July 24, 2014

President Obama hosts WNBA Champs at White House

Ed. — Thursday, WNBA Champs Minnesota Lynx were honored at the White House. While the Lynx obviously do not play basketball in D.C. on a regular basis, we still thought it was a neat ceremony and had the opportunity to have “special correspondent” Chris Gordon cover the event for District Sports Page.
ObamaLynx (2 of 9)

by Chris Gordon, special to District Sports Page

President Obama honored the Minnesota Lynx at the White House on Thursday, hosting an event commemorating their championship in 2013. Since selecting superstar Maya Moore first overall in the spring of 2011, the Lynx have become the WNBA’s dominate franchise. They won the title in Moore’s first year, in which she was named Rookie of the Year, sweeping the Atlanta Dream in the Finals.

After a 10-0 start to the season, the Lynx made the Finals again the next year before falling to the Indiana Fever. In 2013, they became the fifth team in the history of American pro sports to sweep every postseason series, capturing their second championship. Moore was selected as Finals MVP. The team has an 8-1 record so far in 2014.

“You did not only go 26-8 in the regular season, but you also swept the playoffs — a perfect 7-0,” President Obama, speaking in the East Room, said of their championship year. “You won it with all-star talent, from Seimone to Rebekkah Brunson, hometown hero Lindsay Whalen. You did it with fellow all-star and Finals MVP Maya Moore, who has now been here so many times I’ve lost track. I mean, basically there’s like a Maya Moore wing in the White House and when she comes, we’ve got all her stuff here. She’s got a toothbrush.”

In a testament to Moore’s significance, head coach Cheryl Reeve deferred to her when it was time for the team to make remarks.

“I just can’t speak enough about this team behind me,” Moore said. “We care, and it shows when we’re on the court, when we’re together, when we’re in the community. I think that’s what our nation is about.”

Here are some photos of the event:

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All photos (C) Chris Gordon and may not be used without permission.
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Chris Gordon is a writer and photographer for Russian Machine Never Breaks and specializes in hockey related content. He has an affinity for spicy chicken sandwiches.

OPINION: Terps should play in Cole Field House…now

The Maryland Terrapins men’s basketball team left Cole Field House following the end of the 2001-2002 basketball season. They headed across campus to the new, shiny Comcast Center. The Terps are moving Maryland Madness to Cole and now, Mark Turgeon says he’d like to get back to playing a regular season game at Cole every year. And there is no time like the present to make that move.

Why would the AD entertain an idea like moving back to Cole? Because the Terps continue to bleed attendance at the now decade-old Comcast Center. The Athletic Department needs to do anything it can to get more fans out to the games. Holding a game at Cole is a step in staunching the bleeding and Mark Turgeon realizes that.

Cole is too small

But, how would this work? Cole contains 3,300 fewer seats than Comcast. Who would get shut out? How would Maryland handle the fallout? Well, the attendance situation in College Park is more dire than you likely realize and it’s unlikely that anyone would get shut out.

First, let’s establish some numbers. Comcast’s current capacity is 17,950 and Cole’s capacity is 14,596.

Of the total capacity at Comcast (17,950), 4,000 student tickets are available. If student tickets are not claimed, they are offered for sale to Terrapin Club members first and then the general public. There are also some tickets held back for a variety of reasons (for administrative reasons/people, sponsors, etc.). I estimate those to be about 1,000 seats per game.

Comcast holds 17,950 and if we remove 5,000 for student and others tickets, that leaves us with 12,950 tickets for sale to season ticket holders. Prior to the start of the 2009 season, there were 1,681 unsold season tickets with one week left until the season started according to the Washington Times.

Then, let’s assume there are 2,000 unsold season tickets. This is an increase of about 19% in unsold season tickets from the 2009 season. I arrived at that estimate by taking a look at two items. Terrapin Club memberships have dropped by about 20% from 2008 to 2012 and we’ve seen overall attendance drop 26% since the 2009-2010 so let’s assume that the season ticket base eroded a little more slowly. (See chart at the end of the article for historical Maryland men’s basketball attendance.)

That leaves us with 12,950 minus 2000 which equals 10,950 season tickets bought by season ticket holders.

Now, hold the game over winter break and assume you get half of those 5,000 student/other to attend and you are at 10,950 plus 2,500 or 13,450. Cole’s capacity? 14,596.

Just using last year as an example, here are the reported attendance figures for games from December 21 2012 through January 22 2013:

Dec 21 – Stony Brook – 10,721
Dec 29 – Delaware State – 12,389
Jan 1 2013 – IUPUI – 8,971
Jan 5 – Virginia Tech – 17,950
Jan 9 – Florida State – 14,157
Jan 16 – North Carolina State – 17,950
Jan 22 – Boston College – 13,941

The athletic department has the actual attendance figures. Moreover, with the integration of StubHub and LetsMoveDown, the AD can now see what the value of the tickets are in the secondary market and easily determine if there is pent up demand. My guess? There isn’t a lot of pent up demand for late December or January games at Comcast.

Attendance is down – way down

Remember, we’ve seen ACC games available for sale to the general public in recent seasons. And last season, every single ACC game was available to all Terrapin Club members to buy additional seats (even the UNC and Duke games). The Maryland ticket office created ticket packages where you could get a UNC or Duke ticket as long as you bought a “lesser” ACC game and non-conference game as well.

There isn’t demand for the product. Playing a game at Cole could increase demand (even if for just one game).

For some history on attendance, see below and at the end of the column (all data from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Attendance site):

In the 2009-2010 season the Terps averaged 16,792 fans (down 256 per game from the prior season).

The 2010-2011 season (Gary Williams’ final season) the average dropped even further to 14,910 per game (just over the Cole Field House capacity of 14,596).

The 2011-2012 season saw another drop down to 13,182 per game.

And the 2012-2013 season was more of the same as the per game attendance dropped to 12,489 per game.

In the chart below, you can see the percentage capacity for all Maryland home games both at Cole and Comcast.

attendance_chart

Maryland basketball season tickets are not a hot commodity and haven’t been for five years. I’m a Maryland men’s basketball season ticket holder and I certainly don’t give as much as someone had to just a few years ago to maintain season tickets.

“In 2008, a season ticket holder had to have given roughly $10,000 since he or she joined the Terrapin Club to maintain his or her season ticket. In 2012, there was no minimum threshold to purchase or maintain a season ticket. Despite impassioned newsletters to get young alumni to join, there was never a noticeable uptick even before the economic recession. After approaching 10,000 members in 2008, the Terrapin Club is now hovering around 8,000.” – Nov 27 2012 from Sports Illustrated.

Students no longer camp out. They register online for tickets and if more registrations are recorded than tickets available, a weighted lottery is held based on loyalty points and tickets are awarded. The students don’t have to “work” nearly as hard for the tickets as past students did so they may not value those seats as much as others might have.

Attendance is down 26% over the last four seasons. They need to do something. This year could be a disaster as the home schedule lacks Duke and UNC.

You could do so many things with a game at Cole to ensure that people don’t get shut out. You could:

- Reward the most loyal students from the football season and give them priority in the lottery for the Cole game.

- Encourage folks on the lower end of the giving spectrum, to give more than they do now by guaranteeing a Cole ticket if they give X more dollars.

Throwback Game

Finally, how should the game work? Well, here is one humble suggestion from a two-time alumnus of College Park.

Make it the yearly Throwback Game – a celebration of Maryland and Cole Field House history.

First match up? Maryland takes on the University of Texas – El Paso (née Texas Western) in celebration of Texas Western’s groundbreaking 1966 title game victory at Cole. Each team plays in throw back uniforms from that season. Would you love to see these uniforms on the floor at Cole one more time?

Texas Western jersey - 1966

Future matchups could be Maryland versus Manhattan College with each team wearing throwback uniforms from DeMatha Catholic High and Power Memorial. I’m not sure who would play Lew Alcindor, but I bet Under Armour wouldn’t mind putting together a Power Memorial throwback.

Or maybe Maryland versus the Richmond Spiders to celebrate the first win by a number 15 seed over a two seed in NCAA tournament history? Maybe Curtis Blair would referee the game?

The possibilities are endless and this game would be a great way to energize the alumni, students, administration and corporate sponsors.

It would great if Maryland had the problem of the men’s team selling out games. It does not have that issue currently. And it will take more than one good season to climb back up the hill.


Maryland Men’s Basketball Attendance (1987 through 2013)

Year_by_Year_Attendance

Source: NCAA Men’s Basketball Attendance – http://www.ncaa.org/wps/wcm/connect/public/NCAA/Resources/Stats/M+Basketball/Attendance/

OPINION: Stats, taken in context, help us understand the game better

In my guest blogging gig for MASNSports.com today, I wrote about Bryce Harper’s eighth inning sacrifice, Win Probability Added, and human evolution. It was a bit of a rambler, but my biggest point was this:

 You don’t get to pick and choose which stats you think are the right ones. They all are.

It drives me absolutely crazy to hear fans, players, managers or executives dismiss certain statistical evaluators, like we’re fabricating these numbers or pulling them out of thin air. WAR, or WPA, or wOBA, or wRC+, or ISO, or FIP, or UZR… all of those numbers are in the game every bit as much as batting average or earned run average.

It’s just that those “in the game” have been using the traditional statistical evaluators for over a century and some others were “invented” by folks not actually “in the game” in the past two decades.

Just because a statistical evaluator was created by math whiz doesn’t mean it’s any more or less legitimate than those we’ve been using for 120 years.

Each, in their own way, tells part of the story about what’s going on out there. No single statistical evaluator can tell us exactly how efficient a particular player is in his chosen craft. Some of them give us a better idea than others. But each should be taken in the context it is presented.

The “new stats” weren’t created to make following the game more difficult. They were developed to help us more deeply understand the game. Or help us compare players on a more neutral field. Or help us compare current players against the past more accurately. They weren’t created to confuse, but enlighten.

Fangraphs.com has a glossary of many of the “new stats”. They don’t hide their formulas. There’s a lot to take in, but if you take a couple of minutes most of the “new stats” are pretty simple to understand. Sure, there are some concepts that might take a few moments to think about before they make total sense. But they are all as rooted in the game as ERA, which is not a particularly good or accurate method to evaluate a pitcher.

Here’s another chunk of my MASN column to think about:

Back in the old days, they invented batting average and earned run average as a method of evaluating players side-by-side since they weren’t able to watch every game in person.

Yes, there was an era before computers. Before television. Even before radio was popular. If you wanted to know what type of ball player a guy was, you has to see him in person. You had to travel for days and hope for no rain out. There was little scouting and even less statistical evaluation. That’s why they started to keep track of these things, in order to be able to evaluate players without actually seeing them in person.

Even though every single game is now on TV and we have video of each player going back to their middles school games, we’re still looking for more clear statistical evidence to measure a player’s effectiveness. PITCHF/x and batted ball data are taking us into the next phase of statistical evaluation, and it all helps us better understand the game.

Statheads and seamheads have been at odds for decades. They don’t have to be. Each individual statistical evaluator only tells part of the story. Taken in context, they are part of the big picture. If you love the game, it’s worth your while to become more familiar with these concepts. It’s just a little math, that’s all.

Congressional Hockey Challenge bridges the gap for a good cause

On April 27, while the rest of Verizon Center was preparing for Saturday evening’s Washington Capitals game, the hallway adjacent to the Capitals locker room was a frenzy of excitement. Intermittently, a figure, alternately in a red or white jersey,  lumbering on hockey skates, would make their way out to the hallway to get some air, or to speak to a reporter.

It was a bit unusual for 1:00 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, considering the main attraction wasn’t until 7:00 p.m. that night, when the Washington Capitals would play their final game of the regular season versus the Boston Bruins. The figures wearing red and white jerseys were not members of the Capitals or Bruins. They were there for something a little bit different – a hockey game for charity, the 5th Annual Congressional Hockey Challenge.

Founded in 2009, the Congressional Hockey Challenge raises funding for college scholarships and hockey programming, and has raised more than $400, 000 for its causes. This year’s event was held at Verizon Center for the second year in a row. Former Boston Bruin and hockey icon Willie O’Ree performed the ceremonial puck drop and also attended the Capitals game against the Bruins that evening.

The game stars a team of lawmakers (members of Congress, Senators and staff from legislative and executive branches) pitted against a team of lobbyists. It seems apropos to blend the rough-and-tumble sport of hockey with the rough-and-tumble sport of politics in the nation’s capital.

One might be surprised to note that all of the participants on both teams are lifelong hockey players. Congressman Pat Meehan (PA), was an NHL referee for two years before going into politics, and said the CHC helped him rediscover his passion for the sport. “I hadn’t skated for some time before I came back to this game. I grew up playing hockey, and I truly stayed with it,” he said. “Hockey was a big part of my life for a long period of time, but when I came here, I had given it up and I hadn’t skated in five years.”

“When they knew that I had a hockey background, they asked me to get involved with the game, so I came out and then made a fool of myself. But I’ve actually had an awful lot of fun, and it’s been a reason for me to get back into it,” said Meehan, who admitted his status assisted him in making the Lawmakers team. “It’s easier for me to get on the team because if you’re in Congress and can lace your skates up, I think you get on,” he chuckled.

Erik Paulsen, a congressman from Minnesota, had a recruiting experience similar to Meehan’s. ”I got recruited last year cause I’m from Minnesota, so they just figure everyone from Minnesota plays hockey. I grew up playing on the lake but never played organized hockey,” he said. “It’s for a good cause, and now I’m playing once a week out here.”

If you’re not a member of Congress, however, the competition to make the team is tougher. “It’s probably one of the only big hockey games outside of the Caps that happens, at least in our level of play these days, so everyone wants to play. In the small group that does play hockey, there is a waiting list,” said Michelle McGann, of the National Republican Congressional Committee, a member of the Lawmakers team.

McGann’s involvement with the team came almost by accident – she merely wanted to play hockey but ended up on the waiting list for the annual game.

“I moved to DC about two years ago and I’ve been playing hockey my entire life, so when I came down here, I tried to find a competitive league and similar to Melissa, I heard of this man named Nick Lewis that we were supposed to talk to about getting involved,” she said. “I spoke to him, and Tim Regan who works on the Hill, and started coming to these Monday night skates, and a lot of the players in this game are pulled from the Monday night skate. So I got on a waiting list and just crossed my fingers that I would finally make the cut.”

Every Monday night, a mixed group of lawmakers and lobbyists skates at Mount Vernon Ice Arena in Alexandria, VA. Many of the players in the annual Challenge game are pulled from these skates, according to McGann.

“It’s basically an exclusive pickup league,” said McGann. “There’s a group of maybe 40 or 50 people in the email chain, and we hope to have about 30 people come every night, and you just wear dark or white and you just play for an hour and a half.”

Melissa Lavinson, a member of the Lobbyists team, said attendance at the Monday night skates is unpredictable, but everyone is glad to for the opportunity to play hockey, even with a short bench.

“I’ve been to some of the night skates where there’s maybe about 12 people and you wind up playing 6-on-5-on-5, one sub for an hour,” she said. “It’s just fun.”

McGann agreed.  “Everyone understands that you’re just out there to get a good workout and to be on the ice, so it’s great for girls, we’re obviously smaller than a lot of men, so they’re respectful and you don’t have to be too concerned about getting injured.”

Even though the weekly skates are primarily casual and low-key, the competitive nature of each player emerges when it comes to competing in the actual Congressional Challenge game.

“Everyone who plays a sport always has a competitive edge, and you realize that it’s been dormant for so long until you get in a situation where score matters,” said McGann. “You kind of put aside your friendships in some way and you want to win.”

John Goodwin, who represented the Lobbyists this year, said the Congressional game is kind of a big deal for the players, even though many do not have the chance to play as much as they’d like.

“For a bunch of amateurs and older folks, its intense competition, everyone takes it seriously, and we’re playing real hockey,” he said. “Everybody looks forward to it.”

Washington Capitals alumnus and CSN Washington analyst Alan May took some time out of his busy game-day duties and volunteered to coach the Lawmakers team this year. His coaching philosophy was all about moral support, making sure the players knew when to change lines – and scoring goals, of course.

“They all know how to play hockey, they’re all lifelong lovers of the game, they all played youth hockey, so it’s just a matter of just being there to support these guys,” said May.

May predicted it would be an “ugly game,” and an ugly game it was – for the Lawmakers. May’s pupils were shelled for double-digit goals, and fell to the Lobbyists, 11-3 in front of a modest cluster of rowdy spectators.

There is a trophy that the winning team gets to keep for the year, which is more for bragging rights than anything. As it stands, the Lobbyists lead the Challenge series record 3-2.

Photos from the event, courtesy of C&I Studios, can be found here.

 Katie Brown is a Staff Writer for District Sports Page. She grew up in Virginia and Maryland, currently resides in Arlington, VA, and developed a love for the sport of hockey as a youngster while watching her brothers play. She combined her enthusiasm for the game with her love of writing after college. Katie has covered the Capitals as credentialed media for two seasons for several area blogs before joining the DSP staff. Katie works at a nonprofit organization by day but the rest of her time is devoted to watching, writing, and talking about hockey and perfecting her mean one-timer. You can follow Katie on Twitter@katie_brown47.

OPINION: World Baseball “Classic” leaves plenty to be desired

In its purest form, the World Baseball Classic could be a great thing. Not just good, but great. The idea of the best players representing their countries for the chance to legitimately stake a claim to “World’s Best” is fascinating, intriguing — all sorts of thought-provoking. Unfortunately, in its current format, it’s a shell of what it could be.

In my opinion, the WBC, first and foremost, is a marketing strategy by MLB, much like the silly “fan cave” and numerous other campaigns. All of their plans and procedures revolve around that concept. I think the potential good of the program — selling baseball in other countries, expanding the “reach” of the game, healthy competition between countries, showcasing player’s heritages — are all by-products of selling prime advertising time in March.

That said, there is good that does come out of it. For those players that participate, it’s to their credit that they are taking the play on the field seriously and that they seem to really have a sincere appreciation for representing their home countries. The actual level of play on the field has been decent, with some spectacular mixed in. And the ratings and social media aspect of the WBC can’t be overlooked. It’s a boon to MLB Network and related affiliates.

Whether or not the WBC is expanding baseball’s “reach” in other countries is a debate to be had down the road. But since this is the third WBC (covering seven years), if it were the case wouldn’t we surely have seen more Dutch, Italian or Brazilian minor and major leaguers by now? Yes, I know it takes a long time for a sport to gain in popularity enough to build programs to develop a talent base that could send players from those countries to compete for big league jobs.

Despite the foothold that soccer has in youth sports in America, it still is a backwater compared to countries, leagues and programs around the world. If America can’t develop more world-class soccer, how can smaller countries hope to compete in baseball.

Wouldn’t we have seen more backlash for the Olympics dropping baseball as a sport?

No, the socio-impact is far secondary. It’s not the reach of “baseball” that they’re trying to expand, it’s the reach of “MLB Baseball” and its marketing and broadcast arms. This isn’t selling “the game”, it’s selling product.

Besides all that, if it’s just boiled down to baseball, this wouldn’t be a competition at all. Much like the NBA “Dream Team” that took over the Olympics, if each country were allowed to truly supply their best teams, no one could touch Team USA. Sure, vagaries happen in a round-robin, one-game format. In a series, if Team USA put up Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, David Price and R.A. Dickey against anyone, it wouldn’t be a competition.

As it stands, most countries have minor leaguers filling out the batting order and rosters. Just take a look at the pitchers Puerto Rico sent up against Team USA. Not a big leauger in the bunch. Not even close. Classic? Sounds like another day at Spring Training to me.

What would I change? First, obviously, the timing. I hate that it disrupts spring training. And it’s apparent the way American players decline the invitation to play that most big leaguers do too. Just look at Team USA. No Mike Trout. No Bryce Harper. No Stephen Strasburg. The list goes on. If the idea is to really settle it on the field, shouldn’t it be a priority to field the best teams possible?

And it’s not just Team USA either. Felix Hernandez won’t pitch for Venezuela. Yu Darvish and Ichiro both declined invitations to play for Japan. The list is almost endless.

To illustrate just how ridiculous some players view the WBC, Russell Martin — a catcher by trade — left Team Canada because they wouldn’t let him play… shortstop.

My proposal: Play the thing in November, right after the World Series, when attention on baseball is its highest all year. Yes, it further competes against the NFL. Yes, it complicates the winter leagues in the Caribbean, Mexico and South America. Yes, you’d still have players backing out to spend that time with their families, etc. But MLB used to have travelling teams tour Japan and Korea during November in the past. It’s not like it’s a completely novel idea.

What’s more, it would lead to better baseball. Members of Team USA that didn’t make the playoffs could take a couple of weeks off right after the season ends, then reconvene two weeks before the WBC to get together for practices. It would be like a two-week stay on the D.L. for everyone, a chance to freshen up before going back at it again. Better than ramping up to play competitive baseball the first two weeks of March. You might lose a player or two from the World Series teams, but it’s better than the mass avoidance going on now.

Playing in November would also mitigate the injury factor. If a player gets hurt in March, there’s a good chance that will affect his team during the regular season. Should a November injury occur, said player has the off-season to heal before the next spring training.

Next, I’d tighten the eligibility rules. If you, your parents, or grandparents were born in the country, you’re eligible to play for that country. That’s it. Personally, each of my eight great-grandparents were of different home countries, so I’d be eligible for eight different teams under the current rules. That should be tightened up.

I’d change the run differential rule that led to the Canada-Mexico brawl. The round-robin aspect is fine, so just make head-to-head the tiebreaker for two teams. If three teams are tied, flip coins or something else. It’s better than someone trying to run up the score, especially since they have a mercy rule to limit embarrassing scores. How can you have a mercy rule, yet your first tiebreaker is run differential?

To those currently enjoying the World Baseball Classic, please by all means continue to enjoy. There’s some decent baseball to be witnessed. The pageantry of pitting countries against one another makes for interesting story lines — if you can get by the incessant and unnecessary jingoism being perpetuated by MLB Network. I think they could do better than settling for ratings bonanza in March if they were really interested in determining a true “World Champion”.

Earl Weaver was a manager ahead of his time

Baltimore Orioles legendary manager Earl Weaver on Earl Weaver Day at Camden Yards, 6/30/2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Baltimore Orioles legendary manager Earl Weaver on Earl Weaver Day at Camden Yards, 6/30/2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

You’ll have to forgive me today. I know this website covers Washington, D.C. sports, but when a legend such as Earl Weaver passes away, I’m compelled to memorialize him. I was a Baltimore Orioles fan during my formative years, and Earl Weaver has as much to do with how I think of baseball — good baseball — than anything or anyone else. In essence, I learned all I needed to know about baseball by how Earl Weaver managed his teams.

The axiom that casual baseball analysts use to describe Weaver’s “strategy” is “pitching, defense and the three-run homer.” While that’s not far off, it’s how you get there that you find Weaver’s real genius.

Weaver boiled the game down to its most basic elements: get on base and limit the other team from doing so, put your players in the best position to maximize their particular talents, and trust your players to do their job over the course of the season.

Weaver was a master at getting the most out of his roster. One of the first managers to use a platoon system, he knew the benefits of utilizing players when they were at their best, and finding a complementing player for when the matchup presented an advantage for his team. He had an elaborate index card system that he kept in the dugout with him with the splits for every player on his team and the opposition. He revolutionized how teams scouted other Major League teams.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson, a mathematics major in college, loves to tell the story of how he would run computer simulations of different lineups and present them to Weaver — remember, this was in the late 60s and early 70s — to maximize the batting order. Johnson recalls how Weaver would toss them in the trash can in front of the young second baseman, but would later fish them out of the trash after Johnson left the room. But those simulations only reinforced what Weaver knew to be true anyway.

Johnson issues this statement through the Nationals upon learning of Weaver’s passing Saturday. “I grew up in the minor leagues with Earl Weaver and we proceeded to spend a significant portion of our lives together. He was as intense a competitor as I have ever met. No one managed a ballclub or a pitching staff better than Earl. He was decades ahead of his time. Not a game goes by that I don’t draw on something Earl did or said. I will miss him every day.”

Weaver also trusted his players, which he saw as an extension of his own thought process. He knew that over the course of a season a player’s true ability would play out — if he had that player pegged correctly. He allowed players to play through “slumps” because you just didn’t know when they would break out and normalize. In correlation, players knew that Weaver was going to stick with them in their roles, and Weaver would earn their trust.

No greater example of this was the way Weaver stuck with Cal Ripken, Jr. when the now Hall of Famer first came up to the big leagues. Many saw the 6’4″ Ripken and figured he was too big to play shortstop in the big leagues. But Weaver figured that Ripken’s great baseball instincts more than made up for any lack of mobility from the big man, and he knew that having offensive production from the shortstop position would automatically give his team an advantage over the rest of the league in an age where most shortstops were slap hitters often asked to do little more that move runners over.

Weaver also knew that the best way to score runs was to get more runners on base. It’s a statistical fact, over the 120 years or so they’ve been keeping baseball records, that most teams fall into a very narrow range of percentage of base runners driven home over the course of a season. The numbers are there — you can  look them up. The teams that are good offensive teams aren’t the ones that drive a higher percentage of their runners in because those percentages — again, over the course of a full season — are mathematically insignificant.

No, it’s the sheer number of total baserunners that separate good offensive teams from poor. And Earl knew this. He showed an utter disdain for bunting, especially the sacrifice. He knew that stealing bases wasn’t worth the effort or risk. He knew that the hit-and-run worked less often than not, and it usually wasted an out regardless.

He figured out early that you only get 27 outs in a game and it’s counter-productive to waste or give away any of them. He knew the numbers. He knew that he had a better chance of scoring a runner from first with no outs than a runner from second with two outs. It’s not a theory. It’s math.

When Weaver said, “If you play for one run, that’s all you’ll get,” he knew exactly what he was talking about.

Earl Weaver might have appeared to be the oldest of old school, with his cantankerous personality, chain-smoking down the tunnel of the dugout and his pugnacious appearance. His hair was gray long before he got old. But the tenets he preached on the field, and in his book “Weaver on Strategy”, were moneyball before “Moneyball.”

Earl Weaver was 82 years old when he passed away Friday night on the Orioles annual baseball cruise, his wife Marianne by his side. Coincidentally, legions of Orioles gathered in the Inner Harbor Saturday for the O’s off-season fanfest. Many of those in attendance wouldn’t find out about Weaver’s passing until reaching the festivities. A large part of the Orioles legacy they gathered to celebrate can be directly attributed to man who, while small in stature, towers over that organization and its rich history.

The Earl of Baltimore, indeed.

Earl Weaver statue unveiled at Camden Yards, 6/30/2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Earl Weaver statue unveiled at Camden Yards, 6/30/2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Earl Weaver statue unveiled by Earl Weaver, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr., Jim Palmer and Frank Robinson at Camden Yards, 6/30/2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Earl Weaver statue unveiled by Earl Weaver, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr., Jim Palmer and Frank Robinson at Camden Yards, 6/30/2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

 

OPINION: DSP writers disagree on Hall of Fame voting criteria

News of the BBWAA failing to elect anyone to the Hall of Fame Wednesday has sparked another round of heated debate about how the voters should treat players that played in the so-called “steroids era”. Not surprisingly, we at District Sports Page have our opinions as well. Below, our two baseball writers debate the topic. Not surprisingly, they both have very specific opinions about a very sensitive subject.

LET THEM IN

by Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page and member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association

I am of the opinion that so many players during the so-called “steroid era” were using something that it’s hypocritical to judge the players on the ballot without considering that so many of their opponents were also using. Therefore, I say judge them on their numbers and let them in.

Because of my membership in the IBWAA, I get to vote in their Hall of Fame selection. In this year’s vote, the IBWAA selected Mike Piazza, who garnered 79.1 percent of the vote. I did not vote for Piazza, but he probably would have been the 11th vote on my ballot — there are that many worthy sitting on the ballot and even more iron-clad nominees to come next year.

My ballot consisted of the following players: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Barry Larkin (who did not garner enough votes from the IBWAA last year), Mark McGwire, Dale Murphy, Rafael Palmeiro, Tim Raines and Lee Smith. If you’re interested, you can find my ballot for 2011 here.

Only one of these players actually tested positive for PED use as a player, but even that was under very suspicious circumstances. Some of the others have admitted PED use after their career was over — either wittingly or not. Some are fighting for their legacy amongst allegations. Some have nothing but rumors attached to their numbers. Some are assumed clean — squeaky clean, in fact. But we have no idea. We never will.

Bonds, Clemens, et al did not perform in a vacuum. Rather, we have no idea who used PEDs in that era because there was no testing. If you listen to those that were in and around the game during that period, more players were using than not. We can’t just say “Bonds cheated so he’s out” simply because he played in an environment where PED use was not only allowed or condoned, but actually encouraged. These players were the best of their era, for what that’s worth. They should be chronicled as such.

For that matter, the voting body now deciding their fate —  the baseball writers that covered them in that era — are as complicit as anyone in allowing and perpetuating the “steroid era”. They fawned over sluggers with bulging muscles as the home run record fell seemingly every season. They looked the other way when conventional wisdom suggested that something fishy was going on. The players, trainers, doctors and owners were the perpetrators, but the writers were unwittingly the marketing arm of MLB, publicizing the efforts of these oversized behemoths — to everyone’s financial gain.

It’s time that the Hall itself change its voting parameters and do away with the character issue clause in their voting requirements. If the baseball writers can’t be trusted on their own to enshrine the best players against their peers, then the Hall itself needs to make the procedure more transparent.

Every era in baseball has its scandal and cheats: segregation, amphetamines, cocaine, spitballs, etc., and the Hall of Fame is no exception. It’s full of cheats, deadbeats, users, and generally lousy human beings. But that’s the point. The Hall of Fame chronicles baseball history. It’s not the morality police. Get over yourselves, BBWAA. Vote for their achievement on the field against their peers during the time they played. It’s the only appropriate way to judge their merits without assuming facts not in evidence.

KEEP THEM OUT

by Alyssa Wolice, Staff Writer

Inevitably, steroid users and cheats will more than likely be immortalized in the Baseball Hall of Fame in the years to come. But this year, it’s time to applaud those members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who stuck to their morals in an attempt to protect the sanctity of induction.

According to the official Hall of Fame election rules as dictated to the BBWAA, “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

That being said, countless baseball writers – and fans – have come forward since the announcement of the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot shutout to argue that numbers can’t be discounted simply because of steroid and PED allegations. Assuming that many players wrapped up their careers in time to post seemingly clean records, many argue that steroid users have – or will – inevitably become recipients of the highest honor. With this in mind, on what grounds should the BBWAA deny some – but not all – the opportunity to be recognized for the records they shattered, the achievements they etched in gold and the moments in which millions of Americans continued to tune in during one of the most transformative periods in baseball history?

It goes without saying that cheating has never – and will never – be a foreign concept to baseball. A large portion of the earliest “heroes” receiving the highest honors in Cooperstown have been linked to everything under the sun – from corked bats and spitballs to ball alterations and stealing signs.

Whitey Ford (Hall of Fame class of 1974) described it as “common knowledge” that he used a combination of saliva, dirt and rosin to put some mustard on his pitches. Hank Aaron (class of 1982) admittedly used amphetamines in ways that enhanced his performance. Gaylord Perry (class of 1991) doctored baseballs by touching petroleum jelly under the brim of his cap or on the inside of his sleeve between pitches. George Brett (class of 1999) violated an official MLB rule by overusing pine tar in an infamous match-up against the Yankees in 1983.

To argue that Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire are deserving of induction because even the greatest of the greats before them cheated means to ignore completely the impact that modern-day steroids has had on the game. Sure Ford, Aaron, Perry, Brett and so many others had unfair advantages, many in the final years of their respective careers. But nothing has so impacted the game itself – at all levels – as modern-day performance enhancers.

Did players know Whitey was doctoring his pitches? Sure. Aaron used amphetamines in an era where they were considered part of the baseball culture – and more importantly, they were not officially banned from baseball until 1971, not five years before Aaron hung up his uniform for good.

Fans and writers often refer to baseball as a game of numbers. But until the “character,” “integrity” and “sportsmanship” requirements are removed from election criteria, no voter can – in good faith – cast a ballot for those unquestionably linked to illegal substances of today’s caliber on the basis that candidates for induction posted spellbinding numbers.

Undoubtedly, along with Bonds and McGwire, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa were denied election this year, most likely because of allegations they each benefited from steroid use at one time or another. Should fans expect these four – and their successors – to be shunned from Cooperstown for eternity? Certainly not. After all, many of their achievements have already earned their place in the museum and the history books.

But, to argue that the BBWAA should be embarrassed for its failure to elect a single player to the 2013 class is wrong. In fact, the association should be applauded for upholding the tenets of induction.

While many of this year’s voters will undoubtedly change their positions in the years ahead – and every nominee has up to 15 years to receive the necessary 75 percent of votes for induction – at the very least, this year’s shutout stands as a testament. This year, the BBWAA has formally acknowledged that baseball is under a microscope, and numbers and records alone fall short of defining the game’s heroes.

My ballot in the BBA year-end awards

As a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, one of my yearly duties is to participate in voting on the National League Awards. Below please find my ballot for this year. The awards will be announced by the BBA the week of Oct. 15.October 15: Connie Mack Award (manager of the year): Davey Johnson, WAS. This one’s pretty easy. Most pundits — including myself — had the Nats competitive this year and challengers next. But under Johnson’s experienced and steady hand, there’s playoff baseball in Washington this season for the first time since 1933. Despite injuries to Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, Jayson Werth and Drew Storen — and the shutdown of Stephen Strasburg — the Nats have been at the top of the division and N.L. standings since mid-April and never relented.

October 16: Willie Mays Award (rookie of the year): Bryce Harper, WAS. Harper has simply done things unheard of for the typical rookie, let alone one that can’t legally drink. He’s second all-time in home runs by a teenager, and nearly accomplished a 20/20 season at age 19. All while learning to play center field on the job. It’s easy to forget this kid — and that’s exactly what he is — was a junior college catcher less than two seasons ago.

October 17: Goose Gossage Award (top reliever): Craig Kimbrel, ATL. Tied for the league lead in saves and virtually unhittable this season. 1.01 ERA, 0.654 WHIP, 3.9 H/9, 2.0 BB/9, 16.7 K/9. Game over, man.

October 18: Walter Johnson Award (top starter): Gio Gonzalez, WAS. Hate to look like a homer, but have to vote the hometown ticket here too. You can’t go wrong with R.A. Dickey or Johnny Cueto either, but I’m going to stick with Gio. The Nats dealt half of their farm system to get him, and I was as critical as anyone after the transaction. But he cut his walks way down, increased his strikeouts, led the league in wins (a mostly arcane stat, though it shows he pitched well and deep — and for a good ballclub) and became a much more consistent starter than earlier in his career.

October 19: Stan Musial Award (MVP): Buster Posey, SFG. This one was the toughest to decide on. I’m usually a stat guy, but I found myself going back to which player felt like the most valuable player to his team. No insult to Andrew McCutchen, Ryan Braun, Yadier Molina or Chase Headley, but that guy to me felt like Posey. But the stats back it up too: He led the league in WAR, offensive WAR, OPS+, hit .336/.408/.549 with 39 doubles, 24 homers and 103 RBIs and was a captain on defense at the hardest position on the field. Posey’s my guy this year.

__________________________

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Nationals coverage on Twitter @NationalsDSP.

Washington Mystics 2012 Season Starts May 19

The Washington Mystics will tip off the 2012 season on Saturday, May 19 against the Chicago Sky. Season tickets for the 2012 season are currently on sale and can be purchased by calling the Mystics Sales Office at 1-877-DC-HOOP1 or by visiting the Mystics web site at www.washingtonmystics.com.

Printable 2012 Schedule

 

NHL’s culture of violence hurts the players and the game

Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom was assessed a match penalty for his cross-check of Boston Bruins forward Rich Peverley at the end of the Caps 4-3 loss in Game Three Monday night. Tuesday evening, NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan upheld the automatic suspension that came with the match penalty; Backstrom must miss Thursday’s Game Four, putting the Capitals behind the eight-ball for what could be the pivotal game of the series.

Today, the Caps took a slightly strange – but bold — step nonetheless and issued a press release on Backstrom’s suspension:

We disagree with the NHL’s decision to suspend Nicklas Backstrom.  This has been a competitive and physical series, and we do not understand why a suspension was imposed in this case while other incidents in this series have not been reviewed. Our singular focus now is on Game 4, and we look forward to the energy that our great fans provide.

The statement is carefully worded to avoid further discipline or fine by the league offices, but the message is clear: “We’re not happy with the way this series is being officiated.” [Read more...]

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