Saturday, June 30, 2007

Allen Wrench, Or, the Art of the Short-Stacked All-In

Say this for Danny Ainge; at least he made a deal. Every NBA general manager in draft lottery spots numbers 3-13 had spent every waking moment since the ping-pong balls stopped bouncing back in May looking to swap their pick for an accomplished veteran, or a not-so-accomplished veteran. Ainge was the only one of them to accomplish the feat. That's a tribute to his perseverance and creativity.

Will the acquisition of Ray Allen make the Celtics a better team? That's a tougher question. I think I'll go along with the consensus opinion-who knows? It can't hurt. It's certainly a better notion than the addled proposal the Celts get rid of Al Jefferson for Jermaine O'Neal.

I DO know the Seattle Supersonics' decision to swap Allen in order to draft Jeff Green didn't make any sense. Had they used Boston's pick for Corey Brewer or that Yi fellow, the Sonics would made a debatable but defensible decision. They evidently see something in Green I do not. And I have company there.

Allen has had a stellar NBA career with a long succession of forgettable teams. He's made a lot of All-Star teams, and won an Olympic gold medal. He may be on the back nine of his career, but it's a pretty back nine, not your local muni. The point is, of all the veteran stars either looking to escape their teams or had teams looking to escape them, Allen was the one who could be had. Ainge figured that out, and pulled the trigger.

Draft-day blockbusters are easy to discuss and hard to pull off. Kevin Garnett is still a Timberwolf. Kobe Bryant is still unhappy with the Lakers. The Hawks would up using their third and 11th picks on Al Horford and Acie Law (good choices, by the by), not Amare Stoudamire.

Ray Allen to the Celtics for Jeff Green, Wally Sczerbiak, and Delonte West was not a blockbuster. But a draft-day cherry bomb is better than no noise at all.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

And Job Thought He Had It Tough

Television viewers would gladly trade what some of them must be stupified by right now for a nice, relaxing plague of frogs, or even blood. As this is being written, Chris Matthews, who never quits when he's behind, has devoted an entire hour of "Hardball" to a debate on the existence of God. The two sages he's thrown in the intellectual octagon are Al Sharpton (Pro) and Christopher Hitchens (Con).

I switched channels as fast as my thumb could move, but I have to figure Hitchens has the best of this argument. No merciful, all-wise power could possibly inflict such entertainment on innocent souls. Or hardened sinners, for that matter. If only Dante had had cable, the "Inferno" could have a lot scarier.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Wrong Again! But With an Explanation.

A long time ago, Michael Silverman of the Herald and myself made a bet. I bet Michael that Frank Thomas would end his playing days with more career home runs than Ken Griffey, Jr. As we go to cyberspace, the scoreboard reads Griffey 584-Thomas 499. I'd like to offer Michael my formal concession. I lose.

And I know why I lost. Not just because Michael knows more baseball than myself, which I'll stipulate. What's embarrassing is I lost sight of the economic side of Griffey and Thomas' careers, which was supposed to be my specialty at the Herald.

My motive for picking Thomas over Griffey should be obvious. I thought Junior would just be injured far too frequently to pile up massive career homer numbers. This reasoning was sound as far as it went; Griffey's had more more medical problems than an entire season of "Grey's Anatomy." Of course, the reasoning omitted the possibility Griffey wasn't the only player in the bet who get hurt.

My real blunder, though, was forgetting how baseball's lengthy guaranteed salaries affect the medical decisions made by both oft-injured players and the teams which employ them. Back in his father's day, a run of misery such as Griffey's endured for most of the 21st century would prompt a player to think of starting a new life. It certainly would prompt his team to tell him to find that new life somewhere else.

The financial incentive for a player to keep attempting to come back from chronic injuries is obvious. But the incentive for a team to allow, no, encourage, that player to do so is even more binding. The Reds had no recourse but to hope Griffey could come back. No business executive can keep a non-performing asset of that magnitude on its books and keep HIS job. Ask Steve Phillips. Or Mo Vaughn.

Griffey's 2007 revival is a nice story. It surely doesn't amortize Cincinnati's investment in him. But it's getting them some return on all those millions. Something is always better than nothing-unless it's some blogger served a heaping plate of boiled crow.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Statistics Aren't Always Lies

Alex Rodriguez, cleanup hitter for the New York Yankees, leads the major leagues in home runs, RBI, runs scored, and is batting .333. Manny Ramirez, cleanup hitter for the Boston Red Sox, has 11 homers, 41 RBI, and is hitting .304. Not bad numbers, but well below his accustomed standard. For that matter, Rodriguez has 4 more home runs and only 11 fewer RBI than Ramirez and David Ortiz combined.

And yet, a glance at the American League East standings show that the Yanks are a .500 ballclub, while the Sox have one of the best two record in the game. What do these apparent analogies teach us, class?

You there, the Mack kid what the the straw hat, your hand is up. Very good, Connie. Pitching IS important. More important than hitting? Well, if forced to pick one thing my team's good at, it would be pitching, sure. But it's not a cure-all.

The only thing baseball has more of than numbers is cliches. Here's today's trite-but-true lesson. It's a team game. An odd team game where individuals most often act alone, but a group endeavor nonetheless. No matter what heroics an individual performs, he cannot compensate for the subpar performance of more than one of his teammates. A-Rod cannot make up for Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano, and the injuries to more Yanks than the Internet has space to mention all by himself. Babe Ruth couldn't, either. On the flip side, Josh Beckett's 10-1 record is pure Boston gravy. Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis are more than making up for Manny hitting like a marginal All-Star instead of a first ballot Hall of Famer.

The idea that "most valuable player" equals "best player on a winner" is a custom only. As thought, it's arrant nonsense. If A-Rod had Manny's numbers, the Yankees would have a worse record than the Royals.

Of course, baseball is as much a game of custom as it is one of numbers and cliches. The best player on a team always gets an unfair share of the blame for failure. I'm sure that back in presidency of hard-core ball fan William Howard Taft, Ty Cobb got the blame for the Tigers losing, and Senators fans went home cussing Walter Johnson for losing another 1-0 13-inning complete game.

Fans are irrational by definition. They get a pass. Professional or would-be professional observers like us bloggers have no excuse. Any sports reporter who trots the "it's the star's fault" wheeze should be taken off baseball and given a less intellectually challenging assignment, like prep softball, or the state legislature. Any blogger who does so can be safely de-bookmarked.

Sunday at the Range

The New England golfer is much like the New England insect. The shortness of the life span creates a more voracious appetite.

Case in point. The gentleman methodically and competently working on his long irons was around 60, with slicked back dark hair and the type of deep tan on his arms, shoulders, and face that only comes from a lifetime of working outdoors. He was also dressed in unorthodox fashion.

From the waist down, our man was GQ down. He had on well-worn, well-cared for, and initially expensive golf shoes. He also wore a pair of pretty fancy suit pants. From the waist up, he wore a strap-style T-shirt. That's why I could write about his tan.

Sherlock Holmes wasn't needed to tell this chap's story. He had gone to church, and immediately thereafter left for the driving range, shedding jacket, tie, and dress shirt somewhere en route. After a ritual for his soul, he needed a ritual for his secular spirit. And he couldn't wait.

Our hero was a glowing endorsement for life in New England.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Campaign Musings: Independent BCS School Division

It's easy to find people excited about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg possibly running for president. All of them are on cable television news shows. Turn off your TV and go outside, you won't find a one.

Promoting them to cable TV commentator is how news-gathering organizations humanely kick their silliest political reporters upstairs. Here's a good rule of thumb. When a pundit describes him or herself as a "political junkie," they really mean "I'm a shallow, not too bright, piss poor excuse for a real reporter." People who really love politics are, well, you know, IN politics.

The commentariat's frenzy over Bloomberg, however, is inextricably linked to economics-their own. As you may know, cable TV news gets miserable ratings down around the NHL playoff level. This hurts the advertising revenues that support the on-air personalities' inflated salaries. This is, understandably, of far more importance to them then trade legislation or even the Iowa caucuses.

One group of advertisers, however, spend a good deal of money on cable news programming no matter what the ratings. That would be presidential candidates, who assume that the viewers of these shows are going to vote come what may. It's just my personal opinion that they also think those viewers have proved they're easy to fool.

The two party nominees in 2008 will spend at least $500 million apiece, most of it on TV commercials. There's the beauty of a Bloomberg candidacy. Bloomberg's a billionaire who could spend just as much without so much as sweating on his checkbook. That translates to a 50 percent increase in revenues for these very marginal television programs. Somebody like Chris Matthews or Wolf Blitzer would be insane not to want Bloomberg to run.

The Mayor, of course, would be insane TO run. Billionaires don't get that way by pouring money down the toilet just to hear the flush. The iron rule of American third party candidates remains in force. They're very popular every day of the year but one. The Tuesday after the first Monday in November, nobody likes them. The Wednesday after, nobody remembers them.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Proud Charter Member of the Original Sick

The following anecdote says all anyone needs to know about Boston's National Hockey League franchise. It's why NESN will be a lonely place to work between October 1 and March 31.

A young editor of my acquaintance is moving to a new job at his publishing firm. He'll be in sales. Aside from the obvious financial motive, this struck me as an unusual career move, and I said so.

"Oh, no," he responded, "I was a communications major in college. I've worked in sales. My last sales job, I worked for the Bruins. If you can sell Bruins season tickets, you can sell ANYTHING!"

Sunday, June 17, 2007

It's a Mental Game, But Not THAT Mental

Johnny Miller is a good golf announcer. Six and a half of a live microphone is a long time for any human being to go without saying something silly, even with commercial breaks.

Just the same, on the 72 hole of the U.S. Open, Miller let something fly that as the golf analysts say all the time, he'd like to have that one back.

The settting is reasonably dramatic. Tiger Woods has a 20 foot putt to tie for the Open lead or lose by a stroke. Woods gives the putt a good long look, long enough to perform nanosurgery on every blade of grass between his ball and the hole. Desperate to fill the dead air (And why? 30,000 people around the green had no problem keeping quiet.) Miller blurted out the following.

"I'm sure everyone watching would love to know what's in Tiger's mind right now."

Actually, in the entire sum of human knowledge, that was the one fact I was pretty sure I did know. I THINK HE'S THINKING ABOUT THE BLEEPITY-BLEEP PUTT, JOHN!!! It's Tiger Woods, you know, the guy whose phenomenal powers of concentration you've spent the whole week praising.

The "what he's thinking?" reflex is the second worst feature of TV sportscasting. The athletes on the end of the question are thinking about their games, and how they might try to win them. The worst reflex, of course is, "How do you feel?" I just the U.S. Open, I feel great! I missed 50 putts I should've made and lost, I feel lousy. The whole point of Roone Arledge's genius was that he SHOWED people the thrill of victory and agony of defeat. No need to ask about it.

Miller's gaffe, however, did remind me of a story involving that very same question posed by some other golf announcer, one of CBS's crew, at a Masters. A golfer who we'll leave anonymous was standing over an approach shot at crunch time and the announcer said, "What's going through his mind right now?"

Watching in the press room, Mark Whicker, the brilliant columnist of the Orange County Register, responded. "Player X? Probably a 40 mile an hour gust of wind."

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Campaign Musings: Republican Conference

In Richard Benjamin's wonderful movie comedy tribute to the Golden Age of TV, "My Favorite Year," Peter O'Toole hams it up magnificently as what is obviously the drunken, washed-up mid-1950s Errol Flynn. O'Toole's most memorable moment comes when, more than half smashed, his character is told of course he can do live sketch comedy. "After all, you're an actor."

In pain, despair, pride, and rage, O'Toole bellows, "I'm not an actor, I'm a MOVIE STAR!"

We all know what O'Toole meant, don't we? Well, all of us but a few desperate Republicans and a few rockhead pundits, that is. O'Toole's cry is why the Fred Thompson for President boom isn't likely to last too long.

Ronald Reagan was a movie star. Arnold Schwartznegger was a huge movie star. Fred Thompson was an actor. The American people aren't likely to cast Thompson as their leading man if Michael Eisner never would.

Heard About the Lindbergh Baby? Hillary Did It

Why on earth would anyone read a book about Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.)? The only possible excuse would be if you were getting paid to review it.

I understand why people write books about Clinton. They want to make money. Publishers have so far resisted the impulse to put out campaign biographies of Joe Biden or Mitt Romney, and one can see why. Barack Obama spoiled things by writing his own damn autobiography, closing out a lucrative option for slothful top-shelf Washington political reporters.

I understand why people BUY books about Clinton. They hate her, for whatever reasons, and purchasing new "tell-all" tomes is a way of demonstrating their commitment to that emotion. The human impulse one's nose to spite one's face is eternal. The U.S. is a very big country, and if only one-tenth of one percent of its adult citizens are willing to plunk down $29.95 in order to vent, the author has a best-seller and a down payment on a second home in Nag's Head, N.C.

But read the damn thing? That I don't get. What could there possibly be in it we don't already know. What could be in it the most remote resident of the most remote village in New Guinea doesn't already know? Through little fault of her own, Clinton stands as the world's symbol for the phrase "too much information." Or rather, too much bullshit packaged as information.

This paragraph contains every bit of actual knowledge about Clinton we have and frankly, need to have, at this stage of the presidential campaign. Clinton is an intelligent, ambitious, hard-working American politician whose views are slightly left of center. She's respected by if not wholly popular with her Senate colleagues. As an American woman near the top of our society, she arouses strong emotions pro and con a male colleague of identical views would not. She keeps her own counsel, and prefers to err on the side of caution. Her marriage has had its ups and downs.

That's it, gang. The attempt of the U.S. political press to turn those facts into "Grey's Anatomy" caliber melodrama is merely proof of said press' corrupt irrelevance. Subtract the sniggering and the sexism and what's left is Hillary Clinton, run of the mill boring American pol.

Which is not to say Clinton couldn't be an effective and popular President. A little tedium in the public sphere sounds pretty good right now. A Chief Executive who looks before they leap has his/her virtues, as we've learned the hard way recently. But that doesn't explain why Clinton is deemed so endless fascinating. She's not.

The truth is, many people in Washington, the ones who blight cable news and the Sunday talk shows, hate, fear, and are obsessed with Clinton because she beat them. They caught her hubby with Monica Lewinsky, and he was supposed to resign. He would've too, if Ms. Clinton had kicked Bill's philandering ass to the Pennsylvania Ave. curb.

She didn't, For reasons known only to herself, Clinton stuck with her husband through the most public humiliation possible. And in the most sensible decision the great American public has made in my lifetime, the citizenry examined her decision, which got a fair amount of press coverage, and concluded, "if SHE doesn't think this is worth dumping the big lug, I sure don't."

The rotted elite at the top of our political discourse will never forgive nor forget Clinton for beating them, and worse, for revealing the public doesn't listen to a word they say. Clinton is too reserved to use her most potent campaign appeal, the just plain fun it would be to see so many pompous heads explode on January 20, 2009 when she takes the oath of office.

Her loss. In the meantime, stand by for more doorstops, I mean, books.