Posts tagged ‘sports’

October 29, 2011

#29) Top five lessons from “Moneyball”

This will be the last baseball post for a while, I promise.

It’s been said that one doesn’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy “Moneyball.”  As a baseball fan, I wouldn’t be the one to ask, but I would guess that one would have to be a baseball fan to really enjoy the book.  There were some parts that were a little hard to follow, even as a baseball fan, and it’s my guess that the non-fan would be lost or bored by them.

That said, with “Moneyball”, the movie vs. book debate is apples and oranges: the film, thoroughly enjoyable, has wide appeal, whereas the book is already a classic among hardcore baseball geeks.

The book has several valuable lessons that transcend the sport, so for those who don’t feel like reading “Moneyball” but might be interested in some of its take-aways, I present my five favorites.

1) When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  This may be the oldest cliche out there, but the story of Billy Beane, Oakland Athletics general manager, puts a new twist on it.  Beane himself was a highly touted baseball prospect in the early 1980s, whose career was a disappointment.  However, he became his own cautionary tale.  The scouts who saw him and built him up were impressed by his appearance, and Beane used the lesson of his own story to judge players by their actual statistics and records, not just what is apparent.

2) Use what you have, not what you need.  Billy Beane’s 2002 Oakland A’s won the same number of games as the Yankees, a team with a payroll four times higher.  Beane knew early on that it wouldn’t pay to fixate on the gap between the two teams’ budgets; he had to find a different way of looking at the numbers.  He reinvented how to read baseball statistics and found value in players who were under-appreciated by the market; he also saw how to replace the higher-priced stars whom he couldn’t afford to keep.

3) Know what you want.  Once Beane realized the type of players he wanted, he would put their names up on a board and figure out exactly what he needed to do to get them, bluffing, cajoling and negotiating his way to his goal.

4) Know how to be “wrong.”  Baseball people, be they fans, writers or those inside the game, are notorious for being stuck in their ways.  Beane didn’t change his course when his strategies were lambasted by the media.

5) Know how to be right.  As word spread of Beane’s effectiveness in finding undervalued players, others in the baseball world refused to do business with him, knowing that by definition, they were probably getting the short end of the stick.  Like a pool hustler, Beane had to convince his marks that the deal was actually in their interest.

The story of Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics is certainly entertaining, educational and inspirational.  Even non-baseball fans can learn a thing or two from his persistence, innovation and creativity.

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October 29, 2011

#28) Baseball’s greatest game

The debate is officially over.

Game 6 of the 2011 World Series is, by any reasonable measurement, the greatest game in the history of baseball.  Of course, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and proclaim a recently played game to be the greatest ever, but as a baseball historian and long-time Red Sox fan myself, I here present an air-tight argument for my case.

I’ll start by comparing this Game 6 to MLB’s panel-voted top five games of the last fifty years.

#1) 1975 World Series, Game 6: as a Bostonian, I was taught to revere this as one of the greatest moments in sports history.  Certainly it was a classic, but the closest the Sox ever were to being eliminated was four outs.  The Cardinals were down to their last strike TWICE.

#2) 1991 World Series, Game 7: as a seventh game, perhaps this one does have an advantage over this year’s game 6, and it was certainly a tense, tight battle.  But for pure entertainment value, one has to place a 10-9 win with many ties and lead changes above a 1-0 shutout.

#3) 1986 World Series, Game 6: until last night, only the New York Mets had ever come back to win a World Series after being down to the last strike.  The Mets, however, only did it once in this game.  This year’s game 6 ended with a home run, which is a little more aesthetically appealing than a ground ball through the first baseman’s legs.

#4) 1992 N.L.C.S., game 7: never had a seventh game been decided with one swing of the bat, as Atlanta pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera singled in two runs to beat the Pirates.  However, this game only decided the pennant.

#5) 1986 N.L.C.S., game 6: another classic; the Mets tied the score with three runs in the ninth inning and went onto win in 16, making it the then-longest post season game ever.  Still, this was pennant-clinching, not World Series-clinching game, and the Mets were never down to their last strike.  In fact, had the Mets lost, they would have had another chance in Game 7, albeit against Astros pitcher Mike Scott, who’d been dominant in his last two starts against them.

Since MLB’s list only covered the last 50 years, I’ve dug a little deeper and come up with five historic games that rival – but do not beat – Thursday’s game.

1) The Bobby Thompson “Shot Heard Round the World” is baseball legend, but Thompson’s home run to give the Giants a 5-4 win over the Dodgers came with one, not two outs; it also only decided the pennant.

2) Bill Mazeroski’s home run in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series was one of only two times a Fall Classic has ended with a jack.  The game, with multiple lead changes, was very entertaining, and the Pirates’ upset over the Yankees should not be underestimated, but for the sake of this argument,  Maz’s shot came with the score tied.

3) The seventh game in 1946 saw the Cardinals’ Enos Slaughter score from first base on a double (not a single, as is often said), making a goat out of Johnny Pesky and turning the Red Sox into World Series losers for the first time.  Slaughter scored in the eighth inning, however.

4) Who was the only team to lose game 7 of a best-of-seven series and win the World Series?  Why, the Boston Red Sox, of course.  The 1912 World Series actually went eight games (game 2 was called due to darkness).  In the eighth and decisive game, the Sox became the first team to win a Series after being an inning away from elimination (this wouldn’t happen again until 1985).   But it comes up short against Thursday’s game, in that the Sox tied the score with one out before winning on a sacrifice fly.

5) The Washington Senators – not the second version of the team which became the Rangers, but the first, which moved to Minnesota in 1960 – won the 1924 World Series.  In the seventh game, they scored the winning run in the bottom of the twelfth, after tying the score with two runs in the eighth.  A Game 7 wouldn’t go extra innings again until 1991.

The journey of the 2011 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals is not unlike that of the very sport they play.  Over the last few decades, America’s pastime has been written off as irrelevant; languishing in its own history while losing market shares to basketball and football.  But baseball has a way of coming back–providing great games perfectly timed to revitalize interest in the sport.  Just as 10 years ago, the great 2001 World Series gave fans a much-needed escape a few weeks after the terrorist attacks, this one, the first to see a seventh game since 2002, will undoubtedly provide a great boost for baseball.  With a basketball strike threatening the upcoming NBA season, perhaps fans, inspired by the great World Series that just finished, will rediscover America’s pastime.

September 30, 2011

#27) The top ten Yankees losses of all time

Ken Griffey, Jr. slides across home plate with the winning run vs. the Yankees

Son of a bitch, it happened again: the Red Sox blew it.

Of course, it would have been a lot worse if not for their recent World Series wins (not to mention the three Patriots Super Bowls, Bruins’ Stanley Cup and Celtics championship win in the last decade), but any time the Yankees are in the playoffs and the Red Sox are not, it’s a drag, especially when it could have easily been avoided.

But while their team is no longer a contender, at least the members of Red Sox Nation can live on the hope that this October will bring a great Yankees collapse.  After all, the biggest fall the hardest.  To help get in the mood, here are ten of the greatest games in baseball – all of which found the Yankees on the short end of the score.

October 10, 1926 (World Series game 7) at New York: Cardinals 3, Yankees 2

The 1926 Series was the only one to date to end with a runner being caught stealing.  Ironically, the would-be thief was Babe Ruth, who represented the tying run.  The game is also noted for Cards’ pitcher Grover Alexander’s clutch strike out of Tony Lazerri with the bases loaded in the seventh.

October 3, 1947 (World Series game 4) at Brooklyn: Dodgers 3, Yankees 2

Even die-hard Sox fans have to have a little sympathy for Bill Bevens, a Yankees pitcher who came one out away from throwing the first no-hitter in post-season history.  Bevens lost both the no-hitter and the game with one swing of the bat, as Dodgers third baseman Cookie Lavagetto doubled with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.  It was the Dodgers’ first hit of the game, and it drove in the tying and winning runs.

October 4, 1955 (World Series Game 7) at New York: Dodgers 2, Yankees 0

The Red Sox were not the first team to finally avenge years of torment at the hands of the Yankees.  After years of losing to their crosstown rivals, the Dodgers finally turned the tables in 1955, helped by a great catch by Sandy Amoros and shutout pitching by Johnny Podres.  Here’s a video of Jackie Robinson stealing home in the first game of the series.  (He had better luck than Babe Ruth).

October 13, 1960 (World Series game 7) at Pittsburgh: Pirates 10, Yankees 9 

It may sound funny to hear the words “World Series” and “Pittsburgh Pirates” used in the same sentence, but that’s what was happening in 1960.  The Pirates hung in there, battling the Yankees through six games.  In the decisive contest, the lead went back and forth between the two teams, entering the bottom of the ninth tied.  Leading off, Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski became the first of only two men (along with Joe Carter) in baseball history to end a World Series with a home run.

October 10, 1980 (A.L.C.S. game 3) at New York: Royals 4, Yankees 2

As with the Pirates, it may seem weird to think of the Kansas City Royals in the World Series, but they got there in 1980 by beating the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, then a best-of-five.  They had lost three consecutive times to the Yanks in the A.L.C.S. but finally turned the tables in 1980, winning the first two games at home and taking the third on George Brett’s three-run homer off Goose Gossage.   The names of Brett and Gossage would be linked again a few years later.

July 24 and August 18, 1983 (“Pine Tar” game) at New York: Royals 5, Yankees 4 

George Brett won a World Series, had over 3,000 hits, batted .390 in 1980 and even battled hemorrhoids, but this Hall of Famer is remembered by most people for only one thing.   While the sight of an enraged Brett charging out of the dugout may be legendary, however, not as well known is the back-story behind what would now probably be called one of baseball’s best viral videos.  With the Yankees leading 4-3 in the top of the ninth inning, Brett was batting with one on and two out.  He hit a 2-run homer off Goose Gossage to give Kansas City a 5-4 lead.  As Brett crossed home, Yankees manager Billy Martin asked to see the bat.  The umpires conferred and called Brett out, sparking his famous eruption.  Ultimately the home-run was reinstated on the grounds that Martin should have asked to see the bat before Brett got to the plate.  The game was rescheduled for almost a month later and picked up in the top of the ninth with two outs and the Royals up, 5-4.  Martin told the umpires that Brett hadn’t touched all of the bases, but he was over-ruled.  After the Yankees went down in order in the bottom of the 9th, the Pine Tar game was over, almost a month after it began.

October 8, 1995 (A.L.D.S. game 5) at Seattle: Mariners 6, Yankees 5 (11 innings)

Back in the post season for the first time in 14 years, the Yankees faced an unlikely opponent in the first year of the American League Division Series: the Seattle Mariners.  The Mariners had pretty much been a joke since starting play in 1977, but in 1995, after a big comeback, they beat the California Angels (later to become the Anaheim Angels and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) in a one-game playoff to reach the post-season.  After dropping two games at Yankees Stadium, the Mariners won two in the Kingdome, pushing the best-of-five series to a decisive contest.  With the Yankees leading 5-4 in the bottom of the 11th, Edgar Martinez of the Mariners hit a game-winning double, described here by announcer Dave Niehaus.  MLB listed this game as #15 on their list of the all-time best list; highlights of the game can be seen here.

November 4, 2001 (World Series game 7) at Arizona: Diamondbacks 3, Yankees 2

Even if the 2001 World Series had been a clunker, it would still have been memorable in giving Americans a much-needed escape after the recent terrorist attacks.  As it turned out, 2001’s World Series was a down-to-the-wire classic.  Even many non-Yankees fans (although not the author) were rooting for them as they battled the Diamondbacks, National League champs in only their fourth season ever.  Extra-inning comebacks in games 4 and 5 put the Yankees up, 3 games to 2 as the teams headed back into the desert to decide things.  With the Yankees leading 2-1 in game 7, the Diamondbacks rallied in the bottom of the ninth, winning a Series quicker than any other expansion team in history.

August 31, 2004 at New York: Indians 22, Yankees 0

This nail-biter represented the biggest margin of loss in Yankees history; according to ESPN (see above link) even Jeter left the clubhouse before reporters could come in.

October 20, 2004 (A.L.C.S. game 7) at New York: Red Sox 10, Yankees 3

Of all of the teams that had lost the first three games of a baseball playoff series, only two had even gone as far as game 6.  The Sox were the first to force a game 7 after dropping the first three, and it seemed perfectly logical that they would find a way to blow it after getting the Nation’s hopes up.  But on the strength of Derek Lowe’s pitching and Johnny Damon’s grand slam, the Sox completed their comeback with a 10-3 win, going on to beat the Cardinals in the World Series for their first championship since 1918.  It’s too bad that no World Series trophy will be raised in Boston in 2011, but there’s always next year–and the hope that by opening day in 2012, the Yankees will have added more great losses to this list.

September 2, 2011

#23) Kyle 18

Yesterday I was listening to Jim Rome’s radio show, and he announced that “Kyle 18” was going to be the next guest.  I figured this might be some stage handle for a wrestler, but as Rome explained, it actually refers to the fact that it was the 18th show in a row on which a guest was named Kyle.  That, in and of itself, is an example of Rome’s offbeat appeal: as he explained, the streak started out organically, by chance if you will, but before long, they realized they had something going and made a point of getting a guest named Kyle as many times in a row as they could.  (Kyle 19 will be New York Jets running back Kyle Wilson.)

But back to Kyle 18.  Kyle Spicka, a semi-pro paintballer, is quite an interesting story.  As he explained on Jim Rome’s show, his journey to paintball stardom was not an easy one.  He grew up as an only child with a single mother, and he worked extra jobs during high school to pay for his paintball expenses, which he estimated at five hundred dollars per month.  He was also unusually short in high school and was prescribed human growth hormones.  Even as a professional paintball athlete, he still has to supplement his income with a job at Nordstroms(!).

It’s interesting to consider his dedication and willingness to sacrifice.  In sports, as in other areas, athletes with the most natural talent, who grow up in an ideal environment, sometimes lose out to those with more pure dedication.   Kyle “18” Spicka certainly had reasons to quit, but he didn’t.   It’s a theme that I see a lot in my work as a music instructor, in hiking, in creating a Web business and more: if you don’t want to do something, you’ll find a way not to, but if you do, things that may seem like obstacles to the outside observer won’t stop you.