Saturday, November 13, 2010

Annoying Controversies of the Week in Review

1. Derek Jeter wins Gold Glove for American League shortstops

Cue the outrage, outrage with math on top. It is an article of faith among the more statistically driven, and I do mean driven, segment of baseball fans and commentators that Jeter is the WORST fielding shortstop extant and possibly in all of baseball history. It drives them crazy that American League managers and coaches, who vote for the Gold Glove winners, disagree, and have cited Jeter as the BEST fielder at his position five times.

Some of the anger is just the usual Yankee-hatred looking for a place to land, but more of it has to do with the baffled fury of the figure filberts (God, I love that phrase) who have seen their ideas on offense become conventional wisdom inside baseball itself, but whose ideas on fielding are still rejected. Don't baseball people know how hard it is to come up with those equations?

To boil down the statistical complaint against Jeter into English, it is that the Yankee captain has no range to speak of. He makes the plays on routine balls hit towards his position, and has no chance of grabbing balls hit beyond that relatively small slice of the diamond with his reach.

The evidence of my own eyes indicates this complaint has merit. Since the livelihood of the Gold Glove voters depends on looking at baseball games and thinking about them, I'm going to assume managers and coaches see the same thing when they see Jeter. Obviously then, they don't care. Or rather, in the baseball value system of said coaches and managers, making the routine play in the field consistently is held to be a superior quality than the ability to make MORE plays with LESS consistency.

This judgment may or may not be valid (actually, I think the math men have a bit of the better of the argument in Range v. Consistency), but it's what the voters think. It is baseball conventional wisdom for better or worse. Complaining about baseball conventional wisdom is like complaining about leaves falling in November. It's useless, and makes the complainer sound like a nut -- even if the complaint is valid.

2. Cam Newton, Auburn quarterback, may have accepted cash money to attend that fine institution of higher learning.

What! College football players get paid on the side!?! There's a Pulitzer in that for somebody, presuming they can send the story back in time to 1902 when it'd be a scoop.

Actually, the story is that Newton's father got the $200K to have his son attend Auburn, and used it for the nefarious purpose of building a new church for his congregation. Pretty sinister, if you ask me. Is that even illegal? If some yahoo Auburn alum wants to make a nice donation to a church, isn't that his tax-deductible business?

Maybe not. The FBI is looking into Newton's recruiting. So if terrorists attack Alabama this month, there's your reason. We let our guard down to defend the purity of the essence of the SEC.

Now, every American over age five knows that college football's rules regarding money are broken so often as to be nonexistent in practice. The football hero driving a fancy car around campus has been a cliche of our country's sporting life since the automobile became a mass consumer product. It used to a convertible, and now it's an Escalade. Same thing.

Nor should we have any quarrel with that. As a big business where everyone can make as much money as they can grab except the most important employees, college football shouldn't be surprised if said employees put most of their brainpower towards figuring out how to steal from the business. I submit that by accepting illegal payments, be it from agents or their schools, players are showing that they really are learning something at college.

Let me put it this way. Would you attend Auburn without getting paid for it? How about Mississippi State? The questions answer themselves.

No, the newsworthy part of Newton's travails is that the news itself is all the result of leaks from jilted suitors -- Florida, where Newton used to attend school, and Mississippi State, which was allegedly told Newton's price for playing there, and failed to meet it. If Newton gets busted, it will be by the same technique big drug seizures go down -- other drug dealers rat out more successful rivals.

The SEC has the same business ethics as the Zetas, minus a lot of homicide. So far. If there's ever a playoff in college ball, that might not last.

3. The Celtics are meanies.

Kevin Garnett made a tasteless insult to an opponent on the court. Paul Pierce sent out a (pretty funny) insulting tweet about LeBron James after the Celtics beat the Heat the other night. Many feelings in the NBA are hurt.

As a lifelong Celtic-hater, let me say this. Well done, gentlemen!! Red would be proud of you. Seeing Celtic players embrace their inner wrestling heel warms my heart and soul. A winning Celtics team without arrogance is like a sportsmanlike Raider team, or a Yankee team with a payroll less than $100 million. It puts the universe out of whack.

I can't begin to explain how disconcerting Boston's 2008 NBA title and last year's playoff run were to this Celtic-hater. I couldn't resent either one in the slightest. The first involved seeing three future Hall of Famers win their first and long overdue championship. The second was admirable in every way. Karma was served when Boston beat the Cavs. I was not. Sympathy for the Celtics is a distressing and unnatural emotion to me. I feel I am letting down the late Wilt Chamberlain.

Thanks, and here are my thanks, to Garnett, Pierce & C0., my inner turmoil is resolved. The Celts are going to approach this season the way all great Celtics teams should approach a season, with a sneer on their lips and contempt in their hearts. Here we are chumps. Do something about it -- if you can.

I can pay these Celtics no greater, more heartfelt tribute than this: BOOOO!!!


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