SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

The NBA Draft

What more can you ask for?


You get great fashion.


You get speculation about the future of human performance (one of America's favorite pastimes).


You get intrigue regarding which teams might make what moves to make them better (another favorite pastime).


You get a few self-important talking heads bloviate as to who might be good, who might not be, what teams might want to do and how they might fare, with zero accountability.  It's not as though anyone does a retrospective as to whether Jay Bilas was right or not. 


You get the agony and ecstasy of the fans in the arena.  The draft is in Brooklyn, which traded its first-round picks this year and next year in the ill-fated trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.  So, the Nets are without a first-rounder.  You'll also get some Knicks' fans, and they're frustrated because the drama surrounding the team is better theater than what the team puts on the floor.  And the team is ready to peddle 7'3" Kristaps Porzingis, the fans' favorite, for the right price.  You'll also get a large number of fans making the trek from Philadelphia.  That will be a boisterous group, excited about The Process and willing to put their newfound treasures in the face of New York-area fans who typically talk smack about Philadelphia generally and the 76ers particularly.


What more can the viewing public ask for?  There will be trades.  Someone will slide.  There will be Euro stashes, players who do Euro steps and an inevitable Euro stash (see, e.g., Dario Saric).  There will be rampant speculation about which mid-first rounder will turn out to be the next Kawhi Leonard and which second rounder will turn into the next Isiah Thomas. 


All good fun, but they do play the games for a good reason -- to see who, really, is all that good and can win.  Stock up:  Philadelphia 76ers, seemingly about to abound with talent.  Stock up:  Boston Celtics, because of who they might be adding, and because they get the most out of their talent.  Stock down:  Nets, because they seem hopeless, owned by the one Russian oligarch who seemingly cannot win.  Stock down:  Knicks, because Jim Dolan owns them and does not seem to have a clue.  Stock up:  Kings, so long as they don't blow their picks.  Stock down:  Malik Monk, who has dropped in mock drafts, who is 6'3" and about whom there are questions about whether he can create his own shot well enough at the NBA level.  And then there are those whose stocks rise and fall for no proffered reason. 


Okay, so it's not a game 7, it's not Lakers-Celtics or anything like that.  But for June, it's as good as it gets, and it's pretty darned good.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Why Didn't This Get More Publicity?

The story goes something like this -- WWE match featuring "Big Show," a 400-plus-pound rassler known for bad temperament.  Match is in a steel cage.  Young child gets out of his mother's sight, somehow gets into the cage.  The rassler is all pumped up; the fear is that he will body slam the little boy.  Ring security shoots the rassler and kills him. 


The headlines made it seem matter-of-fact, that this shooting was justified because the rassler had a history of instability and could have killed the little boy.  The natural selection crowd, a distinct but vocal minority, decried the shooting, but not because both lives were worth saving.  No, some of these folks argued that the kid got in there and, yes, he could have been hurt, but that nature should have taken its course without the shooting, which meant that if the handlers couldn't have convinced Big Show not to body slam or otherwise hurt the little boy and the boy got hurt or killed, well, that was supposed to happen because the inattentive mom put her son in that position and sometimes that is life.


I don't agree with the latter position; all that needed to be done should have been done to save the boy from harm and ultimately the rassler from harm too.  That said, I wasn't there and don't know whether the shooting was justified or not.  But, when I read the article, I felt that those who let it get to press should have been a little more demonstrative about the tragedy of the whole thing and whether in this type of a situation the shooting was justified -- and without going to the natural selection crowd, a few of whom were wont to argue that if anyone should have gotten hurt it was the little boy's mother for letting him out of sight in the first place. 


But a fatal shooting because a little boy got into a steel cage?  That never should have happened.  The little boy should not have gotten close to the ring or the cage or whatever, and the entrance to the cage should have hard a guard near it so that no one from the audience could have gotten in.  You go to a professional wrestling match, you expect to see all sorts of drama and hijinx, but not anyone shooting a real gun with real bulets at one of the contestants.  No, not ever.


So Big Show is gone, dead, because of something that got way out of hand and should not have happened.  The world shrugged, perhaps because the guy was a giant, perhaps because he topped 400 pounds, perhaps because he had a history of some erratic behavior. 


The indifference is hard to take.  No one deserves that fate. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Soccer Transfer Talk

This is a season unto itself.  It starts in May, as the seasons of the major soccer leagues start to wind down.  Rumors abound.  For example, since Arsenal missed out on qualifying for Champions League, rumors swirl that both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil are unhappy and want to play for teams that will play in the Champions League next season.  For what it's worth, the absence of Champions League play on the schedule didn't stop Ngolo Kante from leaving Leicester to help propel Chelsea to a Premier League Championship, making him player of the year in the world's best league for the second consecutive year. 


Everyone, it seems, is in the mix for going to United or City or Liverpool or Chelsea or Tottentham, not to mention Barca, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Real Madrid and PSG.  It's hard to believe what is reported because it changes so much from one day to the next.


If you're an Arsenal fan, you worry that both your stars will want to bolt and you'll replace them with good players, not great ones.  (You worry enough about owner Stan Kroenke's willingness to do what it takes to win).  But Arsenal was quick to point out that in their Puma Kit poster for next season, look who appears -- Sanchez and Ozil.  Perhaps that's a balm for the annoyed, but, then again, it could exacerbate the risk that Sanchez will leave on a free transfer after next season. 


And so go the mentions.  Griezmann to United?   Lukaku back to Chelsea?  Morata to United?  DeGea to Real Madrid?


You have to love this time of the year.  It seems like anything and everything can happen, but the reality is not all that much does from year to year. 


And then there's the matter of the young players who emerge from beneath the radar like Kante did a few years ago (along with the older but as anonymous Jamie Vardy, who had a season for the ages two years ago).  That's what makes the game exciting -- a position change, a change of manager, a change of formation, a year or two of maturity, a better pairing, as well as good transfers.


This particular season ends in several months, and it should be fun to watch.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Amusing Headline of the Day

On my Twitter feed I saw a post that exclaimed that the Phillies believe that the righthanded pitcher they took in the second round is the best righty in the draft.


I had a few reactions, among which were the following:


-- what were they supposed to say?


--- on what basis?


-- are they kidding me?


Let me explain as to the latter.  Name a pitcher that the Phillies have developed over the past say 70 years. 


Robin Roberts?  Okay.


Jim Bunning?  Nope, didn't come up with the team.


Fergie Jenkins?  Traded him away for, well, not much.


Steve Carlton?  The Hall of Famer Steve Carlton?  Nope, came up with the Cardinals.


Cy Young Award winners John Denny and Steve Bedrosian?  Neither came up with the team.


Okay, that takes us through the 1980's.  They signed Dave Stewart off the waiver wire, cut him, and then he became a star in Oakland and pitched on those great A's teams in the 1980's.


Curt Schilling?  Nope.  Phillies were -- get this -- his fourth stop, after Boston, Baltimore and Houston (they traded him to the Astros for Jason Grimsley). 


That pretty much takes care of the 1990's.


Cole Hamels.  All-Star Cole Hamels.  Yes, the Phillies developed him.


Cliff Lee?  Heck no.


Roy Halladay?  Nope.


Roy Oswalt?  Nope.


Sure, there were some promising names in between, guys with names like Wright, Munninghoff, Ghelfi, Bystrom (he of the 5-0 record in September of 1983 to help the Phillies clinch the East and then defeat a depleted Dodgers squad for the right to lose to the Orioles in the World Series). 


So, when the team makes such a boast, the answer is why?  Is it because the team is so desperate for quality starting pitching help?  Or is it because the team has been so woeful in developing any starting pitching over the longest period of time?  Other teams win games and put together wonderful legacies because of their ability to develop pitchers.  The Cardinals, Dodgers and Yankees come to mind.  But the Phillies? 


They are what their record says they are. 


Terrible about scouting, drafting and developing pitchers.







Day 500

The alarm goes off at 4:45 a.m.  It's early, and sometimes it's hard not to fall back to sleep.  As in really, really hard.  But somehow, some way, you get out of bed, telling yourself at the outset of the program that you really will feel better in the long run if you do this, if you change your behavior and work an exercise regimen into your day the way you have changed your eating habits.  So, you get up, put on your gym clothes, tiptoe in the hallway so as not to wake anyone, and you go down to the basement. 


It's not the type of basement that anyone would brag about on an HGTV show.  It's one of those early 1960's basements, built for utility and some storage but not for comfort.  For one thing, the ceiling is low, so you have to be careful if you are of average height or bigger.  The ventilation is okay, the space good enough.  Good enough to fit a fixed bike, rowing machine, some resistance bands and an exercise mat. 


You adopt a routine after a while, varying it to some degree to break up the boredom.  Sweats seem mandatory in winter time, and the room is cool to start in the summer because of the air conditioning.  You get down there, turn on the TV, tilt it toward the bike, and get on and start pedaling.  Sometimes you go just ten minutes to get your heart going; other times you put yourself through punishing paces and increasing difficulty for about a half an hour, ending up sweaty and ready for the next thing.  Over the course of 75 minutes you'll have biked, rowed, stretched with stretch bands, done yoga stretches, worked your upper body with resistance bands and attacked your core through the use of medicine balls.  On some days you'll have done push-ups, too, or planks, and on most days you'll have used a hard foam roller to pop muscles in different directions. 


Your stretching follows guidance accumulated over the years from Kelly Starrett's book, from a physical therapist, from a personal trainer and from reading, as well as some stretches borrowed from yoga tapes or a few yoga classes.  At the end of the workout, you'll feel good, tight, fully stretched and ready for whatever the day has to bring. 


After you take your shower, you'll eat a breakfast pretty much daily that consists of plain, non-fat yogurt with some cinnamon (or a 100-cal variety that is low on sugar), some whole-grain flakes (flax is my favorite), some granola to top it off and some fresh fruit.  Berries are preferred if they are in-season and cheap, and a banana is the old standby.  That breakfast is the opening act for a diet that is rich on vegetables and fruit, modest on the bad fats and rich in the good ones, a reasonable amount of carbs, and, usually, no processed sugar. 


The results, after 500 days and counting (okay, so I have skipped a workout perhaps on 10 of those 500 days) are very good.  I feel better and more energetic and my numbers, so to speak, the type that the doctors give you after drawing blood and sending it to a laboratory, are good too. 




Is it worth it?  Getting up that early?  Well, I'll say this -- getting up that early is somewhat zen because you own your day at that point.  No one else is up, which means that this part of the day is entirely yours -- and the only interruptions are the ones you create.  That aspect of my day is something I cherish -- alone with my workout, alone with my thoughts, shaping my day.  Is it worth it?  Watching ESPN in the morning and its loop of features on Sports Center?  If the end is getting into better shape and staying that way and feeling good about it, absolutely.  If one gets irked by self-absorption and some sports journalistic narcissism courtesy of certain ESPN anchors and reporters, well, change the channel.  But try to go to a zen-oriented channel -- and not one of the national news channels that report on only two types of news -- bad and worse.


So, yes, it's worth it -- the ritual, the routine, the location, the time of day, the feeling you get as you're making your way through your workout and then finishing it -- that  you have accomplished something at the start of the day and are on a pathway to better and sustained wellness.  You're aging, yes, and you have seen people age, sometimes badly.  You visit a relative in an assisted living facility, a likable fellow who never took good care of himself and is paying the price for it now.  Thankfully, his genial nature helped give him a nice life with friends and good experiences, but his physical weaknesses have taken a huge toll on him, even mentally to a degree.  We all know aging has started to take place and is a fact of life, but we deny it, we fight it, we tell ourselves that we'll be the one to transcend and do better, but that always cannot be the case.  Sometimes it's nature, sometimes it's nurture, and sometimes it's just dumb luck.  But you keep on going, arising early, pushing yourself as hard as you can, even if at times no one notices or no one really cares.  The thing is that you do, that you feel better, and that you feel, at least at an odd moment, that you can do anything and even suspend time.

In the end, it's more than a workout, it's a lifestyle, one of lean, clean eating, resisting the temptation of the gourmet desserts and wines, of getting out there and wanting to feel better, not to be sedentary, even if the lure of the 60-inch screen and what's on it can tempt one away from walking, gardening, biking, golfing and just getting out there.  That's the thing of it -- the workout leads to a happier life, to serenity, to better things.  It's not for the feint of heart or those who want to roll out of bed and do their thing without taking measure of their health, that's for sure.  But for those who like the ritual, want the zen, it's as precious -- if not more so than -- any fine dining experience or watching a movie marathon on a cold winter's day. 


It's life, and trying to live it to its fullest.



Monday, June 12, 2017

Max Scherzer Has Reached 2,000 Strikeouts in the Fourth Fewest Amount of Innings

Great accomplishment, in the absolute sense, for sure.  He is an outstanding pitcher and in great company.


That said, does anyone measure the relative nature of this accomplishment?  My main question is the following:  How good is Scherzer's accomplishment in light of the fact that players are striking out with much greater frequency than they did when Pedro Martinez, #1 on the list, pitched and when many other strikeout kings did -- Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, etc.


It would be interesting to see an allowance for that frequency or lack thereof.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Penn State Just Lost One of Its Top Recruits

James Franklin is on a roll in Happy Valley.


Penn State has resurrected its football program.


Perhaps they even have a chance to develop a bona fide NFL star QB some day.


Well, that was until the nation's top dual threat quarterback pulled out of his oral commitment, saying all the right things, but that he committed too early and needs to re-think the process. 


And perhaps that's as it should be.  The kid is 17 or 18 and the teenage brain isn't full developed and his thoughts and hormones might be swirling about this, that and the other thing, from football and dreams of stardom to girls, cars, even academics.  The question is whether that brain really is capable of synthesizing all of the information to make the best decision for him, a decision that could be a gateway to fame, fortune and the risk of all sorts of debilitating future injuries.


I remember an article decades ago, an article in which Lefty Driesell, the old Maryland hoops coach, was interviewed.  He was asked about recruits who committed early, and to the writer's astonishment he said that he loved it when recruits committed early (by this he meant, committed to other schools).  The incredulous writer asked why.  To which Driesell responded, "Because then I know who I've got to beat."


Bingo.


And that's what happened here and probably happens in every other case where a young man commits early and has yet to sign a national letter of intent.  Commit to Ohio State?  Well, then you have to defeat Urban Meyer.  Tough to do?  Sure.  But suppose you know that he's sweet on a rising junior quarterback from Columbus or Cleveland, a kid who projects better than you?  Would the rival school use that to their advantage?  Why not?  Because if that potential also-ran at Ohio State could be a game changer say, at Indiana, then what do the Hoosiers have to lose? 


Schools should keep their recruits close but ask them not to orally commit publicly.  But perhaps the price of the commitment from the school is the player's public declaration that he's going to XYZ so that every other school backs off.  Perhaps, but if that's the case, then other schools might come at this player harder knowing that perhaps they can offer things that the school he just declared for cannot. 


The winners?  The losers?


It's hard to know.  So much effort goes into recruiting, and unless your Alabama it can be an inexact science.  Some kids don't get better, some get homesick, some don't know how to handle life on their own and party too much and some run into too much competition at their own position.  Many leave; some transfer in. 


And yet. . . I still think of what Lefty Driesell said. 


And laugh about it, too.  So many adults and institutions spend so much time and money to pursue high school sophomore and juniors with the hope that they will get a commitment when they are seniors. 


Imagine having your livelihood depend on the caprices of a teenaged brain. 


Imagine you are the one with the teenaged brain, either overconfident about your abilities, nervous about the snake oil salesmen or skeptical about whether any recruiting coordinator cares about anything other than what you can do on the football field. 


High-class problem?  Or, a situation borne equally of hope and desperation?

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Someone Should Sign Colin Kaepernick

Several years back I flipped back and forth among the channels offering college football games.  That's what a surplus does to you -- you have to choose.  When I was a kid, there was one or perhaps two games on one of the three major networks.  You cannot have the majesty of a Keith Jackson providing commentary today; there are just too many choices to distract you from the marquis name doing the marquis game. 


I happened upon the University of Nevada, with its crazy read option offense and a big quarterback who could run like a deer and throw the ball like a cannon.  My first reaction is that he must be really flawed if he wasn't in a top conference, or that his competition wasn't that good or that he was having a career game.  I didn't think much about it, until I flipped channels a few weeks later and came upon one of the most obscure ESPN channels -- and saw him do it again.


That quarterback turned out to be Colin Kaepernick, good enough to help lead his team to a Super Bowl and controversial enough to have get along issues in a dysfunctional situation in San Francisco and then draw attention much more for his political stands than the quality of his play on the field.  Perhaps the latter offered evidence that he had peaked, that his game isn't suited to the NFL, that his skills had waned or that he just wasn't that good.  Or, perhaps, he was in the wrong system and needed a fresh start.  Whatever the case, he is without a job.


The simplest solution as to why is because the NFL is really conservative.  If it were legal to breed football players or to clone them in a laboratory so that you'd have the Stepford Wives of football players, each and every NFL team would do it.  Some teams held it against the number one pick in this year's draft -- Myles Garrett -- because he has other interest.  I spoke with the mother of an NFL prospect this weekend -- her kid has drawn attention mostly for immature off-the-field antics that eclipse some of the kind and humanitarian acts he has done.  She offered that her son was an immature kid a few years ago, but that some in the league have stained her son's reputation and won't let him dig out of it.  I countered by saying that his talent and results are undeniable, and that in the end someone will break ranks and sign him.  She agreed -- but it is unclear as to how high the draft spot will be and what the money will be.  Prospects fall -- sometimes because of self-inflicted wounds and other times because of a nasty, subterranean rumor mill.  At the end of the day, though, listen to the mom -- the league is conservative.


Which is why Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned after the Seahawks, no strangers to controversial, outspoken players (among them Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin) and they signed Austin Davis.  Booger McFarland had a good point on ESPN 2 this morning on the "Mike and Mike Show" -- most of the back-up quarterbacks in the league are scrubs.  The Austin Davises of the world don't scare anyone and will get exposed after time -- whereas Kaepernick should scare people if handled correctly and in the right system.  McFarland then went on to list the back-up quarterbacks in the league and the guys who have gotten second, third and fourth chances -- among them Nick Foles, Matt Barkley, Geno Smith (he didn't mention Mark Sanchez, but should have) -- and Kaepernick is better than every one of them.


What is going on with Kaepernick is silly.  Some team should have him in camp.  If not, some team will sign him to help save their season a few weeks into it.  And then the conservative lords who control the NFL will have forgotten.


Or at least most of them will have forgotten most of it.


Silly logic from the lords of the league, who continuously make erroneous draft picks despite the availability of predictive analytics that could aid greatly in smarter choices.  The decision to not sign Kaepernick must have been made in a room full of abacuses, slide rules and unfiltered cigarettes. 


Hard to believe.