Monthly Archives: November 2010

An instant classic


NEW YORK — Nevada 34, Boise State 31. Holy shit!
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Are you ready for some ne-VA-duh (not neh-VAH-duh) football?

NEW YORK — At 10:15 p.m. tonight, the eyes of the college football world will be turned toward Reno, where No. 19 Nevada hosts No. 3 Boise State. Much to the chagrin of this snotty jerk, two small schools will be squaring off in a game with national title implications.

As a fan of college football, I’d love to see Boise State win a national title. But as a Nevada grad, I’d love it more if my school took the field tonight and ruined their dreams on national television.

My Friday night will be spent with a few alums at Reade Street Pub & Restaurant a Manhattan Bar to be Named Later, where I will either be a.) Rejoicing in the afterglow of the biggest win in school history, or b.) Pounding a shot for every consecutive loss Nevada has taken to Boise State. For those scoring at home, if the Wolf Pack loses tonight, that would be 11.

Anyway, the bandwagon is open, if you care to join. But first some important rules to know:

1.) Say it right (I’m looking at you, East Coasters). It’s pronounced ne-VA-duh . Not neh-VAH-duh. For guidance, see the above video. Now, you too can point and laugh when national broadcasters mess it up on the air, as ESPN has already done several times leading up to the game.

2.) Spell it right (I’m looking you, people who confuse Nevada with N.C. State). It’s Wolf Pack, two words, not one. Just like Super Bowl, not Superbowl, which also makes me crazy.

Anyway, a good friend of mine, and another Nevada alum, succinctly captured my thoughts as we count down to kickoff:

Dear Boise State,
I’m not one to call opponents names before a big game (UNLV doesn’t count, not a “university”), but I hope to baby Jesus, Buddha and John Mackay’s ghost that we send your cocky blue and orange asses back to Idaho with a big fat L on Friday. Go Pack!
Sincerely,
Brian

Well said, sir.

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Derek Jeter, Gold Gloves, and the problem of getting advanced stats into the paper

NEW YORK — Earlier this week, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter won his fifth Gold Glove award, triggering plenty of emotional reactions amongst baseball fans.

In one camp, the one that includes those who find the new-wave of baseball statistics credible, Jeter ranks as a middling shortstop at best, thus the award is a sham. In the other camp, the one that includes those who for one reason or another reject the new-wave of baseball statistics, the award is justified since Jeter made only a handful of errors this season.

This is an overly simplified description of the conflict. But I’m not really interested in exploring which position is more correct. Instead, this post is meant to be an explanation of the challenges facing journalists who cover baseball, especially to those who want to convey the ideas of statistical analysis.

For the record, I am a member of the first camp. A few years ago, I picked up a book called “Baseball Between the Numbers,” and it served as my introduction to new baseball statistics. The book exposed the flaws of our old standbys — for example runs batted in, batting average, wins and losses for pitchers — and proposed the use of new measures to help fix those flaws.

To me, the ideas the made sense, and they have changed the way I look at baseball.

All of this comes back to a question I see a lot. Why aren’t advanced statistics featured more in the mainstream media? Well, there are reasons, and they go beyond the “because baseball writers are ignorant slobs.”

One of the biggest problems I face on a daily basis is how much to incorporate those ideas into my work. There are no easy answers.

Though there are thousands of web sites devoted to the study of and exploration of statistical analysis, for various reasons they remain outside of the mainstream. Yet, because new stats have increasingly become a part of the decisions behind the game, they can’t be dismissed as being on the irrelevant fringe.

With so many teams now employing these new concepts, I would feel as if I weren’t doing my job if I simply did not acknowledge them. However, doing so is a risky proposition because the new stats are so easily misunderstood by most of the audience. If I confuse the audience, I once again would feel as if i weren’t doing my job.

For example, weighted on-base average (wOBA) is a statistic that tries to capture a player’s overall offensive contribution. I find it to be a useful measure and a big part of the way I view a player’s worth to a club. Yet, the statistic can be confusing, and it starts with the name. Though “on-base average” is used in the name, the statistic measures far more.

Then there’s the matter of actually explaining how the stat works and how it is calculated. That’s no picnic.

Journalists also face another major hurdle. Never in the history of mass communication have audiences been so splintered, and the Internet has hastened that divide. This is especially problematic for those who work for publications that are still trying to reach as wide an audience as possible, such as newspapers.

But even within my role of working for a newspaper, my audience changes vastly depending on which medium I use. Let’s take the Jeter situation as an example. As the Yankees beat writer for the Star-Ledger, I find that I write for:

1.) The people who read the print edition of the newspaper.

2.) The people who read the Web edition of the paper.

3.) The people who follow via Twitter.

Each audience is vastly different, and predictably, the reaction of each to Jeter winning the Gold Glove differed greatly.

Those who left comments on our web site, which seems more similar to the audience that reads the print edition of the paper, seemed to think that Jeter deserved the award. They mocked the new-school statistics.

Yet, on Twitter, the reaction seemed to be just the opposite. Within moments of posting the news of Jeter’s award, my feed was flooded with fans that expressed their rage at Jeter winning such an honor when his defensive statistics screamed that he was far from deserving.

I saw a similar division awhile back when I wrote about the silliness of small ball, another issue that seems especially divisive among baseball fans.

I suppose one solution is to approach writing to each audience differently. And to a certain extent, I already do this.

For instance, if I’m writing a story for the newspaper, I try to be more judicious of my use of new statistics, simply to lower the risk of being misunderstood. When I use them, I try to explain them as best I can. But if I send out a Tweet, intended for a much narrower audience, I don’t filter myself at all.

Still, this doesn’t solve the fundamental problem.

To me, simply ignoring statistical analysis would be akin to refusing to speak with scouts, who also wield a tremendous amount of influence on how the game is ultimately played. Perhaps stats haven’t gone mainstream. But they have influenced front offices all over the game. That fact alone warrants their inclusion in the coverage of the game.

So, what exactly is the right balance?

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I just smoked a cigarette and it only cost $245.53

The wrong set of keys.

NEW YORK — Up until this point, it had been a pretty good night.

Went to Madison Square Garden (asbestos-free since last Wednesday!), watched the Warriors beat the Knicks in a pretty good game, came home and chatted with my girlfriend for awhile — a good night indeed.

But all of it changed at about 2 a.m., when I went outside to close the evening out with a smoke.

Once I finished indulging in my filthy habit, I reached into my pocket for my keys, only discover that the one to the front door didn’t fit. That’s because I brought the wrong set of keys, with the right set sitting on my desk, behind my locked front door.

Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be an issue. I’d just buzz the apartment and apologize to my roommate for having to get up and open the door. But my roommate had just left town for a business trip.

My only break was that I brought my cell phone, and one phone call to the 24-hour locksmith later, my 57-cent cigarette had officially become a $245.53 cigarette*. You see, that’s how much they cost when you lock yourself out of your apartment in the middle of the night.

It could have been worse, like the time I locked the keys in the car when we stopped in a small Nevada town called Tonopah on a road trip from Reno to Las Vegas. That mistake also came in the middle of the night and we had to wake the town locksmith for help.

Luckily, it is true that New York never sleeps, and it didn’t take long for the locksmith to come over, drill a hole in the old lock, and install a new one. Within an hour of standing in the freezing cold I was back in the living room, still fuming about doing such a stupid thing, but at least I was doing it somewhere warm and comfortable.

About 15 minutes after the locksmith left, he called my cell phone, worried that he may have left a copy of the receipt in my apartment. I agreed to look to see if he had dropped it one the way out. (I later found it face down in the sidewalk in front of my building). Before I walked out my front door, I learned that 24-hour locksmiths can be quite the humorous bunch.

“Hey,” he said on the phone. “Don’t forget your keys.”

* And yes, I realize none of this would have happened if I would, you know, stop smoking cancer sticks. Working on it, ok?

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Who are the best broadcasters in baseball? (Note: Joe Morgan no longer eligible)

From the newly-born website hirejoemorgan.com. (Too soon?)

NEW YORK — You have already no doubt heard the news from The New York Times: Jon Miller and Joe Morgan are out after two decades of calling ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.

If you’ve had an Internet connection at any point starting at about 1995, you also know that Morgan famously became a favorite target for his work on the broadcasts. Among the grievances, Morgan often came off as arrogant, condescending and ill prepared, often repeating himself while showing his lack of preparation by butchering facts.

We could go on. But that’s not the point.

When it comes to broadcasters inspiring feelings of anger, Morgan hardly seems to be alone. I can’t count how many Tweets and emails I’ve received in my time on the beat from readers crushing Joe Buck or Tim McCarver or Ernie Johnson.

It is reinforces my theory that modern-day sports broadcasters must have a special talent for firing up the Internet media critics.

What gets lost, however, is that broadcasters have a tough job, arguably tougher than ever when you think about it. Their jobs are public by nature so every mistake is out there for all to see and hear. They must appeal to a broad audience, no small point considering that we are perhaps the most splintered media consumers in the history of mass communication.

For all the time spent taking shots taken at broadcasters, it has always struck me as unfair that the ones who warrant praise get ignored. Sure, we can pick out a bad broadcaster. Morgan was in fact so bad at his job that he spawned one of the decade’s most popular websites.

But can we pick out the good ones?

Let’s assume — as many of you would — that Joe Morgan is indeed a terrible broadcaster. Who then sits at the other end of the spectrum?* Who are the best broadcasters in baseball? What makes them so great?

For discussion’s sake, I’ll throw out a tandem: Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper have been terrific for years on the Giants. They have fun and it’s easy for listeners to get caught up in it, an admirable quality. Gary Thorne of the Orioles is also fantastic. He’s a smart guy and I think his intelligence comes over well on the air.

So, what do you say? If you were make the call at ESPN, which two or three people would you put in the booth for Sunday Night Baseball? You make the call.

* The answer, of course, is the peerless Vin Scully. But because it’s as easy to praise him as it is to take cheap shots at the folks above, let’s take him out of he discussion and simply agree that the longtime voice of the Dodgers is in a league of his own.

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Well-deserved praise for a couple of pals

Bryan Hoch

NEW YORK — Ever since he walked about a dozen or so members of the Boston media during our annual baseball game earlier his season, our pal Bryan Hoch has caught a bunch of flak from his colleagues in the press box.

And for good reason: That morning, he couldn’t find the strike zone with a GPS.

But it’s safe to say that Hoch is off the hook — at least he should be — after he completed the New York Marathon on Sunday. It’s an amazing accomplishment considering the schedule he keeps. Not only does he travel in his work to cover the Yankees, he probably writes more words about the team during the season than anybody on the beat.

From Hoch:

This was my first marathon, so all I really wanted to do was finish. I’d never run more than 13.1 miles before this, and training while chasing the Yankees all around the country is no easy task. There were a lot of days where I wanted nothing to do with it – I can remember one morning in Boston where the Yankees were playing a day game and I hadn’t crawled into bed until 2:30 a.m. after a rainout, but there I was, chugging out 10 miles along the Charles River.

Anyway, check out the rest of his account over on his blog. I’m not sure it inspires me to attempt a marathon — though I once drove 26.2 miles — but maybe it inspires you.

On a practical note, perhaps now hat he has accomplished this great feat, maybe all that training means Hoch throws more strikes in next year’s media game.

***

Patrick's excellent blog.

Meanwhile, an old pal is looking for some help in helping to continue a cool project he took on awhile back. During my days of covering sports at the University of Maryland for the Washington Post, I met Patrick Stevens, who I came to regard not only as a great competitor but as a friend.

Patrick worked for the Washington Times until the paper met its demise, just another victim of changing newspaper landscape. Since then, Patrick has continued on with his work over at his own blog — d1scourse.typepad.com.

If you’re interested in the ACC in particular, Patrick is a must-read. He wants to continue on with his work, which means he needs the funds to travel, which will allow him to keep kicking out his top-notch coverage. Recently, he asked his readers for an assist:

I’m convinced, now more than ever, there is demand for thorough and insightful coverage on both a quantitative and qualitative level of college sports on a local and regional level.

If you’re big into college sports, check out his blog. And if you like what you see, help him out.

I just put a drop in the bucket in the faint hope that he boosts his Nevada coverage…

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Fact: The Autumn Wind is a Raider


NEW YORK — The other day, I mentioned to my girlfriend* that the Raiders have a pretty famous theme song, and even once inspired a poem called “The Autumn Wind.” She had heard of neither.

I suppose this should have come as no surprise, seeing as that the Raiders have been horrendous since their Super Bowl year, in 2002. But things are different now. Or at least it feels that way.

For the first time since winning that conference title, the Raiders have won three games in a row, beating the rival Kansas City Chiefs 23-20 in overtime. It’s been awhile since I could actually feel good about the Raiders this late into the season.

And it’s not like it could have been expected. Jason Campbell is Jason Campbell. But I guess, more to the point, Jason Campbell is not JaMarcus Russell, and that seems to be the key to the whole thing.

Anyway, I’ve attached a file of the video, for those who seem to have forgotten. Seems kind of appropriate today, no?

* My girlfriend is a New York Giants fan. On multiple occasions, she has encouraged me to jump on the Big Blue bandwagon. No chance.

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