It’s Never Too Late to Do the Right Thing

This evening and tomorrow morning will be the Night of a Million Think-Pieces regarding the Ravens releasing spouse-abuser Ray Rice and the NCAA canceling Penn State’s punishment.

Some of these think-pieces will be vapid or downright stupid. Some of them will be written by smart authors and make sense and I may link to them. I don’t pretend to be enough of a thought leader to subject you to a full column on my oh-so-important feelings on these matters.

All I will say is something very simple: the Baltimore Ravens did the right thing today. So did the NCAA.

Obviously, neither of these organizations will be canonized for sainthood, nor should they be. But let’s not focus on their past awfulness for a moment. Let’s focus on today.

Today, the Baltimore Ravens’ decision-makers saw the Ray Rice elevator video for the first time (I presume), and they faced a decision:

  • Do we keep Ray Rice on the roster and let the NFL figure out what to do?
  • Do we release Ray Rice and be done with it?

Argue all you want about their motivations. Argue over whether or not they took too long to get rid of Rice.

But faced with two possible decisions today, the people running the Ravens made the right one. They fired a bad person who had acted reprehensibly.

Over the last few months (I presume), the decision-makers at the NCAA saw how Penn State has been running its athletic department post-sanctions, and they faced a decision:

  • Do we keep the school’s sanctions as-is?
  • Do we reduce the school’s sanctions, allowing the football team to play in the postseason this year?

Argue all you want about whether or not the initial punishment fit Penn State’s crimes. Argue over whether oft-hypocritical NCAA only demonstrated more hypocrisy when you contrast their treatment of Penn State with that of USC. I certainly did.

But faced with two possible decisions, the people running the NCAA made the right one. It is wrong to dole out sanctions that serve only to punish innocent athletes who played no part in the crimes. Make administrators and wrong-doers pay the price, not 20-year-olds.

We can and should discuss many elements of these stories: Should Roger Goodell be out of a job? Should the Baltimore Ravens be punished for keeping their heads in the sand for so long? Who knew about the Ray Rice video and when? Does USC have a basis for a lawsuit agains the NCAA? How exactly should the NCAA punish ne’er-do-well athletic departments in the future?

But for today, the Ravens and the NCAA did the right thing. In a vortex of their wrong and downright stupid decisions, we should take a moment and commend them for doing the right thing.

Read These Stories: Mostly Sports!

I think “Read These Stories” may become a Sunday tradition, seeing as how I will be spending a lot of my fall Sundays reading from Pocket as NFL games play in the background — Not next Sunday, though, because the Steelers play Thursday. Maybe I will actually enjoy a beautiful September Sunday without watching sports.

Nah, probably not. The Pirates are playing.

On to the recommendations:

Open City (by David Roth)

Reading this story (from last year, but it applies now) only cements tennis’ U.S. Open on my Sports Event Bucket List. Roth never cheats you with his articles that are more like short stories with special guest: sports. I adore his descriptions of the Open patrons as “couples preppy enough that their outfits were effectively unisex” and “a boyfriend in a skintight Armani t-shirt taking photos of his girlfriend and her Instagram smirk in various hilariously inconsiderate locations.”

The Future Could Work, if We Let It (by Farhad Manjoo)

I enjoy criticisms like this that boil down books that fall under this category: I am interested in the idea, but I would never devote enough time to read it all. Manjoo breaks down the thesis of a new book “Resource Revolution: How to Capture the Biggest Business Opportunity in a Century,” gives me the gist and criticizes a few of the authors’ assumptions.

One criticism I have of an otherwise good piece that is worth your time: don’t bury the 33,000 lives taken each year by driver error in car accidents. When car companies begin marketing driverless cars, this needs to be a main talking point: keeping people from dying needlessly.

Does Watching the NFL Make You Evil? (by Jeb Lund)

Don’t get caught up on the clickbait-y headline. Leave your assumptions behind and read. Lund lays out the dastardly, and perhaps indeed evil, actions of the NFL, its commissioner and its owners (it’s a laundry list). Confront your own love of pro football and know that it comes with all these societal ills.

And if you don’t want to do all that, read Lund’s last paragraph. You and he are more similar than you may think.

Did Dante Hall Bankrupt an Electronics Chain? (by Aaron Gordon)

Cleanse your palate with this last piece, a fun vignette that taught me about a new kind of business. Don’t let me ruin any of the twists of this story. It’s short and you will enjoy it.

We Beat the Farm

[Editor’s Note: Typically I would ridicule the use of the word “we” when referring to a sports team for which you do not play or work. I grant exceptions if you are an alum of a school. You paid out the ass for the right to use “we.” So I am going to use “we” in reference to USC.]

WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON.

Look, at its best, I would like this blog to be an example of writing that informs and brings fresh perspectives to topics I enjoy. But usually, it will just be a platform for “things I am thinking about on a certain day.” And all I can think about on this day is…

WE WON.

USC

That photo is from one of the most enjoyable nights of my college life. USC beat No. 5 Stanford to wreck the Cardinal’s National Championship hopes and trigger a field-storming that will stay in my memory forever.

As I get older and deeper into the sports journalism business (I hope), perhaps my fan passions will not be as strong as they are now. I hope I never lose the love for my alma mater, nor the joy I feel when we beat Stanford.

I have been on Stanford’s campus. It’s beautiful. We are talking about one of the most gorgeous universities in the world, not to mention a place that educates at a level that is not matched by many other schools. More of this nation should be like Stanford.

Still, WE WON.

We Come Blogging

Technically, this still counts. I did some blogging today, it was just at another website.

Over at MLB Daily Dish, I wrote about Ron Washington resigning as manager of the Texas Rangers. This makes me actually sad.

Earlier, I wrote about the Arizona Diamondbacks firing Kevin Towers as general manager. This makes me the opposite of sad.

Please read them. Or don’t. But come to the Fox Chapel football game tonight for my beautiful announcing. Or don’t. It’s a beautiful day, go live your life.

Or don’t.

Falling Out of Love… with the NFL

I am the least enthused about the 2014 NFL season than I have been about any NFL season in some time. Introspection time! Why is this?

  • Four years of 10 a.m. West Coast start times
  • Four years of watching illegal streams on a laptop instead of HDTV
  • Mediocre Steelers teams
  • Very good Pirates teams holding one’s interest past August
  • One year of making television for a basketball team every Sunday instead of watching football
  • A protest against the increasingly violent game crippling our young men and rattling their brains

Nah, it’s not the last one.

We may hear more and more from people who are feeling conflicted about watching a game in which talented young players are exploited for their skills, then ignored by an uncaring faux-non-profit that allows them to wither up before their time. I am not one of those people. That concern, while it is something to reckon with and fix, doesn’t really change my football viewing habits one bit.

Matt Ufford wrote a strong column about that concern, and it is completely worthwhile when Ufford questions whether he wants his child to love this sport or not.

I don’t want her sucked into this gravity field, supporting a league that cripples its employees and arrives late to social change. I don’t want her marginalized to the NFL’s sidelines, be it as a reporter with a glass ceiling or a virtually unpaid cheerleader adhering to insane and outdated workplace standards.

His qualms are valid and appropriate. They don’t play into my viewing or enjoyment of the sport. Fact is, all American professional sports traffic in some manner of labor exploitation, deafness to social change and degradation of women. We look past it and hold our nose all the time.

Really, my reasons for lack of enthusiasm about the NFL (other than the potential ones listed in bullets above) revolve around it being… somewhat boring. Somehow the game that markets itself as AMERICA’S SPORT OF EXCITEMENT has lost that quality for me. Maybe it’s a bit too polished and over-marketed now. Maybe the game itself has withered in comparison to the more free-slingin’-anything-goes-good-time college game.

I really don’t know what it is, so I’ll give you a good ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ to go out on. I will still watch the games, certainly. But for some reason, it all feels different now.

Back on the Mic

I am happy to announce that I am adding to my growing collection of part-time jobs.

I will be the public address announcer for Fox Chapel Area football this season. Friday night lights, I am about to ruin you.

Time for a bit of background. My job when I was attending Fox Chapel was public-address-announcer-slash-music-player for many sports: volleyball, field hockey, lacrosse and women’s basketball among them. It was just about the perfect high school job. I lived right by the school, got to watch all the games for free and do what I love — talking in a really low voice.

Note: My favorite name to announce was a boy’s volleyball player named — and this is true — Ronnie Seman. Spelled just the way you think it would tickle a high schooler announcing volleyball. You’re the best, Ronnie.

But one sport I didn’t get to announce was football. The big time! The thousands of fans in the crowd. The big stadium speakers. The students barely paying attention or have been drinking too much — too much Sprite, of course — to care.

Fox Chapel High Stadium

My office for four Friday nights this fall.

I’ll admit I am quite nervous. I need to get used to the pace and the calls for football games. It is new territory for me. Luckily, I get a spotter. And I get to see the teachers with whom I worked as a high schooler.

I can’t wait for 7:00 p.m. Friday. And if you’re in the area of Fox Chapel, I would love to see you there. Come up to the press box and say “hi!”

Suck it, Thomas Wolfe. You can go home again. And sometimes, you come even closer to where you belong.

10 Baseball Writing Resources I Can’t Do Without

I am interested in the work habits of people that work in sports journalism. I want to know their process. If you are a sports journalist and ever agree to have lunch with me, I will probably bother you with questions in that vein.

So I figure I ought to share my process for writing about baseball, or at least the tools I use to make my incoherent points.

 

Bookmarks

  • Baseball-Reference — The gold standard for career baseball statistics. The site is incredibly deep yet still loads quickly. The ability to click to total statistics from multiple games and seasons is a Godsend. And the Play Index is a joy, from simply messing around to incisive database searching. I love it all. So do you.
  • FanGraphs — The silver standard. I use it largely for WAR and wRC+, two great metrics, plus the projections they provide. FanGraphs is sneaky deep and almost comparable to Baseball-Reference if you know how to use it correctly. And if I asked you which player has the highest walk rate over the last 8 seasons, would you believe Jack Cust?
  • Baseball Prospectus — BP offers one of the subscriptions that is absolutely worth it for baseball writers. You quickly figure out why so many BP writers end up being hired by Major League teams — you will be instantly impressed the research and presentation of data within the articles. My favorite feature: the injury history on player cards, available even to non-subscribers.
  • MLB Depth Charts — Jason Martinez provides a top-notch source of rosters, transactions and depth charts for all 30 teams. It is certainly useful for fantasy owners, and indispensable for quickly seeing the lineups and rotations of unfamiliar teams.
  • Brooks Baseball — If you want to know a pitcher, you have to see what he throws. Short of actually watching the pitcher, the best thing you can do is look at his Brooks Baseball page. You will see his pitch types, velocity, pitch outcomes and so much more. It’s amazing this is all out there for free. Thank you, Dan Brooks.
  • Flickr Creative Commons — If you run a non-profit site, Creative Commons photos are indispensable for giving the site some visual pop. It’s amazing how many kind people (looking at you, Keith Allison) take great sports photos and allow them to be used for free. Or, in my case, mediocre photos.

 

Tools

  • Google Chrome — My browser of choice makes it even easier to do searches on players and teams. Chrome allows you to start typing in a website, hit Tab, then search on that website. [Update: As Shotgun Spratling pointed out, adding this is not automatic. Go to Chrome’s Settings and “Manage search engines…” Scroll to the bottom and add Baseball-Reference.com, plus other sites like weather.com, fangraphs.com, espn.com, etc.]I don’t need to go to the Baseball-Reference main site to pull up Adam Wainwright’s page. Just hit Command-T-B-A-Tab-W-A-I-N-W-R-I-G-H-T-Enter. Once you get in the habit, you’ll never go back.
  • Microsoft Excel or Google Docs Spreadsheet — If you’re not paying for Microsoft Office, Google Docs allows you to do most of the formulas Excel is known for. Professional statisticians may need more than Docs, but it’s perfect for me to make a list or tabulate an OPS.
  • Magic Recs — If you use Twitter, you should follow Magic Recs. The account direct messages you when it notices multiple people you follow talking about a certain topic or retweeting a certain tweet. It’s not perfect, but Magic Recs has a high hit rate for notifying me about important Pirates and MLB news, or just a cool nugget I should know about.
  • Buffer — Once you write something great, it deserves to be shared! Buffer allows you to schedule sharing of your content on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Plus. If you don’t want to set a specific time, just throw the link into Buffer, and the site will put in a time to send it to the world. Easy and free — my two favorite words.