Thursday, November 29, 2012

BC Football Could Learn Something From SJU

Boston College’s football formula isn’t working. The program is coming off one of it’s worst seasons ever after finishing 2-10. They are clearly the weakest team  in an anemic ACC football conference and it felt like the only time the media talked about this program was when Coach Frank Spaziani was fired a few days ago. To put it bluntly, the defence and propagation of the fanhood and the progress of rebuilding this program is in jeopardy.

Photo from SI

While Coach Spaziani was an extremely loyal soldier during his 16 years working in Chestnut Hill, something didn’t work when he took over the head coaching reins in 2009. His staff was a bit of a mess. There were four offensive coordinators in three seasons. High profile recruits were few and far between. And these teams didn’t have any sort of identity. The historically stingy defense allowed nearly 30 points a game this season. Unfortunately for fans,, Matt Ryan will not be walking through that door

The Boston Globe’s Chris Gasper wrote that Eagles athletic department should accept the fact that “BC is a layover and not a final destination.” While hungry coaches looking to prove themselves can be beneficial for a program in rebuilding mode,, that doesn’t have to be Boston College. Chestnut Hill can be a destination. They just need stability and a vision.

The Heights should take a page from the Benedictines at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. (My undergraduate alma mater.) If the Benedictines know anything, it’s stability. The University made sure that all incoming students knew about the Benedictine Values, a sort of student code inspired by the Rule of St Benedict. These values emphasized community, hospitality, and respect, and dignity of work, among other things.

The St. John’s football program exemplified these values. John Gagliardi, the recently retired Johnnies football coach, was a man who created a football community that was no-nonsense and successful. Gagliardi described his philosophy as, ,"Ordinary guys, doing ordinary things, extraordinarily well.” During his coaching tenure, he accomplished some extraordinary things. He’s the all-time wins leader in college football history. Under Gagliardi’s leadership, the Johnnies went 465-132, won 25 conference titles and four national championships. Gagliardi retired last week after nearly 60 years on the job. That’s a man who knew how to build and run a program.

While the Benedictine monestary at Sain John’s had nothing to do with the operations of the university football program, it was clear that the Benedictines inspired Gagliardi. The coach helped make Johnnie football into an integral part of the community. He had a clear vision for the program. He wanted to win and to win in a no-nonsense way.

Collegeville (population 3,343) is a much different place than Boston. However, The Heights can learn something from the Gagliardi and the Benedictines. Plan for the long run. Don’t think your going to fix this program overnight. Build it through solid recruiting. Hire a coach who has a clear vision and can carry it out effectively.

BC Athletic director Brad Bates should look to the Rule of St. Benedict before he hires a new football coach. Boston College can be a great football program again. Bates and the rest of the athletic department just need to figure out a vision for this program. St. Benedict encourages followers to “Listen with the ear of your heart.” Bates should do the same.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Probably Not The Right Way To Go Out, AJ Barker

Hey A.J. Barker, in my 24 years on this earth, I've learned that sometimes it is best just to keep your mouth (or your keyboard) shut. That's too bad that you quit the Gophers football team just before the season ended. I know the Gopher football team isn't in the national title discussion, but that doesn't mean you're exempt from going your own way. And even though coach Jerry Kill might be a jerk, so what? Dealing with jerks is part of life.

Writing notes to jerks is also an extremely terrible idea. Especially notes online that are already all over ESPN and a bunch of other national media outlets. You've exacerbated this situation and opened up a Pandora's box of people offering their opinion on you or your situation. (I suppose I'm one of them.)

If you're still hurt, my apologies. I understand being upset over Coach Kill yelling at you, but who hasn't been yelled at?Again, I hate bullies. I hate being yelled at, but I was taught to have a stiff upper lip and move on. My dad taught me not to lower myself to your opponent. Deal with this situation like a professional and talk to the coaches one on one. I don't think ranting on the internet has ever been considered a good career move.

I'm sure you're a good person A.J. and I'm sure Jerry Kill is an alright person as well. I don't know the Gophers locker room, so I don't know the extent of what happened.

What I am saying is that announcing that you quit via a (now very public) tumblr post is a terrible, terrible idea. You've opened up the jaws of the unforgiving internet public on yourself and the Gopher football program (which probably didn't need this sort of attention.) If I was a boss and I saw this sort of thing, I wouldn't hire you.

You've got a lot to learn, AJ.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Twinkie Defense of Miguel Cabrera

My mother rarely let me have Twinkies. I ate them every once in a while at a birthday party or holiday celebration, but I never gorged myself on them. And you know what? I'm probably a better and healthier person because of that.

Mitch Albom and the rest of the baseball writers who voted for Miguel Cabrera for MVP have eaten too many Twinkies. They voted for the feel-good, gooey, traditional, sentimental candidate in Miguel Cabrera over the all-around valuable Mike Trout. Don't get me wrong, I love gooey traditionalism, but you shouldn't fill up on it just like you shouldn't load your lunch bag up with Twinkies. (I tried multiple times, thanks Mom for stopping me.)

My heart goes out to the thousands of people who lost their job at Hostess factories around the country.

However, with regards to the Twinkie as a snack, maybe it's better to let it go. It's more a pop-culture icon than it is a worthwhile thing to eat. We probably should also leave behind solely relying on "Twinkie" statistics to determine an MVP (BA/HR/RBI). Baseball writers (and fans) have far healthier statistics on their hands. 

I'm not going to pontificate why Trout was a much better choice than Cabrera. There are plenty of well-written articles on that issue. Here are a few good examples. Their reasoning boiled down to the fact that Trout added a lot more value in all aspects of the game, as opposed to just Cabrera's powerful hitting.
Nate Silver sums it up quite well:
The argument on Trout’s behalf isn’t all that complicated: he provided the greater overall contribution to his team. Trout was a much better defensive player than Cabrera, and a much better base runner. And if Cabrera was the superior hitter, it wasn’t by nearly as much as the triple crown statistics might suggest. 
A lot of baseball writers used what I'll call a Twinkie defense to vote for Cabrera. They placed sentimentality and nostalgia over hard, quantifiable measurements.This is from Mitch Albom:
Why not also consider such intangibles as locker-room presence? Teammates love playing around -- and around with -- Miggy. He helps the room.
I don't know Cabrera personally, so I don't what he is like the locker room. But last time I checked, Barry Bonds, who has a pretty well-established reputation for being a jerk, won seven MVP awards.

They also mentioned that he was valuable because he changed from first base to third base without whining to make room for Prince Fielder. Big whop. I fail to see how that's a better argument than Trout's far superior base running skills. (He was 49 out of 54 on stolen base attempts.)

The defenses for voting for Cabrera were soft and fluffy. Those voters appealed to the romanticism. Mitch Albom summed it up well, "In the end, memories were more powerful than microchips." These writers are quite fond of trashing the people who are quantifying different aspects of baseball in new statistics. I disagree with that notion. Measurements like Wins Above Replacement are a far better measure of a players worth than just looking at the number of Runs Batted In. Granted, sabermetrics are sometimes difficult to understand, but that doesn't make them any less valid as measurements of the game. 

Sportswriters are threatened by the math geeks trying to take over and quantify the game. I say there should unrepentant parsing of ballplayer millionaires. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE the nostalgia of baseball. It's why I write, but you shouldn't fill up on that and ignore quantifiable measurements. Just like you shouldn't eat a bunch of Twinkies and ignore your salad.  

Sentimentalism runs hard in the snack world as well. People are upset about the demise of Twinkie. It's the loss of something cherished from their childhood. It's hard not to be a little saddened by their demise, but take a step back. Twinkies really aren't all that great for you. They're an outdated and unhealthy relic. Should people really be snacking on those all the time?

To Mitch Albom and the rest of the BBWA who voted with their hearts on not their heads: 

I leave you with a recipe for Kale Chips. They are a delicious snack full of  Iron, Magnesium, Carotenoids, and Flavonoids. They're a lot better for you than Twinkies and they are quite delicious. You might be scared of the leafy greens and might not understand the benefits of antioxidants, but they're good for you. Trust me. You should be eating a lot of them.

Please let go of the Twinkies, baseball writers. There are healthier, more fulfilling snacks and stats out there.

Crossposted to: 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Charlie Beljan, Zach Greinke: Any Advice for Royce White?

I want Royce White to succeed. As someone who has a close family member suffering from mental illness, I desperately want White to be an example of someone who breaks through the stigma of mental illness in sports. 

However, I don't know Royce White. I also don't know what specific of arrangement the Houston Rockets have set up for him. This is what I know. 
From ESPN:

The Rockets intend to fine rookie Royce White for every day he remains away from the team or does not attend sessions with a therapist arranged by the team, according to a report by the Houston Chronicle.
White made a deal with the team to travel by bus to some games this season, so he could confront his fear of flying and obsessive compulsive disorder over the long term. 
Image from

I support White for being willing to talk about his illness publicly  even though he may have regretted talking about it. I believe that White speaking about his condition is important because mental illness still carries a huge stigma in the sports world. You can't see a mental illness, so some people get skeptical that something is actually wrong. This was shown by the responses to White's tweets about his situation

William Rhoden from the New York Times recently wrote about the struggles that athletes with mental illnesses face. One line stuck out to me. This is a quote from Dr. Ira Glick, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, "“Players want to have somebody to talk to, but they don’t want their teammates or the team to find out because of the stigma and they’re afraid of being dropped."

Does Royce have someone he can talk to? He mentioned that this is an issue of "support" from the team. He has been connected with a doctor, but it looks like there have not been any successful meetings thus far.

Charlie Beljan might provide some guidance. Beljan, a professional golfer, suffered an anxiety attack while he was basically playing for his golfing career at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic in Florida. Beljan shot a 64 while in the middle of an anxiety attack, his second lowest professional score ever. He went on to win the tournament after spending the night in a hospital. 

Pretty miraculous. I don't know anything about treating mental anxiety disorders and I may be generalizing here, but maybe Beljan, an athlete who is routinely in high pressure situations could provide White with support and vice-versa. 

Anxiety is not a new thing in pro sports. MLB pitcher Zack Greinke also battled anxiety issues. He took the 2006 season off to deal with his mental illness. He almost quit baseball. However, he went on to win the CY Young award in 2009.

I want Royce White to succeed. The world needs to see a professional athletes who can play in spite of anxiety and the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. I hope someone reaches out to White to offer advice or support. This is bigger than just one athlete. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Red Sox Right to Stay Out of Miami's Shenanigans

It looks like Toronto has gotten over the departure of John Farrell. I don't blame them. With the Yankees trying to balance the checkbook, the Red Sox still on the new manager honeymoon, and the Rays content to do little-to-nothing, the Blue Jays are making a dive to compete.

According to ESPN:
The Toronto Blue Jays and Miami Marlins on Tuesday evening agreed to a multiple-player trade that would send star shortstop Jose Reyes and pitcher Josh Johnson to Toronto, sources told ESPN. Also going to Toronto would be pitcher Mark Buehrle, catcher John Buckand infielder-outfielder Emilio Bonifacio 
Toronto didn't have to send much back:
In return, the payroll-dumping Marlins are receiving Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar, right-hander Henderson Alvarez, catcher Jeff Mathis and prospects Jake Marisnick (OF),Adeiny Hechavarria (SS), Justin Nicolino (LHP) and Anthony DeSclafani (RHP).

Don't worry too much Sox fans. Toronto has improved, but at a price. Reyes is owed $106 million over six years and Buehrle is owed $58 million over four. That's a lot of coin.

The Red Sox should brush off the loss of Buehrle, Johnson, and Reyes. They are expensive, shiny toys that theey shouldn't invest in.

The team needs to stay the course and focus on acquiring talented, inexpensive veterans, limke Dan Haren. First, Haren is a workhorse. He could be a good third starter for this team. He did spend some time on the disabled list last year, but you know what? That was his first time there, according to CBS Sports.

Haren is also two years younger than Buehrle. And here are his average numbers from 2005-11, courtesy of CBS's Matt Snyder: 14-11, 3.49 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 195 K, 45 BB, 226 IP, 34 GS. Haren's 2012 season shouldn't scare Red Sox brass. There's likely to be a huge payoff. 

Toronto still doesn't quite pack a punch on offense. Their team OBP was around .309 and they averaged a so-so 4.42 runs per game. Both worse than Boston. 

The Red Sox shouldn't fret about Toronto. They've put all their chips and it's not guaranteed to work. Focus on solidifying the rotation and getting a few available bats that are still out there. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Timberwolves Live! at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962

Before the achieved mega-stardom, the Beatles paid their dues at crappy nightclubs in Germany. I never saw them, but I'm guessing these were small, terribly lit places, that were full of teenagers in leather jackets looking to get their rock n' roll fix. It was a rough time for that band, but that's where they cut their teeth and grew their rock n' roll backbone.

This is the Timberwolves German period. John has already met Paul (Love meeting Rubio). George developed in to his own unique voice (the development of Pek). Ok...well, the metaphor kind of falls flat, but  the Wolves are starting to develop a unique sound. And it's going to lead to big things.

It's hard to make snap judgement after four games, but there are some encouraging trends going on. Many players are stepping up in the absence of Rubio and Love. Greg Steimsma is a highly efficient swatter. He's averaging 5.6 blocks per 36 minutes, the highest in the league for players who have played at least 60 minutes so far this season. Chase Budinger has provided that scoring punch on the wing that Wes Johnson couldn't ever seem to deliver. And any worries that Andrei Kirilenko has lost a step seem to be dissipating. In the game against Brooklyn, AK47 had 16 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, and four blocks. He was also 7-for-11 from the floor. A different player has led the team in scoring in each of their three wins (Barea, Pek, and Ridnour.)

The comeback against the Nets was the fourth largest in team history. Just a few months ago, that sort of game was unimaginable. After Love went down with a concussion, that team lost its motivation and won only one game in the month of April. And while this team will be significantly better when Love and Rubio return, it's a relief to see a cadre of talented players holding down the fort.

One of the things I really like about this Timberwolves team is that they're marketable again. Check out the jersey section at The Wolves have 48 items available, which is more than the Hawks, Nuggets, Grizzlies, 76ers, and Spurs. All playoff times mind you.

So crank up the Twist and Shout, this team has got me wanting to dance.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Ghost of Fenway's Past and Future

The baseball free-agency period begins Saturday. Many names will be discussed in the offices at 4 Yawkey Way. However, the first person on General Manager Ben Cherington’s mind should be Charles Logue, the man who built Fenway Park. Logue knew how to build things for the future, something the Red Sox should emulate. According to the book A Secret History of Boston’s Irish by Peter F. Stevens, Logue was a man “with a reputation for straight-shooting negotiations, reliability, and deadlines met.”

Logue definitely was not the architect of these past few Red Sox teams. For the past two seasons this team’s fa├žade was stuffed  exorbitant contracts, empty beer cans, and Bobby Valentine’s snidely smirk. It’s been ugly. The Red Sox need to build a better foundation.

This means start from the bottom. Fans must be patient this season. John Farrell is coming in to a swamp of issues combined with loads of cash. It’s tempting to spend buckets of money this offseason, but stay patient and work on the young players. That will payoff in the long run.

Start with pitching. The rotation is a team’s foundation. The Red Sox should stick with the proven veterans, shed the waste, give young guys a shot, and wait for the big-time free agents after next season. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are two reliable starters who should improve with the return of Farrell.

Next, say goodbye to Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey. The Dice-K experiment was fun for a while, but seventeen wins in four seasons is not acceptable. John Lackey has not fit in well here. He has been injured, but spending $80 million on a declining pitcher who is recovering from Tommy John surgery  is not a good plan for the future. The potential trade of Lackey for Vernon Wells and Dan Haren would be a good move. Haren is a workhorse pitcher who can reliably eat up innings. Wells is coming off an injury and also has a bloated contract, but he provides left handed power at the plate.

The Red Sox have a bundle of young arms in their farm system. Junichi Tazawa showed he had dominating stuff last season. Over 45 innings of work he posted only .95 walks and hits per inning (WHIP). If closer Andrew Bailey is healthy, it might be worthwhile it to convert Tazawa to the starting rotation.  Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales also showed flashes of dominating stuff last year. Farrell should focus on developing them and seeing what they got.

If Sox fans get upset that their team isn’t spending a lot of money, they should also keep in mind that this is a thin free-agent class. Next year is a bumper crop. It includes Roy Halladay, Josh Johnson, and Ubaldo Jimenez.

First base is another question mark for this team. Give prospect Jerry Sands a shot. He’s the best option because he’s 25 and can hit for power. He’s hit 51 home runs over two seasons at AAA Albuquerque.  Don’t think about Kevin Youkilis. There might only be one or two good seasons left in him. The Red Sox need to think for the future.

However, the Sox should sign David Ortiz for a two year contract. That’s the one feel-good signing Ben Cherrington should make. Big Pappi is the most reliable power hitter in this lineup. He was the only Red Sox player with an on base percentage over .400 last season. And Ortiz wants to finish his career in a Red Sox uniform.

Fans might not know that Logue didn’t build the Green Monster. That came twenty years later. Take a cue from the man who built Fenway, Cherrington. You don’t need to create something iconic right away. It  took Logue a year to drain the “fetid marsh” on Jersey street and erect the cathedral of Fenway. Use this year to plan and experiment. Lay down a solid foundation, find and develop reliable players, and don’t waste money. Follow Logue’s lead, and this team will be rebuilt, properly.