The Sports Illustrated cover curse has relocated to page 34

rachel nichols si

If it feels like the force of the Sports Illustrated cover curse has waned, that’s only because the jinx has relocated to page thirty four. There, in this week’s issue, appeared SI media critic Richard Deitsch’s article, “The Case for…Rachel Nichols,” in which Deitsch praised Nichols’ recent “interrogat[ions]” of Roger Goodell and Floyd Mayweather Jr. “on her eponymous CNN show, Unguarded with Rachel Nichols. As a result,” Deitsch proclaimed in a laudatory proclamation highlighted in the featured pull quotation, “Nichols is at the moment the country’s most impactful and prominent female sports journalist.”

That may have been true “at the moment” Deitsch wrote it, but by the time many SI readers saw it, Nichols’ show had been cancelled. That’s pretty devastating all the way around, and if you’re a fan of either Mississippi State or Ole Miss football, both of which share this week’s SI cover, you may be in for a long day today.

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What are they teaching those kids in Miami? LeBron James and non-history

You may have heard that LeBron James will be returning as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers next season. He announced his decision in a first-person Sports Illustrated post last week.

While sportswriters generally fell about the place in sharing how emotional they thought James’ letter was/made them, no one seems to have examined James’ history recitation with any care. James said that “Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids.” Did they offer a course in American Athletic History there? If so, can someone leak us the syllabus?

James goes on to make the following statement (emphasis added):

When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.

Unless James plans to suit up with Johann Von Football and defend Akron’s 1920 APFA title, it’s difficult to understand what James is talking about. The context of that final quoted sentence clearly indicates James is referring to the Larry O’Brien trophy. That’s the trophy they give to the team that wins the NBA championship. The Cleveland Cavaliers have not ever won the NBA championship. They only even made it to the finals once, in 2007, when the eternal Spurs swept James and the Cavs. You can handle the math from here.

Flying Tigers: Actually Mad Max

maxscherzersportsillustratedcover

Detroit starting pitcher Max Scherzer is the subject of this week’s Sports Illustrated cover story. The cover’s headline is “Mad Max’s $144 Million Bet,” and it asks whether Scherzer “Made a Dumb Wager on His Future.” Scherzer, who wanted all contract discussions to end by the time the season started regardless of whether he reached a new agreement with the Tigers, was not happy with the way SI framed the story about him, telling the Free Press he was “frustrated that they chose to put the contract stuff on the cover.” The reigning Cy Young Award winner elaborated:

When they approached us, [Tigers media relations] and I, we specifically asked not to make the story around the contract. … They assured us it wasn’t going to be like that. They chose a different route, and we felt like we were lied to and misled.

I didn’t want it to be about that. I’m a baseball player. I want to talk baseball. It’s frustrating when you get lied to about that.

The magazine responded that they knew Scherzer did not want to discuss his contract situation “in detail,” but stated that they did not make any promises about how they might present that subject in the context of the article.

The article itself (I’ll post a link once it’s available online) really does not spend much time on the contract issue at all. It’s mentioned roughly twice in the feature but never substantively analyzed. On the whole, the article actually is a nice profile of Max at an important stage of his career. It spends far more time discussing his analytical development at Missouri– the importance of the pitch following a 1-1 count, for example– and his development of a curveball with Detroit pitching coach Jeff Jones than it does his employment status and prospects.

The sensationalism of the cover’s “$144 Million Bet” language, described as a “dramatic $144 million offer” on the article’s introductory page, has the look of an editor’s efforts to boost general interest in the piece and the magazine as a whole. That introductory page asks, “What does [Scherzer] know that we don’t?” If that really was the question author Albert Chen was seeking to answer when he interviewed Max and wrote this article, he surely would have spent more time discussing broader matters of age, endurance, and pitcher decline than he did.

Those topics are there, of course, and so is the contract. It would be irresponsible not to include all of that in a Scherzer profile published this week. But Chen’s article doesn’t deliver on the sensational promises of his editor’s cover, and readers should be glad it doesn’t. They’ll learn a lot more about Scherzer in Chen’s article and have a more enjoyable time doing so than they would from a poorly sourced pot-stirring piece more suitable for ESPN First Take.     Continue reading

Amidst the glut of Pete Rose journalism, a new, false dichotomy

IMG-20140317-00078It is not difficult to get an interview with Pete Rose. I’m sorry to pull back the curtain on one of sportswriting’s recent tricks, but it’s true. People assume that Rose, one of sports’ all-time controversial figures, must be a tough get, but the sheer volume of articles published in recent years based on one-on-one interviews with Mr. Hustle belie that assumption. I’m reasonably confident ALDLAND could secure a sit-down interview with Rose. He seemingly wants to talk to anybody and everybody– the more he’s in the news, the more likely a public clamor for MLB to reverse course and allow him to stand for a Hall of Fame vote– and I don’t see anything wrong with that. Think what you want about Rose, but Sparky Anderson made his peace with his former player before he died, so you probably should too.

The latest entry into that glut of Rose prose is a book by Sports Illustrated’s Kostya Kennedy, Pete Rose: An American Dilemma. The March 10 issue of the magazine carries an excerpt, available online here. The magazine cover teases a central– and magazine-cover-worthy– quotation: “Rose has been banished for the incalculable damage he might have done to the foundation of the game. Steroid users are reviled for the damage they actually did.”

Again, I like Rose, I think he belongs in baseball, and I think the PED-user analogy can be illustrative. Few people love an illustrative analogy more than me, probably. But here, Kennedy takes the wind out of his own quotation’s sails, and rightly so. We cannot now be sure of the precise effect Rose’s baseball gambling had on his playing and managing. Kennedy is straightforward about this, and, just paragraphs before his money line, he set out in detail how, even if Rose only bet on his Reds, his managing decisions could have been impaired by his collateral financial interest in the outcome of his team’s games. For example, Kennedy suggests that Rose might have utilized his players to achieve short-term results in a way that impaired long-term effectiveness. A baseball season, to say nothing of a baseball career, is a marathon. Kennedy points out that Rose appeared to overuse a lefty reliever, Rob Murphy, in the 1987 and 1988 seasons. Murphy fairly denied the charge to Kennedy, but the writer still put the following tag on this section, which immediately precedes the highlighted quotation above: “There’s no indication, either through game logs or player testimony, that Rose’s betting influenced how he managed. But it could have. speculation, sure. Evidence? Not yet.”

Kennedy seems to miss the point with his “Rose has been banished for the . . .damage he might have done” line, the point he himself just finished making: that Rose’s gambling damaged the game, but we simply don’t yet have the evidence to show exactly how. The same is true of the PED users, for whom evidence has been perhaps the central issue. How many fewer home runs would Barry Bonds have hit had he not used PEDs? (He did use PEDs, right?) How many fewer hits for finger-waving Rafael Palmeiro? How many fewer strikeouts for Roger Clemens? Why pretend like the damage is any more or less obvious for one or the other?

I hope baseball allows Rose back into the game, to stand for election to the Hall of Fame (a privilege Kennedy notes Bonds and Clemens and their lot enjoy). While MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has hinted at some easing of Rose’s ban, this is an all-or-nothing issue. I’m not sure what, if anything, will tip the scales in Rose’s favor, but a false dichotomy like the one Kennedy presents doesn’t help anyone’s cause on this issue.

Monday Morning PR Quarterback

wwwThe rise of the internet fad, such as it is, presents a challenge to the viability of traditional print media. Nowhere in the world of sports media is that clearer than with Sports Illustrated, the onetime king of the written sports word.

SI hasn’t necessarily shied away from the Worldwide Web, but it hasn’t exactly been fleet-footed about it either. Here‘s the earliest archived version of SI.com, Continue reading

Upton Abbey – Episode 8 – Director’s Commentary

upton abbey banner

I have been running this Upton Abbey feature on this site since April. Brendan helped me with the name, and I created the headline graphic that has accompanied each post. Readers with a careful eye have noticed that that graphic includes B.J., Justin, and Kate Upton.

The folks at Sports Illustrated are dedicated fans of this series, and they’re using the cover of next week’s issue to acknowledge ALDLAND’s influence on their work:

While the SI editors have not expressly acknowledged this site by name, I did begin receiving free copies of the magazine in the mail a few weeks ago, which is good enough for me.

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The Braves begin the playoffs tomorrow night, when they host the first game of their divisional series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. L.A. had a great second half to their season, while the Braves spent September looking to regain their rhythm. Another thing they spent September doing was vigorously enforcing baseball’s “unwritten rules.” Brian McCann and Chris Johnson took the lead on this Quixotic initiative, and Braves fans certainly have to hope that their team can drop what is less than a non-issue and return their focus to the task at hand. The Dodgers look to be in a good spot right now, and late-September’s Braves will have a hard time beating them.

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Previously
Episode 7 – Dessert Seized
Episode 6 – I Can See Clearly Now?
Episode 5 – Guess Who’s Not Coming To Dinner
Episode 4 – A Three-Course Meal
Episode 3 – Hosting Royalty
Episode 2 – Lords of the Mannor
Episode 1 – Beginning, as we must, with Chipper

Fantasy Football vs. Reality, by Nate Jackson

An excerpt from retired NFL player Nate Jackson’s book, Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile, appeared in the September 16, 2013 issue of Sports Illustrated. The following is an excerpt of that excerpt:

Fantasy Football: A player’s statistics are all that matter.

Reality Football: No one knows anyone’s stats, not even their own.

Fantasy Football: NFL players are millionaires.

Reality Football: Many aren’t and never will be.

Fantasy Football: The NFL is all about Pro Bowlers and Hall of Famers. Everyone else is a scrub.

Reality Football: Everyone in the NFL is great at football. It’s not uncommon for a future Hall of Famer to get smoked in practice by a rookie free agent who won’t make the team.

Fantasy Football: It’s a quarterback’s league. Without a “franchise quarterback,” you have no chance. …

Reality Football: The action of the quarterback is determined by the 21 moving bodies around him and the coaches on the sideline. The quarterback is one man with one job. Either he does it well or he does not. After the game he stands naked in line for the shower like everyone else.

Fantasy Football: Roger Goodell is making the game safer. He is removing dangerous head shots from the game through fines and penalties, and has settled on a large fund to help retired players, contributed money to researching head trauma and established the Heads-Up tackling initiative, which teaches kids not to hit with their helmets.

Reality Football: You can’t hit without your head. And no matter how many times you say the word “safe,” football is not safe. It never has been and never will be. That’s the whole point.

Bay of Cigs: Crime & Punishment

jhonnyWhen Ryan Braun accepted a sixty-five-game suspension for his violation of MLB’s drug policy, I lit into the Milwaukee Brewers star, or at least did whatever constitutes lighting into someone around here. Now that (likely former) Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta has accepted a fifty-game suspension for his connection to the Biogenesis clinic, it seemed only fair that I respond to a part of this expanded story that hits close to my fandom as well.

Peralta represents the nearest the PED scourge has come to my fan doorstep– right on the front stoop, as it were– and even though I acknowledged the likely cognitive bias in the abstract, I did not really appreciate how differently one approaches stories like this when they directly involve a favorite team or player until the Peralta suspension was announced Monday. Lance Armstrong was fun, but I wasn’t a real cycling fan and I never wore a Livestrong bracelet. I wasn’t a fan of Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens either. I did have plenty of pictures of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa on my bedroom walls as a kid, but the revelations didn’t come as quickly then as they do now. By the time they came for those two, I’d moved on.

When the PED dragnet picked up an active Detroit Tiger, a starter, an all-star, and an important component of a team with World Series aspirations, though, I found myself scrutinizing every word of the official public statements in the matter, demanding concrete proof of wrongdoing, and generally establishing a defensive posture. Peralta was reported to have a weaker connection to the Biogenesis clinic than other accused players, after all, and didn’t MLB strongarm Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch into “cooperating” with the league’s investigation by filing a probably frivolous lawsuit against him (yes), and have there been any positive drug test results for any of these players (no), and aren’t they kind of being railroaded into accepting these no-contest suspensions (I mean, at least kind of), and isn’t there something to be said for due process in all of this (of course), and what did the league and the players say, exactly, anyway?

Here’s Peralta’s statement:

In spring of 2012, I made a terrible mistake that I deeply regret. I apologize to everyone that I have hurt as a result of my mistake, including my teammates, the Tigers’ organization, the great fans in Detroit, Major League Baseball, and my family. I take full responsibility for my actions, have no excuses for my lapse in judgment, and I accept my suspension.

I love the fans, my teammates and this organization, and my greatest punishment is knowing that I have let so many good people down. I promise to do everything possible to try and earn back the respect that I have lost.

(Before spring training this year, Peralta issued a statement: “I have never used performance-enhancing drugs. Period. Anybody who says otherwise is lying.”)

Here’s MLB Commissioner Bud Selig’s statement:

Continue reading

Searching for Sports Illustrated

siAs noted here, the cover of last week’s Sports Illustrated magazine featured Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, and while I contended then that SI was engaging in a bit of revisionist history with that cover, I still wanted to read that story. I also was interested in the other story advertised on that cover, an update on the Nevin Shapiro case. Both because I wanted to hang onto that cover and because I’d planned a lazy weekend, I wanted to buy an actual copy of the magazine. I’m not a subscriber, and I don’t want to be. I don’t generally have the time, lifestyle, or resources that support buying a subscription to a weekly sports periodical, even though I’ve always enjoyed reading SI (and SI for Kids before that).

I was on the hunt for an individual copy for sale. I live and work in the middle of a major American city. Sports Illustrated is one of the country’s most popular magazines. This should’ve been easy. It was not easy. In fact, I failed in my mission. I tried a grocery store (Publix), a drug store (CVS), and multiple convenience stores/newsstands. I saw a variety of sports periodicals and publications, but not even a whiff of SI. (Possibly interestingly, I recall seeing ESPN The Magazine just once.) I now think the airport or a large chain bookstore would be my best bets, but the above choices weren’t unreasonable options. It shouldn’t be this difficult, right?

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Related
On the integration of the pulp paper and textile industries: Sports Illustrated as a case study

Bay of Cigs: History and Revision

Earlier today, the Detroit Free Press tipped the new Sports Illustrated cover, pictured above, reporting that “it’s . . . thought to be the first time a pair of Tigers have been on the cover of SI since Al Kaline and Denny McLain made it in September 1968.” (Such thorough and confident reporting by the Freep is in line with their recent work on even more important issues.) For anyone who collected baseball cards in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the headline is immediately evocative of an earlier pair of mashers. The caption dubs Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder “Baseball’s 21st-Century Version of Mantle and Maris,” explaining to the Free Press in greater detail:

Ruth and Gehrig. Mays and McCovey. Ortiz and Ramirez. To the list of great hitting duos in baseball history we can now add one more: Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers. Both were established stars long before coming to Detroit but since joining forces prior to last season, Fielder and Cabrera have become baseball’s best 1-2 punch, which makes it only fitting that the sluggers appear together on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated.

Wait, what? I thought…. Hang on. Continue reading