It seems there’s only one thing to write about. Kristine and I got surprise tickets to the Purdue-Indiana game tomorrow, so I likely won’t be posting anything tomorrow. So, yeah, let’s take a look at the game, shall we?
Regrettably, this will probably be a short post. Purdue is clearly rebuilding this year. There is quite a bit of talent on this team, but it is young and, tellingly, young at point guard. Little Johnson is going to be a very good player, might even make the NBA. But is young and prone to get in a hurry. And once he hurries, there seems to be three outcomes: a wild shot, a wild pass, or a charge while he attempts one of the previous choices. When you’re coming down to crunch time in a game, those are pretty much the last things you want. As I said, though, he’s young and hopefully starting to figure out that he can’t out-athlete everybody in the Big Ten as he (and Big Johnson, too, I’m guessing) did in high school. Big Johnson has figured out how to do it on the B1G level, I’m sure Ronnie will, too. Just, you know, it probably won’t be tomorrow.
Purdue also just doesn’t score consistently enough. Their defense is still top notch. They’ve only let four teams break 70 points this year, and one of those was an overtime game.* The other two were Michigan State (in East Lansing), Ohio State, and Notre Dame (in Indy). Also known as a pretty darned good teams. In Ann Arbor, Purdue managed to keep the currently number one (then number two) Wolverines under 70. 70’s been Purdue’s magic number for years. They just don’t typically let teams get over that number. The problem is, in past years, there have been plenty of scorers to make sure the Boilers do break that number. This year? Not so much.
*The Villanova highway robbery game. Boiler fans will not be forgetting that one anytime soon.
Indiana, as much as I’ve knocked them, is not a bad team. Did I ever buy them at number one? No, and I still don’t and wouldn’t. I still don’t buy Cody Zeller as this elite, cream-of-the-crop guy, either. But, in both of their cases, that doesn’t mean they aren’t good and talented. And, as such, I fully expect Indiana to win tomorrow. I don’t think the Hoosiers will necessarily run away and hide, though. As much talent as they have, I still think Purdue plays some pretty badass defense that will keep them within shouting distance. And, if you haven’t noticed, Purdue has been playing markedly better since conference play started. If the Boilers had been playing as well as they are now to start the year, there’s a good chance they would have been undefeated going into B1G play. If not undefeated, maybe one or two losses. Certainly not six. And 16-4 sounds a heck of a lot better than 11-9. Purdue would likely be in the rankings after playing a decent non-conference schedule and holding their own in a rough schedule to start conference play.* In, let me remind you, by far the toughest conference in the land.
*Not that there’s necessarily an easy schedule in the Big Ten. That’s kind of the point.
So, yeah, getting back to tomorrow, I’m not expecting a win. But, I do expect Purdue to be competitive. And, I mean, who knows. It’s a rivalry game. Crazier things have happened. But, no matter the outcome, IU still sucks.
Sorry for the slip, folks. Things have been a bit busy around here lately. Fingers crossed I’ll be able to deliver good news soon.
On the sports front, maybe Andy Murray has finally put it all together. True, some of that could just be he’s younger than Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.* So, he’s hitting his peak a bit later than Federer or Nadal. But, maybe he’s just finally figured out that last gear.
*Murray is 25, Federer is 31, and Nadal is 26. For completeness’ sake, Djokovic is 25, maybe a week younger than Murray. Nadal I thought was a little older than he is, but he sure seems to have more injury trouble like an older guy.
After long being considered talented enough to be in the top-of-the-top class of active tennis players, but not having the fortitude or something to actually win a major, Murray had a really good year last year. He made it to the semis in Australia before falling to Novak Djokovic in an almost five hour match. It’s hard to fault somebody for that, but that seemed to play into the narrative that Murray was still just a hair below the big three. He only(!) made it to the quarters at the French Open, but he gets a bit of an asterisk here because he was playing through back spasms the whole time. Pretty respectable showing on a surface I don’t think many would consider his best and playing through injury. That’s when the story seemed to change.
Murray showed up at Wimbledon with all the usual pressure of being the top British player at the time. For comparison, it’s about like the pressure the Cubs start getting every time they even sniff the playoffs. Sure, the players (Cubs and Murray alike) can say they ignore it all they want, but that is just plainly impossible. Apart from your own knowledge of history, you get the question put in your face time and time again by media and fans. You might think you’re ignoring the pressure, but all you can do is act ignorant of it. It will have an affect. Murray managed the final at Wimbledon, which in itself broke a British drought that stretched back to 1938. At that time, though, Murray couldn’t quite manage Federer, who was going through a bit of a renaissance of his own, and lost in four sets. That led to this emotional scene.
Tell me that’s somebody who doesn’t understand what kind of pressure they’re going through, both as a British tennis player and just for his own personal success. But, apparently, that was about the time that Murray decided he was done with this losing crap. He entered every tennis event he could in the London Olympics. Doubles with his brother didn’t go so well, but he won silver in mixed doubles and positively trashed Federer in that final in straight sets. The lifting of the pressure was plainly visible, as was the appreciation for Murray’s first very big win on all sides, Federer included.*
*It was probably a bit easier for Federer to swallow knowing he had just beaten Murray a month earlier at the same venue in an even more important event, though.
Next up on the major circuit* was a trip to New York for the US Open. He again made the finals, and found Djokovic waiting for him. A bit of background here, though I think I’ve gone through this before. Murray and Djokovic have known each other and been friends for almost their entire lives. Being so close in age and talent, they came up together through junior tennis very closely. In those years, and even the earlier years in their pro careers, Murray routinely beat Djokovic, and Djokovic was seen largely as a headcase. That changed when Djokovic just went nuts, beating everybody and becoming the hands down number one player in the world. And to start that streak? He soundly beat Murray in the Australian Open final in straight sets. I’m sure all of that was fresh in Murray’s mind when he set foot in Arthur Ashe stadium that day.
*Which, let’s be honest, is what really matters when it comes to tennis.
It was a dogfight, and it came down to a tiebreak in the fifth set. It was* the longest tiebreak in US Open history, in fact, at 12-10. Murray prevailed. As big as the Olympics were, this was an honest-to-God major. No fudging numbers or having to account for context, like the Olympics being in London and at Wimbledon or anything. No, Murray had finally and officially made the big three into the big four.
*And is, I suppose, though there obviously hasn’t been another US Open yet to test that record.
He doesn’t appear to be done. Last night and into this morning, thanks to Australian time, Murray beat Federer again in a hard-fought five setter to move into the finals in Melbourne. Waiting for him? Why, Djokovic, of course. If Murray can score back-to-back hardcourt major victories over Djokovic, that is going to make things interesting. With Nadal out with injury, and Murray scoring back-to-back wins over both Federer and Djokovic, there’s a very good argument to be had that he should be number one.
That, though, is clearly getting the cart before the horse. Murray’s still got a tall job ahead of him on what Murray himself has called Djokovic’s best court. If you’re feeling up to it, you can stay up watch it live, starting at 3 AM Sunday morning on ESPN2. Or, if you can avoid the coverage, it will be shown again at the much more sane hours of 9 AM and again at 7:30 PM. I’m sure I’ll watch one of those showings, and I’m fairly sure it won’t be the live one.
"Loyalty to any one sports team is pretty hard to justify because the players are always changing, the team can move to another city, you're actually rooting for the clothes when you get right down to it. You know what I mean? You are standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city. Fans will be so in love with a player, but if he goes to another team, they boo him. This is the same human being in a different shirt! They hate him now! Boo! Different shirt!! Boo!" - Jerry Seinfeld, “The Label Maker.”
We’ve heard that line above many times, and I’m sure I’m very far from the first writer to take on the subject. Still, I just felt a need, for whatever reason, to give my two cents on this.
I actually don’t necessarily disagree with what the venerable Mr. Seinfeld is saying here. At least, at the core. For the most part, we don’t necessarily cheer for particular players, and if we do, it’s because there is a personal connection of some sort. Either you knew them or when to school with them or something along those lines. Other than that, you cheer for your favorite team regardless of who actually constitutes that team. And, in that sense, yes, fans to cheer for laundry.
And yet, that still isn’t terribly accurate. Now, I know the line was put together like for comedic effect. But it points to something a bit deeper that I wish more teams would pay more attention to. That laundry we’re rooting for, it represents something. At its heart, for most fans, that shirt, that jersey represents a city and a region, and most of us, whether we like to admit it or not, do have some pride in our hometowns. We all came from somewhere, and in many inescapable ways, we are a product of where we came from. I may not have any desire to live in Covington as an adult, but I am a product of Covington and have been molded a certain way because of my experiences there. The same goes, to a certain degree, anyway, for Wabash or wherever you might have gone to college. You are a product of your experiences, and your experience is largely dependant on where you are. To disrespect or disregard your roots is to invalidate what molded you, and for the vast majority of people, being invalidated is not a pleasant thing.
So, yes, that shirt means something deeper than the name on the back or, in a way, more than the person wearing it. That’s a cliche, too, but it’s true. The name on the front should be more important. These teams are part of a greater community, and they ought to feel a larger sense of civic duty. Some teams do this well, others could use some improvement. But, in all cases, the community hangs on them. If sports were truly just another business, it wouldn’t hurt so much when the Seattle Supersonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder. And there wouldn’t be so much joy in Seattle when the team was confirmed to be coming back yesterday. Nor would there be so much anguish the last few years in Sacramento when it was rumored this would happen.
I think, too, it’s especially hard someplace like Sacramento. The Kings were, in many ways, their claim, their stake in being a big-time American city. Without them, they’re just the capital of California again. They might as well be Pierre or Montpelier.* That was a huge reason why Indianapolis wanted so badly to bring the Colts to town. Sure, we had the Pacers and the Indianapolis 500, which was great, but if a city is going to hitch their economic wagon so firmly to sports as Indianapolis has, it was going to take something more than a once-a-year event and a team in the third-most-popular professional sports league to really put the stamp on Indy as being a big-league town.
*Maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.
So, sure, call it rooting for laundry if you want. I suppose it’s not entirely untrue. But it runs deeper than that. Whatever you want to call it, fans, do it with abandon. Because that shirt means something, and it’s something special.
Pride on three.
It seems a pretty sure bet Lance Armstrong will admit to doping tomorrow on air with Oprah. This feels like old news, with the stripping of his Tour de France titles and everything a little while back. But, I guess it’s never truly confirmed until you get it from the horse’s mouth.
My thing is, I don’t think any of this is news. It hasn’t been for an awfully long time. Long story short, I’ve never bought into the story of Lance Armstrong. It was just too incredible, and I suppose I’m now vindicated.*
*That doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.
To recap, Lance Armstrong was an up and comer in the cycling world. He had won some events and he’d won some stages of the Tour de France. Then, in 1996, he had to pull out of the Tour after the fifth stage, because of illness. A couple months later, a Texas doctor confirmed he had stage three testicular cancer that had spread all over. Wikipedia tells me specifically it was to his lungs, abdomen, and brain. Those are some pretty vital organs for living, let alone cycling. Also from Wiki, he was given a 40% chance to live, which isn’t good. It isn’t necessarily an exaggeration to say Armstrong was on his deathbed.
Then, in a stunning turn of events, his cancer was declared to be in remission after many surgeries and being filled with chemo. He was declared cancer free in February of 1997. Which is great. Hero or no, I don’t think anybody is rooting for him to die. Anyway, after that great news, Lance Armstrong was back into the top level of cycling the next year, and won the whole tour in 1999. He then preceded to win the next six after that, too.
It’s a wonderful story. It just always felt so far fetched to me. It just didn’t seem possible that somebody could go from the verge of death and going through the ravages of not only cancer, but of cancer treatments as well, could bounce back that quickly and that strongly. I mean, in many cases, the symptoms of chemo are worse than the symptoms of the cancer.* It seemed there had to be more to the story.
*Granted, the end results of chemo are much more promising than cancer. But suffice to say, nobody would call chemotherapy an easy procedure to endure.
Maybe in some ways it would have been easier to believe in another sport. Cycling has had a long history of not being the cleanest sport on a lot of levels. Doping was already rampant before Lance Armstrong ever came onto the scene. It made it easy for the cloud of suspicion to settle over Armstrong, easy to speculate maybe this wasn’t entirely done on a bicycle seat and Texas hills. There were whispers about Armstrong’s personality being a bit of a gloryhound, too, which also didn’t help clear the air. His denials were always a bit over the top. Different argument, but it didn’t look good when he divorced his wife that had stood by him through all this cancer stuff to shack up with Sheryl Crow, either It just never all added up.
And now, of course, we know the truth. Is it a shame? Yes, completely. The legend gave a lot of people a lot of hope, hope that carried them through some situations and illness that maybe they wouldn’t have been able to muster the strength to fight off otherwise. His foundation raised ungodly amounts of money to presumably fund cancer research.* He really did a lot of good, even if he was quite a bit more prickly than his public persona let on.
*I’ve heard some people suggest it did a lot more to fund Lance Armstrong than it did for cancer. I don’t know that I necessarily believe that, I’ve certainly not seen any proof of that. But, in light of some other charities’ monetary distribution and what we know of Armstrong, I wouldn’t necessarily put it past him, either.
So what to make of him now? Public opinion seems to have swung pretty harshly the other way, which I suppose makes sense. You don’t get to pull off that big a deception without some backlash when it all goes sideways. Should we really judge him so harshly with all the good he has done, though? I don’t know. I suppose it depends on how you felt about him before. If you suspected this news all along, I think you meet it with a pretty big shrug and decide he’s done enough good. If you held him as a beacon of hope through your own terrible tribulations, you might judge him a little more harshly as a false messiah of some sort.
We’ll see how badly the fallout gets from this. With all those denials he made, there’s a chance for folks to sue him either for misrepresentation (for his sponsors) or libel/slander (depending on just how nasty he got in those denials). I suppose there might be a chance for some perjury charges, depending on what he told the government a little while back. I don’t know if he was under oath, though.
Lance Armstrong: there will be some explaining to do with the upcoming generations. When VH1 gets to the “I Love The Teens” in a couple decades, it’ll be interesting to see what the reaction is.
For all the fawning over last weekend’s NFL playoff games, I’m finding myself a lot more underwhelmed than most, it seems. There seemed to be a whole lot of sloppy, hard-headed* football that didn’t really hold my attention.
*This is distinctly different from “hard hat,” which I think the vast majority of Wabash football fans, at least, get.
The most entertaining game was most likely the game I thought would be the most entertaining going into the weekend, and that was Seattle going to Atlanta. The beginning of the game was a yawner as the Falcons built their lead. As the Seahawks whittled down to the point getting to within six, I was definitely having shades of the Redskins game, only Matt Ryan’s legs weren’t threatening to explode with every step he took. And, well, clearly they held up just fine. When Seattle took the one point lead with about thirty seconds left on the clock, I would have bet my life savings on the Falcons. I really was that confident, and mostly because I had watched this movie before. I was watching the end of that Falcons-Panthers game towards the start of the year and knew the exact blueprint the Falcons were going to use to pull this off. And it went right according to plan.
There are a couple wrinkles here, and none of them are good for the Seahawks. First off, I don’t think I’ve watched an entire Falcons game all year. I knew what they were going to do to pick up the huge chunks of yards they needed to get into field goal range. You would think the Seattle defense and coaching staff might have an idea, then. Apparently, they did not. Next up, icing the kicker has never seemed like a good strategy at all, and this is just another example. Worse than that was Pete “One Step Ahead of the Posse” Carroll stomping around and acting incredulous because a timeout was called in the first place. And, of course, FOX had the video on hand showing Carroll calling the timeout. I wish I could find video for definitive proof, but suffice to say I’m not the only one who remembers this exact same scenario happening while Carroll was at Southern Cal.* Shameful, Pete, though I suppose that’s kinda par for the course, right?
*Carroll has since said he was upset that the Falcons were able to essentially get a practice kick. He says the officials told him that wouldn’t be allowed. Now, I’m not saying Matt Bryant had his usual timing after that timeout, but it was called close enough to the kick that it certainly wasn’t anything unusual. Not the same situation as what happened in Denver at all. Besides, I have a hard time believing that was actually what Carroll was complaining about due to above incident.
We’ll look at the other NFC game, San Francisco hosting Green Bay. This game was probably lucky to be as close as it was, as things turned out. I was most certainly on the Green Bay bandwagon, and not just because my wife and her family are Packer fans. I really didn’t think there was any way that Aaron Rodgers would screw up his return. And I guess I’m not sure he really screwed it up,* the Green Bay defense was just atrocious. Colin Kaepernick ran wild the entire game, and it didn’t appear that the Packer defense ever made any serious adjustments. They just kept trying to collapse the corners to make Kaepernick stay in the pocket, which clearly didn’t work at any point in the game. Not a good showing by anybody on the defensive side for Green Bay, including the revered Dom Capers.
*Though he did seem awfully tight to me.
Maybe even worse than that, though, was Mike McCarthy. I’ve certainly heard complaints about how conservative a coach he is from my father-in-law, but his decision to punt early in the fourth quarter was more than conservative. That was plainly waving the white flag, and, well, it just seemed far, far too early to do that. I’m surprised Rodgers didn’t have a bit of a hissy fit when being taken off the field in that situation, and I don’t think many would have blamed him. Just a sad showing all around, much like the spanking they got from the Giants in last year’s playoffs.
Over on the AFC side, well, there was the Patriots-Texans game, but there’s not a whole lot to say about that. Houston hung around for longer than I thought they would, but in the end, they were still just outmatched and in over their heads in this game. Enough said.
There is quite a bit more to be said about the debacle that turned out to be the Denver Broncos. In short, there is plenty of blame to go around for how the Broncos choked that game away. The most obvious culprit is the safety, Rahim Moore. I don’t think it was laziness, as Peter King half-heartedly suggested. I’m not even sure it was a lack of concentration, which was King’s other suggestion. Moore had more than enough time and initial cushion to stay behind the receiver. He just had the mother of all bad judgements. You can clearly see he is looking up at the sky and seems to be tracking the ball, much like a center fielder would track a relatively easy fly ball. The problem was he was about ten feet in front of where the ball came down at. I don’t have an explanation for how he so badly misjudged the ball. Maybe he just didn’t think Flacco could throw that far, maybe he lost the ball in the lights for a moment. I really don’t know. But it was embarrassing, and that was the direct cause of losing the lead and going to overtime.
It was not, however, the only mistake. John Fox has to shoulder a lot, if not most, of the blame. To call his gameplan conservative makes Mike McCarthy look like a madman. What was the point of picking up Peyton Manning and his salary if you’re not going to use him? It’s not quite as bad as Tim Tebow and the Jets, but it’s not too far off. You get Peyton Manning to be the stud quarterback with the laser rocket arm. You do not get him to kneel the ball in a tie game with thirty seconds and two timeouts in your pocket. Now, it has been suggested that Manning was having some arm issues. The team has denied this, but I almost have to believe it’s the truth. There is just no other explanation as to why you wouldn’t at least take a shot or two down the field. You don’t need a touchdown. Just get into field goal range, which supposedly is more liberal in Denver thanks to the thin air. The kneel down to end the first half was bad enough. The one to end the game was just criminal.
Speaking of Manning, it’s a much smaller part of the blame, but that was an awful throw on the final interception. Manning knows this, he’s said as much. It was just odd to see that coming from Peyton. As most Colts fans can tell you, he certainly forced his share of balls, but on the run and against his body? That was very un-Peyton-like. He might try to throw a rocket into a tight space when he’s got his feet under him and he can drive the ball, but you rarely saw him do that on the run. And if he did, it was to the sideline. If there was ever a sign of Peyton pressing too hard in the playoffs, that was it. And it’s just a damn shame, too. I really thought the Broncos could beat the Patriots in Denver. And I do want to see Peyton get one more ring. Now it’s another year gone. Hopefully those nerves can heal up just a little bit more this offseason.
I’m running a bit long, but let’s take a quick look ahead to next week. We’ve got the 49ers going down to Atlanta, and the Patriots will host the Ravens. I’ve been calling for the end of Baltimore's season since before the playoffs started, I’m not going to change that now. But, I’m much less confident in saying that now. The Ravens have impressed me, they’ve shown me there was much more left in the tank than I certainly realized. I don’t think I’m alone in that, either. Still, the Patriots look to be their cold, mechanical precision selves. And the game is in Foxboro. Advantage: Patriots. Hate to say that, but there it is. In the other game, wow. I really don’t know. I think it will be awfully close. The 49ers are awfully good, probably the best team in football when everything is firing on all cylinders. Atlanta, though, is not the top-seed for nothing. They have been the model of consistency this year, and I don’t know if you will see the same second-half swoon from their defense now that this group has a playoff win under their belt. This is really too close to call. Still, I wouldn’t be much of a blogger if I were to sidestep it entirely.* I’m going to tentatively call this one for the 49ers, but I certainly wouldn’t be putting any confidence points on this game if I were picking for a pool.
*Of course, that’s implying that I am much of a blogger. I guess that’s not really up to me.
Look, I'm still digesting a lot of what happened over the weekend, so I'm going to write about it in some more depth. In the meantime (and since there's still a little bit of Monday left), here's a trip through music history, courtesy of Weird Al.
Which then made me think of this song that I hadn't heard in ages. What better place than here to share it.
And somewhere in there, I somehow got thrown into thinking of these videos. Enjoy. I'll see you tomorrow.
Word on the street says the NHL is going to be dropping the puck for real this year a week from tomorrow. I’m pretty pumped about it. I’ve only gotten to break out my Jonathan Toews jersey once this season, and I almost didn’t wear it then. The story isn’t all that interesting, either.* As pumped as I am, though, I’m not sure I would have truly missed the NHL this season.
*Just for completeness-sake and maybe satisfy some curiosity, here is the story. I’ve written here before about the Danville Wings and how I grew up with them. Since I can’t get to that article at the time of writing, I’m not sure if I wrote about how the Danville Wings ceased to be. I probably did, but whatever, I’ll write it out again. The Wings were very successful and popular in Danville, in a way that no other hockey in town has come remotely close to being. The Indianapolis Ice at that time were apparently not as popular, seeing as they folded in 2004 after moving down a league. After the team folded, there was apparently still a demand for hockey in Indy. The interested parties started looking for cheaper teams and leagues to move to town, and I remember reading in the Indianapolis Star one day that the Wings were one of the teams they were intensely interested in buying. And, well, having first hand experience with their success, I just knew they would be the team bought and moved. Sure enough, the following season, the Indianapolis Ice were replaced by the Indiana Ice. I steadfastly refused to see this team for some time, preferring that they had continued on in Danville, as Danville seemed to need something like the team to root for a lot more than Indianapolis did or would. Hockey has floundered in Danville since as far as I know (I haven’t been to a [new] Dashers game as of yet to say for sure).
Anyway, my brother, who as far as I know didn’t have the same resentment I did at all, started going to a few games the last season or two up at the fairgrounds. I could feel my resolve start to crumble a bit, mostly because I’d never been to anything at the Coliseum after missing the Pacer preseason game there a few years ago. Hockey seemed like as good a reason as any to check out the arena. I never made it when they were playing there, though. The team now uses Bankers Life Fieldhouse as their home ice. Andrew again started to get on me to go, and a couple weeks ago I finally caved. Here was my problem: they of course were going to be playing the Chicago Steel. I was going to a hockey game, so it only seemed to make sense to wear my hockey jersey. But my jersey is a Chicago jersey, and I was going to be cheering for Indiana, naturally. It was a stressful choice, but I eventually went ahead and wore it. It still wasn’t looking promising for having an NHL season at the time, so I was afraid I wouldn’t wear it at all this winter if I didn’t wear it then. By the way, the ice didn’t seem to be top notch at the fieldhouse, but that didn’t stop the game from being highly entertaining and highly affordable. I would definitely recommend it. Now, back to the main post. I told you it wasn’t very interesting.
You see, my problem with the NHL season is that it overlaps with the NBA season. I love watching hockey, but I have a longer and deeper history with the Pacers, who have reasserted themselves on the national stage. When I was living on my own, this wasn’t really a problem. I could watch whatever the hell I wanted and nobody would say the first word. Even when I was going through the “not working” thing, I could record the games, avoid ESPN that night, and watch what I’d missed the next morning. But, now that I’m married, Kristine doesn’t have the same sort of excitement for the NBA or the NHL that I do. She’ll watch football and she’ll watch college basketball, but that’s about it. Anything more, and there’s complaining. With being able to more or less forget the Blackhawks were around, it was pretty manageable to really get into the Pacers. Especially now that they’re really starting to click. But now I’m going to have to find some time to get the Blackhawks in there, as there are still high expectations, despite the second half swoon last year. And, you know, there’s still Purdue in there, too.
I love all the winter sports, I really do. I just wish they could somehow be spread out a little better. Maybe this will be a little easier when we have kids, because, to put it crudely, I’m not the only one responsible for entertaining everybody. But for right now, there are just too many sports I’m trying to squeeze into too little time. I suppose, though, if I’m going to have problems, that’s a lot better problem to have than most that could come my way.
At least when baseball season rolls around, I’m sure the Cubs won’t give me a lot of reasons to stay glued to my couch.
For anybody that has any real interest in baseball, or writing about it, anyway, there’s only one story to write about yesterday. The National Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2013 is . . . nobody. This isn’t the first time this has happened. You can pretty clearly see the gaps on the list over at Wiki. The last time the writers association failed to vote somebody in was 1996. And, well, that ballot was nowhere near as stacked as this year’s ballot. That year’s vote turned out as follows.
Phil Neikro: 68.3% - Inducted 1997
Tony Perez: 65.7% - Inducted 2000
Don Sutton: 63.8% - Inducted 1998
Steve Garvey: 37.2% - Not in, Fell Off Ballot 2008
Ron Santo: 37% - Inducted 2012
Tony Oliva: 36.2% - Not in, Fell Off Ballot 1997
Jim Rice: 35.3% - Inducted 2009
Bruce Sutter: 29.1% - Inducted 2006
Tommy John: 21.7% - Not in, Fell Off Ballot 2010
Nobody else cracked 20% that year, nor did anybody else make a dramatic move and get voted in. This year’s balloting with an awfully stacked class looked like this:
Craig Biggio: 68.2% - 1st Appearance
Jack Morris: 67.7% - 14th Appearance
Jeff Bagwell: 59.6% - 3rd Appearance
Mike Piazza: 57.8% - 1st Appearance
Tim Raines: 52.2% - 6th Appearance
Lee Smith: 47.8% - 11th Appearance
Curt Schilling: 38.8% - 1st Appearance
Roger Clemens: 37.6% - 1st Appearance
Barry Bonds: 36.2% - 1st Appearance
Edgar Martinez: 35.9% - 4th Appearance
Alan Trammell: 33.6% - 12th Appearance
Larry Walker: 21.6% - 3rd Appearance
Fred McGriff: 20.7% - 4th Appearance
One part of the problem seems apparent without even looking at the names. The second list is much longer, and I used the same 20% cut-off on both lists. There are simply a ton players with Cooperstown-worthy numbers coming up with this ballot. And, as you might note, there are an awful lot of first ballot guys on that list. And that’s only going to get harder, as you can see about halfway down on this Wiki article. There is a ton of talent coming down the pike, and I don’t really see but a couple of those players with the steroid cloud hanging over their career.
And, well, the writers certainly made a statement. Going straight by the numbers, Clemens and Bonds especially should be first ballot hall of famers, no question. Just for home run numbers, even if their games were limited otherwise, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire didn’t come close to cracking 20%. Rafael Palmeiro, who has both 3,000 hits and 500 home runs,* something only four players have been able to do, couldn’t even struggle up to 10% in his third year. With that statement, though, I’m pretty surprised Biggio didn’t get in. I would have thought a lot of writers would have gone out of their way to vote for him and maybe even somebody like an Alan Trammell to make a point of voting for guys without steroid accusations. Still, I think Biggio will get next year.
*Both numbers that I"m sure most of you are aware would usually get you to Cooperstown on their own.
And if he doesn’t, well, that’s just because who is coming up on the ballot, when you’ve got a ton of guys who are both thought to be clean and friendly with the media. That might really make things complicated for Bonds and Clemens when they start to get crowded out by guys like Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and maybe even Frank Thomas.* And right behind them are Randy Johnson, John Smoltz. They might get a bit of a break in 2016, because the only slam dunk I see there is Ken Griffey Jr.
*I thought about including Jeff Kent, but I couldn’t even keep a straight face typing that.
Now, the million dollar question for every baseball writer. Is this the right course of action? Not to find a cop-out, but it’s really hard to say. Everybody has their own idea of the Hall of Fame and their own interpretation of the “character clause.” Add in the very subjective idea of “right,” and the waters get muddied quick.
But, here’s the rub against “protecting the Hall” from the steroid guys. Sure, they all fit into a larger narrative about baseball, this country, and history. Baseball takes itself very seriously like that, which is both its charm and its curse with fans. But it’s certainly there. Furthermore, these players are the representatives of their era. The Hall of Fame’s full name is The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. And as part of that oft-forgotten last part, a huge mission of the Hall is to tell this story of baseball, which means you’re going to have to speak to every era. It’s unfortunate to be sure, but the steroid era of the 90’s and early 2000’s is part of the game. I don’t see how you can tell the story without these guys. That doesn’t mean you necessarily sugarcoat over these things on their plaque, as much as that might upset some guys. Especially a guy like Clemens, who you might remember went to trial and won when he was supposed to have no chance. But it’s part of the story, and a part of the story that should be told, just as much as the Black Sox scandal and the wild days of John McGraw should be remembered, even if they are not so glorious as the Golden Age of the 50’s through, oh, we’ll say the 70’s. If you want to tack the 80’s on there, I’ll listen, but all the artificial turf and track teams water it down for me. On that same note, if you want to stop the Golden Age in the 60’s, I’ll listen to that, too. Those are the much more fun debates than the one we’re currently having over Cooperstown right now.
And on that note, if you haven’t been to Cooperstown, you really need to go. It’s been some time since I’ve been, but I can honestly say it might have been the most magical place I’ve ever been. If you have the slightest interest in baseball, you would be a fool not to make the trip at least once.
Actually, to me, the scale I'm talking about looks closer to that than you might expect. Both Purdue and the Pacers played last night, and both got fairly different results. The Pacers beat the Heat by ten in a game that probably wasn't even that close, and Purdue lost to Ohio St. by ten in a game that may or may not have been closer than that.
Let's start with some good news. The Pacers finally looked like the team they were advertised to be coming into this season. Paul George looked like an absolute stud on both ends of the court, pouring in 29 points and limiting LeBron to 22. You don't usually get congratulated for letting your guy put up twenty-plus points, but when he's hands down the best basketball player on the planet right now (and maybe ever), that's not too shabby. The Pacers bigs and bench came to play, and forefront in my mind, there was not the first hint of intimidation.
I kept having flashbacks of when Purdue welcomed Duke into Mackey Arena a few years ago. That was a team that should have had all the talent to beat Duke at home, and probably relatively easily so. But, instead, the team came out tight and timid, and the game was over by halftime. And not in the way I would have preferred. I was worried that the Pacers, feeling the pressure of following up that playoff performance last year, might come out that same way. Thankfully, that didn't come to be. This team showed, even without Danny Granger, they are for real. They've been on a roll lately, and I think a huge part of that is figuring out how this team works without Granger. When he comes back,* there will probably be another adjustment period as they reintegrate him into the lineup, but I don't expect that to take nearly as long. The best example of this attitude was Lance Stephenson totally brushing off Dwyane Wade after a hard foul. I wish there was a video of it, but apparently it wasn't YouTube-worthy with the non-reaction. It was nice to see that poise and to see what that poise can accomplish. Hopefully they'll bring that same poise for seven games later that they couldn't sustain last year.
*Reportedly in a month or so, but I don't know how much stock to put into that.
On the other side of things, Purdue lost, but I wasn't too disappointed in that. With a team this young, just the fact they had their chances was enough for me to see. I don't write too long on this game, but a lot of the first half came down to missed shots and hurried passes, both of which should get better with time. The second half was much better, Purdue a few times pulling within six or seven points. But, those chances would slip away mostly from the over-exuberance of a freshman point guard. Momentum is a good thing to have, but sometimes smelling blood in the water can lead to careless mistakes, particularly for a young player. And as good as Little Johnson is and is going to be, he definitely fell prey to that trap. So, Purdue might have started the Big Ten season 1-2, but I feel okay about how this is going to go. We're not going to threaten for the conference title or probably not even to make the big dance, but this team could well be better served to
Last night went about as well as I feared, and certainly a whole lot worse than I had hoped. In the interest of full disclosure, I was rooting for Notre Dame as much as I was rooting for anybody. This was mostly out of a sense of despair that we would have yet another SEC champion, and yet another year of Alabama and Nick Saban on top. Frankly, it’s all very boring to me during stretches like this. At least Notre Dame would have been something different. I suppose it didn’t hurt that I had an uncle who went to Notre Dame, but I don’t think that had a big impact. Notre Dame is still a rival for Purdue, even if Purdue cares about it a lot more than Notre Dame does.
With that out of the way, yeah, it couldn’t have been proven too much more clearly that Alabama was the better team. Even so, I don’t buy the arguments that Notre Dame didn’t belong there. They were the only (bowl-eligible) undefeated team in the BCS. And while their schedule wasn’t filled to the brim with juggernauts, they certainly played a very respectable schedule. Judging by how weak the SEC west was, it was probably on par or even tougher than Alabama’s. Especially when looking at the Irish schedule before the season started. Michigan St., Michigan, Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma, and USC all were highly touted coming into the year. With the exception of BYU and Stanford, Notre Dame beat all those teams pretty handily. And, you know, even those close games, Notre Dame did still win. The combined score of those games: 122-62. Not too shabby for a team that had almost no offense. The biggest cupcake on the schedule was Boston College, and that’s a big Catholic game. I would be floored if that game were going anywhere any time soon. Besides, BC is usually pretty good, but they were clearly rebuilding this year. In any case, there is nothing on that schedule to suggest they padded their win total with a cupcake schedule.
Even if they deserved to be in the game, though, there was definitely worry that the Notre Dame offense was going to be in completely over their heads, and that certainly happened. The Michigan game is probably a prime example. Notre Dame’s defense flat embarrassed Michigan. Their offense was only able to put up 13 points in what should have been a route. Another sign of trouble might have been the Purdue and Pitt games. Sure, those were both bowl teams, but they certainly both benefitted from being in depleted conferences. And both were annihilated in their bowl games. And both had Notre Dame beat before they squeaked out wins.* I don’t know if anybody thought Notre Dame’s defense was going to be that outclassed, but unfortunately, you can’t be all that shocked that the game turned out lopsided when Notre Dame’s offense was a water pistol.
*On a side note: one of the guys from my Wabash class posted yesterday felt he had to defend Notre Dame against Purdue fans who couldn’t get themselves to root for Notre Dame and making some snide comments about the Irish. His defense was to “remind” Purdue fans of how badly the Boilers were beat down in Dallas by OK State. I’m not sure how that was a jab at Purdue. I think Purdue fans all had a very good idea of what was coming in that bowl and understood if Ohio St. and Penn St. weren’t going through their own issues, there was no way Purdue would have seen a bowl of that caliber. And, you may recall, calls to move on from Coach Hope were universal from Purdue fans, to the point where a good chunk of fans were openly hoping to lose the Bucket Game to ensure his fate. That’s a pretty good sign that you know your team is crap. As demoralized as Purdue fans were and down on their team, that was still a team that had Notre Dame beat and had to turn to Tommy Rees to bail them out with a minute or so left in the game to get to a last second field goal for the win. And your defense is to point out how bad that team was that almost ruined the perfect season before it could really start? Doesn’t sound like much of a defense to me.
So, now what? Who is going to dethrone the SEC? The only hope seems to be Oregon, but that didn’t go all that well when they took on Auburn a few years back. I’m sure there are going to be discussions that Oregon should have been in Notre Dame’s spot, especially after they manhandled Kansas St., the other presumptive choice before they lost. And, well, that’s just a bad argument. They lost to Stanford, which meant they couldn’t even win their division in the Pac-12, which was a generally disappointing league all around after a good first couple weeks. And, as you might remember from earlier in the post, that Stanford team couldn’t beat Notre Dame. I know the common opponents things isn’t the best measure in the world, but with the short schedules of football, it’s all you’ve got to go on. No, Oregon had even less of an argument than Kansas St. did after letting the Stanford game get away. There’s always next year, right?
Well, there’s next year if the NCAA allows it, I suppose. The other option is Ohio St. coming off it’s sanctions, but with ex-Florida coach Urban Meyer at the helm, that barely seems like an improvement. As it is, we’re all going to subject to more SEC chants, and another year where the college football conversation pretty well starts and stops with the SEC.