Friday, October 14, 2005
ESPN often defends their dumbed-down content and annoying on-air talent by pointing to increasingly high ratings, but it's nice to know that they can't always get people to buy every kind of crap they decide to sell. No, what they've got now is a guy whose entire act is essentially yelling nonsensical things into the camera while people turn their televisions off.
I was telling my boss at Rotoworld, Rick Cordella, about the story earlier this week and he asked, "Do you have any idea which players were involved?" I didn't, of course, since the reports weren't naming any names. But just for the hell of it I tried to think of a random, somewhat prominent player and said, "My guess is that it's Fred Smoot, just because."
And then what did I read just a couple days later?
Stephen Doyle, the cruise company's lawyer, said cornerback Fred Smoot was one of the players who arranged the event.Incidentally, the above is excerpted from a Minneapolis Star Tribune story that was written by one of my journalistic idols, Paul McEnroe, whom I talked about in this space yesterday.
Yeah, I was on the boat. But I don't know exactly what the problem is because nothing happened. Sex? What are you talking about? That's crazy. Look, I'm engaged. So none of that. That will put me in trouble.If someone has uttered a more amusing string of sentences in the last month, I'd sure like to see it.
* There have been few moments in my life when I've felt as proud as I did yesterday, when I discovered that this site is now Google's #1 search result for the phrase "Waffle Crapper." Seriously, go look.
* Jessica Alba reenacted some scantily clad scenes from her favorite movies in Esquire. Is it odd that I was disappointed by Alba's pictures, mainly because I have only seen two of the movies in question? Something tells me that in 20 years no one will be reenacting any scenes from Alba's new movie, Into the Blue, although -- and this may come as a huge shock -- I haven't seen it yet.
* Only the Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com, Elisha Cuthbert, could make a hat this ridiculous look good.
* Eva Longoria and Spurs point guard Tony Parker went scuba diving together recently. And if you can't spot Parker, he's the guy swimming head first into Longoria's butt in this picture. (Don't worry, it's "safe for work.")
* When the Looks Department opened for business, Keira Knightley was clearly there bright and early, at the front of the line. Meanwhile, Ron Jeremy was clearly busy doing something else, like say eating a sandwich or having sex with someone on film, and showed up too late to claim anything good. You could not find two people further apart on the physical spectrum, yet here they are mere inches apart.
Anyway, the counter that tracks visitor totals rolled past 1.5 million this week. In the early days this blog often had a single-digit readership, so the visitor count has long since passed the point of shocking me. I want to thank everyone who has accounted for one of those 1.5 million ticks on the counter. And a special thanks goes out to my mom, who if my calculations are correct has been responsible for approximately 1.4 million of the visits.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Fall From Grace (by John Brattain)
- The Call (by Craig Burley)
Today's Picks (119-104, +$1,480):
Chicago (Garland) +145 over Los Angeles (Lackey)
Northwestern +8 (-110) over Purdue
Penn State +3.5 (-110) over Michigan
UCLA -5 (-110) over Washington State
Wisconsin +3 (-110) over Minnesota
Thursday, October 13, 2005
NewspapersThe Minneapolis Star Tribune unveiled a significantly re-designed newspaper and website yesterday. I bring that up because while I am just a lowly internet writer who occasionally dabbles in print stuff, I have always been fascinated with and longed to be involved in the world of newspaper journalism.
While in the University of Minnesota's School of Journalism, I met two accomplished journalists, Chris Ison and Paul McEnroe, whom I greatly admire. In addition to being great men, outstanding teachers, and world-class journalists, both Ison and McEnroe exude an enthusiasm and passion about their line of work that is simply exciting to be around.
They are the epitome of what is great about newspaper journalism, from their skills as writers and ferocity as reporters to their impeccable ethics. If every newspaper had people like Ison and McEnroe on staff, and more importantly in positions of power, they would be much better off than they are now. Instead, as more and more talented and creative people move to other forms of media, the newspaper business is slowly falling apart.
According to a Star Tribune article by Eric Black that accompanied the announcement of the paper's new layout:
Newspaper readership is down. Fewer young people are picking them up, and the average age of a newspaper reader is now 55, according to a Carnegie Corporation study. Many papers have been losing circulation at alarming rates across all age groups.As I've documented here, my personal experience trying to break into the newspaper business was extremely frustrating and ultimately soured me on my lifelong dream. While that individual experience certainly doesn't say much on its own, in talking to both aspiring journalists and veterans in the field I have come to the conclusion that the entire newspaper business is out of date.
ESPN.com's Bill Simmons, who is one of the best and most successful sports writers in the country, talked with the Boston Sports Media Watch about his own frustrations with pursuing his lifelong dream of being a Boston newspaper columnist:
I tried to do this conventionally. I spent three years at the Herald and even tried to make my mark at the Phoenix. The bottom line is that newspaper unions have killed this business -- writers stay too long and never leave, and young writers who would kill to have their jobs never have a chance.I would love to follow in Simmons' footsteps, finding a great niche as an online writer after having a difficult time breaking into print writing. However, much like Simmons describes below, having a column in a newspaper will always be my dream:
I will never fully get over the fact that I didn't get a column at the Globe -- it was my lifelong dream and it's never going to happen. On a much, much, much smaller scale, I feel like Letterman and how he didn't get the Tonight Show -- sure, he has his own 11:30 show on a major network, and it's gone great, but it's not the Tonight Show.This broad subject is always in the back of my mind, but I began really thinking about it again once I saw the Star Tribune's re-design. It strikes me that the two things the newspaper business has focused their attention on of late are playing down the quality of non-traditional forms of media and re-designing their product in largely superficial ways.
In the Star Tribune's case they've changed the look of their paper, from the fonts and headlines to the pictures and sections. They've also added additional content, of course, but for the most part it is a re-shuffling of sorts. While I'm sure tons of money and man hours went into the paper's new look, in the end it is little more than putting a fresh coat of paint on a rusty car.
I don't read the Star Tribune because it looks good. I don't care what font they use, what size the headlines are, or how big the pictures of the columnists are next to their columns. I don't care if they fill each page with a whole bunch of boxes and sidebars or plaster gigantic, full-color pictures next to each article. In fact, the truth is that I barely read the Star Tribune at all.
The beauty of living in 2005 is that you can read whatever you want from wherever you want. The hold newspapers had on people is all but gone and no one has to settle for what falls on their doorstep each morning. Meanwhile, newspapers like the Star Tribune continue to think it is about something other than the content. You can re-design as much as you want and make the paper look like an extraordinary work of art, but you've still got to offer me something I want to read.
The Star Tribune's sports coverage would be my section of choice, but what exactly is bringing me there? Sid Hartman taking up a page every day with useless babble? Jim Souhan penning columns with the sole intention of cracking lame one-liners? Beat writers providing cookie-cutter injury updates and quotes without any sort of meaningful analysis? Why do I need to read that, when I can find great, substantive writing in so many other places?
Newspaper is king and will remain that way for a long time. That's just how it works when something is able to establish such a strong hold on the marketplace. But how many people read the Star Tribune's sports section each day? I can tell you that 2,500 people come here each day to read the work of exactly one person and 15,000 people stop by The Hardball Times each day to read the writing of a bunch of "amateurs."
And those two sites are relative blips on the internet radar. Now think about the bigger sports websites, like ESPN.com or FoxSports.com, and the incredible traffic they get on a daily basis. And now try to imagine how the traffic at all of those sites, both small and large, will compare to the readership of the Star Tribune's sports section in a few years. Let's say 2008.
Assuming he's still alive, Hartman will be writing about his "close personal friends" and how the Gophers are going to sweep every championship in the Big Ten this season. Souhan will still be crow-barring ridiculous pop-culture references from three years earlier into a column about the Twins. And you'll still be able to find all the cliches you want, in the form of quotes that come straight from the mouths of brilliant thinkers like Mike Tice.
Studies will come out about how the average age of newspaper readers continues to rise and readership continues to fall, and newspapers across the country will launch gorgeous re-designs with beautiful fonts and lush colors. People will come see what the big changes are all about and discover that it is nothing more than a new way to package the same old crap from the likes of Hartman, Bill Plaschke, Mike Lupica, Jay Mariotti, Bill Conlin, and any number of other "respected" columnists who waste perfectly good ink with their words.
Meanwhile, guys like Simmons will be at places like ESPN.com, pulling in readers from all over the world -- not because his column is delivered to their home each day on a piece of paper, but because his writing is so good that they hunt it down. When it is all said and done, that's really all I want in my newspaper: Writing so good that I have to hunt it down. And when I find it, I don't care if it's printed on a re-designed page or the screen of my laptop.
While Rome burns and the newspaper industry stands by twiddling their collective thumbs, the good writers -- from Bill Simmons at ESPN.com all the way down to young, inexperienced guys like me -- will take "no" for an answer from newspapers and flock to the places where they can be hunted down.
The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.
- Thomas JeffersonToday at The Hardball Times:
- Player-Seasonal Notation, 1946-2005 (by Steve Treder)
Today's Picks (118-104, +$1,340):
Houston (Oswalt) +140 over St. Louis (Mulder)
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
More than anything else what bothers me about Newman leaving is how he left, or rather what he said when leaving. I don't blame Newman for airing a little dirty laundry, but the fact that the Twins seemingly have more and more dirty laundry to air with each passing day is concerning. Here are some of Newman's comments on the way out:
I chose to go somewhere because it was apparent that there were difficulties here. If there were some difficulties here, I wished they would have addressed them before it came to this. ... I don't want it to appear than I'm the fall guy.And then add to that what Ron Gardenhire had to say about Newman leaving:
I knew with conversations with some people that he was disappointed with some things. And I know that Newmie and I had our moments during the course of the year. We had problems, not some of those knockout, drag-out things, but different theories and stuff like that. Newmie did his job, and we worked.Now, it's certainly possible that the source of all these problems was Newman, but it sure seems like there have been an awful lot of clubhouse "issues" over the past few months. At some point Gardenhire has to be held accountable for that.
Incidentally, Newman will reportedly stay in Minnesota while working for the Diamondbacks, scouting teams that play the Twins while actually receiving a raise over what he was paid to coach third. Not only does that sound like an incredible gig for Newman, it has a chance to be interesting, as he figures to be around the team quite a bit in some capacity.
Of his 43 total appearances, the Twins won just 11 times. That's a pretty crazy stat, but I think it tells you an awful lot more about roles on the pitching staff than it does about Guerrier specifically. After all, he pitched really well this year, tossing 72.2 innings with a 3.39 ERA while letting just five of the 20 runners he inherited score. And he went 0-3.
At the other end of the spectrum is Joe Nathan. With a 2.70 ERA in 70 innings Nathan was more or less as effective at keeping runs off the board as Guerrier was, but the Twins went 61-8 in his 69 appearances and he won seven games. I don't really have a point here, other than to say that this is the sort of stuff I tend to find amusing when there isn't another Twins game on the schedule for a while.
Mays' contract is another data point in favor of long-term contracts for non-superstar players being too risky for small-market teams. After all, how's that three-year contract the Twins gave out to Shannon Stewart looking right about now? And we've already discussed Torii Hunter's four-year deal plenty over the past couple weeks.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Playoff Preview: Cardinals-Astros (by Brian Gunn)
Today's Picks (118-102, +$1,540):
Houston (Pettitte) +155 over St. Louis (Carpenter)
Los Angeles (Washburn) +180 over Chicago (Buehrle)
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Open Chat: ALCS Game 1I stayed up late last night watching the Angels-Yankees ALDS Game 5, in part because it was an excellent game and in part because I was working on an ALCS preview for The Hardball Times. I learned that it is sort of tough to write a preview of a series that starts the next day when it's approaching midnight and you're not even sure which teams are playing.
And this morning I suspect I will learn (the hard way) that staying up into the wee hours of the night to work on an article is not a great idea when you've got work to do and more articles to write starting at around 8:00 a.m. In other words, there's not much of a blog entry for you to read here today.
Instead, feel free to use the comments section to discuss your ALCS predictions or whatever it is that interests you. By the way, as much as it pains me to say it, I'm going with the White Sox in seven. But I'll be rooting for the Angels in four.
Oh, and check out my Playoff Preview: White Sox-Angels.
Today's Picks (117-102, +$1,360):
Los Angeles (Byrd) +180 over Chicago (Contreras)
Monday, October 10, 2005
LeCroy LeavesAfter finally cutting Luis Rivas loose last week, the Twins continued with the early stages of what figures to be a very busy offseason over the weekend. Matthew LeCroy and Joe Mays were let go, and third-base coach Al Newman left the team to become a scout for the Diamondbacks.
I'm predictably thrilled with the team's decision to get rid of Rivas, although the move came about three years too late for my tastes. Similarly, declining Mays' $8.5 million option for next season was a no-brainer considering how poorly he has pitched since 2001. On the other hand, I am sad to see Newman go and the loss of LeCroy troubles me.
LeCroy became one of my favorite players in his six seasons with the Twins, for equal parts laid-back demeanor, less-than-perfect physical appearance, and compelling off-the-field story. He was a "good old boy" from South Carolina who seemingly everyone enjoyed being around. Throw in the fact that the Twins drafted him out of Clemson University way back in 1997 and I think both fans and people within the organization are going to miss having LeCroy on the team.
Of course, in the end Terry Ryan is in the business of making decisions based on baseball, not popularity. LeCroy turns 30 years old in December and was set to make in the neighborhood of $1.5 million in 2006 through arbitration. While not a huge salary, that's a considerable chunk of the team's payroll that would have gone to a player who the Twins never gave even 350 at-bats in a season.
I've talked in the past about how LeCroy is incapable of being a quality everyday player because of his struggles against right-handed pitching. Unfortunately Ron Gardenhire has never quite grasped the concept of platooning, which means the Twins never used LeCroy in an optimal fashion. He served as the team's regular designated hitter for long stretches this season, and while his overall numbers were fairly good at .260/.354/.444, LeCroy hit an abysmal .228/.319/.322 against righties.
I often say that it's important to view players for what they can do, rather than what they can't. LeCroy is a perfect example of that. He adds almost zero value to a team defensively and can't hit right-handed pitching, and that keeps him from being a quality regular. However, what he can do is murder left-handed pitching, which has plenty of value all by itself.
Considering the Twins' dire need for offense in just about any form, letting LeCroy leave in order to save a million bucks is an odd decision. On the most basic level there are 18 spots to fill in a lineup; nine against righties and nine against lefties. Having LeCroy gave the Twins excellent production in one of those 18 spots (either first base or designated hitter against lefties), which is a big deal for a team that scored the fewest runs in the league this season.
MATTHEW LECROY VS. LEFT-HANDED PITCHING
In an offseason that will undoubtedly focus on improving a pathetic offense, the Twins kicked things off by actually making themselves significantly worse against left-handed pitching. Perhaps the team has bigger plans for the DH spot that will make everyone forget about LeCroy, but until then the Twins have taken a large step back before they've even had a chance to more forward. The already long road back to offensive mediocrity just got a little longer.
MATTHEW LECROY WITH MINNESOTA (2000-2005)
- A Game of Epic Proportions (by David Gassko)
Today's Picks (116-102, +$1,260):
Pittsburgh +3 (-110) over San Diego