Sunday, October 25, 2015

Saving Cricket

I know this post has little to do with baseball, but indulge me this one time...

I am a huge baseball fan, but I wasn't any good after I broke my arm the summer after 7th grade.  Hell, I may not have been any good before either, but that's neither here nor there.

The fact is, when I lived in the Middle East, one of my closest friends played first-class cricket, and his enthusiasm for the sport led to me looking up clubs to play for when I returned to live in the States, and:

1.  I found a great club
2.  I wound up being better at cricket than baseball.
3.  I also fell in love with all aspects of the game.

And while there are a lot of reasons why it confuses the hell out of Americans, it certainly doesn't help that there are currently 3 different forms played at all levels.

1.  The original:  Test Cricket - in which a team must get their opponent out twice within a 5 day span, while outscoring them as well to earn a win.
2.  One-day cricket, in which each team sees 300 balls (pitches, for our American friends), and the team who scores the most off those 300 wins the game.
3.  T-20, in which each team faces 120 balls to accomplish the same thing.

In the longer versions of the game, a batsman not getting out is of key importance - after all, there are only 10 outs on a team.  If a team is going to win, they really need to avoid giving up 20 outs in TWO AND A HALF DAYS.  Needless to say, taking risks are kept to a minimum.

Alternately, in a T-20 game, playing with a bat that has a flat side makes it a LOT harder for a bowler (pitcher) to get a batsman out.  Since there are only 120 balls, more often than not this resembles a Home Run Derby than strategic batting and bowling.  It is gaining popularity since it only takes 3 hours to play, and can be done mid-week at night, to insure more fans in the stands and watching the television.

And therein lies the problem.  I don't have regular access to cricket, so I tend to catch the highlights, and Test highlights make me think there was a ban on attendance.  There is NO ONE in the stands.

The game at the Test level is dying, and there are 3 nations that are trying to kill it beyond their own borders:  England, India and Australia.

These countries make the money off cricket, and they've squeezed the game in such a way that instead of growing its international popularity, they are condemning it to a future of fringe support. I for one can not support this.  And, more importantly, I have a solution.

Bear with me.   I know cricket supporters will wonder what the hell an American with a baseball background has to do with the future of cricket...but I think my suggestions will lend themselves to expanding the interest in the game, and more importantly, bring interest back towards Test cricket, where many of the international players have honed their skills, and without it cricket won't be cricket'll be baseball.  Tashin Tendulkar himself suggesting breaking up the One-day matches into smaller pieces, like baseball.

There is room for both sports, and they should be popular for their own reasons, not for one imitating the other.

Here we go:

1.  Promotion and relegation.  The top five nations should be in the "A" league, or whatever you wish to call it.  The next five would be in the "B" division.  Teams 11-15 in Division C, and 16-20 in Division D
2.  Over a 2.5 year period, each team will play a series against every team in their division twice (home and away).
3.  The series will be made of Test matches, and One-Day/T-20 games.  Point values would be assigned to each "style", with Test wins worth the most, and T-20 the least.
4.  The calendar will allow for each side to play 2 more series in that span - teams can pick teams from outside their division to create a series.
5.  A calendar of this sort allows for domestic leagues, T-20 leagues, and World Cups to be played as well.

6.  At the end of 2.5 year rotation, the lowest ranked team in Division A will face off against the top team in Division B.  One Test match - the lower ranked team HAS to win; a draw keeps the higher seeded team in the top division.  The lowest ranked in Division B faces off against the top team in Division C, same rules apply.
7.  The locations for these matches will be predetermined, in a neutral site, much like the Super Bowl.  Tickets can be bought well in advance, hotel rooms booked, and a BIG DEAL made out of it leading up to the series.

Here's what I envision happening:

Division A:  Australia, England, India, South Africa, Pakistan
Division B:  New Zealand, Sri Lanka, West Indies, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe
Division C:  Ireland, Afghanistan, Scotland, Netherlands, U.A.E
Division D:  Canada, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong (I'm not really sure at this point)

Division C would play 4 day games against one another, but the promotion match would be Test style.

Division D would play 3 day games against one another, but the promotion match of a longer version (I'd accept Test or 4 day, doesn't matter as far as I'm concerned)

All teams below Division D would play One-Day cricket, top team hoping to play into Division D.

1.  This would give all the non-Test teams a chance to earn their way to Test status.
2.  Increased interest in all forms of cricket, but especially Test.
3.  The series between teams attempted to get promoted would be of international interest.
4.  It would force the lower seeded Test nations (I'm looking at you, West Indies/Zimbabwe) to get their acts together, or be relegated.  Ireland's coming for you!

Each series between nations in divisions would have their length decided by the home team, but there would need to be a minimum of 2 Tests matches.

If anyone has comments about my recommendations, feel free to let me know, but remember:  don't nitpick.  If you're unhappy about one aspect, have a solution:  Test cricket is losing its appeal, and other sports (rugby, I'm looking at you) are doing a much better job of promoting their sport to the world.  Cricket needs to shit or get off the pot.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Thoughts on Football

Growing up, football was my first love: the first game I ever watched was the Raiders v. Patriots, which the Raiders won...and they became my team.

I attended the 8th grade meeting after school to get papers to play football in high school, but my father refused to sign the papers - he said there was too great a chance to get injured.

I mocked him at times - after all, I broke my leg in gym class playing soccer (thanks to a scissor slide tackle), and suffer leg issues from too much running. But in the long-term, it was a great decision...and now, as I see and hear the conflict within our national pastime (sorry, baseball), I have to point out the following:

1. This truly is the Golden Age of Football...but:
2. Those running the sport today are only worried about padding their pockets, rather than the future of their game.
3. It is the best promoted/advertised activity in the history of humankind. If one were to actually focus on the game itself, it isn't very good - a 60 minute game, with about 17 minutes of actual play, that takes 3 1/2 hours to complete. Think about that.
4. The studies behind long-term brain damage/injuries are only going to reduce the sheer numbers of kids playing the sport - more and more parents will follow what my father did (and I will as well). While it will take time, if less athletes are playing the sport at a young age, the skill level will decrease...and those interested in watching it will as well.

With all this in mind, go read the article about Chris Borland:

Saturday, August 9, 2014

My retirement from Cricket.

It’s time.

I need surgery on my wrist (I’m going to see the doctor August 25th), but that is the least of it.  My body aches, my priorities have changed…and it’s time to retire from cricket.  To that point, I want to take the time to that those who have made my 17 years involved in the sport enjoyable.

In 1995, I was at the Damascus French Film Festival with an Australian friend of mine when I met an English college student studying Arabic.  We became fast friends, and I learned cricket through him.  When Freethy spoke about cricket during our time in Syria, he was filled with emotion and passion, and it would have been hard for anyone to not get excited about the sport listening to him.  When we weren’t playing rugby, we were down at Medina Al-Shabab playing pickup cricket games.  My first game didn’t go well – golden duck, and the first ball I bowled was hit for 6. 

When I returned to the States, I practiced for a local rugby team, but my heart wasn’t in it.  It was mostly Americans, and definitely boring.  One night after practice, I picked up The Philadelphia Inquirer and there, in the sports section, was a three-page article about cricket in the area.  I began making some calls to the clubs mentioned.  All of them suggested I reach out to an Englishman named Alfred Reeves.  When I spoke to him on the phone, he asked if I were a native American, and what would I possibly want with cricket.  He then mocked me for having “that baseball thingy” in my arm from playing baseball – I know now he meant a crooked elbow, but at the time I was only faintly amused by his comments.  When I met him a few weeks later, he and his wife Betty warmly welcomed me, and for the years I remained with the BOCC, I (as many other members would say as well) was treated as an extended member of his family.  Thank you for everything Alfred.

In those years of the BOCC, there was room for enthusiasts, no just proper cricket players, and during practice a number of club members looked after me and helped me to become a tennis player who swung a mean backhand while batting.  To al those that took me under their wing, I thank you.  A few that deserve mention:

·      Bruce Gottschalk, who coached (or rather, lambasted) me every time I bowled down leg side.  “What the fuck are you doing?” he’d ask me in his South African accent.  “Bowl it at the fucking off stump!”  Needless to say, the next one would be further down leg.
·      John Hoyes, a club member who treated as an equal, drove like a maniac, and invited me back to his house after a big night at the Wild Onion…only to be sent packing after we put away the better part of a case of Guinness because he had a league game the following day…and I said there was no way I’d be able to play following that night’s drinking. 
·      David Caldwell, who coached me and built up my confidence on the pitch.  One day at practice in 2001, he turned to me and said, “I think we should organize a tour to England next year.  What do you think?”  I loved the idea.  “Good.  You can be treasurer.”  The BOCC tour to England in 2002 was one of the great highlights of my career.
·      Chris Lawrence, who coached me and captained many of those games early in my career, thank you.  I’ll never forget our tour to Toronto in 1999 when you asked me to bowl.  It was intimidating:  on a proper ground, facing a proper team, and the BOCC needing me to complete my 7 overs (needless to say, we were a little short of bowling on that tour).  As I ran into bowl, I completely forgot how to deliver a ball…and I wound up to pitch it like a baseball.  The batsman dropped his bat and ran towards leg umpire.  It was a high rising fast(?)ball, which almost reached the boundary before bouncing.  I went 6 straight balls before I was finally able to gain my senses.  Needless to say, I didn’t complete my 7 overs.  Chris, I apologize.
·      Tahir Maqsood, a BOCC member who has more love and passion for the club and its spirit than anyone I know.  Tahir, I always loved stopping at the border on the way to Toronto and picking up some fantastic scotch…then having to stop on the way home as well since we had finished the bottle.  Thanks for everything.
·      Mike Thomas, who opened up his home and ears to listen to my problems.  I stayed with Mike when I first confronted my mother in 2002, 24 years after she walked out of my life.  The first meeting didn’t go well, and Mike had to hear me talk about it and the struggles I had with trust and relationships.

Thank you.

In 1999, I was traveling in Europe with a friend, and I was invited to meet up with a team of cricketers in Bloemendaal.  Freethy was playing for the Free Foresters, and it was then that I met many of his Cambridge mates:  Nutter, Jonesy, Chuts, Dr. Arnie among others.  During that tour, I truly learned what “touring” was…and in the subsequent years, the Free Foresters visited Philadelphia twice.  In 2001, I played with the Foresters in Holland again (or, rather, sort of – many of the games were cancelled and we responded by going to Amsterdam rather than playing sport.  On the last day of tour, he commented that we looked more like Bosnian refugees than cricketers…and to this day, I couldn’t think of a more a propos metaphor to describe that week).  That winter, I was nominated to become a member of the Free Foresters, the highest honor I have ever received. 

·      Freethy, thanks for the introduction to a great group of university friends, who welcomed the Yank and treated me as one of their own.
·      Nutter – thank you.  I won’t be specific, but thank you.
·      Chuts – thank you for giving me your F.F. jacket and hat at Brownie’s one night, saying, “Here – you need to this more than I do.  I have my accent.”
·      Jonesy, who played wingman that night, and as a result missed playing the following day.

Thank you.

In 2008, I was invited by David Caldwell to come join him in Sydney to get away from it all – I had gone through a difficult patch in life, and I wanted to run and hide…and there is no place further on the Earth than Sydney, Australia.  Over the first few weeks, I did a lot of writing, and I spent a bit of time with he and his boys in the batting cages at Balmoral Beach.  DC and I signed up for the Over 40 Mosman Cricket Club team.  Not 40 Overs, mind you, but Over 40 – I raged at the thought of being that much closer to old.  But cricket was a crutch to me at that time; something that comforted me while the rest of my life swirled out of control.  I clung to it like a life vest after fleeing a sinking ship.  One day, while hanging around the cages again, a group of rag-tag “athletes” rolled up and began a session in the nets.  “Give me the ball.”  I told Dave, and wandered over and asked if I could bowl a few.  I did, and I gave them my e-mail address.  A few days later, I met them practice again.  The practice may have lasted but an hour; the next three hours were spent at the BV Hotel, drinking and laughing.  When I got back to DC’s place that evening, I told him:  “Forget Mosman – we’re playing for Tramway.”

Our first game was against Pigs (both the team name, and their attitude).  It was my true introduction to two-day cricket, and Australian sledging.  Our skipper Richard Hindle asked if I minded going in at 3.  I’m more comfortable between 4 and 6.” I told him.  You can either go in at 3 or go in at 10 – your choice.”  I went in at 3, and was a part of a great win against some tough opposition.  The rest of the season was fantastic.  I can truly say that I’ve never met a closer team/group of friends/brothers in my life.  By the end of my stay in Australia, we were hanging out 5 days a week, and when my wife Sandi and I returned three years later, everyone gotten together again and made her feel welcome.  Of all my friends, Sandi has said she loves Tramway the most. 

·      Andrew Price – thanks for opening up your apartment and allowing me to be a roommate for a few months.  I’m sure I put a dent in your social life, though “Frank” never minded when I cleaned up the remnants of a light night McDonald’s run off his chest and sofa.
·      Grats – thanks for letting me be a roommate as well. It seems like we’ve ended up landing on our feet after some trials and tribulations.  I wish you nothing but the best going forward.  I hope our families catch up sometime in the future, before we’re senile.
·      Hindle – thanks for the opportunity.
·      Buff – thanks for opening your home to Sandi and I while we visited Sydney, and made Australia be everything Sandi thought it might be.  I can only someday hope to repay the hospitality.
·      Red Bull – I was amazed how well you played after a hard night…and I think you surprised yourself as well, seeing that you went at it even harder the following weekend to see if you could do it again.
·      The rest of Tramway – while we may not play cricket any longer, may the spirit live on.

Thank you.

Finally, over the last two years I’ve played for Voorhees/Smart Choice Philadelphia.  What I learned about cricket playing for you was that cricket here in America is more than a sport – it’s a brotherhood.  We all know each other here…I was amazed when I showed the first time for practice that I knew a bunch of guys on the team, and I welcomed more than I could have ever hoped.  Thank you for everything.

There are so many people I haven’t mentioned, and I apologize.  Thanks for the competition, the camaraderie, the memories and the stories I can (and can’t) share.  Thanks and good luck to all.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Bill James

When I was a sophomore in high school, a friend and I went to the local mall on a Saturday night.  This is what we did as high schoolers in the 80s, when it wasn't a night to check out girls at the roller skating rink.  While there, we stopped in at a local bookstore and I saw People magazine had an article:

Rotisserie Baseball:  'the hottest craze to hit the national pastime since trading cards.'

It mentioned a book called Rotisserie League baseball, which I immediately purchased.  I read it in its entirety that night, and recruited my friend as the second team.  We didn't sleep that night; we stayed up all night cutting out box scores for all the NL teams and preparing for a draft that we didn't know how to run.  By midweek, we had eight teams, and held the draft at my house.

That league is still in its existence, playing its 30th year this draft (we took off in 1988, while all of us were away at school).

I did horribly; I drafted Darryl Strawberry and Dale Murphy for $106, which left me with no money to fill out the rest of my team, and I wound up finishing sixth.  The following year, I vowed I would do better, and my first purchase for the 1985 draft was Bill James' Baseball Abstract.  He was the only one writing at length about the intricacies of baseball statistics at that time, and he wrote in a way that read like a Midwestern veteran telling stories about The Great War.  

If you're not a baseball fan, you may have read Bill Bryson - they write in similar fashions.

Since then, I've been a huge fan of Bill James.

Until this past week.

A few months ago, I signed onto Bill James' website  It wasn't a big splurge, so I was able to get my fix without my wife complaining about spending too much money on my fantasy baseball addiction.  He and a few others contribute articles to the sight, but they also have a "Hey Bill" section, where members can ask or comment to Bill directly.  I thought it was brilliant;  I would be able to write to Bill himself and have read my comments!  So when Bill wrote an article in MY field of history, I felt the need to respond.

The article was called "Small Towns and Mating", in which he wondered the following:

1.  Who were the "winners" and "losers" in history?  While today we view our American ancestors as being "winners", they were in fact losers, fleeing their homeland for some reason or another.  He then rightfully surmised that those people who fled the American small towns for metropolises to have been "losers" as well, but today we look at them in reverse.  
2.  He then stated:  
One of the most critical factors driving the population from small towns to cities was:   Mating. People who write about the urban migration write about it in economic terms, and tend to assume (and assert) that it was economic forces that drove the population from small towns to big cities.  That played some role, yes—but almost all of the economic things that are done in big cities could perfectly well be done in a small town.  I would bet that an equally large or larger cause of the urban migration was (and is, in the places where the urban migration is still occurring) that small towns don’t work particularly well in terms of mating.
3.  He drew this belief based on his own experience of graduating with 18 seniors, 13 of one gender and five of the other, and surmised that in order to find a spouse, these 8 who missed out on the mating "musical chairs" left because they had to be better options in the larger communities.

All fine and nice, and actually a well-written piece, but then again it's Bill James and Bill always writes good articles.  (Another sign of his writing style is that I always refer to him as "Bill", as his writing evokes friendliness - I'm fairly certain that if I ever met Stephen King, I would call him "Mr. King") 

The only problem with his article is that it's wrong.  Not wrong in the sense that no one leaves the small towns looking for mates, it's that he believed based on personal experience that it was the number one cause for migration.  He finished the article with:  "Economics follows yet harsher realities: a community has to work as a mating center, or it doesn’t work."

Actually, there's a greater drive that the need to mate...and that's the need to survive.  If a person is going to starve to death, are they really worried about who they're having sex with?  Mating is important, and it most certainly has contributed to a number of people leaving small towns and moving to a city...but it isn't the number one reason.  I felt the need to write "Hey Bill".

Hey Bill, I found your article about the lack of a mate interesting, but while it makes for interesting speculation, I feel enough research into it has been done to suggest that "finding a mate" to be well down the list of reasons why "losers" left the towns and moved to urban settings. Karl Marx for all his failures was an excellent economic historian, well before this became a dedicated field in history. His research into the English society changing from one based on feudalism to capitalism shows the extraordinary economic struggles the "losers" went through. About five years ago, I lived in Sydney Australia and went to visit a friend who farmed a few hours west of the city. He took me on a tour of the area, which included a series of ghost towns abandoned by people who moved to Sydney. As specialization took over the farming "industry", the average farm expanded greatly, and left the "losers" with two options - repetitive, low-paying jobs (and alcoholism), or moving away.
Asked by: thegue
Answered: 2/17/2014
Did I word it perfectly?  Hell no - questions are limited to 1000 characters, and I had much I wanted to say that I had to narrow down.  So I shouldn't have used "enough research", and maybe written "other studies".  I could've given him some ideas on where to look specifically if he wished to investigate his hypothesis...but then, that would've started me on a 5,000 word article.  I had to keep it short.

He responded:

I find it difficult to believe that any historian would ever suggest that a theory had to wrong because so much research in the area had already been done.

Completely true, and I would've left well enough alone, except for a comment written by another reader a few days later:

 How is your answer to thegue's question different from "My mind's made up, don't confuse me with facts"?Asked by: steve161

And that, ladies and gentleman, got Mr. James going.

No idea in the world what that's in reference to. But I'll do my best to appreciate the instruction. . . . .... . .. . . . . . . . . . .Oh, I see what your problem is. I had proposed a theory about the population evaporation in small towns, and let us say that it was a novel theory; it's probably not a novel theory, it's probably a trite theory, but that's not the point; the query in question addressed it as if it were a novel theory, I think, so let's use that term. I offered a novel theory, and this gentleman suggested that this had to be wrong because migration patterns have been heavily studied. In saying this, of course, he had lapsed into the fundamental anti-intellectual argument, an argument which is ALWAYS invalid, and I was trying to point this out to him as gently as possible. . . . .. I remember my Grade School principal, who attended college just after World War I, told us that when he studied chemistry in college, his professor told the class that they were studying science at the right time, because all the important discoveries had been made now; everything important that was going to be known was known, now, so it was a good time to study science. He told us this, of course, to point out the absurdity of assuming that the search for knowledge is ever finished. . . .. . When Perry Miller was in graduate school at the University of Chicago, late 1920s, he told his advisor that he wanted to study the Puritans. The advisor told him that the Puritans had been studied to death, everything that could be known about them was already known, and he should choose some other subject to work on. He got a different advisor, and stuck with the Puritans. He spent most of his career studying the Puritans, and became one of the greatest historians of the 20th century. He had dozens of protégés over the years, and many of THEM spent THEIR careers studying the Puritans, and many of them went on to distinguished careers, studying the Puritans. . . .. .. Again, the inherent absurdity of suggesting that a field of knowledge is ever "finished". No field of knowledge is ever finished. The intellectual understands that, and accepts it. It's Black Letter Law. A college undergraduate in Physics is allowed to challenge Einstein--if he has argument to make. . . . .. .. It isn't that way, in the rest of the world, and I have spent my career battling this. . ..this turgid, anti-intellectual assumption that everything worth knowing is already known. The non-intellectual world assumes that knowledge is the property of experts, that people who are not experts are not allowed to challenge the experts, but can only learn from them. When I started writing about baseball, I was the undergraduate in Physics who was challenging Einstein; not Einstein, but Casey Stengel, Sparky Anderson, Dick Young and the Elias Charitable Foundation. In the minds of many people I HAD to be wrong, because these other people were the experts, and I hadn't even played the game, so of course I couldn't be right and the experts wrong. I still get the same argument today, in a different form; people will tell me that the advantage inherent in sabermetrics has played itself out now. Everybody knows these things, so the advantage that WAS there, in the Moneyball era, has evaporated. Same argument; everything is known now; shut up and let us go about our business. The gentleman had forgotten this Black Letter Law, and had lapsed into the assertion that I shouldn't offer a novel theory about this, because. . .well, this has been studied; everything worthwhile is known about it. I didn't want to bust his balls about it; I assumed that he would be embarrassed if I pointed out to him what he was saying, so I tried to say it in the gentlest way I could, saying that I would be surprised if any historian were to make that argument. . .. .. .... ...You, on the other hand, I will bust your balls. Pay more attention in class, kid. If you were half as smart as you think you are, I wouldn't have had to explain this to you.

Where do I begin?  In dealing with "Steve161", Mr. James threw me under a bus.  He called me an "anti-intellectual", and how he treated me with kid gloves in responding as he did, but since someone dare called him to task on it, he would speak his true feelings on the matter.  He didn't want to "bust my balls", but since Steve161 asked for it, he would.

I never intended to state my position as Mr. James read it, and I thought I would clarify my earlier statement with an addendum.  I wrote:

I’m sorry if I came off as curt and “anti-intellectual”, or suggested that you shouldn’t do any research concerning urban migration (2/17).  As a historian and a teacher, the last thing I would want to do was discourage any research whatsoever.  However, if a student of mine suggested an idea about a topic that they haven’t investigated, I would direct them to learn about that field.  If I were to write an article suggesting the offensive explosion of the 1990s was caused by the opening of the Arlington Ballpark due to what I witnessed as a season ticket holder of the Texas Rangers, I would hope you or someone in your field would direct me to learn about research already completed.
And that, in essence, was my point.  If I were going to theorize that the Earth was flat, shouldn't I learn more about the subject then just going by what I saw out my back window?  If I were going to step outside my comfort zone and make "novel" theories about quantum physics, shouldn't I know more about it, rather than make myself look like an ass by those in the field?  My example in baseball (his field) is spot on:  if I were a season-ticket holder with the Texas Rangers in 1994 (the season it opened), and had been the years before, wouldn't I have been shocked at the offensive explosion before my eyes?  What if I suggested years later, say, in 2014, that the reason for this boom in home runs, RBIs and the like took place because of one stadium?  Wouldn't someone suggest that I investigate a bit further before stating something so quaint?  (forgive for sounding a bit turgid on the matter)

He responded...and this is what he posted as my response.

I’m sorry if I came off as curt and “anti-intellectual”, or suggested that you shouldn’t do any research concerning urban migration (2/17). As a historian and a teacher, the last thing I would want to do was discourage any research whatsoever. However, if a student of mine suggested a theory about the abandonment of young people to metropolitan areas, I would suggest they learn about some of the research already done.Asked by: thegueAnswered: 3/3/2014
Mr. James left out the second half of my retort, which drives home the point...and leads directly into his previous argument, which he then reiterates:
Well, I'm sure you're a good teacher. It still sounds improper to me. In telling the student to study the previous research, are you, in essence, telling him to keep his mouth shut and hit the books? It would seem to me that it would be more productive to debate the merits of his idea, rather than attempting to enforce an academic hierarchy.
That's bullshit, but since it's his website, it's his rules, and God forbid should Mr. James look like an ass.  
So, I can't for the life of me call him "Bill" anymore.  Mr. King, you have some company...hopefully he doesn't look down upon you as he does others. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

And now for something completely different...

Cricket.  The English version of baseball.  A sport that I play, follow, and try to figure out how to make better (I do this with baseball too, but I'll focus on cricket here).

Cricket has a few issues:

1.  Fans are losing interest in Test matches, preferring to watch the one-day versions, or, worse for the international aspect, the Twenty/20 leagues popping up across the world, most prominently in India, where the best players can earn much, much more than they do playing the more difficult 5 day games.
2.  There is no clear way for a nation to reach Test playing status, and no way for a nation to lose their status once they receive it.  Ireland has done everything that has been asked of them, but the ICC refuses to commit to a plan to promote Ireland.  Worse, the England Cricket Board has a vested interest in preventing Ireland from gaining Test status, since they continue to pilfer Ireland's best players (Ed Joyce, Eoin Morgan, Boyd Rankin, I'm looking at you).
3.  Series are not created equally.  For high drawing matches, rivalries or top quality sides, the series tend to be longer.  When two sides facing each other aren't close in ability, it is significantly shorter.
4.  There is a significant drop-off in talent after the 8th best team in the world, New Zealand.  #9 (Zimbabwe) and #10 (Bangladesh) are not able to extend any of the teams above them.
5.  It is impossible in this day and age to play a home-and-home series with every Nation at this level in a two-year period, especially with the increasingly congested schedule.

So, change is coming to cricket.  Here's what I think it should look like:

1.  A series of divisions.  First division would have the #1-4 ranked Nations, second division #5-8, third division #9-12, etc.
2.  Each nation may play another series each year against a nation outside their division.  If England and Australia are not in the same division, the Ashes will continue.  Sri Lanka-India, or Pakistan-India could happen every other year.  Maybe Ireland could schedule one of the bigger nations for a short series when they travel to England.
3.  By keeping it at four, it prevents interference with the IPL and other domestic leagues.  As much as traditionalists hate it (and myself as well), I fear the Twenty/20 Leagues are here to stay, especially with how much money they generate.  Any more cuts into the ability to play another nation of choice.
4.  The gap between the #8 team (New Zealand) and #9 team (Zimbabwe) is significant.  I would even consider before relegating New Zealand, they would have a home series against Zimbabwe that Zimbabwe would need to win before promotion.
5.  This offers a clear opportunity to Associate Nations to reach Test playing status.  Ireland would be involved in round-robin series against Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.  Should they defeat those other nations, they would have a series against New Zealand (or the West Indies).  THAT would be exciting.
6.  Nations beneath Division Three never get to play 5 day matches - their ability doesn't allow for matches to last that long.  So nations #13-16 would play 3 day matches.
7.  I would include in each series a number of ODIs and Twenty/20, each with reduced point values in relation to the Tests.

Here's what that would look like:

Division One:

South Africa/India/Australia/England.  Is there any match a cricket fan wouldn't want to see among these?

Division Two:  Pakistan/Sri Lanka/West Indies/New Zealand.  Think of the battles to be promoted and relegated.

Division Three:  Zimbabwe/Bangladesh/Ireland/Netherlands.  Should they be playing Test matches, or 4 day matches?  I can go either way here, but I'm not sure how many draws would take play in 5-day matches.

Division Four:  Kenya/Afghanistan/Scotland/UAE.  3 day matches.  Currently only Kenya has any experience with matches longer than a day...and that was a while ago.

Beneath Division Four, the competitions would be one-day matches, and would be similar to those that are organized now.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

HOF Review

I want to take a moment and review my predictions versus what actually happened in this year's balloting.  In parentheses is my prediction; the actual total of votes are after.

Moises Alou (3):  6
Jeff Bagwell (just under 50%):  54.3%
Armando Benitez (0):  1
Craig Biggio (just over 75%):  fell 2 votes short of 75%
Barry Bonds (just under 30%):  34.7%
Sean Casey (1):  0
Roger Clemens (just over 30%):  35.4%
Ray Durham (0):  0
Eric Gagne (0):  2
Tom Glavine (just under 75%):  91.9%
Luis Gonzalez (under 10 votes):  5 votes
Jacque Jones (0): 1 vote
Todd Jones (0):  0 votes
Jeff Kent (11%): 15.2%
Paul LoDuca (0): 0
Greg Maddux (over 90%):  97.2%
Edgar Martinez (20%):25.2%
Don Mattingly (under 5%):  8.2%
Fred McGriff (8%):  11.7%
Mark McGwire (4%):  11.0%
Jack Morris (60%):  61.5%
Mike Mussina (28.8%):  20.3%
Hideo Nomo (1 vote):  6 votes
Mike Piazza (45%):  62.2%
Tim Raines (55%):  46.1%
Kenny Rogers (0):  1
Curt Schilling (28%):  29.2%
Richie Sexson (0):  0
Lee Smith (26%):  29.9%
JT Snow (0):  2
Sammy Sosa (less than 5%):  7.2%
Frank Thomas (65%):  83.7%
Mike Timlin (0):   0
Alan Trammell (25%):  20.8%
Larry Walker (12%):  10.2%

Just a few comments:

1.  Predictions I'm most proud of:  Walker, Schilling, Morris, Biggio (I was off by about 5 votes, though I'm sure that's of little consolation to Craig), and Todd Jones.

2.  Predictions I was way off on:  Tim Raines, Mike Piazza, Mike Mussina, Mark McGwire, Don Mattingly, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas.

  • Obviously, the 300 games was a clincher for Glavine.  What may have propelled him to higher percentages was the opportunity for the voters to send him in with his long-time teammate (and commercial co-star) Greg Maddux.  From now on, I can be certain that 300 game winners are 1st ballot HOFers.  Randy Johnson, pack your bags from the summer of 2015.
  • I'm a bit perplexed about Thomas - where exactly is the cutoff for being a DH?  Martinez is a DH, but Thomas is a 1B?  Or is it that Thomas won the 2 MVPs while being a first baseman?  I thought he deserved to make it; I just had no idea over 83% of the voters would agree with me.
  • The average voter submitted almost 8.5 votes per ballot.  With that in mind, the slide towards irrelevance for McGwire, Sosa, McGriff et al was delayed a year.  Had voters average a vote less per ballot (in 2013, they average a little over 6), we would have seen them fall off the ballot.
  • I made a mistake on Mattingly.  Donnie Baseball is eligible for another year.  Not that he's going to make an impact, but I'm sure his supporters wanted him to remain the full length of time before going to the Veterans Committee.
  • By including 3 this year, and Palmeiro falling off the ballot, I think the "logjam" is overstated.  I'm predicting four will get in next year:  Johnson, Biggio, Smoltz and Martinez.  I think Sosa falls off the ballot next year, as well as Mattingly.  The following year Griffey and Hoffman, then in 2017 we may finally see Raines/Piazza/Schilling/Mussina.  Pudge joins the ballot that year, and with PED rumors abound on him, the voters may look back at those who have been on the ballot for a while.
  • Does this mean A-Rod could be on the 2019 ballot?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

This Year's HOF Ballot, Part 4

We're 2 days away from learning who makes Cooperstown.  My money is on Maddux and Biggio with no one else getting 75% of the vote.  I also think some major names (McGriff, McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro) will be taken off the ballot because they don't reach the 5% threshold.

Kenny Rogers (1st):  219-156, 4.27 ERA 107 ERA+ 4 All-Star games, 1 Top 5 Cy Young finish, 51.1 WAR

The second best well-known Kenny Rogers, this Kenny will probably best remembered for having questionable material on his baseball cap during the World Series.  I still wonder how/why that was never challenged during the game.

Prediction:  No votes

Curt Schilling (2nd):  216-146, 3.46 ERA 127 ERA+ 6 All-Star games 2 2nd place Cy Young finishes, 1 other top 5 finish.

Curt got 38.8% of the votes his first time on the ballot.  He won't get as many this time since a couple  300 game winners have joined the ballot, but one might argue that he was as good as Glavine.  Glavine pitched for teams that were generally better, at least earlier in his career.  I remember a game I was at in 1997 when Schilling pitched against the Yankees.  The Yankees were great; the Phillies threatened the Mets' record for futility in the first half of the season (at 23-60 in the middle of the season, there were serious questions about whether they could win 40).  In early September, the Yankees visited Veterans Stadium...where the Phillies swept them.  No one could have predicted it, but Schilling set the tone Game 1 when he pitched 8 innings and struck out 16.  He was dominating, and he loved the center stage.

Needless to say, Philadelphia in the late 90s was NOT center stage.  He was probably the best pitcher in the league during those years, but he occasionally stayed in the game too long because the relief staff had blown a few wins for him, and out of frustration he asked for a trade.  Three World Series championships later, that reputation for performance in big moments was secured.

Some might question his length of production, but of either pitcher, I think Schilling did more to convince voters of his Cooperstown credentials in the post-season than one Jack Morris.  Morris was average in October, save the incredible Game 7 he threw for Minnesota (and horrific in 1992 for the Blue Jays).  Schilling was great in 2001, great in 2004, and did it again one last time before he retired.

Curt will get in...but not this year.

Prediction:  28%

Richie Sexson (1st):  .261 306-943  2 All-Star games, 17.9 WAR

I always wonder how some players wind up with a nickname...or name.  Did Richmond sound too official?  Was he always called "Richie"?  Don't some people outgrow certain names?  Does Richie still get called Richie if he's an insurance salesman instead of a ballplayer?  At what age is Richie not appropriate?

These are the things I think about when I have spare time.  Ugh.

Prediction:  0 votes

Lee Smith (12th):  47.8% of the vote last year.  71-92  3.03 ERA  478 saves, 7 All-Star games, 3 top 5 Cy Young finishes (top 2nd to Tom Glavine in 1991)

Smith's case is going to look weaker and weaker the further we get away from his career.  Just like the starting pitchers of the 70s and 80s win totals look better and better, I think most view Lee Smith's save totals as impressive (and they were) but he's already been passed by Rivera and Hoffman.  With the number of quality players appearing on the ballot over the next few years, Smith is going to have to wait for the Veterans Committee...and by then, Kimbrel, Nathan et. al. may have passed him.  More importantly, the newer voters are recognizing the limited value a one-inning pitcher actually has in a game.  I think Lee Smith is going to be waiting a while before he gets in...if he get in at all.

Prediction:  26%

J.T. Snow (1st):  .268 189-877 No All-Star appearance (but he did win 6 straight Gold Glove awards)

Baseball Reference calls Snow's career most similar to Dan Dreissen's.  I'm not sure I'd argue against that, though Snow was better defensively.

Prediction:  0 votes

Sammy Sosa (2nd):  12.5% last year.  .273 606-1667 234 SBs, 7 All-Star games, 1998 MVP (5 other top 10 finishes) 58.4 WAR

Sammy killed his chances for Cooperstown in Congress, though I'm not sure without steroids he would have had much of a chance anyway.  He was a free-swinging outfielder with a bit of speed whom I had on my fantasy team along with Luis Gonzalez.  I loved him - I could count on him for 20-20 or 30-30, and lived with his batting average.

His "peak" in the late 20s was great...but in his early 30s, he suddenly got astronomically better.  At age 32, he hit 160 RBIs, which is the highest in the National League since 1930, when they might as well have used a SuperBall:  Hack Wilson set the all-time record with 190, and Chuck Klein hit 170 to boot.  If he hadn't used, he probably would've hit 400 HRs, and maybe 1250 RBIs.  His OPS+ might be 120 rather than 128...and he may have gotten quite a bit of support for the Hall.

Not now.

Prediction:  less than 5%, off the ballot.

Frank Thomas (1st):  .301 521-1704.  2 time MVP (4 other top 5 finishes) 156 OPS+, 73.6 WAR

Forget Edgar Martinez; The Big Hurt should be the first DH in the Hall of Fame.  Quick story:  I've asked this question of a lot of my friends:  what were the 5 most significant historical sports events you've seen live?  Milestones, famous games, etc.

My list is horrible.  Number 1 by a mile is the 1994 Game 6 Conference Finals between the Devils and Rangers, also known as "Messier's guarantee".  I'm a huge Devils fan, and I had seats 1st row on the blue line.  We had a chance to close the Rangers out, and took an early 2-0 lead.  We could taste victory...but then Messier scored.

The crowd went nuts - even though the Devils were home, about two-thirds of the fans were Rangers fans, and we could feel the Devils lose their momentum.  Ritcher made some great saves, but Messier had a night to never be forgotten.  I was destroyed; I thought the Devils had no chance in Game 7, but Brodeur showed he had arrived by pushing the eventual champions to double overtime.

After that?  Can I count the Rutgers-U Mass men's basketball game that was cancelled at halftime due to the African-American protest at center court?  I might include Schilling's game against the Yankees above...or maybe Jayson Werth's walk-off HR against the Dodgers in 2009.  I've never seen a no-hitter; I haven't been to any memorable playoff games (does a Jets-Jaguars game count?).

Why this story?  Because in 2007, friends and I were touring the Midwest watching a bunch of baseball games at various stadiums.  When we arrived in Minneapolis for our last game on tour, they were playing the Toronto Blue Jays - and Frank Thomas was on 499 HRs.  I've never seen a milestone of such stature; I hoped.  And hoped.  And hoped.

It didn't happen.

Prediction:  65%

Mike Timlin (1st):  75-73 3.63, 6th place Rookie of the Year.

I got nothing.

Prediction:  0 votes

Alan Trammell (13th):  33.6%, .285  185-1003, 6 All-Star games, 4 Gold Gloves, runner-up in 1987 MVP (a complete rip-off, he should've won).  110 OPS+, 70.3 WAR

Trammell belongs in the Hall of Fame, unfortunately, he played in the same league as Cal Ripken, at the same time as Ozzie Smith, and when he retired, his numbers were quickly dwarfed by the Steroid Era and the trio of offensive shortstops who were playing in the AL:  A-Rod, Jeter and Garciaparra.  It's unfortunate that so many years of balloting happened while people were falling over themselves over the new powerful shortstops; Trammell was equal to that in his era.  (And for those who suggest those 3 played in the same era as Trammell, Trammell was in Detroit in 1977, when A-Rod was 1 year old).

If the revamped Veterans Committee ever starts voting players in again, rather than coaches and 19th century catchers who didn't wear a glove, Alan Trammell is the type of player they should look at, not those who received more support or were more famous.  For that matter, I'd love for them to look at his double-play partner Lou Whitaker as well.

We can dream.

Prediction:  25%

Larry Walker (4th):  21.6%  .313  383-1311 (230 SBs), 5 All-Star games, 7 Gold Gloves, 1997 MVP (1 other top 5 finish), 141 OPS+, 72.6 WAR.

While Walker will end up with much more support than Dale Murphy ever did, I'm not sure how much better Walker was, and within that context comes the eternal question, what makes a Hall of Famer?  Is it longevity and reaching certain benchmarks as a player (i.e., 300 wins, 500 HRs)?  Or is it those peak years where one can consider the player the best in the league, or maybe in baseball (i.e., Koufax, Rice)?

Due to injuries, Walker never achieved the benchmark totals, so he needed to be the best in the league.  For one year, he was...and he had 3 other great years.  But Walker got injured a lot, and he played in Colorado, which everyone discredits the hitters.  The difference between Murphy and Walker is that while Murphy's peak was better (2 MVPs, twice a runner up), he 9 years of his career he was considered equal to or worse than a replacement player.  His value is wrapped neatly into about 8 years, Walker's spread across almost his entire career (in only 2 years was Walker within 1 WAR of replacement level).

What's my point?  Look at the percentage of votes Murphy got, and look at what Walker is getting.  I think neither of them deserve the Hall (and it would seem the BBWAA feels the same way), but what if we combined Murphy's peak with Walker's injured-checkered but valuable length?   I might be off-base here, but in my opinion I think that would be a base-line Hall of Famer.

Prediction:  12%

To summarize:

Elected:  Biggio, Maddux

Eliminated from the ballot:  Alou, Benitez, Casey, Durham, Gagne, Gonzalez, J. Jones, T. Jones, LoDuca, Mattingly, McGwire, Nomo, Palmeiro, Rogers, Sexson, Snow, Sosa, Timlin

Most likely to get voted in next year:  Thomas, Glavine