Baseball and unfairness (Thome vs. Jeter)

August 17, 2011

This week, Jim Thome, one of the most revered figures active in baseball today, hit his 600th home run.  In my youth, there were 3 guys who had hit 600 home runs (Ruth, Mays, Aaron).  Thome is now the 8th.  Of the other four names on the list, only Ken Griffey, Jr. made it without the cloud of PED’s (performance enhancing drugs).  You might not have heard about Thome’s spectacular feat though.

Last month, Derek Jeter collected his 3,000th career hit.  That is an incredible milestone, even by today’s standards (I think Mr. Jeter is about the 28th guy to get 3,000 hits).  You probably heard about it … HBO even has an hour long special covering his quest for 3,000.

So, how does the news media justify massive coverage for something that has happened 27 other times, but barely flutters an eyelash at something that has happened 8 times (and more realistically, only 5 honest times).

I was listening in on ESPN who was interviewing their own baseball experts on this.  One started by clearly noting “This is not east coast bias … this is not special coverage because Derek Jeter was a Yankee or in Boston.”  He then explains that it is a numbers thing … that more fans are familiar with Jeter than Thome.

Of course, could this possibly be because …I don’t know …. Derek Jeter plays in … you know …. NEW YORK!  It was circular logic at its worst, and a frank admission that the worthiness of the story is irrelevant … it is purely “what the majority of fans in New York or Boston want to hear.

This is part of the whole problem between baseball and the media.  Outside of New York and Boston, few fans care about those teams, but good luck getting equivalent coverage.  As a result, baseball fans have flocked away from national coverage to more local coverage and blogs.  The national media in turn is left with an audience that is squarely left on the East coast, and panders to them.

Measuring against the two, I think much of Dereke Jeter’s success has come from being on a team with other good (high purchase price) players.  Jim Thome’s success has been more his own.  He moved from Cleveland to Philadelphia to Chicago, and now Minnesota, and hit well everywhere, no matter who was batting in front or behind him.  We can only speculated what Jeter would have done surrounded by lesser talent.  I would easily pick Thome for the Hall-of-Fame ahead of Jeter, any day of the week.  It’s not even close.

Of course, even though there has never been the slightest inkling of Jim Thome taking any PEDs, there are sports writers who have declared they are voting for no power hitters from the steroid era.  This gives Thome more of an uphill battle in getting to the Hall-of-Fame.  Before Thome gets there, there will be hitters who will hopefully pave the way.  Griffey, Jr. will be up for election before Thome.  So will Frank Thomas.  Both of these guys have never been connected to any PEDs, and both will be on the ballot before Thome.  Both are bonafide first ballot Hall-of-Famers.  They will serve as the test … if these guys get in, Thome will be swept in.  Even if these guys have to wait a year or so, they might have done the job of grinding down resistance so that Thome canget through with little or no problem.

Until then, congratulations to a strapping corn-fed son of Illinois who has made baseball fans everywhere happy and proud.  One of us did something good!


Military training isn’t good enough for high school football

August 13, 2011


When I went to college, I would drive back and forth every few weeks along I-57 and drive past Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School … its right on the interstate.  You can’t miss it!

Eddie Nuss is a football player there, getting ready to start his senior season.  When people ask Eddie how he spent his summer vacation, the answer isn’t “on a beach in Florida”, or “hanging out with friends at Dairy Queen”.

He was doing basic training.

Eddie is a part of a program that allows him to do basic training before his senior year of high school, go back and graduate, and then get into his advanced training before he goes on duty, putting him a few months ahead of other high school graduates.

There is a problem.  The Illinois High School Association (IHSA — the downstate dominated group that governs high school athletics and some activities) has a rule requiring all potential football players to engage in a minimum of 12 days of practice prior to playing.  There is a sensible reason for that rule:  you do not want kids who are not in shape playing football … that is an easy way to get hurt.  So kids know:  if you are missing preseason practice for vacations or to do other things, you often times have to sit a game or two).

Eddie doesn’t get home until 7 days before the season starts … meaning he will be five practice sessions short for participation in his senior season’s home opener.  Remember:  especially in little towns, you may only have four home games …. missing one is a big deal!

Eddie’s family appealed to the IHSA on the grounds that “our son will obviously be in far better shape than any boy playing on any football field in the state of Illinois.”  Running five miles a day with heavy packs in hundred degree heat tends to put you into shape.   Of course medical clearance would be a part of this.

But …. bureaucrats are good at deactivating the “common sense” part of their brain.  Even though it is clear that this kid will meet the spirit of the rule, it is much, much easier to say “that’s the rule, too bad”, which is what the IHSA has decided to do.  They even came up with this to deflect criticism:

“Our sports medicine committee continues to feel that being in shape and being in football shape are two different things.”

Of course it is …. a cross country runner might be in peak physical condition, but in no way should be cleared to strap on a helmet and head out onto the field.  That said, there are many ways to get into “football shape” besides doing “football drills”.  This is the equivalent of saying “The U.S. Army does not put human beings into good enough shape to play football.  Only football coaches can do this.”  This is the IHSA in classic defense mode … they need a reason to not bend a rule for common sense (what if a girl comes back and wants to pull this next year with soccer?), and is throwing their sports medicine committee under the bus.  Instead of making a good will gesture and trying to do something common sense, they retreat for the comfort and warmth of rules.

Needless to say, a senator in the Illinois legislature is going to get involved.  He might get a phone call back, because the IHSA has a long history of reminding the legislature that they have no power over their organization, and they can all politely go to Chicago (the equivalent of hell for many downstaters).  The only other option is a court injuncton … but given the IHSA’s history, they might just cancel week one of the season to prove they won’t get bullied by something as insignificant as a “court”.

I’m hardly the most patriotic person on Earth, but I know enough to respect and support people who willing enter the military to serve the nation.  You would figure the IHSA would do something other than say “too bad”.









Ya win some … ya lose some

August 8, 2011

About a week ago, one of our administrators at school asked if I was going to the autograph show at Rosemont in a week.  I didn’t even know it was going to be there … but in fact the National Sports Memorabilia Show was going to be there.  It was held over four days, but exercising self-control, I decided to only go the last day (Sunday).


The one major thing that I wanted was to add Gale Sayers autograph to my “legends of the Bears ball”.  Looking at others there, I decided to go after a few baseball Hall of Famers who were scheduled to appear:  Rod Carew, Orlando Cepeda, Frank Robinson, and Paul Molitor.


The first thing I noticed, compared to the other shows:  much fewer people.  I think the economy is really, really starting to have an impact.  A number of booths were marked “Retiring”, “Going out of Business”.  It might have been a ploy, but the business of collectables has been seriously hurt by the economy.  People are just unwilling to buy niceties in an uncertain economy.


The other thing I noticed:  there were fewer of people like me “Loner adult males aged 18-40”.  There were many couples and many of what looked to me to be “father-son” combinations.  That to me is a good sign.  Even though attendance at baseball games is as high as ever before, the ratings for baseball on TV are as low as they have ever been, and there appears to be no sign in sight as to where it will bottom out.  There is some serious concern, along with the permanent readjustment in our economy, where baseball will fit in with football, basketball, and (revulsion) the growth of flopping (soccer).  People want more drama (hence things like soccer and MMA have grown).  Baseball has drama, but it is fewer and far between.

 Another point I’ll share with the folks who don’t do this:  it is odd/funny/interesting, and most often understandable that some of the athletes will not do certain things while autographing.  For example, Roberto Alomar had a very memorable incident during his career that while in a fit of rage he spit on an umpire, and had it all caught on tape.  He refuses to sign anything to do with that that incident.  Mike Tyson will not sign “Iron Mike” (not sure why).  Bo Jackson refuses to sign anything from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (the team that contacted him and cost him a year of eligibility in college baseball).  There were others.  What I am amazed with is that among the collectors, except for an occasional person who “doesn’t get it”, everyone knows enough to respect the player.  There is a business transaction taking place, but it is one of personal interaction, and just about everyone understands that if you avoid acting like a papparazzo or a drooling fanboy, things tend to go pretty good!


I also took an opportunity to drop off my two big birthday presents for authentication.  I figure my ’53 Yankees and ’57 White Sox balls will require some special insurance coverage, and I want to make sure they are taken care of, so I dropped them off with the authentication service, and they are going to get them back to me this afternoon.  In a few weeks they will send me their opinion letter confirming that the balls are authentic, and that should allow me to get them added to my insurance rider, just in case.


With the crowds much smaller than the other shows I have attended, waits were shorter.  All of the players I met were very nice.  Orlando Cepeda was very quiet, but instead of saying “thank you”, a said “Gracias, señor Cepeda”.  His face lit up a bit, and he replied with a “gracias” of his own.  Paul Molitor asked if I was a Brewers, Twins, or Blue Jays fan, I told him “No, I’m a White Sox fan, you know, the Chicago team you helped beat most of your career.”  He smiled, and I told him that I hated seeing the Sox lose, but I appreciated the talent and effort.  He smiled and shook my hand.


Perhaps the highlight had nothing to do with me …. as I was waiting for Gale Sayers, Bo Jackson was one table over.  Two tables over from him was the once undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, Mike Tyson.  Tyson was flanked with bodyguards and there was a strict no pictures policy.  As far as I could tell, he had a grin on his face, and seemed to be engaging with people.  He had by far the longest line of anyone.

When Bo Jackson finished with all of his fans, he stood up and walked over to one of the Champ’s bodyguards and whispered to him.  The bodyguard went over to Tyson, and Tyson immediately stopped and got up and gave Jackson a big hug.  Jackson asked if he could have a picture with him, and the cameras came out for a picture of the decade:  quite probably the greatest American athlete in history, and one of the most ferocious and dominant heavyweight champion the ring has ever seen.  Even I wished I had brought a camera to take that picture!


My best personal moment was with Frank Robinson.  When there were two people left in front of me, I realized that I had lost my ticket to get his autograph.  I panicked … I hadn’t waited more than 20 minutes, but still!  The guy behind me tapped my shoulder and said he had found this on the ground, but didn’t know whose it was until I started getting that “where’s my ticket” look on my face as I started looking for it.  I thanked him.  I was greeted by Frank Robinson (who I noted had been really animated with the younger kids that day … that’s always a sign of class!)  As he was signing my ball, I again told the guy (now next to me) thanks!  Robinson looked up at me and asked “What’d he do?”  I said that I had lost my ticket, and that he was a great guy for giving it back to me.  “Is he a great guy because he gave it back to you?”  I replied “No … he was a great guy before this … this is just what great guys do.”  He smiled, shook my hand (note:  shaking the hand of a man who won the triple crown, two MVPs and hit over 575 home runs … not to mention being the first Afrcan-American manager in Major League history is most awesome!), and thanked me for coming out, and then thanked the guy next to me for being a nice guy.


The really bad news came at the end of the day.  When I picked up my two autographed balls from the authenticator, one (my 1957 White Sox ball) came out with flying colors.  My 1953 Yankees ball was declared to be a forgery … failing on quite a few of the points they examine for handwriting analysis.  I was pretty upset!!


On the way out, there was a booth set up by an auction house offering free appraisals.  I showed them my White Sox ball, and he asked me what I thought it was worth (just like “Antiques Roadshow”.  I guessed about $500, and he said that was pretty good … he put it in the $450-$500 range.  I then showed him the Yankee ball.  He looked at it for 2 seconds and called over his friend, telling me that he was more the card expert and less the autograph expert.  His friend came over, looked at the ball for 2 more seconds, handed it to me and said “that’s a fake, and a poor one at that.”  Now I was flabbergasted!!  My uncle had this ball for decades … it wasn’t like he even bought it, it was given to him … why would someone forge a ball to just give it away?  The guy said that he is very familiar with Yankee signatures, and that none of them looked as they should, and that they weren’t even close.


So while gaining a few more treasures for my collection, I sadly lost a big one.

Banning the wave: about time!

August 3, 2011

Nothing drives me up the wall morethan going to a ballgame, and seeing some drunken idiots decide they need to be the center of attention and try and start the wave.  It has been a long time since I have been to a game where this has been successful, and I admit that I privately am happy to see it fail.  But this inheritence from soccer has no place at a baseball game, especially when the game is actally being played.

It seems that the American League champion Texas Rangers, under the presidency of Hall of Fame immortal Nolan Ryan, have decided to not only try and bring a stop to the nonsense, but actually do it the right way.  Rather than screaming and yelling and whooping and hollering at people to stop, they are doing it with some gentle comedy.

If you visit the link, you will see what the Rangers post on the scoreboard.  Among other things it is a health warning that people may get hurt, and that children caught participating may be sold to the circus.

Go get ’em Rangers!

Would have made a hell of a science fair project for the kids!

August 2, 2011

There is an unwritten rule in the science department I work for that was passed down to us from a former department chair … it is hardly unique to our group:

It is always better to ask forgiveness than for permission.

I am trying to decide how that applies to this situation.  This guy got in trouble because he decided to ask for permission.  On the other hand, I wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t been stopped at this point.

As I tell my students:  learning to be an amateur mechanic is a good skill to have.  Whether you are male or female, it impresses potential mates to no end when you can change the oil and do a tune up by yourself.  Throw in a little skill in being able to repalce ceiling joists and fix leaking pipes, and you’ll be fighting off potential mates for the rest of your life.

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S HOLY:  NUCLEAR ENGINEERING SHOULD BE LEFT TO THE PROFESSIONALS! Do NOT attempt to build a nuclear reactor in your home, by yourself.