Everything Dies/Just the Facts Jam

Longtime readers know I generally am not a fan of song covers, but exceptions exist. That’s a fact.

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Loyola-Chicago’s groundbreaking title overlooked today (via USA Today)

online-shake-3-13-13-4_3They are the champions you might not remember, who lived the extraordinary season you might not have known. But to begin to understand the special journey of the 1963 Loyola of Chicago Ramblers, all that is needed is one picture.

The photo, taken before an NCAA tournament game 50 years ago, shows a black player from Loyola and a white player from Mississippi State shaking hands.

The Loyola player is Jerry Harkness, captain for an upstart team that had not only stormed up the rankings but also flouted the unwritten rules of 1963 by starting four African Americans.

They are the champions you might not remember, who lived the extraordinary season you might not have known. But to begin to understand the special journey of the 1963 Loyola of Chicago Ramblers, all that is needed is one picture.

The photo, taken before an NCAA tournament game 50 years ago, shows a black player from Loyola and a white player from Mississippi State shaking hands.

The Loyola player is Jerry Harkness, captain for an upstart team that had not only stormed up the rankings but also flouted the unwritten rules of 1963 by starting four African Americans. … Read More

(via USA Today)

2018 Detroit Tigers Season Preview

detroit-tigers

At last, Opening Day is here, and the 2018 Detroit Tigers season preview you absolutely need now is ready for you. For the fourth consecutive year, Mark Sands, my Banished to the Pen colleague, and I have prepared a Tigers season preview, which is available right now on that site. For the second consecutive year, our preview takes on a slightly less formal format. In light of the significant roster turnover the team has experienced, we thought it would be helpful to tell the story of this team by focusing on some of its new faces, together with some updates on the current roles for the familiar guys.

First pitch is at 1:10 todaytomorrow. Until then, and long after, one assumes, the full preview post is available here.

Can predict baseball? Guesses for the 2018 MLB season

FanGraphs released its staff (likely irresponsibly broadly defined, as you’ll realize very soon) predictions for the 2018 MLB season, to which I contributed, today. This includes aggregated predictions for each division and wild card position, as well as MVP, Cy Young, and ROY winners. In a decision not my own, the post also breaks out each individual’s predictions arranged alphabetically by first name, making my guesses dangerously easy to spot.

If you want to see what the baseball future could but likely will not be, click here, and then come back here and add your own predictions in a comment below.

The U.S. Hockey Goalie Who Stood Up To Hitler At The 1936 Olympics (via WBUR)

walletphotoolympicteam1936Francis Baker attended Hamilton College in upstate New York during the mid-1930s. He studied the German language, among other things, and he was the goalie for the hockey team. Hamilton head coach Albert Prettyman was selected to lead the U.S. Olympic ice hockey team. In early February 1936, on the eve of the Winter Games at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, Coach Prettyman had a problem to solve, according to hockey historian Stan Fischler.

“The regular goalie had taken sick before they left to take the boat across to the Continent,” Fischler says. “And when that happened, Prettyman got hold of his backup goalie, Francis Baker.”

Baker agreed to join the team.

“And they arrived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen only three days before the Winter Games officially began,” Hood says.

Baker practiced with the team as they prepared to compete amid a political climate in which U.S.-German relations were rocky at best.

“Well, they weren’t cordial,” Fischler says. “Certainly by that time, even though the United States under President Roosevelt was still an isolationist country, the dislike for what was going on in Germany was pretty widespread in the States.”

That dislike found its way into the opening ceremonies on Feb. 6, 1936.

Following Hitler’s declaration before a crowd of 40,000 that the 1936 Winter Games were officially open, delegations from 28 nations marched into an open-air stadium. It was a typical display of Olympic pageantry, except for the ubiquitous Nazi flags.

Hitler had told the IOC of his demand to have athletes from all nations salute him in the customary Nazi fashion, with right arms extended and rigid.

“And the American team did not do that,” Hood says. “Their arms were to the sides.”

“They didn’t acknowledge the ‘Führer,’ ” Fischler says. “And the ‘Führer’ responded by being furious. So we had a furious ‘Führer.’ ”

“And that’s what triggered Hitler to come down into the locker room,” Hood says. … Read More

(via WBUR)

Did somebody just out-XFL the XFL?

xfl fans orlando

Baseball may be the de jure national pastime and the NFL may be the de facto national pastime, but, heretofore, the official sport of ALDLAND always has been the XFL. Almost twenty years ago, the brash and innovative XFL upended the stogy NFL with a fan-first (or certainly not player-first) approach that, while not long-lasting in its then-current form, lives on through a variety of changes it forced the NFL to make to stay current with its most ardent fans.

Almost two decades after the XFL folded, however, the NFL under Roger Goodell is as stiff and outdated as it’s ever appeared, which made initial reports that Vince McMahon was bringing the XFL back welcome news indeed in many quarters, including this virtual one. The NFL once again is ripe for upheaval, and a revived XFL seemed like just the vehicle for the job once again. Unfortunately, further revelations from McMahon have made clear that the new XFL, which is planned to resume play in 2020, has a mission devoid of the brash, raw, boundary-pushing, potentially/probably dangerous approach the league took in 2001:

On January 25, 2018, Alpha Entertainment announced a new incarnation of the XFL, which would begin with a 10-week inaugural season beginning in January or February 2020. In a press conference, McMahon stated that the new XFL would be dissimilar to its previous incarnation, stating that “There’s only so many things that have ‘FL’ on the end of them and those are already taken. But we aren’t going to have much of what the original XFL had, including the cheerleaders, who aren’t really part of the game anymore. The audience wants entertainment with football, and that’s what we are going to give them.” McMahon stated that the league would feature eight teams as a single entity owned by Alpha (the previous XFL was also a single-entity league), which will be revealed in 2019. Alpha Entertainment was established in order to keep the league’s management and operations separate from that of WWE.

The XFL will discourage political gestures by players during games (such as, for example, taking a knee in protest), and will forbid any player with a criminal record from participating. He justified this by stating that the XFL would be “evaluating a player based on many things, including the quality of human being they are”, and that “people don’t want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained”. He suggested that players who wish to express political opinions should do so on their personal time.

He’s had a lot of success, but here, McMahon’s being too big of an idiot in too many ways. The second coming of the XFL wasn’t going to be a cookie-cutter version of the first edition, of course, but its organizing principle, by McMahon’s own admission, has nothing to do with football. Nobody ever thought the XFL would offer a better on-field product than the NFL because the best players always play for the most money, but you’re lying if you said you thought the XFL would return to play the role of a more conservative NFL. (And not to get too deep into the water here, but does anyone think he could’ve saved a lot of words by just saying he only wants white players?) What a waste.

Thankfully, somebody else saw an opening here. That somebody is Charlie Ebersol, the son of Dick Ebersol, the longstanding NBC executive who, along with McMahon, formed the original XFL. Charlie, who directed the recent 30 for 30 movie about the XFL, plans to scoop his father’s former partner by debuting his new league, the Alliance of American Football, a year earlier than XFL 2.0:

The league plans to kick off on February 9th, 2019, one week after the Super Bowl, with 50-man rosters and a ten-week season.

The news just gets worse and worse for the XFL, as Ebersol’s league has already recruited some heavy hitters from the NFL world. Ebersol has brought in retired Indianapolis Colts General Manager and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian to help oversee the league, with former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu doing the same for the player side of the new venture and former USC star J.K. McKay for the team side. Adding to the league’s growing star power are Hines Ward, Justin Tuck and Dick Ebersol, who are all league advisors.

The league’s financial backing comes from a variety of sources, including former Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Jared Allen, Billionaire Peter Thiel and the Chernin Group. This stands in contrast to McMahon, who is financing his new XFL through personal wealth. That creates more upside for him personally, but Ebersol is taking a longer view of his new league saying “I think where businesses like this fail is that they expect to have ludicrous and unrealistic ticket and media deal projections in Year 1. Our investors here understand that it’s a 7-10-year plan.”

Significantly, AAF already has a television broadcast deal with CBS, and it claims it also will offer live streaming on a free mobile app. Plus, according to an ESPN report, there will be no TV timeouts, substantially fewer commercials, and mandatory two-point-conversion attempts after every touchdown.

The younger Ebersol hasn’t said much about the AAF’s broader mission beyond a general goal to provide fans and players with a quality on-field performance which, while vague, is better than the position McMahon’s staked out. It’s tough to read the tea leaves on the league’s backers and advisors– Polian presents as an NFL-stooge type; Thiel funded the Hulk Hogan lawsuit that mortally wounded Gawker Media Group; Chernin owns a majority of Barstool Sports and recently upped its stake; and Polamalu, Ward, Tuck, and Allen all seem like fun, personable characters in the former-player role.

The XFL of 2001 may never (and arguably shouldn’t) return, but, sitting here today, I have far greater hope in what the AAF can offer the world of football than I do in McMahon’s soft retread effort.

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Related
Pre/Postmodern football fans rejoice: The SPFL cometh

Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

fiers mlbn

As it has done in the past, MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” program spends a day with each major-league team during spring training. They spent Monday with the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Florida. Here are the highlights:

  • Miguel Cabrera was guarded in discussing his health coming into the season after injuries limited him to 130 games and a career-worst 91 wRC+ in 2017. He admitted it was tough to find enjoyment in the game last year, but he expects to be back to having fun in 2018.
  • Ron Gardenhire, the Tigers’ new manager, said that his time outside of the game gave him perspective on the special nature of the opportunity he and his players have to make a living in baseball. While he avoided specifics, it sounds like he has fairly modest expectations for the season. It also looks like he wishes his baseball pants had pockets.
  • Likely number-one starting pitcher Michael Fulmer called Gardenhire “awesome” and described him as a “very positive guy.” Fulmer also said he “had a little setback with the elbow earlier in camp, but we’re all good now.”
  • On High Heat, General Manager Al Avila emphasized the youth of the 2018 roster. He confirmed that Fulmer is “one-hundred percent” healthy, indicated that second-year player Jeimer Candelario would be the opening-day third baseman, and described Cabrera as “much stronger” following an offseason physical therapy regimen. Avila believes that Cabrera can maintain a reasonably high level of production if he sticks to his offseason training plan, comparing him to other late-career success stories like Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero. He dodged a question about whether the obviously rebuilding team would shift its approach if it somehow found itself in a contending position midway through this season, but he did allude to the comparatively positive perception of Detroit’s current rebuilding process as compared to the actions of other teams that have drawn accusations of anticompetitive behavior. Avila also referred to “millions of dollars” the team had invested in “new technology,” which apparently includes biomechanical-oriented technology and an analytics department that now boasts a staff of twelve. Finally, he said that “nothing has changed” in his “great” relationship with ownership, which has transitioned to the late Mike Ilitch’s son Chris, who, Avila said, “has backed me one-hundred percent.”
  • Hopeful starting pitcher Daniel Norris reports that he is feeling healthy and, while he wants to compete for a rotation spot, he’s trying not to ramp up too fast in spring training in order to maintain that health.
  • The consensus among surveyed players is that presumptive closer Shane Greene has the worst taste in music, while Jose Iglesias, despite his own strong opinion to the contrary, has the worst singing voice.
  • Iglesias did get the opportunity to speak for himself and answer the Harold Reynolds question “What’s funner, snatching a hit from somebody or getting a big hit?” While Iglesias, a native of Cuba, wasn’t able to watch much major-league baseball growing up, it’s clear he’s picked up on Crash Davis’ tutelage from his answer: “Both.”
  • Nick “Nicholas” Castellanos, who’s moving from third base to right field on a full-time basis in 2018 said that he was not mentally present for much of last season because his father was ill, but, now that his dad is healthy, he will be able to reunite mind and body and is approaching this season with a seize-the-day attitude.
  • New arrival Mike Fiers praised the team’s new pitching coach, Chris Bosio, and says he feels he’s getting back on track under Bosio’s guidance. The two previously worked together during Fiers’ rookie season in 2011, when both were employed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. Fiers, who spent the first five years of his career in Milwaukee before shifting to Houston for the past three seasons, arguably had his best performances as a Brewer.
  • Alan Trammell, fresh off his election into the baseball hall of fame, is working with players on infield fundamentals.

I didn’t think this year’s edition of this feature was as entertaining as it has been in past years, but there are a lot of new faces on this team and a new strategic approach that Tigers fans haven’t seen in some time, and I thought the profile was, on the whole, serviceable.

Stay tuned for a more thorough Detroit Tigers 2018 season preview, which will appear soon over at Banished to the Pen.

ALDLAND Archives: Madness: The NCAA Tournament’s structural flaw

Last night, the NCAA released the opening pairings for this year’s men’s basketball tournament. It’s nearly impossible to imagine the NCAA ever shrinking the tournament below the current number of entrants (sixty-eight). It is possible to imagine a better way to incorporate the four teams added above and beyond the traditional sixty-four-team field, however, and, in 2016, I engaged in that exercise in a post now unearthed from the ALDLAND Vault.  -Ed. 

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Madness: The NCAA Tournament's structural flaw
MARCH 15, 2016

The organizing principle of a competition arranged in the fashion of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is that better teams should have easier paths for advancement, the goal being for the best teams to meet as late as possible. Tournament organizers therefore employ a seeding system that awards teams believed to be the strongest with the best seeds (i.e., the lowest numbers) and first pits them against teams believed to be the weakest.This is sensible, logical, and good. Anything can happen once the games begin, of course, but if Michigan State and Kansas, for example, are the best teams in this year’s tournament, the tournament should be designed such that those two teams are most likely to face off in the final, championship round. Generally speaking, this is how the NCAA tournament is organized.

From 1985 until 2000, the tournament’s field held steady at sixty-four total teams. In 2001, it expanded to sixty-five teams, adding a single play-in game to determine which team would be the sixteenth seed to face the number one overall seed. In 2011, the tournament field expanded to sixty-eight teams, its current size, with four play-in games.

Many people dislike the fact that the tournament has expanded beyond a seemingly optimal sixty-four-team field, but all should agree that, however many teams and play-in games are included, the tournament should be organized such that the projected difficulty of each team’s path through the tournament is inversely proportional to its seed position. As currently constructed, however, the tournament deviates from this basic principle.

Read the rest…

The Best Baseball Research of the Past Year

Once again, the Society for American Baseball Research has chosen fifteen (non-ALDLAND) finalists for awards in the areas of contemporary and historical baseball analysis and commentary.

My latest post at Banished to the Pen highlights each finalist. The winners will be announced on Sunday.

The full post is available here.