Monday, May 30, 2016

Notes on Posting

1. Posting will be more intermittent (how is that possible, you say), possibly even non-existent the next few weeks as I will be on a pleasure excursion. Part of the pleasure is removing myself from cyberspace most of the time.

2. As noted above, my posting has declined anyway. To avoid long-winded self-reflection, always a reader grabber, I'll be as succinct as possible. I enjoy following sports as much as I ever have, but I find myself having less to say about it. For example, the Golden State-Oklahoma City series has been fascinating to watch, and there's nothing I could write here that hasn't been said in jillions of other forums. Basketball isn't that complicated. In Game Seven, one team's two big stars are going to have a better game than the other's two big stars, and that'll decide things. When I was getting paid for my opinions, I was never hesitant to grasp and belabor the obvious. Now that I write for my own amusement and hopefully that of others, that seems a particularly pointless exercise.

3. If I have what I think is an original look at sports, or if some event or commentary on events arouses my emotions to the point I have to vent, I will post immediately, even on my pleasure jaunt.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Hot Take Gets Away From Blowhards, Beans Math.

I thought the cascade of dumb began this morning on 98.5, when the Toucher and Rich show raised the idea that Red Sox manager John Farrell was responsible for Jackie Bradley Jr.'s 29-game hitting streak ending last night, because Farrell moved Bradley to leadoff in the batting order. I was wrong, When baseball meets mean-spirited idiocy in this town, always bet on Felger and Mazz.

Let's give the two rabble-rousers, or do I mean just rabble, credit for a first guess. They ripped Farrell for the move when the Sox lineup was posted Thursday afternoon before Bradley's 0-fer-4 against the Rockies. Today of course, they were full of specious self-congratulation, while second-string third banana James Stewart recited stats showing how Bradley had been tearing up the old pea patch when he batted seventh, eighth or ninth in the Boston order.

It's pretty hard to have a 29-game hit streak and NOT be compiling gaudy stats, but no matter. The argument, to use a word this idea does not deserve, was twofold. 1. Bradley was mentally thrown off by his promotion to the top of the lineup and 2. You shouldn't change anything when a batter's on a tear.

Proposition one could only come from a long distance from a baseball clubhouse. Unless they are a utility infielder or backup catcher ALL players think they have the goods to hit at the top or middle of any lineup. Without that belief, they would never have made it to the big leagues.

In 1973, highly touted Phillies rookie Mike Schmidt hit a cool .193. I attended the 1974 home opener,, which Schmidt won with a two-run homer batting out of the eighth spot. Driving home afterwards, I heard a postgame radio show where Schmidt said, "I've never thought of myself as a number eight hitter." Neither did the Phillies starting about a week later.

If Bradley Jr. is as good a hitter the rest of 2016 as he's been to date, it would be criminal malfeasance for Farrell to keep him at the bottom of the batting order. To belabor what ought to be obvious but isn't, and as was known by John McGraw and is known to the most advanced sabermetricians, the purpose of the batting order is to maximize a team's chances to score runs. Having the best hitters at its top is how this is done, because the guys at the top get up to bat more often than their brethren batting sixth or lower.

It should also be noted that the leadoff man gets more plate appearances than any other hitter. For a batter with a lengthy hitting streak, this improves his chances of getting one in a game. Farrell was only trying to win a ballgame, but he was also giving Bradley the best possible chance to keep his streak alive.

In the event, two of Bradley's outs were flies to the center and right field walls in Fenway. He wasn't so shaken by his promotion he couldn't make solid contact.

The belief Farrell tampered with a hot streak and thus lost it is pure and simple, no make that just simple, superstition. You can go down to Foxwoods this weekend and watch people lose serious money at craps and roulette following what Felger, Mazz, and God help us, more than one ESPN commentator passed off as insider baseball analysis.

The dumb doesn't bother me. If I had hours of radio time to fill, I'd say plenty of dumb stuff too. What's awful about this rip of Farrell is that it's such a perfect example of the sports talk radio ethos. Something bad happened. So it MUST be somebody's fault, and that person must be brought to account. There's no success. Winners are just the beneficiaries of other people's reprehensible failures.

A lot of hosts around this great land of ours become well-off and well-known espousing that worldview.  But I have to think a steady diet of bile and vinegar is raising hell with their digestive tracts.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Too Much Future Can Make a Front Office Tense

Gratuitous cruelty isn't very nice, so it would be wrong to tell Celtics fans to cheer up and remember that Michael Jordan was a third pick in the NBA draft.

Nor can we tell Danny Ainge that the trouble with trades is that it takes more than one team to execute them.  Beating all contrarians to the punch, the Celtics' front office boss said so himself last week with visible regret.

There's no denying that last Tuesday's draft lottery took a lot of the wind out of green sails in this burg. The question is, why? In terms of possibilities for improving their more than decent but less than imposing roster for next year, the Celtics are no worse off with the third pick than they would've been with the first or second, whether Ainge chooses to use the pick for immediate improvement or trade it for same. The risks are the same, the likely rewards haven't changed, all that's lost is a little glamor.

Fans fall for glamor all the time. An NBA lifer like Ainge seldom does. So why did he seem so glum at the lottery's conclusion? My guess is that he was glum after because he was glum before. After assessing trade possibilities and draft possibilities, Ainge had already concluded that the coup of acquiring the Nets' 2016 first round pick is going to be less coup and more like the resignation of the Minister of Agriculture.

It would be foolish to say that a GM as daring and resourceful of Ainge has no chance at all of filling his hand this summer. But it's more likely he'd fill it with two pair than a full house. Trade or draft, the Celts ought to improve themselves for next season. They might even wind up better than the Atlanta Hawks or Miami Heat. A peer of the Cavs, Warriors, Thunder and Spurs? Wait  'till year after next.

It's possible the Kings would part with DeMarcus Cousins -- for a price that'd be more than another lottery pick. They acquire those on their own. It'd take a valuable piece or two from the current Celtics, including Isaiah Thomas to grab Cousins, who let's just say represents a high-reward, high-risk investment. He would be a better best player on the team than Thomas is. He would also cause Brad Stevens more sleepless nights. And leaving personality out of it, it would come down to swapping a backcourt scorer for a frontcourt one. Backcourt points are easier to replace. Easier does not mean "it'd be a cinch."

The price would be lower for Jimmy Butler (a 30th pick in the draft, BTW). So would be the ROI. He's a marginal All-Star shooting guard. As the Hawks series showed, the Celts could use some extra shooting from just about every position on the floor. As I understand the carom shot theory of franchise building popular among the Celtic faithful, the acquisition of Butler would help convince a real top-shelf free agent, namely Kevin Durant, that Boston represents his best chance to win a title.
I find this less than convincing. For one thing, Durant might win said title THIS season. For another, he already plays with Russell Westbrook, a far better player than Butler.

Deceit is a vital part of sports personnel management. Ainge might be playing a most effective con. But after the lottery, it sure seemed he was becoming resigned to the line of least resistance, using the third pick on whomever he deems is the newbie best able to garner the Celts a few more regular season and especiallyplayoff wins in 2016-2017.

And there's nothing wrong with that at all. In a peculiar quirk of fate, the 2016 draft actually features some seniors as well as the usual crop of one and dones and teenage Europeans. To get immediately better, and let's hope that's his goal, all Ainge has to do is avoid the primal NBA draft error -- reaching for height.

Falling in love with big people is to the basketball draft what trading up to get a quarterback is to the NFL. For every time it works (Ed Macauley is in the Hall of Fame, and Red Auerbach traded him to get Bill Russell), there's about 10 times where it fails spectacularly. This was true in 1985 when Joe Kleine and Jon Koncak went 10 picks higher than Karl Malone, and it was true in 2009 when Hasheem Thabeet was picked second, ahead of third pick James Harden and seventh pick Steph Curry.  It'll be true in the 2029 draft, too.

Picking Buddy Hield or Kris Dunn is not the stuff banner dreams are made of. It is, however, the type of solid but incremental improvement teams in the Celtics' overall good but not great situation are lucky to get to make. If that's how Ainge's maneuvering (I'm sure it's far from finished) ends up, he might not be overjoyed, but he shouldn't be glum.

Two pair isn't the strongest hard in the deck. But sometimes it's enough to win a pot.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Recipe for Ridicule

There are a great many cookbooks in my house. There's a ceiling-to-floor set of bookshelves worth of them. Everyone in my family, me, Alice, our children Josh and Hope, is into food and into cooking. Over the course of the years, we've acquired quite the collection. Historical cookbooks, fad diet cookbooks, cookbooks by famous chefs, even novelty items such as the "Star Wars Cookbook."

I won't be adding Tom Brady's new book to the shelf next to its only possible companion volume "The 1987 Patriots' Wives Cookbook," which is real and one of the treasured momentos of my sportswriting career.  There will be no end of fans who'll pony up $200 for his souvenir cookbook, but I'm damned if I'll be one of 'em. What does he take me for?

To be fair to Tom, let me say up front that cookbooks can serve many purposes other than offering practical advice and instruction to the home cook. To take one random example from my shelf, a cookbook by famous chef Thomas Keller is food porn. It's coffee-table book expensive, but that's way less than dinner at his restaurant the French Laundry would be. No one who buys it is even going to try to follow one of its recipes, for lack of the two most vital ingredients of each one -- decades of formal training and a large staff of assistants. But it's fun to read them, look at the pictures, and wander into a daydream of tastebud lust.

By all accounts, Brady's book is basically divided into three parts, a straightforward account of his rigorous dietary habits with recipes attached, detours into nutrition quackery (no tomatoes?), and fierce diatribes against the American food industry. Parts one and three are all to the good. The food industry can always use a swift kick in the ass, as long as the kicker understands the essential futility of the gesture. Assisting others to eat more healthily is a worthy goal, and I'm sure some of Brady's advice is sound. As for part two, we can shrug that off. Throughout American history, there's never been someone who altered the national diet for the better who didn't have some quack in them.

But missionary work and the profit motive are not good partners. I'm sure Brady sincerely wishes everyone ate better as he defines it, but it's hard to spread the good word to the masses at $200 a pop. My suspicion is that the book is a preview of Brady's stated plan to create a network of fitness-related businesses after he retires from football at age 72. Those businesses will not be seeking to convert society as a whole. They'll be top-shelf offerings charging top dollar aimed at the carriage trade. That lets me out right there.

A $50 Tom Brady cookbook would not be out of line. One costing four times as much doesn't make me curious to see one of the secrets of the quarterback's superb fitness, it only generates unworthy smart-ass thoughts.

Thought one: Between Dad's diet and the fact Mom is a supermodel, I'll bet the Brady children always go to a neighbor's house for after-school snacks. They won't rebel as teenagers through clothes, music or substance abuse, they'll sneak out for pizza.

Thought two: The most important element in Tom Brady's continued excellent health are the five dangerously (to themselves) large men in his offensive line, guys who intake around 6000 calories a day.