2007 Mets fell harder, faster than 2011 Red Sox, Braves

Wow. Looking at the headlines, you would think that nothing like the Red Sox AL Wild Card collapse has ever, ever happened. But it has. Recently.

Back on September 12, 2007 the New York Mets had a 7 game lead over the Phillies in the NL East, with 17 games left to play. With 17 games left to play on September 10, 2011, the Red Sox had a 4.5 game lead over the Rays in the AL Wild Card race. With 17 games left to play on September 09, 2011, the Atlanta Braves had a 6.5 game lead over the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card race. So, even though the leads of the Red Sox and Braves were larger earlier in the month than the lead the 2007 Mets had over the Phillies, the collapse of the 2007 Mets was more dramatic – more losses over a fewer number of games to end the season – than either of the 2011 collapses.

With 17 Games to Play in Season

Team

Games Ahead

2007 Mets (NL East race)

7

2011 Braves (NL Wild Card race)

6.5

2011 Red Sox (AL Wild Card race)

4.5

 

Wins

Losses

Games Back

2007 Mets

83

62

 

2007 Phillies

76

69

7

 

Wins

Losses

Games Back

2011 Braves

84

61

 

2011 Cardinals

77

67

6.5

 

Wins

Losses

Games Back

2011 Red Sox

85

60

 

2011 Rays

80

64

4.5

Sorry for the crudeness of the charts. That's what you get when you copy and paste from Microsoft Word.

So, while the dual collapses of the Braves and Red Sox was indeed dramatic this year, it was not more dramatic – and not as steep – as the collapse of the 2007 Mets, who lost more games to close a season resulting in losing a playoff berth over a shorter period of time than did either the Red Sox or the Braves this year.

Tiger Woods, Figure Skating, et al: Sport or Show?

Though this blog is usually focused on church and ministry-related themes, I couldn't help myself.  There are a few sports stories out there today that I just demanded my attention.

  • Thomas Boswell, the excellent sports columnist for the Washington Post, critiques Tiger Woods' performance yesterday as a "10-course ego feast … [a] stop-the-world presidential-style non-news conference."  What I found most fascinating, however, was his theological analysis of Tiger's final lines:

    Woods's last words on Friday were vaguely troubling. "Finally, there are many people in this room, and many people at home, who believed in me," he said. "Today I want to ask for your help. I ask you to find room in your heart to one day believe in me again."

    Many, at that instant, expected to hear the words "forgive me." But the last phrase was Tiger's. I doubt I've ever heard an athlete ask the public to "believe in me." Isn't that more akin to theology?

    We keep learning, over and over, that some athletes (like all of us) prove over a lifetime that they are worth respecting, liking, admiring and cheering for. Others aren't. But "believe in me?"

    We don't need to believe in you, Tiger. Come down off the mountain. Once you figure out some things, we'd just like to meet you. For the first time.

  • Plushenko photo via ReutersEvgeni Plushenko, the Russian silver medalist in men's figure skating at the Vancouver games, blasted gold medalist Evan Lysacek of the United States for performing a less strenuous – but according to the judges, better – routine.  "Just doing nice transitions and being artistic is not enough because figure skating is a sport, not a show." 

    Really, Evgeni?  First, all sport is show.  And secondly, you have little credibility making that statement while wearing a shirt reminiscent of the 80's t-shirt tuxedo.  If a sequin tie and vest isn't for show, I don't know what is …

  • Pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training.  I am terribly excited for the start of baseball season.  The Phillies have made it to the World Series two seasons in a row, to the playoffs three in a row.  They're now a team that I would have hated a few years ago – flush with money and division titles.  But still … they're the Phillies.  I love them.
  • Yahoo! Fantasy Sports claims that they're going to have a workable mobile platform for Fantasy baseball this year.  I certainly hope so.  From their website: "Coming soon to a phone near you: Fantasy College Hoops Tournament, Fantasy MLB and Fantasy NBA."  Currently, there are no quality applications for checking your Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball team on a Blackberry.  If the folks at Yahoo! Sports are to believed, I'll be able to check my fantasy team while waiting in line at the grocery store … Yes, I admit, I have no life.

Foul! Baseball’s Unfortunate Forray Into Replay

Red flag
Today Major League Baseball announced that instant replay will come to a major league stadium near you starting Thursday.  Replay will be limited to the review of disputed home run calls to determine if the ball is fair vs. foul, if the ball went over the wall or remained in play, or if a fan interfered with the ball.  Disputed plays at the bases, balls and strikes, and other types of plays – though more common and arguably more important than disputed home run calls – will not be subject to instant replay review.

The implementation of this rule is flawed by at least two factors.  First, they are introducing this new rule 132 games into a 161-game season.  I do not like the idea of playing 132 games under one set of rules, and the remaining 29 games under a different set of rules.  In a season that endures for 161 games, a loss in April counts the same as a loss in September.  Why apply a different set of rules for the final month of the season that didn't apply for the first five months?

Secondly, the use of instant replay depends on the availability of television broadcast feeds for review.  However, not every team broadcasts every game, thus leaving some games without reviewable television broadcast feeds.  A rule that is being introduced with 29 games remaining in the season will only apply to those games with television feeds.  Most games have feeds, but not all.  What kind of sport implements a rule that depends on the television broadcasting arrangements the teams have made?  Woe to you, O Kansas City!

But more, the rule itself is flawed because it introduces technology into a game that doesn't even need a clock (see my rant about sports with clocks here).  The human element in baseball is not only part of the game as it has been played for over one hundred years, but it is also emblematic of a game that has blessedly avoided arcane and overly technical rules (save for the balk rule).  Baseball players play against each other – not a clock – and the game is officiated by humans, not technology.  The human element in baseball is terribly imperfect – from home run sluggers who strike out, to umpires who miss a call – but it is part of the game nonetheless.  Imposing a strict perfection in one aspect of the game threatens to irreparably move the game into a new, overly-technical experience.

If our new, tiny ballparks make it hard for umpires to rule on home runs, then perhaps MLB should require stricter standards for outfield walls (I'm pretty sure we don't need flower gardens along those outfield walls!).  But using instant replay is not the answer.

A night at the ballpark with my daughter

Tonight was one of the best nights of my life – a night out with Tali, my 4 year-old daughter, at the ballpark.  It was my first ballgame of the year, and the first game Tali and I ever attended together without Mommy, grandparents, or other siblings.  Put simply – this was some serious Daddy and Tali quality time.

I was given two tickets to the Nationals vs. Pirates game tonight (yes, two of the worst teams in baseball right now).  Jessicah works late on Thursday nights, so I decided to take Tali with me to the game.  I left our other two children with a brave woman from church willing to take on Cana, our 1 year old, and Naaman, our 5 month old (she tells me the kids did great – either she’s a great liar or the kids actually behaved!).

Tali and I first had to take a nearly one-hour Metro ride from our suburban enclave into the city.  We sang many rounds of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" on the train (all apologies to those sitting around us), looked for people wearing Nationals’ gear, and also pointed out anyone wearing Pirates’ yellow and black.  She was slightly scared when the train went underground, but she got over it quickly.  We switched trains downtown, and she gleefully cheered, "We want Green!  We want Green!" as we waited for the green line train to arrive at our platform.

After the short ride on the green line, we rode a long escalator up to the street level at Navy Yard station.  As soon as we emerged from the station Tali looked left and saw the stadium.  "Whoa, that’s awesome!" she said with her 4 year-old exaggerated expression.  As we walked down the road surrounded by Nats fans, she spontaneously started chanting in full voice, "Let’s Go Nats!  Let’s Go Nats!"  I’m so proud.

Well, my pride only grew when, at the top of the first inning, she started booing the Pirates.  What was great is that no one else was booing – after all this is Washington, not Philadelphia, and it was only the first inning! – but there is just something terribly cute about a 4 year-old girl alternating between booing and cheering.  She even inspired a fan sitting behind us to join us in cheering and booing.  Way to go!

We only watched about 2 1/2 innings of baseball – she’s 4, after all.  We then walked around the stadium, I pointed out the Washington Monument and Capitol Building, and then we stumbled upon the playground.  Oh, the playground.  She LOVED the playground.  And I genuinely loved the playground, too, except for one thing – it might be the only part of the whole ballpark where I could neither see a video screen showing the game nor hear a play-by-play broadcast.  This design flaw is probably intentional – rather than pay attention to the game, we parents should be paying attention to our children who are in the play area.  But still . . . we’re at a freaking ballgame!  Oh well.

As we were wrapping up at the play area, the Presidents and the Geico Gecko walked by.  For you who are confused, at every Nationals games mascots of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt "compete" in a race (sponsored by Geico), and then make themselves available for photos and high fives with kids.  Tali and I went over, met the Presidents, and got our pictures taken (by one of their staff photographers – I need to go online Friday to see the photo).

After watching another inning of ball while we ate soft pretzels (at $4 each), we left after six innings and caught the Metro home.  Half way home on the Orange line, she fell asleep on my lap.  When we finally arrived at the Metro station we got into the van and turned on the radio – the Nationals won!  Tali said, "Yea, Nats!  Boo Pirates!"  And then she fell back to sleep.

What a great night.  Many thanks to the family from church who gave me the tickets.  Many thanks to the mom and her daughters who watched my little ones.  And many thanks to Tali for a great night.  I’ll never forget it!

Baseball Stadiums as Holy Ground

Why is the Pope saying Mass at Nationals Park and Yankee Stadium this week?  Surely in Washington and New York there are larger venues – RFK Stadium and the National Mall in DC, Giants Stadium and Central Park in New  York.  If it were size and numbers the Pope wanted, he could have chosen other venues.

But . . . but is there really anything more holy in the "secular" world than a baseball stadium, where men, women and children of all walks gather in a park to watch a game played, ritual music (national anthem, Take Me Out To The Ball Game) is sung, and miracles performed?

Some will say that Nationals Park and Yankee Stadium are now considered Holy Ground because the Pope said Mass there.  But I suggest that the Pope decided to say Mass in these hallowed places because he recognizes that baseball stadiums are holy places in and of themselves.

– – – – –

Things you may have (or have not) heard at today’s Mass at Nationals Park:

Over the public address system: Let’s go Cardinals!  Let’s go Cardinals!

From a vendor with a large tray, descending the steps in the upper deck: Get your Body of Christ here!  Holy Water!  Rosaries! 

From the Catholic crowd: Lutherans suck!  Lutherans suck!

On the field: Larger-than-life mascots of John Paul II, John XXIII, Peter, and Jesus racing around the bases.

From the public address system, at the elevation of the host: Da da da da, da-da – CHARGE!

From a vendor at the gates as you enter the Mass: Get your scorecards!  You can’t tell your clergy without a scorecard!

From the broadcast booth: You know, John, Benedict is batting 1.000 in daytime Masses this year.

From the crowd: The wave.

Why Baseball is Superior to Football

I watched the Super Bowl and enjoyed it.  After three slow quarters of play, the fourth quarter was exciting and suspenseful.  It was a very good game.

However, even in the rare event of a competitive and entertaining Super Bowl game we can see how football is inferior to baseball.  Two plays in particular demonstrated that football, despite its physical nature and on-the-field execution, is a game where mind-boggling technicalities can be just as important as a touchdown or missed tackle, and usually break the flow of the game.

(Just over a year ago I wrote that baseball is superior to football because it has no clock.  In football you have two teams and a clock, and the competition is just as much about beating the clock as it is about beating the other team.  Call me silly, but I’d rather see teams compete with each other than with a clock.)

In the third quarter New England coach Bill Belicheck successfully challenged that New York had too many players on the field, granting the Patriots five yards on the NY penalty and thus a first down in a situation that seemed crucial at the moment.  On replay you saw, however, that a NY player was running to the sidelines, trying to get off the field before the ball was snapped.  This is not an example of a rule violation that would give the Giants an advantage on the field (in the way that a hold might keep a play alive).  This violation is simply a technicality, one that has no impact on the way a down was played.  It’s ridiculous to have to watch a slow-motion replay of a single player running toward the sideline – far from the ball or any other player – for a possible penalty.  Is that what head-to-head, physical competition is all about?

And then at the end of the fourth quarter, after New England was unsuccessful at converting a fourth down, a single second remained on the clock.  NFL rules required that the Giants take the field and resume play.  What logical reason was there to do this?  Oh yes, the clock.  Even though the game was all but over, and the coaches, media and players had already stormed the field, the players had to line up and snap the ball to get that one second off the clock.  At that moment the game was being "played" not for the sake of competition, but for the sake of a rulebook and the Almighty Clock.  Boring!

In baseball we don’t have such silly technicalities.  Each team gets nine innings, or 27 outs, to defeat the other team.  Because it is a simple head-to-head game (ie, there is no clock), there are no meaningless plays in baseball – baseball doesn’t run the home team to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning if it is already winning.  But that’s precisely what happens in football every week – minutes of meaningless football are played, simply so that they can run out the clock.  Yawn.

I do like football, and I really enjoyed the Super Bowl this year.  But football doesn’t compare to baseball, where technical rules are few and teams compete without a clock.  Free from the burden of technicalities and Timex, all baseball offers is some good old fashioned head-to-head competition.

Is it Spring Training yet?

Phillies’ New Alternate Home Uniform (Yawn)

New_home_jersey
The Phillies today unveiled their new alternate home jersey.  It’s a cream-colored shirt and pant uniform without pinstripes.  The team name is written in the familiar script, and a red stripe runs down each leg.  Throw in the blue hat with a red "P," and you have a 1940s-esque throw-back uniform.

Yawn.

There’s nothing wrong with this new uniform – it looks fine, I guess – but I’m not a fan of "alternate" hats, jerseys or uniforms.  And since these unis will be worn only on home day games, they’ll get – what, a dozen or so? – wears.  Big deal. 

(The Philadelphia sportswriters didn’t know – or didn’t reveal – the uniform design, but some dude over at The Everything Baseball Union Board posted a good sketch of the new uniform on his website back on November 12.)

If the Phillies wanted to tinker with their uniforms I would have suggested that they change their road jerseys to be emblazoned with Philadelphia across the front, rather than the team name (a la San Francisco, both New York teams, and Boston).  In a city where loyalty to the Phillies is not huge but identity with the city is significant, this jersey would sell.  As a native Philadelphian living in Virginia, I know I’d wear one (I currently own one Phillies jersey – #53 Bobby Abreu, purchased in the spring of 1998).