seems to always find the most wonderful toys.

Anyway, here are the pitch locations from 4/18/08 for pitches thrown by Hamels.

If you click on the picture, you should get a slightly larger image.  It’s a bit hard to read, anyway, but here are the facts:

Hamels threw 5 pitches well within the strike zone that were called balls.  Most of these are located in the lower left quadrant of the strike zone.  All 5 were in the lower half.  He also threw several pitches that were on or near the border of the strike zone that were also called balls.  Hamels threw one pitch that was outside the zone which was called a strike.  It would certainly seem that Hamels was getting squeezed a bit.  Well, a good amount.  The question, of course, is, was Johan Santana getting the same treatment?

Here’s the same chart, but for Johan:

Santana also gets a few would-be strikes called balls, though only one or two of these are egregious (one all by itself in the bottom right, and another one high in the zone, in the middle).  The rest are all on or near the strikezone border.  Santana did get four pitches outside the zone for called strikes, as well.

It would seem that Santana did get a bit more benefit of the doubt than Hamels, as Runge was more likely to call a ball a strike for Johan than for Cole.  Obviously, we’re only talking about 5-10 total pitches, here, but the difference between a 1-0 count and an 0-1 count are significant.  Needless to say, Brian Runge, at least from Friday night, is not a friend of the Curious Mechanism.

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