Another Friday during football season. I suppose we’ll keep with the Friday Football Forecast, but I can’t guarantee that I’ll keep this feature up during October. There are more important things to discuss then.
Anyway, let’s get started, shall we? First off, we have the Colts. This will be short, because the team is off this week. Still, I wanted to write a bit about Austin Collie earlier in the week, but just didn’t feel I had enough for a full post. What better time than now, then?
For the unaware, Collie was placed on injured reserve following the Jacksonville game. I didn’t see the injury, but I’m told it looked fairly bad on the field. The conclusion was a torn tendon in his right knee, which all know from Robbie Hummel will take a year or two to fully heal. Combined with his concussion issues, it seems a foregone conclusion that Collie is done as a Colt.
This is a real shame, but I don’t blame the Colts. They are a football team, and if you can’t be a football player, it makes it hard to justify spending the money on you. Collie has seemed nothing but awesome every time I’ve heard him on radio or TV. He already gave up a few years of football for his Mormon missionary trip.* And now his football career is cut short on the other end because his body just apparently won’t hold up to NFL hits.
*I’m sure somebody has come up with a sex position with that name by now.
Doesn’t it seem a little bit ironic, though, that a knee injury is what will put Collie out of football? Or at least out of the Colts? He’s had, what, three or four concussions. You would think with all the added emphasis on head injuries, Collie would have already been looking at his coaching options. But, no, it was an old-fashioned knee injury. I know everybody responds to concussions differently, but this just seems like another point in favor of Roger Goodell being all talk when it comes to player safety. I really question how much longer he can be NFL commissioner, because it seems like everything he touches falls apart.
In happier news, Purdue is back on the field this week against Marshall. I said last week that I expect Purdue to win in a little bit tight contest. The bigger news for Purdue this week is they suddenly have hopes for playing for the Big Ten title.
I mean, seriously, have you seen the rest of the Big Ten? The only teams that haven’t had a major let down are Purdue, Northwestern, and Minnesota. Who would have guessed that before the season started? Add to it all the problems at Penn State and Ohio State, and suddenly it doesn’t seem like such a stretch. Wisconsin has not looked anything like the teams of recent years. Both Michigan schools were beaten handily by Notre Dame in Michigan.* Nebraska looked very mortal as UCLA, who recently dropped out of the poll, beat them without too much problem. Iowa has dropped a couple games nobody really saw coming in Iowa State and Central Michigan. Illinois was flattened by Louisiana Tech. Indiana is, well, Indiana. If I’ve counted correctly, that covers the conference.
*I know the Michigan score was closer than the Michigan State score, but you don’t get to turn the ball over five straight possessions and say “We were right there!”
In contrast, Purdue had their game in South Bend, and really should have brought the Irish into overtime. They played a couple directional schools in Eastern Michigan and Eastern Kentucky and did what they were supposed to do. No other schools can say that outside of Northwestern, who has been pretty good for a couple years, and Minnesota, who definitely has not. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Minnesota has been Purdue’s homecoming the past few years. Add to that Northwestern and Minnesota being in the other division, and Purdue might even be the favorite to be in Indy come championship time. Penn State and Ohio State aren’t eligible, which leaves Purdue to best Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. The first two Purdue would have felt good about even before the season kicked off. Wisconsin, though, has been a pleasant surprise, at least as far as the Boilermakers are concerned. Stay tuned, folks, this might get interesting.
That brings us to Wabash. After such a disheartening loss, I am downright scared for this weekend. I don’t know the last time Wabash has lost homecoming, but I’m sure it’s been a very, very long time. Unfortunately, on this 100th homecoming, that might be the case. Carnegie Mellon has been steamrolling through NCAC teams, including Allegheny. I don’t want to tempt anything, but all I’m hoping for is that last week was just an especially bad day with especially windy conditions, which threw off the team. Maybe they’ll look like the team that was ranked seventh tomorrow,* but that would make the first time I’ve seen that team all year.
*Rather than seventeenth like they are now. And, frankly, that’s probably overrated.
So, sadly, most likely there won’t be any playoffs in Wabash’s future this year. I suppose you can’t go every year. But, hey, at least I can console myself with baseball playoffs while Wabash makes it way down the stretch.
Our long (three-week) national nightmare is over. The real officials are swooping in to save the day.
Good news? I suppose. I haven’t seen the details of the deal, and I don’t particularly care. It’s hard to get too worked up about these things when your team is awful. But, it will be interesting to see if these officials get back into the game and end up being terrible. It’s entirely possible, I would imagine they’re pretty rusty. I guess we’ll get our first look tonight when the Browns take on the Ravens.
In sports that haven’t had a real labor dispute for almost two decades, the pennant races are really coming down to the wire, and thankfully, the big stories aren’t for the stupid second wild card. Although they are in the American League, which is disappointing. In any case, all three division races just got awfully interesting. The Yankees and Orioles both won big last night, leaving that division separated by just a game and a half. In the Central, the Tigers squeezed out a win, while the White Sox fell just short, giving the Tigers the game advantage. And out West, the real big story down the stretch. The A’s ran the Rangers off the field, cutting the Rangers division lead down to three.
The A’s have been a curiousity all year. For the longest time, it was just a thought of “Man, the A’s are actually doing halfway decent this year.” But everybody waited for the inevitable second half collapse.* The All-Star Game came and went. The A’s kept hanging around. Then everybody turned to look at the wild card standings and . . . the A’s? Really? It was already a nice story, but a playoff spot? Shut the front door. I mean, the Orioles had a really nice start last year and had some pieces, you could squint a little bit and maybe see that one coming. But the A’s?
*For an example, look at the Pirates. That’s just a sad story.
And now, with seven games left to go, we look at a division that everybody had just assumed belonged to the Rangers after the Angels disappointing season, and it looks entirely possible. Not the least of which is because they’ve got another game with the Rangers tonight* before finishing up September with three games against the not-nearly-as-inept-as-you-think-but-still-not-good Mariners. The Rangers get to tangle with the Angels, which I’m sure looked like appointment viewing at the time the schedule was released. Which, I suppose, still is, but not nearly for the reasons we first believed. The Angels can take this a couple ways. Either decide this season was one of the bigger busts in MLB history and just pack it in, or realize they’ve got three games left to make a mark and still get some revenge in the division and take some of these games. After that, we get the A’s and Rangers again, which will certainly be the appointment viewing we thought were getting in the last days of September.
*When they’ve already won two out of three.
While it’s not impossible otherwise, it starts with the A’s winning tonight. I would think they would want to at least be tied going into that last series with the Rangers. So, they win tonight, get the lead down to two games. Then, they just need to take two out of three from Seattle, which seems very doable. The Angels would also need to take two of three from the Rangers, which also seems doable. Then, essentially, we get early playoffs. Three games to decide who carries the AL West. If those games aren’t carried nationally somehow, the MLB needs to take yet another long look at how they’ve got their media deals drawn up.
If Oakland call pull this off, has there ever been a more unlikely division champion? I mean, I really can’t think of anybody close. The closest thing I can think of is the Rockies of a few years, but they did have some top shelf talent that people already knew about, at least with Matt Holliday. Most people probably couldn’t name five players on the A’s, and the players that people do know, most fans would have raised an eyebrow and said something like “I didn’t realize he landed out there.” Players like Coco Crisp and Jonny Gomes. Heck, I’ll bet most people forgot that’s where Stephen Drew landed after he pulled a version of his older brother with the Phillies.*
*Maybe it’s closer to JD Drew with the Cardinals, but I don’t remember that being particularly contentious. Just the Cardinals deciding they couldn’t live with all the injuries.
And how embarrassing if the Rangers slip to a wild card spot. Back-to-back American League champions. Looking like, if anything, they’re even better than the last two years. Their main competitors, the fully-loaded Angels, pissing away the season almost from day one. And they still manage to lose the division? And if they get into a one-game playoff with either the Yankees or Orioles, they may find themselves in a world of trouble. The Rangers have been fifty-fifty at best in do-or-die situations over the past few seasons. The Orioles especially seem to have a particular flair for playing with their backs against the wall in the past two seasons. If you remember, the Orioles came back from what seemed to be an impossible situation against the Red Sox in the “greatest night in baseball” last year. Everybody remembers the Rays comeback because it involved more runs, and it got the Rays into the playoffs. But the Orioles had to come up with two ninth inning runs after staging quite a few comebacks last year. And this year, well, they’ve done nothing but play their best in the clutch. The Rangers might go from World Series favorites to out of the real playoffs in the course of a couple days.
So, wake up, Oakland. If you want to keep this team, this is the time to show it. You fill that stadium for the Raiders whether they’re good or not. Hint: they’re usually not. It’s time to show your support for the scrappiest underdogs in baseball. This isn’t the La Russa era A’s, but it just might be far more entertaining.
You would think that winning a triple crown for a playoff team would be a slam dunk for MVP. I’m sure if you were to tell Miguel Cabrera that he would win the triple crown* and the Tigers would win the Central Division,** he would have gone ahead and assumed he would be the MVP. In fact, he wouldn’t be too out of line to start thinking about Cooperstown. Every triple crown winner since 1894 has found their way to the hall. There were two winners, Tip O’Neill and Paul Hines (in 1887 and 1878, respectively), who did not. The other twelve have, mostly comfortably.
*The first since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. In a related note, I definitely see why sportswriters went with Yaz with him.
**A very real possibility, but by no means a lock. The Tigers and White Sox are tied as of this morning for the division lead.
And, you know, if the Tigers do make the playoffs and Miggy does hold on to the lead in all those categories, he still might win MVP. But, if you asked most voters right this instant who their MVP is, the overwhelming response is Mike Trout.
It’s hard to argue with that vote, either. Cabrera is batting .329 with 42 home runs and 133 RBI. He leads the American League in batting average (by three points over Joe Mauer) and RBI (by nine over Josh Hamilton) and is only one homer back from Hamilton. Mike Trout, though, in his rookie season, no less, is batting .324 with a very respectable 28 home runs and 78 RBI. But, his case is not based on those numbers alone, obviously.
Trout is leading the league in three categories, too. Those would be runs, stolen bases, and WAR. Now, nobody can deny the value of runs. I mean, when you really boil down baseball to its basics, runs are the currency of baseball. That’s how you win and lose games. All the other stats are fluff to help you understand how runs are scored or prevented.
Stolen bases is another piece of fluff that has a complicated relationship with baseball understanding. Stealing a lot of bases has gone in and out of vogue, which I’ve written about before. Right now, I would generally say that a ton of speed is a bit on the downside of its cyclical popularity. And, he’s only stolen 47 bases, which wouldn’t have even cracked the top twenty some years in the 80’s. And that’s only two up on Rajai Davis, so it’s not like he’s blown the rest of the league away. Still, he is the leader, and that’s something to consider. I’m just not sure how much that’s really contributing to his overall MVP case.
The last number, WAR, I think is where Trout is really earning his hype. This is a “new school” stat, though I think most are familiar with it now. To paraphrase, WAR stands for “Wins Above Replacement.” The replacement in this sense is an absolutely average guy, your standard AAA call up or what have you. It gets figured a little bit differently in different places, but this stat aims to give you an idea of how many wins your team has gotten because you have this particular guy in the lineup as opposed to the average replacement. FanGraphs has Trout at 9.5. Baseball Reference has him at 10.5. Baseball Prospectus has him at 8.2. For perspective, an MVP level season is pegged at 6. That tells you the kind of season Mike Trout is having overall. For comparison, Miguel Cabrera’s WAR is 6.8 on FanGraphs.
So, yeah, but that measure, Miggy has had an MVP type year, but Mike Trout has had an MVP+ type year. And while the voting will be interesting to watch,* the more interesting discussion to me is how we as fans have changed.
*The biggest X-Factor to me is team performance. I know MVP is supposed to be an individual award, but look at when Sammy Sosa won the MVP over Mark McGwire. You can’t tell me that wasn’t because the Cubs made the playoffs and the Cardinals didn’t. They were in the race for home runs, and McGwire had more of those. But the Cubs had more wins. Anyway, more to the point, the Angels were supposed to be the Heat of baseball this year, splurging on Albert Pujols, CJ Wilson, and (later) Zach Greinke. The results have been less than impressive, with the extremely cheap A’s looking like they will finish ahead of the Angels. The Tigers, as mentioned earlier, may well win their division.
I suppose the most enjoyable is the widespread acceptance of “egghead” stats. Some sabermetrics are borderline useless, either for a need of revision or a lack of sample size to this point. But, most tell us things that the “traditional” stats either ignore or sell short. It’s a great way to see if your eyes match up to the paper. And it seems to me that WAR is the crown jewel of sabermetrics. It’s not quite standardized, true, but the three main sources are more or less in line with each other. It’s a simple concept to understand. And it’s a quick indicator of what kind of overall season a player is having. A player have a 4 WAR? He’s have a solid year. Oh, he slipped to 2 the next year? He’s just a bit above a scrub. Now, whether or not it’s just a down year or he’s becoming washed up, that’s a different matter. No paper can tell you that. But it’s a quick indicator of where a player is in that moment.
The writers certainly seem to have embraced that with this year’s MVP talk. Mike Trout’s value flies off the page with new stats. Without those new stats, we would be forced to look at the available numbers and conclude that Miguel Cabrera is the head-and-shoulders choice for MVP. I’m sure Mike Trout would still win Rookie of the Year, because his talent is pretty obvious. But you might miss just how good he is without some advanced numbers that take his all-around athleticism into account.
The bums may have lost, as they say in The Big Lewbowski, but the nerds will have their revenge.
I suppose there are some elephants that can’t be ignored.
I know, I know, I usually make it a point not to talk about whatever is dominating the big sports media. And, frankly, that’s usually because it just doesn’t interest me. But, all the hubbub over last night’s game has my attention.
I suppose a good deal of that is because my wife and her family are all Packer fans, so I like to see them do well. I always kind of liked the Packers, anyway. I love the whole “neighborhood feel” of the team. It’s got a collegiate type of feel to it, at least to an outsider looking in. Maybe I’d feel differently if I were a real Packer fan or if I lived around Green Bay, but that’s the way it’s portrayed, and the team sure seems to embrace that image.
Fitting, then, that last night’s game seemed to be officiated by overwhelmed collegiate officials. I don’t know who the officiating crew was, nor do I know their background. But I do know that game was hard to watch last night. I’ve generally been on record that, for the most part, the refs haven’t been so bad. Have they been perfect? No, but neither would the “real” refs. More attention is being put on the calls that the current officials have messed up, so it seems like a bigger problem than it is. Generally, the officiating is a textbook puffed-up story.
But, last night was a different story. Twenty-four penalties were called in that game. The same number called in the Patriots-Ravens game, which was generally concluded to be a mess.* In all honesty, the first half wasn’t so bad. Which goes to show bad the second half was. At one point in the fourth quarter, and this was pointed out in the telecast, there four or five consecutive penalized plays. Three or four holding calls and a pass interference that should have gone the other way.** Dan Dakich made a very good point on his radio show yesterday. Really, the biggest problem with these refs is flow of the game. Sometimes the locked out guys were bad about this, too, but it seems to have gotten worse with the current officials.
*And will likely cost Bill Belichick somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000. Maybe more. It just depends on how big a hammer the league wants to bring down.
**This was also pointed out in the telecast. But, this is one I’ll (somewhat) defend the replacements on. The usual guys never seem to call offensive pass interference right, either. I don’t have a lot of faith that the replacements were the problem here. Though I do believe that play probably would have just gone unflagged with the normal guys.
Flow of game is something I’ve talked about here, too. Yeah, it’s good and somewhat important to get it right. But, really, the bigger job of refs is to make quick judgements so the game moves along. I’ve generally railed about this in regards to baseball, as the pace is already slowed so badly. More instant replay is just going to get in the way of that. But it’s a problem in football, too. Especially when it seems like every single play is discussed and reviewed to hell and back. Play thirty seconds, take three minutes to figure out what you just saw. It’s killer for a viewer. Everybody, players, coaches, viewers, officials, would be much better off just making their call and moving on.
Besides, it’s not like reviewing is actually helping anything.
This bring us to the big debacle that everybody is talking about. First off, Green Bay was robbed, but they can’t complain too loudly about it. If they would have bothered to score in the first half, this would have been a non-issue. Mike McCarthy said as much in his post-game press conference. But, that was a blown call. Plain and simple. Maybe it looked like a jump ball when everybody was in the air, but it was pretty clear to see once they hit the ground that the defender had control of the ball, and Golden Tate just had an arm and maybe his other fingertips wrapped around to touch the ball. Not exactly a situation anybody would have called “dual possession.”* And, yet, a bit later, here came an official with his arms to the sky. Directly following an official who was waving his arms, seemingly about to point the ball to Green Bay. Indecision ensued, leading to the pass being declared a touchdown. Seattle wins.
*As a bit of an aside, I got to see what sure looked to me to be a blown dual possession call right in front of me. My sophomore year, Wabash had what may well have been the best football team they’ve fielded since I’ve been watching. It also happened to be a year when Mount Union looked a little mortal, and before Wisconsin-Whitewater turned into a juggernaught. Wabash had run through their schedule unscathed and landed a top seed in the playoffs. In the second round, they drew Capital, a good team from Mount Union’s conference. It was a dogged game, but luck was not on Wabash’s side. They lost a touchdown when a runner was declared down, when I’m pretty darned sure I never saw his knee touch the ground. Late in the game, Wabash driving. A touchdown would take the lead and assuredly win the game. A field goal would send it into overtime. And we were in field goal range. Russ Harbaugh passed towards the sideline. The receiver and defender came down with the ball together, landing out of bounds. We were disappointed, because it would have meant a first down, but an incomplete would not be the worst thing. Suddenly, the official motions. “Capital ball.” I still to this day have no idea how that ruling was ever considered, let alone called. Wabash lost the game. Capital traveled to Mount Union the next week and lost by a last second field goal. If Wabash could have gotten Mount Union in Crawfordsville, there was a very good shot of moving on. And since Mount Union did end up winning that year, who knows what might have been.
Now, I have a theory on this one. I truly believe that they called it a touchdown to force the play to be reviewed. Sure, that one would likely be reviewed anyway, but a scoring play is automatically reviewed. The problem is, as I’ve read and heard on the radio this morning, dual possession is not reviewable. So, once the play was declared a touchdown, it was over, as everybody was relatively comfortably in-bounds and the ball didn’t hit the ground.
This is obviously not your standard ending to a game. Which is exactly when you don’t want the subs in. I do truly believe the regular refs would have been markedly better here. They probably would have managed the immediate scrum following the pass better and made a more definitive, quick call. No groping around trying to figure out what rules applied here, no two officials making different calls. Likely no two officials making calls at all, the regular refs having a better sense of who’s calling what. Truly, that is one of my biggest gripes in any sport. Officials making calls they are out of position for. That’s usually more of a basketball thing, but it certainly happens in other sports.
Will this finally be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Maybe. Maybe this will finally be what ends Roger Goodell’s reign as commissioner. He may look the part, but his time sure makes him look like an empty suit. That’s a story for another day, though. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how the negotiations between the NFL and the refs goes after this. There apparently was a wide gulf yesterday. I’d imagine the distance might be more in rowing range today.
UPDATE: I have since read that there is an automatic review in place this year for turnovers as well as scoring plays. I would say that negates my theory of why the officials erred on the side of offense, but I’m not entirely convinced these officials (maybe most replacement officials) were aware of this rule, either.
ANOTHER UPDATE: The information just keeps pouring in, even though this isn’t exactly breaking news. Last night’s officiating crew is the same one that did the St. Louis-Washington game that was also universally considered a disaster. That seems like a good example of being kicked upstairs, but whoever did the kicking didn’t quite have enough leg.
Well, geez, that didn’t go so well. I guess I should count myself lucky Purdue didn’t play this week.
I should preface all of this by saying I didn’t get to watch hardly any football this weekend due to a few factors. First, I had to take Kristine to the doctor, where we found out she has pleurisy. Then, not long after that, we were off to New Richmond to see some family at a memorial for my cousin Jay, a recent cancer victim. So, I didn’t see any college football that day, nor am I really complaining. Just so everybody knows where I’m coming from. Sunday wasn’t any better. I spent the day helping my mom put in new carpet in her living room, which let me watch the last ninety seconds or so of the Colts. Though, frankly, that seems like the only part I really needed to see.
So, now, circumstances laid out, this weekend sucked. Wabash lost 20-17 in overtime. As I detailed on Friday, this game should not have even been close. I had a feeling seventh was overrated for this team, and they went out and put a pretty fine point on it. This put on a ten-position fall to seventeenth. As our second biggest rival, it pains me to say this, but I have no idea how Wittenberg is not ranked, and furthermore, not ranked ahead of us. Next week is homecoming against Carnegie-Mellon. I know the “Law of Common Opponents” isn’t so much a law as a fanciful delusion, but that is the team that made Allegheny look like a (not-particularly-good) high school team. I don’t know the last time Wabash lost on homecoming, but I’m willing to wager it’s been an awful long time. It would be a shame if they lose on their 100th one. But, I’m worried about it.
The Colts, on the other hand, was a disappointment of a different sort. I’m not shocked that the Colts lost. That’s going to happen a lot this season. Heck, I probably should have even seen this coming, because the Colts have always seemed to have an inordinate amount of trouble with the Jaguars, even in the Manning years. It was more in the way they lost. How do you let a team break out an 80-yard play in that situation? Don’t you have your safeties back playing centerfield for just this sort of emergency? My goodness, I know these sorts of plays happen, but there is no way that play should happen in that situation. They break that out earlier in the fourth quarter? Fine, it happens. With a (slim) lead and less than a minute left? Inexcusable. I know our defense is bad, but my goodness, it’s still an NFL defense. I thought, anyway. I’m told the defense even looked pretty good up until that point. That was just a good shot to the gut.
The only bright spot in the Colts letting the receiver run wild was that receiver was Cecil Shorts, a (presumably) proud product of Mount Union. I don’t necessarily like how Mount Union runs its football program,* but it’s always awfully nice to see D3 athletes succeeding in the pros.
*Maybe it isn’t deserved, but it definitely has a reputation for having pretty low standards for its students. And football players in particular. Reading up on Pierre Garcon’s path to the school seems to add fodder for this argument.
It has to get better next week, right?
Okay, so, I guess it’s finally time to pony up and talk some football. The good news is I think I’ve got good news to deliver.
I don’t know how long it will last, but I sincerely believe the Colts will have a winning record after this week. The team didn’t look half bad last week against the Vikings, and really, the offense wasn’t atrocious against the Bears. And even in that Bears game, the defense got off to a good start. Now, that didn’t last too far into the game, but they did get some sacks and a pick six to start that game. And now, Jacksonville rolls into town. They haven’t won a game yet after squaring off with the Vikings* and Texans. Now, there’s no shame in getting beat by Houston any more, even if it’s by twenty points. Heck, there’s a lot of respected people picking the Texans to go to the Super Bowl. I don’t buy that hype, but it’s there. Anyway, yeah, the Jags were pummeled in that game and lost a heartbreaker in Minnesota.
*Who, again, the Colts just beat last week. And beat more convincingly than the late field goal winner would indicate.
The Colts have just seemed a more solid and consistent team to me. Yeah, the Bears were manhandled in Green Bay. But I think the Bears are a lot closer to the team that blew out Indianapolis than they are to the team that looked like a high school team against the Packers. Plus, this game is in Lucas Oil Stadium, and, simply put, the Colts just have the better offensive players. I will take Andrew Luck over Blaine Gabbert any day. I would also take Reggie Wayne, even in this stage of his career, over any of Jacksonville’s receivers.* The Jags do have Maurice Jones-Drew, who I feel we’re going to look back on when he retires and shake our heads that he was stuck on crappy teams. And the defenses, well, neither defense has looked great. But I have faith in Freeney and Mathis disrupting Gabbert more than the Jags bothering Luck.
*To be fair, Reggie Wayne has not looked half as washed up as many were predicting he would. Maybe getting a real NFL quarterback was just the shot in the arm his career needed.
That is not to say, of course, that Luck won’t feel any pressure. This offensive line is just plain bad. He will be scrambling for his life. But I think he has the ability to make something of his scrambles. Much, much more so than Gabbert, anyway. And, in a bright spot, the Colts actually kept Minnesota’s much-vaunted running game more or less in check. Jacksonville is going to want to run MJD has much as they can. This, I think, will tip in the Colts favor as well.
A lot of people seem to think this game will be low scoring, and I get that. It wouldn’t surprise me. But since both teams are bad, and especially inept at defense, I’m going to go a little higher. Let’s call a Colts win, oh, 31-21. That feels about right to me.
Turning to college, Purdue is off this week, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with them. They had two squash matches in Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan and did what they were supposed to do. They also went up to South Bend and really gave Notre Dame a scare. That game should have gone into overtime. It hurt a bit that the defense collapsed like a flan in a cupboard, but still, it was a million times better than last year’s game at Purdue. Marshall is up next. I really don’t know much about this year’s Marshall team. We all know they had an amazing run last decade, but I haven’t heard much about them this year. They did only lose by a field goal to an Ohio team that a lot of people think will end up undefeated. Based on that, I’m guessing Marshall is a pretty decent team. I think Purdue will win, but it may be frustratingly close.
On a related note, since when does Purdue kick off all their home games at 3:15? The answer is TV, I’m sure, but gosh, that’s just an awkward time for a game. I get noon or one, I get later one, like five or six, but three? I’m not a fan.
And last, but certainly not least, my beloved alma mater.* Wabash has looked a little shaky the first two games. Sure, they beat Hanover and Denison by comfortable margins, 33-12 and 35-2, respectively. And that’s good. They’re sitting at number seven in the D3Football.com poll, which is the poll I’ve always taken as gospel. But there have been sooooo many penalties this year. And the offense, despite averaging 34 points a game, has looked out of sorts each game. It’s clicked towards the end each time, but it seemed, to liken it to a push mower, to take a few pulls to get it started. Lots of priming.
*Though that love may be a little one-sided. I suppose I’m not the only one that feels that way.
The positive to take from that, I suppose, is both of those games were on the road. This week is the home opener against Allegheny. Allegheny was once a prominent force in NCAC football. Then, Wabash joined the conference. It’s been awhile since they were a serious contender, and it doesn’t look like this is the year to change that. They beat Wooster by a field goal, 17-14, before getting crushed by Carnegie Mellon, 37-7.
To put it simply, Wabash doesn’t get crushed. In all the years I’ve watched Wabash football, they were stomped one time, and that was by the eventual national champions in Wisconsin-Whitewater. That was at their place in about two feet of snow, and half our team had the stomach flu, including the All-American quarterback, so we had to see if our otherwise-injured-former-All-American quarterback had anything. He didn’t. Simply put, one blowout against the team in eight years of watching them, and there were a lot of circumstances leading up to it.
Wabash wins this one, likely fairly easily. I’m not too concerned about the score, but we’re going to peg it at 35-7, just for the sake of round numbers. I’m going to be more worried about things like penalty yards and the like.
This looks like an excellent year for Wabash to go 10-0 and maybe grab a top seed in the playoffs. Their schedule is, as always, favorable. Wittenberg is not ranked, though they’ve romped in every game they’ve played. And that game is in Springfield. That is the only worry.
The other game I would typically worry about is the Bell Game. But, not to put too fine a point on it, DePauw is in shambles. They’ve already fired their coach after starting 0-2 on the heels of a 4-5 season. This will make the fifth coach in nine years at DePauw. But, the school insists this isn’t about football. But you have a losing coach at a time when you’re trying to really upgrade your stadium. That’s a tough sell, Dannies. A real tough sell. Anyway, between that chaos and the game being in Crawfordsville, I’d like to go ahead and chalk that up to another easy win. If you’re keep score at home, the past two years, Wabash as won by a combined score of 92-7. Ding dong.
We’re just about to kick off week three of the NFL season. Sounds like a great time to talk about hockey.
As you may have heard, the NHL is officially in a lock out, and all games through September have been wiped out. Those are just preseason games, but it’s still something cancelled. Not great news for a league that just had a whole season wiped out because of a lock out in 2004-2005. And, for whatever it’s worth, this is coming off the heels of lockouts in basketball and football. Who would have thought, oh, twenty years ago that baseball would the model of stability in professional sports?
From my understanding, much like football, the players are not seeking anything new. They’re just asking for the continuation of the status quo. Which, for the curious, gives players 57% of hockey revenue. The owners first decided they wanted something more like 43%. That offer has since risen to 47%. So, a pretty substantial cut.
What I don’t understand is why. Well, let me rephrase that a little bit. I know the owners want more money in their pocket. Still, according to Sports Illustrated, hockey revenue has grown substantially. Like, a whole billion dollars substantially. I think the vast majority of businesses would be absolutely thrilled at a billion dollars worth of growth and would do anything necessary not to rock the boat. Now, I’m sure owners would also point out that player salaries grew by a million dollars on average.
Of course, the players have an easy retort to that one. The owners are the ones that ultimately decided what to pay the players.
Now, I know there are market forces, and nobody wants to be found guilty of colluding to keep player salaries artificially deflated. Still, player salaries would not have grown so much if the owners were absolutely against it. The same argument holds true in other sports. Owners and general managers just can’t seem to help themselves but to give out big (and not necessarily well-thought) contracts. Then they can’t seem to understand why they haven’t ended up with a bigger slice of the pie.
Still, as the argument went during the NFL and NBA lockouts, these are millionaires arguing with billionaires. The real victims are the fans and citizens of NHL cities.
I suppose I don’t know just how feasible it is, but I think a lot more teams really ought to go the Green Bay route. I am of the firm belief that, even though these teams have individual owners, professional sports franchises are just as much a civil entity as a corporate one. Maybe more so civil than corporate. Yeah, players make too much money. But they wouldn’t be able to do that if we as a society weren’t so willing to give these teams our money. We want to feel proud of our local teams, our local stadiums. We want to puff our chest out and say “We have the best team/stadium/fans in the country.” And, well, you just can’t do that without your team. So when crass business gets in the way of that, we are the losers. The owners and players are going to make out of this deal, whatever this deal turns out to be, just fine. But, without the games, there are going to be a whole lot of lost fans.
*This is a view I’ve held for an awfully long time, but it has been crystallized a bit from reading Paul Lukas.
It takes a long time for a league to bounce back from a major interruption. Hockey really has just recovered from the last lockout in the past couple years. There are still people who haven’t forgiven baseball for 1994.* Why would you want to rock the boat?
*A lot of those people are also idiots, but they’re out there.
The only thing I can see in this case is everybody feels like the winter sports go on way too long anyway. Eighty-two games is just a ridiculous schedule for hockey and basketball. I think both leagues would be well served to cut back to, say, a fifty game schedule* and not have fans bat an eye. But, the owners want that gate, and I’m sure the players don’t mind the game checks.**
*Or something in that neighborhood, whatever works out nicely to balance the schedule or whatever.
**They might mind the increased injuries, though. That may be a bigger concern in football and hockey than in basketball, though.
So, in conclusion, get it together, owners. You’re going to end up looking like the bad guys here when you’re still going to make plenty of money under the current deal. Generaly speaking, and maybe to a man, your hockey teams aren’t your main business. They’re just something you bought as an expensive hobby, status symbol, or possibly out of a sense of civic duty. Your real duty as an owner is to get games on the ice. The players will play, I’m not worried about that. If you want to miss a few games, fine, but you better have this worked out by December. Or else, or something.
What to write about today. It was nice to get out some baseball related thoughts yesterday, but I’m not sure I have anything new yesterday. I found myself awfully interested in, well, myself on Monday when I wrote about how I write. That was the most intrigued and excited I’d been about writing in a while. I don’t know if everybody else had that same reaction, but it was satisfying enough to me, I think I’m going to try it again.
Really, as much as I like to say I missed my calling of teaching history,* what I really missed out on was teaching writing. True, I’ve not really been published,** but I think I have a very good feel for writing and writers. And, I suppose, that has a lot to do with my own education.
*Don’t get me wrong. That’s still totally true.
**I’ve done a fair amount of self-publishing, though. This blog included.
I alluded to it in an aside on Monday. I had amazing writing teachers in college, mostly Dr. Joy Castro and Dr. Thomas Campbell. They each taught and, I’m sure in related fashion, wrote in different styles. Dr. Castro taught short fiction, Dr. Campbell taught personal essays. I loved them both greatly and for different reasons. But, in the end, much of the teaching was the same. You take the day’s story or essay, discuss it as a class, and everybody grows. Plus, there’s the benefit of having the author there to clarify ambiguous points and to point out something if it were missed. Or defend choices that were made, whatever the case may be.
But, in the end, there was an important rule in all of it. The author doesn’t get to speak until the class has finished their discussion. It’s a bit of an exhilarating feeling being the author in these situations. It’s about the closest thing you can get to a fly on the wall. And that only gets better as the class goes on. At first, the other students are more conscious of your presence, but as the semester wore on, they generally ignored you were there until you got to say your piece. Some stories were hits, some stories were failures, some stories were just okay. All of the feedback, positive or negative, was very worthwhile. I can’t speak for everybody, I suppose, but I never felt like it got personal. All the reasons for feedback were reasoned out and explained. I don’t think anybody came away with hurt feelings if they put in a bad story. They just learned how to do it better or maybe just to take an idea and stick it in the back pocket for a while.
I ended up minoring in creative writing. I would have been a double major in it and history if I had the chance. I had always loved writing and did it often in high school. But, I had no guidance but my own. Covington was (and is) a very small high school, offering only more or less what the state requires. For those that don’t know me, I ended up taking half days my senior year and spent the afternoons taking a class at DACC in the afternoons.* I don’t think that hurt my cause when applying to Wabash, but really, the only reason I did that was because I had pretty well taken everything Covington had to offer. I’d satisfied the demands of getting an academic honors diploma, so what was going to benefit me more, filling up my afternoons with home ec and study halls, or take a higher level class a few days a week?
*DACC is Danville Area Community College, the local junior college to my hometown. For the even more curious, I took Introduction to Humanities first semester, and Speech second semester. I took one speech (actually Rhetoric) class at Wabash and loved it and loved my professor. Unfortunately, I could never really fit more rhetoric into my schedule later on. That’s always made me a bit sad to think about.
One of those things that apparently the state didn’t require was a writing class. Sure, we wrote papers in history and English classes. But those were formal* papers. Full MLA formatting and all that. There was no place for creative writing, either through a club or class or anything like that. And that’s something I think I truly missed.
I honestly don’t know how common high school level creative writing classes are. Maybe they’re at most schools, maybe it’s only bigger schools in bigger towns. I don’t know. But it’s something I truly missed in high school that I think would have been beneficial, given the right teachers and the right group.* It’s always been a bit of a dream of mine to go back and teach writing at Covington. Give the next generation(s) something I didn’t have. An outlet I didn’t have.
*Who knows. I was painfully shy and generally uncomfortable with myself in high school. Maybe I would’ve pretty well bombed creative writing because I didn’t mesh with everybody. But, I don’t think so. I was always quick to take the reigns when I had a chance to write creatively. Even if sometimes my scenes went on a little long. I’m sure you couldn’t imagine.
Now, chances are I wouldn’t be grooming the next Vonnegut or anything. There would probably be more thinly-veiled Twilight and Fifty Shades* fan fiction than anything. But, there is great benefit to teaching kids how to become authors. It will help in their other papers. It greatly aids their reading, as they’ll begin to really learn the mechanics of storytelling themselves, which you can apply across media. And, maybe most importantly, when you write something good, and damned near every story has at least something good about it, it’s a huge confidence booster. It really lets you know that you have some talent to foster and grow. Even if its meager, it’s something.
*Yikes. That could get dicey at the high school level, but I’ll bet a lot of high schoolers have read it.
And to the other kids, it’s a great boon to learn how to discuss. If you come into college already knowing how to intelligently discuss a work, whether it be fiction or not, you are ahead of the game. This is a great way to ease into that sort of discussion. And it will come off as more immediate, more meaningful when you’re discussing something written by your peers instead of some author that died a hundred years ago. It’s a way to make kids care about what they’re reading and what they’re discussing. I know I didn’t read most of what was put in front of me in high school. I just picked up from people discussing the book around me what the general direction was and made a couple points. Also an important skill, but one that maybe doesn’t need to be picked up in school.
Okay, this is getting a bit long, and I’m not sure I really made any points. But I put some thoughts out there, maybe a few of them are worthwhile. Discuss it amongst yourselves.
Sixteen days left in the regular season. I hear what you’re saying. “Wait just a minute, Aaron. You’re going to write about baseball for a change?” We sure are. The title isn’t always a misnomer.
Anyway, quit interrupting. Sixteen days left in the regular season. Try as I might, there won’t be any ignoring the awful second wild card any longer. Let’s take a quick recap of the standings.
As of today, nobody has clinched a playoff spot just yet. The Reds are the closest, with a magic number of five. The Giants follow them with eight. In fact, they are the only teams with a single digit magic number. The Nationals are sitting at eleven. Over in the American League, every division is more or less a toss up. The Yankees are only a half game above the Orioles, who have to be the surprise team of the year. The White Sox and Rangers are only three games over the Tigers and A’s, respectively. The A’s, not coincidentally, have to be a very close second for surprise team of the year. And if you want to argue them above the Orioles, I can make that argument, too.
In the wild card, Atlanta seems determined to extend the Chipper Jones Farewell Tour. The Cardinals have a white-knuckled grip on the last spot to try to end said tour, but they’re only up a single game on the Dodgers, and the Pirates and Brewers are only two and a half back. In the AL, the A’s and Orioles are practically tied, with the Angels three games back.
This should shape up to be a pretty refreshing playoff. The Reds make a second playoff trip in three years, following a fourteen year absence from the postseason. Their last appearance, though, ended in a curb stomp from the Phillies. This time around has got to go better. Besides, this year they’re flirting with the best record in baseball, just a win behind the Nationals at the moment. There’s no more “just happy to be here.” It’s time to win in Cincy.
Speaking of the Nationals, they’re a big story in themselves. You could see it coming a bit with the moves they made the past couple years. I think every baseball writer to a man* liked Washington’s moves better than the Marlins, and the records have borne that out. But, there’s some historic import to this run. Dating back to their time north of the border, the franchise has only ever made one other trip to the playoffs. And that was mostly due to a fluky, strike-altered season that saw the season split into halves in 1981. I’ve written about it before, but just to reiterate, the Expos never won an outright division title. This would be a first, and a first for the franchise in Washington. And, you know, when it’s only the second time in your franchise’s forty-four year history, that’s still an achievement.
*That does include the women writers, too. I’m sure there are those who would jump all over that sentence for being sexist, and I understand the argument. But “to a person” just doesn’t flow as well. And, to me, it’s much the same difference between saying “the history of mankind” and “the history of humankind.” One captures the imagination. One feels needlessly PC.
Also in the history department, we have the Orioles and A’s. The A’s drought hasn’t been quite so long. Still, the Moneyball era ended six years ago. The book itself was released in 2003. This particular squad wasn’t expected to do anything by anybody. Not even their own front office. Billy Beane pretty well said they were aiming to be good when they’re slated to move in a few years. It was just holding on until then. But, the best laid plans of mice and men and all that. Sometimes plans can go awry in a good way, I suppose.
Turning to Baltimore, they would be breaking a fifteen year drought. As a bit of an aside, the coach of that last playoff Oriole team? Davey Johnson, who you might remember is now coaching the Nationals. 1997 was also their last division championship.
I have to say, it’s awfully nice having some proud franchises back on the map. And, you know, maybe this is Washington’s chance to step into respectability.
In the more-recently-successful franchises, the Giants are the team that catches my attention. Why? Tim Lincecum. That is really the only reason, but it’s a pretty darned good one, I think most would agree. After spending most of the year mired in mediocrity,* he seems to have recently regained his form. And just in time for the playoffs. If you’re going to get hot, this is precisely the time to do it.
Also hanging out in the back of my mind are the Rangers. Is the third time the charm? They’re still a very, very good ball team. It would not surprise me in the least if they have another great run in them. It has been a joy to see Yu Darvish stay strong pretty well all year. As many Cub fans will note, a lot of Japanese players* have amazing starts before fading hard in the second half. Darvish seems to have avoided that. We’ll see if he can keep it up through the playoffs, too.
*Japanese ballplayers not named Ichiro, anyway.
As for my personal teams, the Cubs were a lost cause pretty well all year. But, boy, Anthony Rizzo is everything as advertised and more, isn’t he? There are reasons to be hopeful for the future. The infield is pretty well figured out, and the outfield isn’t awful, just young. Give this team a few years to season and the Northsiders will have something.
The Pirates, on the other hand, have been maddening. They had a great first half, but, boy, what a swoon in the second half. Still, they stayed strong longer than they did after last year’s good first half. And they still have a chance to finish the year with a winning record. They’re sitting at 74-72, which means they’ve got a game for every day left in the season. Sure they can win at least half of them, right? Heck, they’re still not out of the playoff race. Maybe they’ll really catch fire here and still sneak in.
The Pirates and Orioles both making the playoffs in 2012? Maybe the Mayans were on to something.
Okay, I think I might’ve figured out a new way to do this blog thing. It isn’t exactly earth-shattering, but it’s a method I’ve resisted up until now.
Since clearly I can’t keep anything resembling a schedule if forced to write “after-hours,” I’m going to have to start writing these from my desk at work. This is how the magic happened at Watchfire, and how this blog was born, actually. I was tearfully bored at work and needed something to distract myself from the mind-blowing tedium of answering phones. After all the unpleasantness at the end, though, I was still able to keep a pretty darned consistent schedule. I think that was because my days were still pretty routine. I would get up in the morning, check my usual sites,* eat some breakfast or early lunch, depending on when I woke up, write the blog, and then spend the next however many hours looking for jobs.
*For the curious, here are the sites I check every week day, and in what order (excluding e-mail): ESPN, Grantland, Sports Illustrated, Joe Sports Fan, Uni Watch, Irregular Webcomic!, Darths & Droids, XKCD, Erfworld, A Softer World, Left Handed Toons, and Invisible Bread. And on Mondays, throw in Awkward Zombie and Aikonia after ASW. You might note that most of these are on the “Sites I Like” page.
My daily perusal and writing took about two hours, usually. Longer at Watchfire, since there were interruptions from calls. Now, though, I’ve settled into a job I like much, much better. Still, I’ve found there is a decent amount of down time while I wait on computers to do their thing. A natural place to slide in some sportswriting, yes?
The problem, as has been mentioned before on this blog, is that Alcoa has Weebly as a blocked site. This means that I’ll have to start writing my blogs on a word processor first. This one, and I’m guessing most future posts, was written in Google Documents.* This is how a lot of very respectable bloggers do their thing, and of course, how reporters generally do their thing. This method has been suggested to me before, usually when a connection problem has eaten a post-in-progress and forced me to rewrite or just post an apology. To this point, I’ve rejected the idea.
*Which, actually, is now called Google Drive for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me. I mean, I get what they’re trying to do, but I don’t see where it’s really going to help or change anything.
I’ve done it that way before, but it’s just never felt like a natural progression to me. I wouldn’t call my writing style unfocused, but I would certainly say it is tangential. I don’t do a whole lot of editing to my writing in any form, and practically none for the blog. A lot of this has to do with editing on the fly. Judging from my peers, I can turn out writing pretty quickly. But there is a lot of thought going on while I’m writing. There is careful, if quick, thought put into word choice. I usually have a mental outline of where I want a paragraph to go and how I want it to flow into the next paragraph. The finished product doesn’t always flow to where to the mental outline pointed,* but it lets me give my writing a pretty strong form on the fly.
*In fact, it usually doesn’t. But that makes it that much more interesting to me and most likely for you, the reader, too.
This is a style that has worked for me all my life. I always struggled when I had to turn in first drafts, and then later turn in my finished work. There was rarely much difference. Sure, I might have found a grammar mishap here and there, but even those were rare. When I go back and read my old stuff, I cringe when I find those mishaps. But my ideas, my flow, I’m generally happy with. And I’ve had that reflected back to me, mostly in writing classes.* Almost everything I wrote got comments about how easy it was to read and how clearly things flowed.
*Another aside. I warned you that I love tangents. I love reading tangential writers, too. I dig footnotes like no other. It is probably the main reason I love reading Joe Posnanski so much. Anyway, I adored my writing classes. I would imagine most writing courses function this way, but the ones I took at Wabash were basically semester-long workshops. Each student either is assigned or picks days to discuss their work, in my case, either a short story or personal essay. So, you would distribute your work the class before it was to be discussed, and then you would spend the next session hearing a class discuss your work the same way they would discuss any other work in another class. It was very enlightening, and in my case, very encouraging.
This flow, this clarity, I think is a direct product writing almost everything I do in one shot. Because of this, it just made sense to me to write my blogs in the Weebly editor itself. It also made writing long posts (like this one is quickly turning into) more natural, and likely more fun. It let me see how the post would look on the site, and in a way, let me experience it as a reader would. That way I would have an idea when I should put in another picture to break up the text or to liven up the article besides. Believe me, nothing livens up or adds humor to an article than just the right picture. Something the folks over at Cracked understand all too well.
So, I resisted the very thing I’m doing right now. But, alas, there seems to be no other way to get me to work on schedule, at least at the moment. I sure hope that my slight discomfort in writing in a processor first will be far, far outweighed by the enjoyment of whatever readers I have left.
At least I broke down and did this before the playoffs, right?