Why Stats Are Ruining Sports

BY BRIAN RUDDOCK

sloan
Image via Sloan

I write this despite being convinced of and appreciative of the usefulness of properly-applied statistics. I write this even though the first memory of my life is of walking to a Browns game with my father and older brother. I write this despite the last book I read (and thoroughly enjoyed) being Naked Statistics. I write this while wearing a Richmond Basketball t-shirt that I purchased before the Spiders’ miraculous Sweet 16 run from 2011, which I watched every game of with several fraternity brothers.

Spectator sports are becoming less enjoyable, and statistics are to blame.

Michael Lewis’ 2003 book, Moneyball, detailed how a jock-turned-luminary used advanced statistics to gain a competitive edge over his better-funded opponents. The book started a popular and professional revolution in sports. It made fans and front offices question why we settled for subpar statistics like batting average and points per game, when technology allowed us to do better. When evaluating any sports outcome, we should critically examine what we’re looking at, and go to great pains to separate junk from juice.

Moneyball took an old cliché that we already knew (“sports are businesses”) and prompted us to think of the logical next step: So how do we do things smarter?

Stat heads, as Lewis chronicles, used to have to fight with scouts to even get a seat at the table for personnel decision-making. No longer. Quants have implanted themselves in every MLB front office, a majority of those in the NBA, and a growing number in the NFL. Teams have hired extensively from Ivy League MBA programs; some of the most famous and successful personnel guys (Mark Shapiro, Theo Epstein, Mark Cuban) come from business backgrounds.

Despite the protestations of lazy, math-illiterate sportswriters, the Moneyball revolution hit home as well. It has fundamentally changed how even casual fans watch and think about sports. ESPN NBA box scores now include “plus/minus” calculations. Graphics on most local sports networks show a batter’s on-base and slugging percentages next to his batting average. (Side note: this is likely 75% of the reason that Clevelanders have not kicked Indians catcher Carlos Santana out of town.)

This was Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” at work. As fans learned about these stats, they demanded more of them, and major sports media has had no choice but to provide. Every piece of sports content we consume, be it a Web article or an episode of “Baseball Tonight”, is volumes more sophisticated than what was available twenty years prior. The authors of the now-defunct Fire Joe Morgan blog captured one famous commentator’s struggle to adapt to this sea change. A Hall of Fame second baseman, Morgan simply couldn’t – or wouldn’t – converse in the new normal language. He quickly slid into irrelevancy.

On multiple occasions, I have lauded this change. It makes absolute sense. Professional and major college sports are billion-dollar industries. The folks in charge damn well better get it right, or people lose their jobs. There’s simply too much at stake for team owners to treat their rosters like fantasy teams. Additional insight and accountability is crucial. Back to that cliché: sports are businesses. You can’t run payroll like you work for the government and money doesn’t matter.

So I get it. It’s logical. It’s inevitable. But it kinda sucks.

For those who don’t work in sports, they serve as a distraction. You throw the game on when you’re home from work, or you check a box score when you need a break from that TPS report. Now, most decent articles require you to actually think. Reading a piece by some of ESPN’s writers feels more like work than a distraction. The other day I spent thirty minutes picking apart KC Joyner’s methodology and trying to figure out a better way to measure what he was trying to measure. For an article about the Percy Harvin trade. At my last job, a coworker gave me tutoring in advanced Excel using data about the 2009 Cleveland Indians from BaseballReference.com. I no longer play fantasy baseball because I don’t want to spend the hours necessary combing through B-ref.com preparing for the draft to compete in the league.

Advanced analytics have also eliminated much of the spontaneity of sports. We don’t even really need directional measures like on-base percentage anymore. We now have, in all three major sports, “wins above replacement” (or WAR) calculations. Major trades and roster transactions are literally described by how many wins a team can expect to have netted. PECOTA and other proprietary tools can tell you, with shocking accuracy, how many games a Major League team will win before the season even starts. As an Indians fan, this now means that after a surprisingly good start, I find myself saying “we’re going to regress to the norm, huh” rather than “I think we’re gonna tank.” And I have an insanely-complicated algorithm to back me up!

If you think this is bad, it’s only going to get worse. Much, much worse. The revolution just started. By the nature of statistics, as we get more people and more data sets, the predictions will become better. Right now, PECOTA gets a few things wrong every season. In five years, it will not. Cinderella stories will be rare outliers, not the semi-frequent surprises that we’re accustomed to. Florida Gulf Coast won’t be a 15 seed, and no one will be shocked when the first-ever NBA eight-seed beats a number one.

This lack of the unknown and lessening of surprises has already lessened my enjoyment of sports. Like most twenty-somethings, I derive much of my joy from sports by yelling at my friends and unabashedly claiming my correctness. The fun of these arguments, of course, was that there was never a way to impartially decide them. So I was always right. Now? An ESPN Insider subscription can solve most of our arguments.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. Some people genuinely enjoy applying themselves intellectually to sports. (When I want to think, I read Hayek or Heinlein.) And in no way can I come up with a valid reason for teams and media outlets to slow this trend. Most frustrating of all is its stunning logic.

But not being able to scream at your friends about sports? Not being able to play fantasy without devoting several hours a week? Being unable to participate in a conversation about the game without referencing a player’s adjusted plus/minus? That’s pretty weaksauce, bro.

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In A New York Minute

BY RYAN BYRNES

Fate gives and fate takes away. (Credit: AP)

For New York sports fans who like to think that something historic could happen on any given night, Monday evening presented an ideal opportunity.

At Madison Square Garden, the Rangers were hosting the Washington Capitals, exchanging goals in a compelling Game 2 as the Blue Shirts sought a crucial 2-0 series lead. In South Beach, the Knicks trailed the Miami Heat, but were one dominant Carmelo Anthony fourth quarter performance away from returning home with the series tied. Down in Houston, R.A. Dickey had quietly no-hit the Astros through five innings, a premature but still notable storyline for a franchise that has never successfully achieved the elusive accomplishment. And up in the Bronx, Hiroki Kuroda had navigated the Yankees to a narrow 2-1 lead through seven innings against the Baltimore Orioles.

As I struggled to keep up with all four games, thinking about the friends and family watching and attending the various events, there was a fleeting moment where I thought that something historic would indeed happen that night. With just enough blind optimism, you could see everything falling into place, everything working out as perfectly as possible. Instead, the wheels fell off fast. Alexander Ovechkin found the top of the net, as the Caps skated off the Garden ice as victors. Amar’e Stoudemire found a fire extinguisher, as the Knicks left Miami not only as losers but as fools. The Astros found Dickey’s knuckleball, as the Mets went back to their hotel without a no-hitter or a win. The silver lining, if there was one, was that the Yankees held on for a victory over Baltimore, with Mariano Rivera inducing a sharp, game-ending double-play. The Bronx Bombers had won, but alas, I retired for the night believing that nothing historic had happened.

I was wrong. Perhaps the most special New York sports moment that could have unfolded Monday night did in fact unfold: Mariano Rivera very likely recorded the last save of his epic, mythic, position-defining career. It was nearly impossible to contemplate at the time – Rivera had hinted at a possible retirement after 2012’s conclusion, but his health and dominance had accompanied him into the season just as it had every year since he became the Yankee closer in 1997. The end, as unfortunate as it would be, was still at least six months away, and it would seemingly be on Rivera’s own terms.

But in a New York minute, everything can change. Rivera sat idly in the bullpen as the Yankees dropped the next two games to the Orioles, bringing us to Thursday night’s game in Kansas City. Rivera, as he has done since his days in the minors, navigated the outfield during Yankee batting practice, shagging fly balls and carousing with his teammates. He was then a bit overzealous attempting to snag a fly ball off the bat of newcomer Jayson Nix, twisted his leg, hit the ground and was left writhing in pain. His teammates and coaches surrounded him, placed him on a cart, and the Twitter universe and baseball world was suddenly obsessed with what exactly transpired during the moments leading up to a meaningless May game between the Yanks and Royals.

Thursday’s actual game was basically a distraction for fans who were blindly optimistic enough to believe they weren’t in for the worst case scenario, but with every inning that went by without an optimistic update from the YES crew, the unthinkable seemed more and more like the inevitable. Sure enough, shortly after a sad-in-itself 4-3 Yankee loss, Joe Girardi told the media that Rivera had suffered a torn ACL, ending the 42-year-old’s season and quite possibly his career. The sports world reacted just as a real world tragedy would paralyze society. The locker room became a funeral parlor. Fans and media of all cities offered their praises for Rivera and their condolences with how it all went down. Privately, members of Yankee Nation struggled to contemplate how it all went so wrong and how it all happened so fast.

But sometimes that is just how fate works out. In many ways, Rivera – or at least his legendary success – was the product of fate, of random good chance. He was a fringe prospect out of Panama whose career appeared over before it even started following elbow surgery in 1992. He then, almost accidentally, developed the ability to throw a cut fastball, providing him a path to the majors that will be talked about for generations. The pitch would not just provide the centerpiece for perhaps the greatest sports dynasty of the modern era, but it would redefine the closer position and revolutionize the world of pitching. Fate had handed him a ticket for success, one that he combined with a second-to-none work ethic and converted into nearly two decades of dominance that was incomparable and likely unrepeatable.

Last night, fate might have taken it all away. Revisionists and naysayers will surface and suddenly condemn Rivera for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and condemn the coaches and organization that allowed him to be there. But the criticism will be unfounded. Though we always prefer to assess blame when something goes wrong, sometimes there is just nowhere we can justly place it. For the better part of 17 seasons, things went Rivera’s way. Think of all of the variables – every rotation of the baseball, every potential bloop or blast, every potential tweak or twist, every fly ball he tracked down – that could have gone wrong, that could have ended or stunted an epic legacy that had no business even existing. Yet an overwhelming majority of the time, the pitch cut Rivera’s way, the ball bounced the team’s way and the Yankee Universe spun on an axis of success with more stability than sustainability ever should have allowed.

For New York sports fans who like to think that something historic could happen on any given night, the last appearance of Rivera’s Hall of Fame career was certainly expected to be one of them. Our last image of Mariano was sure to be the closer pumping his fist on the Yankee Stadium mound before being mobbed by his teammates in a moment of victory and elation. Instead, our last image could turn out to be Mariano clutching his knee on the Kauffman Stadium warning track before being mobbed by his teammates in a moment of defeat and depression. It just doesn’t seem right. We knew the expiration date on our euphoria was approaching, but our rational side told us that we would at least receive notice of when it was going to be, even if our irrational side wanted to pretend that the ride would go on forever.

In baseball, as in life, that’s not usually how it works. The ride ends. Legacies conclude. Shit happens. Success and happiness are not as easy to come by as Rivera routinely made it seem. You can be sad. You can be shocked. You can sit around, struggling to fathom what life might be like without that someone or something that has brought you so much joy for so long. But in baseball, and in life, be sure to truly appreciate and be grateful for the fact that you ever had that joy in the first place.

So as I think back on the career of Rivera, the common link between the first Yankee team I remember and the one I currently cheer, the most valuable source of countless moments of celebration, and of how truly absurd it is that a skill accidentally acquired by a kid out of Panama brought generations of grown men and women some of the best moments of their sports-obsessed lives, I have just one overwhelming thought:

Thank you, Mariano.

The 2012 Ultimate Sports Draft

YI! SPORTS STAFF

Tennis sensation Novak Djokovic was the first athlete selected in yesterday's unique draft. (Credit: Getty Images)

The premise is simple. Four teams of eight. Each team must consist of a professional athlete in each of the following sports: football, basketball, baseball, hockey, golf and tennis. Each team also gets two “wild cards,” which can consist of an athlete in any of those six sports. The goal is to select a team of athletes that will win the most total MVP awards, team championships, Majors and Grand Slam titles during the next five years (May 1, 2012 to May 1, 2017). All achievements are considered equal.

This is how the draft shook out.

Round 1, Pick 1 (Byrnes)– Novak Djokovic – Byrnes keeps it simple with the most sensible first overall pick. The world’s No. 1 tennis player has won four of the last five Grand Slam events. It’s unlikely he will still be dominant in five years, but his likelihood of success in the short-term cannot currently be matched by any other individual athlete in the world.

Round 1, Pick 2 (The Sin) – LeBron James – Hate it or love it, LeBron James has been nothing short of great this season and is the odds-on favorite to be named the MVP for 2011-2012. Additionally, the Miami Heat are a legitimate threat to win the NBA title this season and for the next handful of years. Though the second overall pick is a high price to pay, King James gives The Sin a rock-solid athlete to build his squad around.

Round 1, Pick 3 ($hu) – Rory McIlroy – Golf is notoriously difficult to predict, but if you have to invest in one guy, you may as well take the world’s top-ranked player. $hu is thrilled the Northern Irishman and 2011 U.S. Open winner falls to him at No. 3, as McIlroy will be a favorite to win Majors for the next several years.

Round 1, Pick 4 (JOD) – Kevin Durant – With Lebron off the board, the Durantula is the most valuable NBA star left on the board. The potential 2011-2012 scoring champ has an outside chance to win this year’s MVP award and his Oklahoma City Thunder are probably the favorites to represent the Western Conference in the Finals. The media loves him, meaning MVPs are sure to come, and the Thunder’s young nucleus should translate to at least a few shots at the championship.

Round 2, Pick 1 – Rafael Nadal – The Spaniard is Djokovic’s main competition for the foreseeable future, so JOD pairs Durant with a safe and valuable pick. Nadal has won 10 Grand Slams and should threaten for more, so he offers potential and fills a shallow position.

Round 2, Pick 2 – Derrick Rose – The first semi-surprise of the draft, $hu fills his NBA slot with the reigning MVP. Much like Durant, Rose has a decent-sized window during which his relatively young Chicago Bulls should contend for a title. If he stays healthier than this year, another MVP award could be in his future. He’ll have an uphill battle though, having to knock off Lebron’s Heat in the East just to have the chance to challenge Durant’s Thunder (or whatever Western club can stop them) in the Finals.

Round 2, Pick 3 – Matt Kemp – The Sin, a baseball legend in his own right, takes the first MLB player off the board by nabbing the Los Angeles Dodgers’ stud centerfielder. Kemp nearly won last year’s National League MVP and is off to a torrid start to 2012. Though individual honors are more likely in the short-term, the Dodgers’ core of talent combined with new front office management could translate into realistic championship chances a few years down the road.

Round 2, Pick 4 – Aaron Rodgers – Though Byrnes was hoping for Kemp, he discount double-checks himself and settles for the 2011 NFL MVP. The amount of parody in the league is well-documented, but Rodgers represents as close as there is to safe pick for both personal and team accomplishments. Green Bay won the 2010 Super Bowl before winning 14 games in 2011, and given the QB-friendly environment in today’s game, Rodgers should have no problem producing statistically during the next few seasons.

Round 3, Pick 1 – Miguel Cabrera – Byrnes surprised himself with this pick to kick off Round 3, but later decided it made sense. Cabrera has finished in the top five in American League MVP voting for the past three seasons and, at age 29, should have many productive years left (he’s also not a New York Yankee, which bolsters his chance to win the award). There’s also a sizeable talent gap between the Detroit Tigers and anyone else in their division. That should give them a decent shot to at least advance to a World Series or two.

Round 3, Pick 2 – Keegan Bradley – The first “reach” of the draft, The Sin invests in potential and fills his golfer slot with the young American stud. Bradley won the 2011 PGA Championship during a phenomenal rookie season, so Sin will be hoping for more of that to come.

Round 3, Pick 3 – Alexander Ovechkin – $hu takes the first hockey player in a group that knows nothing about hockey. The sensation still has an outside chance at this year’s Stanley Cup (Washington has to win one eventually, right?), and remains one of the league’s elite talents.

Round 3, Pick 4 – Robinson Cano – Somebody had to take the hometown favorite, and JOD fills his MLB slot with the New York Yankee second baseman. The Bronx Bombers are regular postseason visitors, so it’s reasonable to count on at least one World Series title during the next five years. Cano’s talent (3rd in A.L. MVP voting in 2010) will keep him in the MVP discussion, though it would take an overwhelming season by the Yankee (and an underwhelming season by the rest of the league) for Cano to win. There’s slight risk here: Cano is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2013 season. But even if he leaves New York – which he probably won’t – he could sign with the Dodgers or another team ready to compete.

Round 4, Pick 1 – Tom Brady – JOD grabs the second quarterback by reluctantly taking the Boston hero. It’s easy to think Brady is past his prime, but he’s coming off of another phenomenal season and was a few plays away from yet another Super Bowl title. He (probably) won’t be too much of a threat four years from now, but outside of Rodgers, Brady has the best combination of individual talent and team capability to compete in the short-term.

Round 4, Pick 2 – Ryan Braun – The reigning National League MVP had a tumultuous off-season, but that doesn’t stop $hu from making him the fourth slugger off the board. Braun’s locked into a contract well past 2017 and Milwaukee’s best chance to win the World Series probably passed them by last October (Prince Fielder left, Zach Greinke probably will too). Titles will be hard to come by. Braun’s talent should keep him among the league’s elite, but it’s somewhat risky to expect the media to award him anymore unless and until the dark shadow over his reputation disappears.

Round 4, Pick 3 – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – The Sin makes everyone reach for their spell-checkers when he takes the French tennis star. It’s a long-term pick, and he probably could have waited another round two for him, but when you want some Tsonga, you take some Tsonga.

Round 4, Pick 4 – Dwayne Wade – Byrnes is the last one to fill his NBA slot, but still fills it with elite talent. It’d probably take a significant Lebron injury for Wade to ever win an MVP award, but if King James is going to win a ring, Wade will almost definitely be standing on the champion’s podium next to him. His unlikelihood to win any individual honors to made up for by his legitimate shot at multiple titles.

Round 5, Pick 1 – Evgeni Malkin – Sources tell Byrnes that the Pittsburgh Penguins are no longer in contention for the 2012 Stanley Cup, but Malkin is the favorite to win the 2012 Hart Trophy. If Sidney Crosby ever returns to elite status, the Penguins could win another Cup. If he doesn’t, Malkin could still rack up individual awards.

Round 5, Pick 2 – Henrik Sedin – Lots of goals for this 2010 MVP. That’s a good start.

Round 5, Pick 3 – Andy Murray – He’s good at tennis, even if he’s not as good as Djokovic or Nadal. And Murray is a lot easier to spell than Tsonga. The three-time Grand Slam runner-up has to break through eventually.

Round 5, Pick 4 – Luke Donald – He’s currently the best golfer not named McIlroy. Though the Englishman has yet to win a Major, he’s seemingly always in contention. JOD figures to cash in when he finally does.

Round 6, Pick 1 – Claude Giroux – Dude is a beast.

Round 6, Pick 2 – Tiger Woods – $hu pairs McIlroy with Tiger by filling one of his wild card slots with the golfing legend. If Tiger is going to make one last run at Jack Nicklaus’ record, he will need to start soon.

Round 6, Pick 3 – Drew Brees – As recently as a few months ago, this pick would look like a steal. Brees and his New Orleans Saints had the most explosive offense in the NFL and seemed primed to contend for another Super Bowl. But you may have heard about this whole “bounty” and “eavesdropping” thing, which could dismantle the coaching and defensive units around Brees. However, Brees still does not have a contract beyond 2012, so if things really go south in the Big Easy, Brees could take his talents elsewhere and take one last shot at a title with another franchise.

Round 6, Pick 4 – Russell Westbrook – Byrnes takes a slight risk with his first wildcard spot, taking Durant’s Thunder sidekick. Westbrook probably won’t win any MVP awards, but if he is content being the Robin to Durant’s Batman, the Thunder could win multiple championships. He is under contract through the 2016-2017 season, so the group should have a number of chances to win it all.

Round 7, Pick 1 – Bubba Watson – The lack of deep golf knowledge in the Byrnes war room shows as he desperately takes Watson to fill his golf slot. The law of averages suggests the Masters winner won’t win another Major anytime soon, but…whatever. America.

Round 7, Pick 2 – Lee Westwood – The world’s No. 3 player has also yet to win a Major, but, like Donald, seems to be knocking on the door. His tee-to-green game is elite, but he will need to improve his putting to take the next step.

Round 7, Pick 3 – Cam NewtonWith Rodgers, Brady and Brees off the board, $hu looks a little farther down the road and grabs the 2011 Rookie of the Year. It’s nearly impossible to determine whether the Carolina Panthers will be Super Bowl contenders three years from now, but the sensation out of Auburn shows that they have the most important position taken care of. At the very least, Newton has a chance to be an eventual MVP.

Round 7, Pick 4 – Dwight Howard – A wild card in the truest sense. Howard has made a mess of things in Orlando and will be coming off of back surgery next season, but the best center in the game is always in MVP contention. More significantly, whether he eventually becomes a Net or a Maverick or a Laker, Dwight would have a strong chance to win a title.

Round 8, Pick 1 – Sidney Crosby – Another wild card for JOD. His team will give him a chance to win more titles. His health could give him a chance to do even more.

Round 8, Pick 2- Josh Hamilton – More risk in the final rounds.Hamilton’s hot start makes him the early (albeit extremely early) favorite for another MVP award and the Texas Rangers are set to compete for the next few seasons. But the risks forHamilton are well-documented – he is often injured, and relapses are a concern. He’s also a free agent after this season, which really makes this pick a wild card.

Round 8, Pick 3 – Prince Fielder – The recently paid Fielder will be in Detroit for more than five years, and Cabrera and Justin Verlander should give him his best chance at some titles. He’d probably have to crush 50 or so homers in a season to win any MVPs, since he will struggle to be even the most valuable player on his own team.

Round 8, Pick 4 – Hunter Mahan – Byrnes attempts to make up for Watson-gate with this last minute golf grab. But he really, really wanted to take Eli Manning.

Here’s a recap of how the teams shook out:

Team Byrnes

NFL: Aaron Rodgers

NBA: Dwayne Wade

MLB: Miguel Cabrera

NHL: Evegeni Malkin

Golf: Bubba Watson

Tennis: Novak Djokovic

Wild Card: Russell Westbrook

Wild Card: Hunter Mahan

Team Sin

NFL: Drew Brees

NBA: Lebron James

MLB: Matt Kemp

NHL: Henrik Sedin

Golf: Keegan Bradley

Tennis: Jo-Wilfried Songa

Wild Card: Lee Westwood

Wild Card: Prince Fielder

Team $hu

NFL: Cam Newton

NBA: Derrick Rose

MLB: Ryan Braun

NHL: Alexander Ovechkin

Golf: Rory McIlroy

Tennis: Andy Murray

Wild Card: Tiger Woods

Wild Card: Josh Hamilton

 

Team JOD

NFL: Tom Brady

NBA: Kevin Durant

MLB: Robinson Cano

NHL: Claude Giroux

Golf: Luke Donald

Tennis: Rafael Nadal

Wild Card: Sidney Crosby

Wild Card: Dwight Howard

 

 

Boston Still Doesn’t Get It

BY RYAN BYRNES

For Millar and Pedro, it isn't possible to celebrate the Sox without pulling the Yankees into it. (Credit: NY Daily News)

Maybe it’s because the faces have changed. Maybe it’s because I view the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays as the most significant impediments standing in the way of the New York Yankees winning their next American League pennant. Maybe it’s because, during my law school era, Philadelphia has become my most reviled sports city (given Richmond’s already well-documented penchant for pink, those fair weather Sox Beantown hats fit in so well when my undergrad experience started in the fall of 2004) . But at some point during the past few years, I forgot just how much I hate the Boston Red Sox.

Then, on Friday afternoon, I remembered why.

As a genuine fan of the game of baseball, I was disappointed that my work schedule was not going to allow me to watch Friday’s tribute celebrating 100 years of Fenway Park. Though you might question why a Yankee fan would care about such an event, baseball remains our national past time and the histories and traditions of each franchise make the sport richer as a whole. After all, most of the former players introduced during what was by all accounts a fine pre-game ceremony played well before I became a fan of the game. In the world of sports, it’s silly to attribute such animosity to individuals you never actually witnessed playing for the team that forms the basis of such hostility. So it was unfortunate that I was going to miss out on a ceremony dedicated to the great history of Fenway Park and the legendary franchise that has inhabited  the stadium for the past century.

At least that’s what I thought the celebration was going to be about, and for the most part, it was. But then the Sox put 100 years of tradition and two microphones into the hands of Kevin Millar and Pedro Martinez, two former players who dubbed themselves “idiots” because the monikers others would bestow upon them would not have been so kind. This would roughly be equivalent of the Yankees letting Nick Swisher and Roger Clemens represent the history of the entire franchise, if Swisher was drunk and rocking frosted tips and Clemens was Dominican. Not surprisingly, the two former players wasted little time doing what the 25 active ones would do for the rest of the weekend: embarrass the franchise and remind the baseball world who the little brother is in the sport’s most over-hyped sibling rivalry.

“Drink,” Millar told a sold-out Fenway crowd as he and Martinez stood on the dugout (video here). “Let’s go,” he added, before Martinez spit out some barely audible commentary. A boozy toast to the Boston stadium was by no means out of place, but the event quickly turned into a train wreck, with Millar spending a little too much time on the mic.

“Karim Garcia who?” Millar bumbled, leading Martinez to follow with his infamous “Who is Karim Garcia?”  (twice to be exact).

(For those actually wondering, Garcia was a platoon outfielder for the Yankees during the 2003 season. He had a 111 OPS+ in 161 at-bats that year and drove in three runs in the ALCS. He was also the No. 8 hitter during Game 3 of that series and the player Martinez chose to throw at, partially leading to a few epic brawls breaking out later that afternoon. Oh, and the Yankees won that game. And that series.)

And so Boston was not able to make it through a ceremony about its own franchise without dragging the Yankees into it, hitting the Bronx Bombers where it really hurt by calling out their backup outfielder from nine years ago. This did not offend me because I am a Karim Garcia apologist; rather, it continued a trend that has been systemic in Sox – and fair weather fans of other cities – for some time: rooting against the opponent rather than for yourself.

The two idiots continued this at a press conference later that day. “We were the best team,” Millar said of the 2004 Sox, who – as you may have heard – had quite a legendary comeback against the Yankees in that year’s ALCS. “Look back at our team, from Pedro to David Roberts, from Curt Leskanic to Manny Ramirez, everybody contributed.

“You can’t replace what we had. You can’t buy it. The Yankees have tried to do that for years, but you can’t do it.”

I don’t even know what Millar is trying to say here. If he’s implying that the 2004 Red Sox were the first team to win a world championship by having everyone contribute, then he is delusional. Specifically, he should start by checking out these guys. If he’s implying that the Sox didn’t “buy” their 2004 title, than I guess the front office just donated this $125,208,542 to a charity of Bronson Arroyo’s choosing. If he is still clinging to the notion that the Yankees can’t spend and win, I guess he slept through the fall of 2009 (when his pal Pedro was really having some fun).

This isn’t about which franchise was better than the other in any given season. Friday was supposed to be a day about the Red Sox and their unique stadium’s history. The field was filled with Hall of Fame talent and players who have made New England fans smile for generations. The achievements of those in attendance spoke for itself. But like a “fan” who just purchased their first Sox jersey along with a “Yankees Suck” t-shirt at a 2-for-1 sale on Yawkey way, taking cheap shots at the rival was seen as part of being prideful in the home team. This is not how it should be. Michael Strahan called out the Patriots at the Giants’ Super Bowl celebration in 2008. This Phillies called out Jose Reyes later that year, after they won the World Series. These all disturbed me too – it’s a classless way to celebrate one’s achievements.

I thought the Sox were over that. I’ve always been told how 2004 ended “the curse” – hell, Boston won the World Series again just three years later. These victories did not make the Sox superior, but it perhaps at least made them equal. But Friday’s behavior by Millar and Martinez suggested that nothing has changed. The Yankees are the team that has gone to three straight postseasons, that went into Fenway and tore the Sox hearts out on consecutive afternoons. The Sox are the team that has not won a playoff game since 2008 and seems to be falling farther behind the pack in the American League each week. The Yankees compete with their rivals on the field; the Sox – whether it be their former first basemen who hit .274 for his career or their manager who has yet to win a career World Series – take weak jabs on the microphone.

I thought we were over that period in this great rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox. But as this weekend indicated, Boston just still doesn’t get it.

Why The Giants Will Go 16-0 In 2012

BY JORDAN O’DONNELL

The 2012 NFL Schedule was released this week with much fanfare. The event caused analysts to make predictions about team’s records and outlooks, even though the identity of everyone’s opponents has been known since the regular season ended. The only new information is the order of games and times they will be played. In addition to basing opinions off of whether lights and Al Michaels are involved in a particular game, these predictions also act as if parity in the NFL is a myth— like unicorns or global warming or the iPhone 5.

Having said that, here are my totally serious, realistic, plausible predictions for the New York Giants in 2012, and how—nee—WHY they will go 16-0:

Week 1: Wed., Sept. 5 vs. Dallas @ 8:30

Did you not see what the Giants did to the Cowgirls twice late last season? The Cowboys were the fuel to the Giants’ Super Bowl run. And on opening night, with a pregame concert in Times Square by Bon Jovi — whether or not the NFL asks them to play— and a celebration of the SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONSHIP, Tony Romo may want to call out sick.

Record: 1-0

Week 2: Sun., Sept. 16 vs. Tampa Bay @ 1:00

Former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano returns to New Jersey! I’m sure the Newark Star-Ledger will have 57 feature stories leading up to this game, but when a relatively unaccomplished college coach takes over for a fired unaccomplished pro coach, that’s a sign a team is in disarray. This game won’t be close.

Record: 2-0

Week 3: Thurs., Sept. 20 at Carolina @ 8:20

Only four days to prepare for Cam Newton! Look, Cam was great as a rookie and all, but do you know who was better? Jason Pierre-Paul. I suppose Cam could just run the other way, but then he’d meet Justin Tuck or Osi Umenyiora. Cam’s dad may want to wager some of that under-the-table Auburn money on the G-Men for this one.

Record: 3-0

Week 4: Sun., Sept. 30 at Philadelphia @ 8:20

By Week 4, I don’t expect Michael Vick to be hurt yet, but I do expect Andy Reid to be the ire of Philly talk radio. The golden age of Philadelphia sports is ending. The Phillies are older than Betty White, the Sixers blew their chance to avoid Miami or Chicago in the first round of the playoffs, and America doesn’t care about hockey, and thus the Flyers. I don’t care if the Eagles finished hot to end last season. Do you know who finished hotter? The SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS.

Record: 4-0

Week 5: Sun., Oct. 7 vs. Cleveland @ 1:00

With all due respect to Yi! News’s libertarian contributor Brian Ruddock, there’s a better chance Drew Carey leads the Indians to the World Series than the Giants losing this game. I’m more scared of Mike Holmgren’s mustache than I am of Brandon Weeden.

Record: 5-0

Week 6: Sun., Oct. 14 at San Francisco @ 4:15

A rematch of the very close NFC Championship Game. This one has added tension since the Niners employed the old saying, “If you can’t beat ‘em, take their backups,” and signed Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham and frustrating bigmouth Brandon Jacobs. They also added Randy Moss, who I think plays for the Phillies right now. While Jim Harbaugh is crazy and unpredictable, thanks to the released Gregg Williams audiotape, the Giants will know exactly where to attack San Francisco!

Record: 6-0

Week 7: Sun., Oct. 21 vs. Washington @ 1:00

The Redskin did beat the Giants twice last season, but that was with the unbeatable football legend that is Rex Grossman. With the even less athletic Robert Griffin III at quarterback, the Giants will have no issues with this mediocre team. A rookie? Just forfeit, Shanahan.

Record: 7-0

Week 8: Sun., Oct. 28 at Dallas @ 4:15

These clowns again? The Giants haven’t lost in Jerry’s House. Notice that I did not include “yet” at the end of the previous sentence.

Record: 8-0

Week 9: Sun., Nov. 4 vs. Pittsburgh @ 4:15

There’s a lot on the line in this one, as the Maras battle the Rooneys to see which grandparents the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo considers her favorites. I’ll point out there is an Ikea (the Wal-Mart of Sweden) off the New Jersey Turnpike. Advantage: Giants. Also, Eli Manning’s Southern genteel classiness will outshine the dastardly villain that is Ben Roethlisberger.

Record: 9-0

Week 10: Sun., Nov. 11 at Cincinnati @ 1:00

Am I supposed to be worried about Andy Dalton? The man has no soul, people.

Record: 10-0

Week 11: BYE

Lest the Giants lose their winning ways, I am certain that during their off week, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks will win a two-on-two ping-pong tournament, Antrel Rolle will defeat every child that challenges him to the sample XBOX at Best Buy and Tom Coughlin will defeat himself in Solitaire.

Record: 10-0

Week 12: Sun., Nov. 25 vs. Green Bay @ 8:20

It will be beneficial for the Giants to have an extra week to prepare for the Packers, because it will give them the chance to integrate Knicks forward Steve Novak into the defense, so when he sacks Aaron Rodgers and does the Discount Double-Check celebration, it will feel natural and deserved.

Record: 11-0

Week 13: Mon., Dec. 3 at Washington @ 8:30

The Giants’ only Monday Night game comes too late in the season, as I will have already decided who on the team is “a football player,” and thus Jon Gruden will be of no use to me. Of no use to the Redskins: trying.

Record: 12-0

Week 14: Sun., Dec. 9 vs. New Orleans @ 4:15

I wish Bill Parcells were coaching the Saints for this game. As much as I love the Big Tuna, I think he deserves one last dash of punishment for agreeing to coach those awful Cowboys. This game would worry me, except that Sean Payton has to watch it in solitary confinement, some defensive players may soon be suspended and Drew Brees has yet to sign his contract tender. JAMBABLOWOUT!

Record: 13-0

Week 15: Sun. Dec. 16 at Atlanta @ 1:00

The Falcons “scored” two points against the Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs. They were the result of a tackle in the end zone for a safety. They were not the result of Matt Ryan resembling anything close to a good quarterback.

Record: 14-0

Week 16: Sun., Dec. 23 at Baltimore @ 1:00

A rematch of that Super Bowl where Trent Dilfer won. If Ray Lewis hasn’t ripped off Joe Flacco’s fu manchu by this point, I hope the Giants let Lawrence Taylor do it in a pregame ceremony. Consider it his community service. Ray Rice is obviously very good, but back in New Jersey, he will be unable to overcome his urge to visit the Grease Trucks at his alma mater Rutgers, have three Fat Darrels, and will be otherwise immobile for the game’s entirety.

Record: 15-0

Week 17: Sun., Dec. 30 vs. Philadelphia @ 1:00

Was it not two seasons ago late in the season when Matt Dodge became Public Enemy No. 1 and DeSean Jackson crushed my hopes and dreams with that absurd punt return? Well Matt Dodge is gone. In is Steve Weatherford: workout fiend, potty mouth celebrator and Tweeter of Eli’s hairdo. Bring it on.

Record: 16-0

Playoffs:

Unlike the Patriots, the Giants will finish the job and go 19-0, winning their second consecutive SUPER BOWL. It’s already been well-chronicled that Eli Manning owns Tom Brady’s soul (see: Super Bowls, 42 and 46). The Giants won’t miss a chance to once again remind everyone who is superior.

 

The Expulsion of Frank McCourt

BY SAM WIDDOES

Frank McCourt, viewed as a carpetbagger by many a Dodger fan, sold his ownership in the historic franchise last week.

It’s been a week since Frank McCourt made his exit from the Dodger Stadium ownership suite official. While the incoming occupants have received the bulk of the attention, I can’t help but reflect on the departed Dodger-in-Chief.

To say that Mr. McCourt left a sour taste in this, and most, Dodger fans’ mouths would be a gross understatement. He was a carpetbagger is the truest sense, the Boston mogul come West to poach a fledgling former champion with the sole intent of personal gain and notoriety. It’s difficult to express the full extent of my disgust with Mr. McCourt, so allow me to explain my connection with the Dodgers and what his expulsion means.

I grew up in Los Angeles a diehard Pirates fan. The son of a Pittsburgher, I learned the game of baseball watching Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Andy Van Slyke roam the Three Rivers outfield. Needless to say, by my 10th birthday, in 1995, the Pirates (and baseball in general) had done their best to turn me away. Aside from the 1998 home run race and my undying admiration of Ken Griffey, Jr.’s sweet swing, I paid little attention to the game until 2003, when I read Michael Lewis’ Moneyball.  I was immediately transfixed by the methods Billy Beane and his assistant Paul DePodesta used to assess talent. In February 2004, just after purchasing the team, McCourt made DePodesta the fifth-youngest general manager in baseball history. Just like that, I was back on the wagon.

Back then, Dodger Stadium was a cheap, convenient haven of summer glory: $6 to park at Chavez Ravine, $6 bleacher seats, heavenly Southern California weather and an exciting young roster ready for my undying support. I made countless trips to the Ravine during my summers home from college, carrying my outspoken support for Dodger Blue back to Virginia when the school year began each fall.

DePo was fired after the 2005 season and McCourt brought in former Giants’ assistant GM Ned Colletti to take over. In the ensuing years, a young crop of budding superstars, including outfielder Matt Kemp and eventual Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, would help return the team to prominence (the Dodgers reached the National League Championship Series in 2008 and 2009).  Despite my disappointment that DePo – my inspiration for getting back into the game – was turned loose after only two seasons, that management transition helped me realize that my connection to the Dodgers was more closely tied to the name, the place and the history of the organization than any of the dolts running the place.  And it wasn’t long until McCourt’s insidious motives cut right to the heart of that relationship.

Without detailing the entirety of his failings, I will simply assert that McCourt did far less damage to the on-field product during his tenure than he did to the Dodger name and its proud history. This is a charge that I do not make lightly, because he missed plenty of opportunities to make the team better. He diverted team funds to personal use, financing mansions in Malibu and legal fees for his divorce. He used the team name as a promotional vehicle for charitable purposes that, it turned out, were little more than shams.  But worst of all, he sullied the experience of going to a Dodger game. What should be one of the most pleasant, enjoyable summer events Los Angeles has to offer became a hostile, hate-fueled affair.

So now Stan Kasten, Mark Walter, Magic Johnson and several other Laker luminaries own the club and vow to manage it the right way.  Am I happy?  Sure.  But frankly, I would have been happy to see almost anyone take over, as long as Frank McCourt is long, long gone.

Sign Fail Watch, Part I

BY JORDAN O’DONNELL

Literacy flows as freely as the booze in the stands at Fenway. (Credit: Boston.com)

I haven’t brought a sign to a sporting event since a preseason Giants-Jets football game in 1996. But they remain a popular form of communication, particularly at WWE events and on ESPN’s College Gameday. I often find myself scanning the literature, not only for clever puns, but for errors. Perhaps it’s because I was a journalism major in college, or perhaps it’s because I like to point out the mistakes of others, but boneheaded errors on signs stick with me for a long time.

Here are two notable examples:

  • After Johnny Damon signed with the New York Yankees before the 2006 season, his first return to Fenway Park was highly anticipated. Many wondered what response Red Sox Nation (TM) would don on Damon. On one hand, he left the Red Sox for their hated rivals. On the other hand, he helped the Sox win the 2004 World Series (or so I hear), and he left largely in part because the Boston brass did not come close to his salary demands. The actual reception Damon received is insignificant, however. This is because the cameras briefly shined upon a sign that read “TRADER.” Perhaps this was a pun regarding Damon crossing enemy lines to join the Bronx Bombers, coupled with the manner in which he arrived there? No. It was illiteracy. Damon signed as a free agent and was being described as a traitor. I have never forgotten this error. But fear not, terrible sign maker/speller, for you are not alone. A person once asked on Yahoo! Answers whether Damon or professional wrestler Kurt Angle was a “trader,” and several presumably different people responded while maintaining the spelling error!
  • The second example occurred a few weeks ago when College Gameday visited the University of Connecticut for its basketball game against Big East leader Syracuse. As if UConn’s reputation hasn’t been besmirched enough by its team’s NCAA infractions (which will prevent it from participating in next year’s NCAA Tournament), one student irreparably damaged perhaps the entire state of Connecticut. Shown front and center on cameras, his sign read “FAB MELO FAILED SPANISH.” Fab Melo, Syracuse’s standout center, missed a handful of games earlier this season due to academic issues, including the Orange’s lone regular season loss at Notre Dame. Melo is also Brazilian. This sign might have been a clever dig at Melo, had he been from just about any other South American country (since failing a foreign language course based in your native tongue is surely embarrassing). Instead, the sign is wholly inaccurate and palm-to-forehead stupefying. Portuguese is the native language of Brazil. Thus, the student is demonstrating a clear lack of basic geography for one of the world’s most populous nations. Surely others have made a similar mistake, but few have done so while representing their university on national television.

If you discover any other SIGN FAILS, please email Yi! News mailto:TheRealYiNews@gmail.com.