Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Start Spreading the Salt

Unlike my former colleague Charles Pierce, I have no particular objection to holding a Super Bowl in New York City. Who knows? Given global warming, by February 2, 2114 the evening temperature in the Meadowlands might be around 40 or so. Even if it isn't, the odds are it'll be no worse than in the high 20s and windy. Always windy in the Meadowlands.

Those conditions aren't competitively unfair. They are uncomfortable for fans in the seats, but there aren't many football fans, including moi, who haven't experienced worse. It's a game built on who suffers physical pain best. Fans are hardly immune from that ethos. This Super Bowl will be full of fans full of alcohol, like every other Super Bowl. They'll take the cold, then brag about it when they get home.

No, why I think the NFL has gone awry isn't climatology, it's just plain old geography. The leagye may be creating a financial catastrophe not because it ignored Standard & Poor's, but because it forgot Rand-McNally.

As an economic venture, hosting a Super Bowl places 100 percent of the risk on the host city. It pays a bundle in a zillion different ways to put on the event and in return it rakes off the skim from tourism -- meals taxes, hotel taxes, etc. This is a perfectly viable economic model. Until lately, it was the entire model for New Orleans.

But the reality of the Super Bowl experience is as follows. Three kinds of people come to the game, and I will discuss them in the order of their appearance.

The first is the NFL community. It takes one hell of a lot of league employees to make this mega-event go smoothly, and they all work like dogs. They arrive the day after the conference championship games.

The second group is the media. They get there the Sunday or at latest Monday the week before the game. You're talking 2000 people. That is nothing in tourism terms, and they are all in at cut rates, either earned through points or because of NFL fiat. In one of his last acts in office, I saw Pete Rozelle have a hotel barman reassigned because he had had the audacity to accept a tip from a sportswriter. We (should I still say we?) don't pay much.

Group three is the fans. They come in on Thursday and Friday before the game. They come in two groups -- the big shots and the real fans of the two teams.

The big shots need not concern us. Since many of them live in New York, they'll be sleeping at home, and not spending any more money in the tristate area than they usually do. Tough noogies for the tax authorities in New York and New Jersey.

Which leaves the fans. But which fans? There's the question that could make the Tony Soprano Super Bowl a fiscal crater for all concerned.

The thing about the Super Bowl for a fan is that a ticket to the game is the easiest and relatively least expensive part of the deal. Upfront cash and nerve will get a good capitalist a ticket for at the worst no more than twice face value. Wait until Sunday noon, face value. The problems are, in order of difficulty, getting a place to stay and transportation costs.

What if neither of those exist?

Start with the ultimate nightmare. Jets-Giants. No tourists at all. Given the history of the two franchises, I can see why the NFL would take that risk.

But let's consider NFL geography. For fans of the Patriots, Bills, Eagles, Ravens and Redskins, a Meadowlands Super Bowl is a day trip, or at most an overnight. For fans of the Panthers, Browns, Steelers or Bengals, it's a very doable weekend, as in fly-in Saturday, score ticket on Sunday, leave early Monday.

That's 10 of 32 NFL franchises for whom a New York Super Bowl would be a bonanza for fans, and a bummer for hoteliers, bonifaces, and maitre d's in the city and its environs. There is, in short, about a 1 in 6 chance this Super Bowl will have almost no positive economic impact on the host city.

New York won't notice. It's too big. Other potential host cities, however, may notice. I would think that the fine communities of northern New Jersey, who will suffer a large part of the expense in return for approximately 0.0003 percent of the skim, will notice most of all.

Meet the New *&$#, Same As the Old *&$#!

Due to circumstances, I am alone in suburbia this week. Cooking for one is never pleasant, but when it's over 90, it's unthinkable.

The rotisserie chicken at Whole Foods is way better than its rival chicken at Stop and Shop. That's my excuse, and I'm stickin' to it as to why I was scrutinizing the magazines in the checkout line at Whole Foods this afternoon.

Whole Foods checkout magazines are wholesome. Very wholesome. No Lindsay Lohan, no Brad, Kate, or Michelle and Barack on the outs. Whole Foods checkouts mags feature winsome young models (healthier than the fashion variety) promising the customers that somehow, some way, paying a buck a head more for lettuce at this store will enhance not only your sex life, but offer the path to life eternal. The only common thread between the mags at Stop and Shop and Whole Foods is that Oprah is in both of them. That's why she's a gazillionaire.

But to return to my point, I was lucky enough to scan what I believe is the ultimate Whole Foods checkout line magazine headline. I do not recall the magazine's title. It had a young, healthy, blonde young woman exulting in her 86 pound body as cover art. But who could forget this headline.

"Finally: Green Toys for Your Dog."

BONES weren't organic? Who knew?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Having Seen "Goodfellas" on Cable, This Guy Felt Peach Bowl Tickets Were Too Conspicuous

Further research reveals that another MMS employee accepted the following bribe -- invitation to a crawfish boil.

"This crawfish is in my mother's name, Jimmy!"

The Honest Guys Were Holding Out for Tickets to the College Softball World Series

In the wake of the BP oil spill, more people are paying attention to the ongoing scandal at the Materials Management Service (MMS), the branch of the Department of the Interior responsible for handing out oil drilling permits and collecting leasing fees.

It may not surprise you to learn that for about the last 10 years, everyone and everything including office supplies at the MMS has been for sale to the highest bidders among the world's energy industry companies. Today, we learn the winning bids for the souls of these dedicated public servants didn't even to be all that high.

According to the blog Talking Points Memo, government inspectors found that one MMS employee accepted the following bribe: tickets to the Peach Bowl.

The Peach Bowl? First off, it's not called that anymore. It's the Chick-fil-A Bowl now. Second, and more importantly, what the hell kind of miserable cheap bribe is that. Tickets go for less than face value outside the Georgia Dome on game night. Nobody watches the damn game on television if they can help it. Has our beloved country fallen so far that our grafters lack the imagination to steal big, or in this case medium?

The story said the bribee took the tickets because he was a huge LSU fan. The huge LSU fans I know want the coach to be fired if a season ends with a Chick-fil-A Bowl berth.

Every man has his price, but for the sake of self-respect, that price should never fall below a seat at a BCS game.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

There Is Too Such a Thing as Bad Publicity

Stan Van Gundy is by all accounts a competent NBA coach. There's not much any coach could do about what's happening to the Orlando Magic against the Celtics, so this rather embarrassing loss should not alter that reputation.

Van Gundy's reputation as a good coach is primarily held within the NBA community. Outside among us NBA consumers, his reputation is somewhat different. Put simply, I think of SVG as a cartoon character: Angry Coach.

The cameras and microphones of the NBA's broadcast outlets looove Van Gundy. We are constantly treated to his time-out strategy/morale sessions, in which Van Gundy always yells very loud. When the cameras cut to a sideline shot of Van Gundy, he is invariably doing a slow burn in which he appears to be a cross between the late Edgar Kennedy and a serial killer, a comically incompetent serial killer.

Van Gundy CAN'T be the cartoon figure he is in my imagination, and I suspect in millions of other basketball fan imaginations. He wouldn't be allowed to coach Biddy Basketball if anger was all he brought to the table. But it's all we see of him. The coach would be well-advised to let a smile be his umbrella when the game's on national TV.

That's for next season of course. When Game Four comes on TV, and the shitstorm hits the Magic once again, Van Gundy will need a more substantial umbrella than good nature can provide.

Which Came First, the Chicken or the Brick?

There are few questions in sports harder to answer than where good/bad defense leaves off and bad/good offense begins. The Orlando Magic are providing one, however. Their answer to the question is "yes."

That is to say, that if the Celtics were not playing such good defense in this series, they would still be leading it. Maybe not by 3-0 with almost never having been behind in a game, but they'd be ahead. That's because, all by themselves, the Magic are shooting, passing and (most of all) moving without the ball so poorly as to lose the series on the own lack of merits.

But if the Magic were playing better offense, they'd still be behind (again, probably not by as much), because Boston's defense has been of a quality that would have limited the Magic's ability to improve past the level of high mediocrity from its current baseline of abysmal.

Watching the Magic last night, it was as if they had a collective nervous collapse with one simultaneous thought" "Holy smokes, Dwight really CAN'T shoot!!" Like, they practice with the guy every day. Hadn't they noticed before?

This is not to denigrate Boston's play against Orlando, which has been faultless. But all routs in all team sports are essentially murder-suicide pacts.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

After 18, Technology May Not Be Your Friend

Right now on CNN, Larry King is interviewing Mick Jagger. On HDTV, it's even money which one looks worse.

And when you consider Larry leads in marriages by about 8-3 in the late innings, you have to factor in his degree of difficulty.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Seeds of Victory and Defeat Are Sown on Snowbanks

The NBA and NHL regular seasons are more than a little meaningless. But they're not totally meaningless. It's all in how you look at them. Look, for example, at the Celtics and Bruins.

Step first: Don't look at the standings. As the Celtics and Cavaliers have just proved, in a best-of-seven series, the difference in overall quality between a team that won over 70 percent of its games and one that won something under 60 percent is not necessarily computed by subtraction of the lesser figure from the higher.

No, the way to examine the endless winter sports regular seasons to treat them as long 19th century Russian novels about life and the cosmos. What does this endless treatise, with its many dead spots, digressions, and hours of tedium (Turgenev never came up with a time-killer to match February in the NBA, or the annual visit of the Phoenix Coyotes), tell us about its protagonist, the team we're following?

For the Celtics, the theme of 2009-2010 was simple. Doc Rivers sure talked about it enough for us to get the point. When the Celts played their best defense or close to it, they were as legitimate a championship contender as anyone could desire. When they didn't, they were some kind of average on the court. Due to age, injuries, etc., Boston's intensity fluctuated, and so did their performance, but as painful as losing to the Nets at home might have been, it did not change the fundamental equation.

Against Cleveland, when the Cavs scored 100 or more, they won, in one case in a humiliating rout. When the Celts held the Cavs to under 100, they won from margins ranging from convincing to even more humiliating.

Without predicting an outcome, I will venture to guess this pattern will hold true against the Magic as well. The games may be closer, because the Magic have more players who can score against strong defense than did the Cavs, but what was true for the Celts in March will remain true in May.

Turning to the ice that is being removed from the Garden as this is being typed, the historic nature of the Bruins' loss to the Flyers, full of exquisite tortures such as the two blown 3-0 leads, the too-many-men on the ice penalty, and the horrible fact Boston was an overtime bounce away from a sweep, will but should not obscure their regular season truth. Yes, it's amazing and astonishing and more than slightly disgraceful to blow a 3-0 playoff series lead. But it's amazing and astonishing and more than a little disgraceful to go an entire month of the regular season without winning a game, and the Bruins did that, too.

As a group, the Bruins were fragile, all season long. They always possessed the capacity for total collapse, as evidenced by their ten-game losing streak. Without bothering to look it up, I'd be willing to bet that no team in any sport has ever won a championship after suffering a ten-game losing streak in its regular season. Such a streak means a team is constantly on the brink of total disaster, even when it's winning.

Disaster came for the Bruins last night. It was shocking in its sudden nature, but on balance, not surprising.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Like Sand In An Hourglass, These Are the Ballplayers Of Our Lives

Starlin Castro, called up from the minors by the Cubs, hit a home run in his first major league at-bat last night. Good for him, but that's not Castro's significant.

Starlin Castro is the first major league player born in 1990 or later.

That doesn't matter because it makes me feel old. All players make me feel old. Managers make me feel old. Being a contemporary of Charlie Manuel, well, it leaves a psychic scar. I find Castro's age significant because it represents my backdoor revenge on Father Time.

Castro is the first baseball player who can make my CHILDREN (born 1984 and 1988) feel old!

It Ain't Just Josh

Consider, if you will the following pitching record.

W-L: 10-7
IP: 155
H: 163
ER: 87
BB: 65
SO: 123
WHIP: 1.481
ERA: 5.05

That's roughly a season's worth of work -- for a fifth starter for a good team who basically didn't pitch well, but has enough stuff to strike people out and who got bailed out more often than not by a lineup that scored a bunch of runs for him.

It is also, as you may have guessed, the composite pitching record of the current starting rotation of the Boston Red Sox. Yes, the number is skewed by the consistent suckiness of Josh Beckett and the rocky re-entry of Daisuke Matsuzaka. The point is, a bell curve has outliers in each direction, or is supposed to. The best starting pitchers for the Sox, which to date have been Clay Buchholz and John Lackey, have not been as acey as the rotation's two tail risks have been sucky.

It is reasonable to expect that this group of pitchers will improve on their collective mediocrity, as their track record says they will. It is not reasonable to state that the Sox' strength is their starting pitching -- because so far, it isn't. And if the starters' ERA remains over 5, it won't matter if David Ortiz slugs .800 the rest of the way.

Those Who Forget History Are Condemned to Be Happy

Read an article, any article, in print or online, on the European Union financial crisis and the following phrase or some close variant of it will appear.

"Germany, haunted by the memory of hyperinflation during the Weimar Republic..."

That's when I stop reading and start wondering who exactly in Germany is haunted by that memory. The hyperinflation in question happened in 1922-23. That's a long time ago. My Dad's 90, and he couldn't remember anything that happened in 1923. He wasn't even a preschooler at the time. Given subsequent unfortunate events in Germany from 1933-1945, it's a better than even money bet NO ONE alive today in Germany remembers said hyperinflation, and that precious few can remember their grandparents telling them all about it.

No, when people cite a historical memory which the human life span prevents them from actually remembering as their reason for doing or thinking something, they are -- always -- employing history as a cover story, as an excuse for thoughts or deeds that spring from another motive altogether.

Take an obvious example. There are a great many Americans who are deeply into the memory of the Confederate States of America. We are many generations past the Civil War being real to anyone. The last living soldier of that conflict died in 1960, and he was really old. But because it is easier to suss out the motives of our fellow countrymen than of a society we hardly know, this particular historical obsession fools no one. For better or worse, we all know where the modern-day Confederate obsessives are coming from.

In this respect, Germany's no different than the U.S. The "haunting" memory of hyperinflation is an excuse for inaction in a crisis that would require that country to take the very expensive lead in rescuing its poorer neighbors and restructuring the European Union on a more rational basis -- one in which Germans would become poorer, too.

They don't want to do that. As an American, I'm in no position to criticize. Our society long ago decided to cope with its problems by refusing to take any action requiring the slightest amount of personal effort or (especially) financial sacrifice that might fix them while retaining the right to bitch incessantly and blame other people for the whole mess.

But we, and Germany, ought to leave history out of it. It's an innocent academic discipline that never did us any harm. What happens in the here and now stems from what individuals and societies think and do in the here and now -- and we ought to have the guts to admit we're making our own history.

Home is Anywhere He Hangs His Microphone

One not-so-little test of a local sportscaster is what happens when he moves up to the Show and does a national game. The promotion is the equivalent of a stadium rock musician forced to play an acoustic-only gig at a small club. The fluff gets stripped away, and all that's left is the basic tradecraft.

Call it "Jerry Remy: Unplugged," a concert sometimes heard on Fox on Saturdays. In Remy's case, that's close to the literal truth. Minus the Remdawg nonsense, the shoutouts to shut-ins in southeastern Mass, and the endless parade of celebs and do-gooders in the NESN booth, Remy just does his thing as a color guy, and one is reminded "Hey, this guy's a really good announcer." Unhappily, this just makes all the mannered crapola that clutters up Remy and Don Orsillo's work (Orsillo acquitted himself quite well doing baseball nationally for TBS) more irritating when they return to their regular assignment for NESN.

Now, I'm not one to criticize local announcers for being blatant homers. It's not to my taste, but long experience has taught me most fans love it and that it takes an announcer of supreme skill, like a Vin Scully or the late Ernie Harwell, to succeed as a regular team broadcaster without displaying some degree of home team bias. Jack Edwards gets some ridicule for his histrionics, and rightly so, but in the city that gave the world Johnny Most, it's a safe bet Jack's technique is heartily approved by a vast majority of his audience.

But, to me anyway, the mark of the truly superior local broadcasters is that on those occasions they go national, you can't tell the difference. They do not have to alter their game in any way to meet the requirement of calling a game as if it has two teams in it -- each of equal importance to their audience. They are straight shooters no matter who they're talking to. They are demonstrating why they can be trusted.

Which brings us to the point. Andy Brickley last night on Versus was Andy Brickley on NESN any time during the regular season. No difference. For that, he has my congratulations. For Bruins fans, a touch of gratitude is in order.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Daylight Wastings Time

Twelve-thirty p.m. on a warm, beautiful Saturday afternoon in May is an unnatural starting time for a hockey playoff game. For all but the hardest-core Bruins fans, it sets up a scenario where you can feel equally guilty whether you decide to watch the game on TV or not. Either way, you're missing something you'd like to do.

Of course, five-thirty p.m. on a weekday is an even stupider and more unnatural starting time, but that was the local time when the Sharks and Red Wings dropped the puck in San Jose Thursday night.

The NHL's national TV contract doesn't pay enough to keep the skates sharpened for an entire season. But the league, like all leagues, is willing to jerk itself around for its broadcasters anyway. It's an involuntary reflex where the owners' wallets twitch.

My personal compromise: I'll watch until I really feel like my life must be empty of meaning, then go outdoors. The amount of meaning in my life, of course, will be determined by the score.