Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Cable Games

I know a lot of Minnesota fans are worried that they won't be able to watch the Twins play on cable television. It might interest them to know that an arbitration panel has ruled that Cablevision must carry Yankees game on Steinbrenner's YES Network (link may require subscription).

I'm not sure what effect this will have on the Twins' Victory Sports network or the upcoming Cubs/Sox/Bulls venture. But the panel also implemented a price of $1.85 per subscriber, which is much lower that what the Twins are looking to receive (I believe $2.20).

So for any fans looking to take sides, I would see this as a good oppoturnity to demand that Pohlad drop his asking price.

Friday, March 26, 2004

TV Crushes

Sethspeaks had a fun post the other day on sitcom girls he used to have crushes on. I think we both agree that Winnie was a babe. Staci Keenan is pretty hot too. I also thought My Two Dads was on longer than a year. I guess anything with Paul Reiser seems to take forever to end. But I thought the girl on ALF seemed a little bit trashy. Of course that may be a plus for some people.

He also mentions Kelly form Saved By the Bell, but I always thought Lisa was the cutest girl on the show. Why didn't Zach ever make a move on Lisa?. We were forced to watch Screech pine for a relationship that white America just wasn't ready to accept.

I'm surprised to see Topanga on the top of Seth's list. Not because she wasn't hot, but because I think both Seth and I we're probably a little bit to old when Boys Meets World came on to admit such things.

But hey, at least he didn't mention Vicki form A Small Wonder. But maybe he's more in to Harriet.

The Big Game

A few months ago I wrote about how the Illini basketball team was pretty mediocre this year. Of course they then go on to win 12 out of 13 games and made my expert analysis look pretty foolish.

My big beef back then was the lack of a strong frontline. But it has become pretty apparent that most college teams lack a strong frontline. Talented post players are such a hot commodity, very few are staying in, or even entering college.

But the college game still has a lot of talented guards, and Illinois has three of them. And it may be a cliché to say that guard play will lead you to success in the NCAA tourney, but it seems truer today than it ever was. St. Joe’s has the best guard combo in the country and their team sure looked formidable last night. Let’s hope the Illini are just as formidable tonight.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Daly Opens Strong

John Daly, who needs a solid tournament to keep his spot in the Masters, opened the Tournament Players Championship with a strong round of 69 (-3). Daly is currently 9th on the money list and 53rd in the world rankings. He needs to be in the top ten in the money list or top 50 in the world rankings after this week to qualify for the Masters.

He is $150,000 ahead of Maruyama and $260,000 ahead of Verplank in the money list. There are a lot of scenarios in which he could be passed by two players. The most likely would be for someone well below him to win first ( with this week's purse they would shoot straight into the top ten) and either Verplank or Maruyama finishing in the top 5. It's possible he could be passed, but if Daly has a top 20 finish this week, he will most likely stay in the top 10 in the money list and move into the top 50 in the World Rankings.

Golf's not on the top of my list of sports to watch this weekend with the NCAA tourney going on, but I will be rooting for Daly to make the Masters.

Baseball's Not Popular?

I normally enjoy reading Colby Cosh. He's a great writer and usually brings an original analysis to many different topics including sports. But this post he wrote a few weeks is rather simplistic in its reasoning of which sports are popular in the U.S.. He wrote:

"Just look at the record with open eyes (I'm indebted to Steve Sailer for persuading me to think seriously about this). Baseball was the most popular sport in the United States until it started attracting large numbers of Latino competitors in the 1960's and 1970's--when football, still mostly a pure American game, surpassed it. By some coincidence. (It continues to lose ground, and, if I'm right, will continue to lose ground as more Japanese players cross over, Europeans in countries like the Netherlands learn the game, and Cuban stars are finally allowed to play in the U.S. without having to build rafts.) Basketball is suffering a crisis of public confidence in the U.S., by some coincidence, as the pro game is invaded by skilled foreigners who can play with anybody. Golf, dominated by Tiger Woods, remains strong with spectators, as men's tennis, which has failed to supply a successor to Pete Sampras, suffers badly. Americans do, however, seem to enjoy women's tennis--which the Williams sisters dominate--and women's soccer--in which Americans are ranked #1 or close to it. Which auto-racing circuit emerged from the last twenty years as America's best-loved by far? By some coincidence it's the one with a gentlemen's agreement to exclude foreign competitors. By some coincidence boxing suffered a sharp decline in fan interest when Americans stopped dominating most of the weight classes.

It's no failing of Americans that they love their own, but it's a distinct failing if that practically excludes the enjoyment of any game that is thoroughly internationalized. Still, in the very long run I do think this is a good dynamic for hockey, in its Darwinian struggle with other sports--partly because the game's international scope is unlikely to grow too much further, and partly because, from the standpoint of fan interest, Canadians may be the next-best thing to Americans. (At least Hollywood and American TV newsrooms seem to think so.) In the year 2060 the great hockey powers will probably be the same countries as now, with perhaps a couple more tacked on. The United States is undeniably one of those powers and, barring catastrophe, will remain one--which puts a pretty firm floor on American presence in and dominance of hockey. I don't see any similar theoretical floor protecting American dominance of basketball and baseball, which are already being challenged."

First, his basic premise is on shaky ground.. Baseball popularity is not waning as Colby would have you think. Attendance at Major League Baseball just happens to be higher than attendance of the other three major sports combined. But sure, he's probably referring to television ratings. But the television ratings for these sports is not the best way to judge their popularity, for many reasons. The main reason is the difference in the number of games.

I'm a football fan and I've watched almost every Bears game since 1985. But of the 320 games the Cubs and Sox play this year, I'll be lucky to watch a third of them. I would love to watch more, but I have no doubt that I would be single man if I tried.

Again, assuming Colby is basing his theory entirely on television ratings, I'm sure he would point to the decline in the World Series audience over the years. I would just add that ratings for all types of network shows have declined because of the increase of audience choices and competition from entertainment other than TV. The Super Bowl has generally been able to avoid this fate by becoming a quasi-national holiday.

I would also note that the Cubs have quite a few foreign players such as Sosa, Alou, Aramis and Carlos Zambrano, and dare I say they have never been as popular. In fact Sosa is treated like a god in this town, while good ol' American boy Frank Thomas, who arguably has better career numbers, is treated with contempt by many fans and writers.

As for other sports it's not clear to me that the main factor in their popularity is the presence of Americans. Certainly, in individual sports like boxing and tennis, the game's popularity will be increased by charismatic stars and it doesn't hurt if those stars are American. Without a doubt, two black sisters from Compton dominating a sport is going to garner a lot of interest from folks who would not normally have an interest in tennis. But there was also a lot of interest when the likes of Navratilova, Seles and Hingis were in their prime.

As for boxing, the sport has been on a downward spiral for a long time. And while the lack of American dominance may be a factor, it is rather simplistic to suggest it is the cause of it's problems.

I won't even touch women's soccer. I guess Colby's think's its popular because of the Women's World Cup played here 5 years ago. So it must be news to him that the fledgling pro womem's soccer league shut down because no went to the games or watched them on TV.

Colby's main point is that hockey should have no problem remaining in the US sports landscape since US hockey players should continue to be a strong presence in the sport for the forseeable future. This may be true, but I would suggest a bigger factor in hockey's future may have more to do with the fact that hockey is a sport that a majority of Americans have never played. I would think this will have a greater effect on the popularity of hockey and will continue to make hockey the ugly stepchild in the U.S. sporting landscape.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Thomas to Clean Up

It looks like Big Frank will be batting fourth in the line-up this year. This will give Ordonez more at bats and hopefully give the Sox more scoring opportunites.

Ordonez is much quicker than Thomas and is more likely to score from 2nd on a single and from first on a double. It will aslo make it harder to pitch around Ordonez, who has become the best White Sox hitter in the lineup.

It's not an earth shattering move in the sense that it will make the White Sox that much better of a team. But it is pretty earth-shattering considering that Frank made the move voluntarily. Of all the traits that contribute to a winning ballclub, I usually put the least stock in team chemistry. But it's good to see the Big Hurt make an unselfish move to hellp the ballclub.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Fantasy Issues

I had my first fantasy draft last night and it was not a fun experience. I was on the web from home and my connection was so slow I missed my chance to pick a couple of times and had to rush the ones I did make. The baby woke up a few of times and I had to miss a couple of rounds. I don’t even know how I ended up with Jimmy Anderson. Who is Jimmy Anderson? Anyway, rounds 16-23 were almost a complete bust for me. I missed a chance to pick up some decent outfielders and utility players.

But who knows, maybe my team won’t be that bad. I ended up with a lot of Sox and Cubs players because those are the guys I know best. I'm not sure if that is a bad or good omen. Below are my picks for the 5X5 rotisserie league.

1B: Giambi (computer picked for me)
2B: Kent
3B: Chavez
SS: Jose Valentin
C: Javy Lopez (computer pick)
Infield Reserves: Bobby Crosby, Konerko, Sean Burroughs (computer pick)

All Chicago Outfield
OF: Magglio Ordonez
OF: Cory Patterson
OF: Moises Alou
Outfield Reserves: Steve Finley, Bobby Kielty

Starting Pitchers:
Edwin Jackson
Jimmy Anderson (picked by mistake – long story)

Relief Pitchers:
Troy Percival
Damaso Marte
Lance Carter

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Worst Blog Ever (Sports Category)

ESPN has a tourney blog up that is just awful. Just two guys sitting aroung giving play by play with stupid jokes tossed in. It's not really adding much when you can get the play by play on all the major sports sites minus the jokes.

You can check out a much better college basketball blog on Sportsline.com, Doyel's Dribbles.

Update: As soon as I recommend Doyels blog he stops updating. I guees he is too busy writing regular columns for sportsline.com. I hope he resumes the blog when the tourney is over. He has strong opinions but doesn;t take himself too seriously. Good qualities in a blogger.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Movie Recommendation

For those of you who like heist movies, I highly recommend Sexy Beast. It generally follows the formula of most heist movies found in the classics of the genre, such as Rififi. But what makes Sexy Beast so original is that it focuses on the recruitment of one of the conspirators and not on the planning and execution of the heist itself.

Ben Kingsley (who puts on quite a show playing psychotic criminal Don Logan) is trying to recruit “Gal”, played by Ray Winston, to join a crew planning on a busting into a London bank vault. But Gal has retired to Spain with his wife and has no interest in resuming his criminal career.

That’s where the fun starts as Don Logan is a particularly brutal man who does not take no for an answer. So what ensues is a tense battle of wills that steadily builds to a boiling point.

I don’t want to give anything away, but the viewer does eventually get to see the how the heist goes down. The heist scene, like the rest of the movie, is well done. But what makes this movie a unique addition to the heist genre is what goes down in Spain.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Have the Blackhawks Hit Bottom?

Not even close, BUD!

This will probably be my first and last post about hockey. I’ve never been much of a fan. I’ve never attended a game, I’ve only watched the Blackhawks on TV maybe 3 times over the past 5 years, and I’ve only attempted to ice skate one time in my life.

But I wanted to mention an article by Jay Mariotti for a couple of reasons. First because it is about the Blackhawks. Now I’m sure he has written other columns about hockey but they aren’t common. I have a suspicion that this is because he doesn’t care much for the sport.

But the odd thing about the column is he argues against firing Coach Brian Sutter. Let me repeat, Jay Mariotti is arguing against firing a head coach.

For those of you not familiar with Jay Mariotti, his modus operandi is usually to attack every player, coach and GM as greedy, cowardly, incompetent, selfish or a combination of each. He usually goes on to state how if such and such team would just follow his advice they would become the next dynasty in whatever sport they are playing.

Of course if the team ends up winning, he will change course and talk about how brilliant the Cubs were for winning their division ( with 88 victories) and how sorry and pathetic the White Sox were for losing their division (with 86 victories).

Anyways, for Mariotti to write that Brian Sutter should keep his job just reaffirms my belief that he doesn’t give a squat about hockey and just tossed out this column for the sake of writing about hockey.

Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, Mariotti is with the majority of Chicago sports fans on not caring about hockey. The Blackhawks used to be one of the hottest tickets in town and regularly soldout the Chicago Stadium. But since they moved to the United Center in the mid-90’s, attendance has slowly crept downward and now stands at 13,305 per game, ranking 26th out of 30 NHL teams.

One reason for the decline has been the fact that the Hawks have been one of the worst teams in the league for the past five years. But an even bigger reason for the decline has been Blackhawks majority owner Bill Wirtz’s refusal to televise Blackhawk home games. Television has now been the main channel for sports to market themselves for well over 20 years now. It is just mind boggling that Blackhawks continue not to broadcast home games.

Just last month the local arena football team game on NBC had higher ratings head to head than the Hawks game on ABC. I think that speaks volumes on the relative popularity of hockey in this town. And it may be too late to do anything about it now.

Bill Wirtz has a lot of money so the Hawks aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. He is also part owner of the United Center which doesn’t hurt the team’s bottom line (or at least Wirtz’s bottom line). But it is not hard to imagine that Chicago will no longer be a viable market for an NHL team ten years from now.

Now I know many people would argue with this assessment and believe fans will come back once the team starts winning. They point to how well the Chicago Wolves, a minor league hockey team, does in attendance. But I would counter that most people go to see Wolves game mainly for the entertainment value, not because they are hockey fans. The highest priced ticket for a Wolves games is $40, while very good first level tickets go for $23. The cheap seats go for $9. This is a good deal for people looking to take their families out for the night. The games are also conveniently located in Rosemont, which draws fans from both the North and West suburbs.

In comparison, the highest priced tickets to a Hawks game are $250 each and the cheapest lower level ticket is $75. The cheapest tickets, way up in the third balcony, go for $15. At those prices, the Blackhawks are not going to get 20,000 fans at most games even if they are in first place. There just aren’t enough hockey fans left in the city to fill the United Center. And the games are too expensive for people just looking to be entertained. So if you don’t draw fans, and people aren’t watching on TV, there are not many avenues left to generate revenue.

It will take a lot more than winning to make for decades of management mistakes. And I don’t think this management group is capable of pulling it off.

Monday, March 08, 2004


I haven't written that much about the White Sox lately for two reasons. One, they haven't done much this off-season. Their biggest move was signing a Japanese relief pitcher. Not much to get excited about.

Two, I really don't follow the baseball offseason that closely. I did more this year, but thats because I now read blogs. But I don't think I will write much about the Sox until the season starts.

If anyone is interested in what to expect from the White Sox this coming year, I suggest you go to the Batters Box. Unless anything major happens, expect this spaced to be filled with commentary on college basketball until April.

Illinois BBall Round Up

It looks like three state teams are locks for the NCAA tourney and a fourth could join them.

Illinois won the Big Ten outright yesterday. If they win their conference tourney they should be a 3 seed when the pairings are announced next Sunday. I hope they do as the 4 seed was not to kind to them last year.

DePaul tied for a share of the CUSA title and should be a lock for the first trip back to the tourney since 2000. They might have to face a tough Marquette team in the quarterfinals of the CUSA tourney (DePaul has a first round bye). While Marquette has struggled this year without Dwyane Wade, they are still capable of making a run. Depending on how DePaul does this week, they could land anywhere from a 7 to a 10 seed. Either extreme is preferable to the 8/9 slot.

Southern Illinois will make the tourney, despite their loss yesterday. I would look for them to land at a 6 or 7 seed. Not only did the Salukis hurt themselves yesterday, but they also pooped the bubble of one team yet to be determined by not taking the MVC automatic bid.

UIC will take on UW Milwaukee for the automatic bid in the Horizon League Tuesday night. I’m not a big fan of UIC, the closest thing to a rival Loyola has, but will probably root for them if they make the tourney.

The worst area, no make that the worst national D1 program the past few years, Chicago State has reached the semis of the Mid-Con conference tourney. They are a long shot in a tourney that Valpo is expected to win, but deserve congratulations on their first ever conference tourney win, and for reaching double digits in victories this season.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

I Say Guilty

Steroid use is the topic du jour in the baseball world, and since this is supposed to be a baseball blog, I thought I would add my two cents.

First of all, I've been hearing a lot about how players should be innocent until proven guilty. While that may be the case in a court of law, it's silly to think that should be the case in the court of public opinion. If we lived by this credo, we would certainly be a nation of fools.

But thankfully we are not. We make informed opinions about the world around us. And there is nothing wrong in coming to an informed opinion that some of our best baseball players are juiced. And it's not like there isn't evidence to support such opinions.

The most important piece of evidence is right there for everyone to see. These players look like comic book superheroes. It would be nice to believe they achieved these looks by just lifting weights (and Sammy Sosa stated this year was the first time he started lifting weights in December). But a lot of people lift weights and do not get the type of results achieved by McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, and Giambi.

I sat right behind the Cardinals dugout when they visited Comiskey in 1999, and to see McGwire in person was actually quite shocking. Television does not do justice to the size of these players. McGwire looked as is he came right from the weight room, muscles bulging from all parts of his uniform.

In 2000, Sosa showed up to spring training embarrassingly huge and looked like a caricaturehimselfslef. After his size became newsworthy it interesting to note that he has slimmed down the past few seasons, although he is still very big.

But size alone would not be enough to make believe these players were on steroids. But the sudden increase in performance is also troubling. And I would have to say it is most troubling for Bonds.

He was a great player for over a decade, in fact one of the all time greats. But then at age 36, his OPS jumps 250 points and he becomes the best hitter to ever play the game? When most players are in the declining stages of their career, Barry Bonds saw an increase in production unprecedented for someone his age.

Given the fact that Bonds trainer has been indicted and Bonds and others have been implicated, it has become very hard for me to presume his innocence. And while Sosa is not connected with the Balco case, the fact the he used a corked bat makes it not outrageous to believe he used illegal substances too.

Fame and fortune provides a powerful motive for both superstars and minor leaguers to try and game the system. Especially given the fact the health risks of controlled steroid use are usually exaggerated. And I wouldn't demonize anyone who has taken steroids. It has to be very tempting for a minor leaguer to try and improve his game when it may make a half million dollar difference in his salary.

As for the superstars, with or without steroids, they are great players. But the numbers put up by Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, and hell even Frank Thomas and Manny Ramirez, do have more significance for me than the record breaking numbers put up by Bonds, McGwire and Sosa. That's because I believe these three players are guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs, even if I can't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

Monday, March 01, 2004

How Bad is The K?

In Baseball Prospectus, Ryan Wilkins tries to argue that the strike out is not as bad in reality as it is in perception. But he seems to be conflating two separate arguments. The strike out vs. putting the ball in play, vs. the strike out vs. other outs.

It’s certainly true that the strike out is not the worse thing that can happen to a batter. Whenever the bases are loaded it is certainly better to have player strike out than hit into a double play. But I haven’t seen anyone argue otherwise.

The reason why people argue it is better to put the ball in play is not because it can result in a better out. It's seems a bit obvious, but the reason you want to put the ball in play is because you have a chance to get a hit! Putting the ball in play gives you a 25% chance of getting on base, while striking out gives you something pretty close to a zero chance of getting on base.

He also runs a regression that shows strikeouts actually have little correlation with runs scored. But the strike out does have a positive correlation with such hitting stats as isolated power and slugging percentage. But this is actually pretty intuitive and doesn’t tell us much about the value of striking out vs. other types of out.

Sluggers and free swingers will usually have high totals in slugging %, ISO, and strikeout. While contact hitters would have lower percentages in all three. The correlations between these statistics just confirm what should be common sense. It does not tell us what value, negative or positive, strikeouts have in relation to other types of outs.

It would certainly be better for the slugger to strike out less and put the ball in play more, but only if it would not take away from his power numbers. This is usually a trade off most sluggers have to make.

If you don’t have much power it doesn’t make sense to swing for the fences. You can increase your chances of getting on base by just trying to put the ball in play. The regression analysis quantifies the tradeoff between contact and power.

Anyway, later in the column Wilkins undercuts his own argument by showing how stikeouts have a very high correlation with a pitchers ERA. Isn’t hitting/pitching a zero sum game? Why yes it is. So anything good for the pitcher is bad for the hitter.

The bottom line is that the strike out is rarely a good thing for a hitter. But given the fact that the strike out will always be somewhat correlated with positive hitting statistics, it will be very hard to quantify exactly how harmful it is.