Saturday, February 14, 2009

Yes: Michael Lewis on NBA Stat Revolution

Some surprises are the best. I had no idea that Michael Lewis was writing the cover story of this week's New York Times Magazine, on the "Moneyball effect" in the NBA -- a new emphasis on serious stats, recognizing inefficiencies and more. But I opened my paper, and there it was. Best treat ever. I don't know whether to rush into it now or savor it for later this long weekend. On Valentine's Day, my man-crush on Lewis knows no bounds.

-- D.S.

Saturday 02/14 (Very Valentine) Quickie

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.

I love that Kevin Durant had his break-out NBA moment last night in the Rookie-Soph game. (46! 46 points! Even in a no-D all-star-ish event, that's amazing. 17/25 FG, 4/8 3-pt, 8/8 FT and a team-high 7 rebounds)

I don't love that there is another "witness for the prosecution" against Barry Bonds. (Where was she before? Was this meant to be a surprise? Although it's pretty damning: The witness said she actually saw Bonds injecting himself. I think Bonds' defense could beat that back -- beyond the "how do we know you're not lying," does she know what was in the syringe?)

I love that Charlie Weis will be Notre Dame's offensive coordinator -- one more area where he can stumble (Oh, save it, ND fans: I'm just playing. I'm sure he'll do GREAT.)

I don't love the Shawn Marion-Jermaine O'Neal trade. (Well, I love trades involving big names, but doesn't this repudiate both teams acquiring the guys in the first place?)

I love that the Falcons are trying to trade Mike Vick -- WHILE HE'S STILL IN PRISON.

I don't love that I have absolutely no idea what to make of the Big East -- just when Villanova looks like it is hitting its stride, they lose to West Virginia (themselves a Tourney-worthy team -- Da'Sean Butler...43? Wow, that was Durant-ish.).

I love that Lane Kiffin has YET ANOTHER recruiting violation. (Sure, it's another ticky-tack one, but at some point they aggregate into a chronic condition.)

I love that the U. unveiled "Alex Rodriguez Park" yesterday.

Hmm: You think that Michael Jordan will make the Basketball Hall of Fame? (He and Stockton and the Admiral are locks, of course. I think Mullin should be considered a lock, too -- and he won't make it, but I'd vote for Bernard King -- plus, Dennis Johnson and Cynthia Cooper, too. And, for coaches, I think Don Nelson and Jerry Sloan should both be in.)

What I'm watching today/tonight:
*NBA Dunk Contest

-- D.S.

UPDATE: Wow, Arizona sure looked good today while dismantling UCLA. You all know I'm a sucker for UCLA the past few seasons, and I'm no fan of Arizona -- it's hard to know whether to file away this win for my bracket picks in March... or work harder to disregard it, knowing how chokey Zona is in March. That team will be a bracket-buster, one way or the other.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday 02/13 A.M. Quickie:
NBA All-Star, ND, NU, Long Weekend

I do enjoy the NBA All-Star Weekend -- although I will say that it is best-viewed through DVR, not live. Mostly, I think it is the best-executed All-Star event of any league... by far. (My tribute to the NBA ASW execution leads today's SN column.)

Normally, I'd be most excited about the Dunk Contest, but I join the rest of the folks who are eagerly anticipating the HORSE contest (GEICO, HORSE, whatever).

I also just downloaded the All-Star live-video iPhone app; I'm curious to see how it works out if I try to watch the events from my phone and not on the couch.

If you're not planning on checking in this weekend, have a nice weekend -- particularly if it's a long one for you. If you are, I'll be updating all three days this weekend.

If not for the All-Star stuff, then certainly for college hoops -- I think Pitt-UConn is as big of a game as there will be in the Big East this season, maybe in all of college hoops.

And here's why: This is as tough of a game as UConn will have without Dyson; if UConn wins or even plays well, they will be in good shape in March -- if they get beat, watch out.

(I also think that Pitt is a legitimately great team -- probably the best team in the country this season. A win at UConn would affirm that -- no top contender would have a better road win.)

Speaking of the Big East, I thought Notre Dame was reeling and Louisville a tough draw...right up until ND upended UL. Again: No one knows anything.

And for the second time this week, I watched one of my teams get beat in the final seconds. Florida's loss at Kentucky was frustrating, but OK; Northwestern's loss at home to Illinois was just brutal. NU out-played UI for 35 minutes, then collapsed at the end. Worse still, a win would have put NU back on the Bubble -- now, they are off for sure. One more year, no NCAAs.

*I'm not a NASCAR fan, but I'm intrigued by Joey Logano.
*Why wouldn't Ken Griffey return to Seattle?
*Pitchers and catchers, folks (and I just got my copy of Baseball Prospectus 2009, which will be a fun way to spend this long weekend)

Complete column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thursday 02/12 A.M. Quickie:
Twitter, Favre, UNC, Pitchers, Catchers

It's very possible that today I became the first person to publish a full-blown sports column made up entirely of Twitter tweets. (It's certainly got to be the first time that has happened within mainstream sports media.)

(And it's not like I simply copied over Twitter posts -- but I made sure to run every item through Twitter to ensure it conformed to the 140-characters-or-less format.)

What a fortuitous moment to try the experiment: Did I really want to spend more than 140 characters talking about Brett Favre's latest retirement? No. Did UNC's dominant win over Duke demand more than two lines? No.

In fact, it felt like classic Daily Quickie -- especially the old "Odds and Ends" area that really was a super-quick-hit take on a random sports topic.

Anyway, check it out here, if only for the novelty.

Things I'm loving today: Dunn, Dayton, Pitchers and Catchers

Things I'm not loving today: Favre, Wake, Duke, Alomar situation.

Appropriately for today's column theme, I'll end it there. More later.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lil Wayne Has a Better Career Record On Around The Horn Than Dan Shanoff

Wayne: 1-0
Shanoff: 0-4

-- D.S.

Wednesday 02/11 A.M. Quickie:
UNC-Duke, A-Rod, NBA All-Stars, Dog Show

Let me clarify the lead of today's SN column: I am not saying that UNC-Duke isn't a great rivalry. It is, for sure, the best rivalry in college basketball.

It is also, however, entirely overrated. Because there is no downside for the game's loser. Ever. Not in the regular season. Not in the ACC Tournament. (If they met in the NCAA Tournament? Absolutely. Doesn't happen.) Both teams stroll into the NCAA Tournament field. (The ACC championship, either regular-season or tournament? Honestly: Who remembers those?)

Michigan-Ohio State. Lakers-Celtics. Yankees-Red Sox. These "best" rivalries are enhanced by actual, live-or-die stakes between the two teams: A conference (or national) championship. NBA title. AL pennant.

Again: UNC-Duke is great pageantry and great fun. As far as regular-season rivalries go in sports, it's entirely entertaining. If they ever met in the Final Four, it would be epic. But they don't do that. And so it's hard to call Duke-UNC the "best" rivalry when it's all sizzle, no steak.

Or no stakes.

UPDATE: I'm nothing if not flexible in the face of an interesting counter-argument. The idea that the Duke-UNC winner *could* get the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, triggering a couple of rounds of games that don't take the team too far from home? That counts. But it's not like UNC or Duke -- if they lost this game (as opposed to the other reg-season game as opposed to their inevitable meeting in the ACC Tourney) -- would have that much of a more difficult time in the NCAA Tournament. I think both coaches might even be offended at the idea that home-region advantage is so big that if they didn't get home-region advantage, their team would have a tough time with it. (Based on the last few years, both will choke anyway.)

More you'll find in the column:

*Derek Jeter isn't acting like a captain.
*The BBWAA needs...Jose Canseco.
*Damn you, Jodie Meeks.
*Marquette exposed, as expected.
*JR Smith? What happened to Joe Alexander?
*Mo Williams, All-Star: Stop griping now, Cavs fans.
*UFL: Letting fans vote on Vick is genius.

And, finally...

*Best. Westminster Dog Show Winner. Ever.

Complete column here. More later.

Oh, and I guess Brett Favre is retiring. Whatever.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Baseball Prospectus 2009 Projections

Red Sox: 98 wins.
Yankees: AL Wild Card.
Rays: NOT in playoffs with 92 wins.
Indians win the AL Central; A's win AL West.
Mets, Cubs, D'backs and a WC tie in NL.
See the sage analysis here.

(Remember: It was in these projections a year ago that Nate Silver correctly predicted the rise o the Rays and kicked off what would become the Year of Silver, across sports and politics.)

-- D.S.

Tuesday 02/10 A.M. Quickie:
A-Rod, Apologies, Mizzou, LT, Tiger, More

The headline of today's SN column -- "A-Rod's 'Sorry' Enough" -- was meant to have a double-meaning: (1) He sounded appropriately pathetic, and (2) "I'm sorry" is all fans need to hear.

Fans are infinitely more forgiving than the media, more ready to move on than the media -- which nurses its grudges for maximum sensationalism.

In a decade of Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro and -- especially -- McGwire, all fans really want to hear is that you're sorry and that you're nominally contrite. There is too much else going on not to move forward from that.

A-Rod provided that apology -- and (for a guy who is pretty much a robot) even some semblance of contrition. Given who he is, it was certainly as contrite as Andy Pettitte -- who, remember, was let off from his cheating by fans and media alike with virtually no backlash after his apology.

(It's important to remember that in the absence of being busted, none of these players would have copped to anything. I'm still waiting for the first player to come forward on his own to admit to cheating. Doubt it will happen.)

I'm pretty sure fans are going to move on. Sure, they'll jeer A-Rod, because it'll seem like fun. But it's not like folks want to see him run out of baseball. And it's not like anyone would dispute that he remains one of the best -- if not THE best -- player in the game.

So A-Rod followed the critical Step 1 of sports crisis management: Apologize.

What could he do next? For starters: Take some of his massive wealth and establish some kind of large fund to educate kids on the dangers of taking steroids. Whether it is effective or not isn't the point; it's the symbolism. He could also volunteer to take monthly steroid tests, making the results publicly known -- even learning the results when the public learns them. That kind of transparency and good-faith effort would go a long way toward helping his image.

I don't expect him to do either, even though they are simple and would be quite effective. A-Rod may very well recognize that "I'm sorry" is enough. It is.

More from today's column:

*Mizzou hoops is for real.
*Big Ben's ribs: Who cares?
*Big Al's knee: A shame.
*Tiger Woods: Westminster champ?
*The First Fan on A-Rod

Lots to cover. Check out the entire thing here. More later.

-- D.S.

Monday, February 09, 2009

A-Rod: "I'm Very Sorry"

A-Rod was never very popular to begin with, but I think he'll find that fans (if not the media) are a lot more forgiving of a player who (a) 'fesses up and (b) apologizes. Smart move.

(Longtime readers know that crisis management is one of my favorite topics. HOW someone is reacting to crisis, not simply what that crisis may be. A-Rod will pull this off. Now, he only needs the contrition tour: He can start with Gammons, but he's gotta hit Costas on MLB Network, PTI, Baseball Prospectus, the whole gamut.)

For those who like punitive justice, might I suggest subtracting (or asterisking) 156 HR from his career total, covering the years from 2001-2003 that he was in Texas and admitted to using PEDs?

-- D.S.

United Football League Launches

I have posted about pro-football start-ups -- and the United Football League -- a lot, and off of today's UFL launch its success all comes down to one thing:

Are they willing to go where the NFL won't -- or can't?

That means one thing: Actively pursue draft-ineligible rising college freshmen, sophomores and juniors and play them in your league. (Hell, they can start with Bryce Brown.) Read more here.

-- D.S.

Jon Gruden Joins Tim Tebow Bandwagon

When I say that Tim Tebow will be a good NFL QB -- maybe even revolutionary, at least via the Wildcat -- I'm a schmoe. Jon Gruden says it and it's credible. Sigh.

Lewis Writing a Sequel to Moneyball?

As a way to kill time on the subway this morning, I was trying to rank America's Top 10 sportswriters. I won't bore you with my list -- or, at least, today's iteration -- but I will say that Michael Lewis was at the top. (I actually read a recent interview between Darren Rovell and Malcolm Gladwell, where Gladwell calls Lewis' "Blind Side" the best book he has read in years. High praise.)

This profile in The Big Money also ranks him at the top of the country's financial journalists, which seems almost unfair.

But a most interesting detail was found at the end of the column, almost as a throwaway -- Lewis is writing a sequel to "Moneyball?" Wow. (If folks already knew that, sorry to repeat; I didn't.) "Moneyball" was, arguably, the greatest (and perhaps most influential) sports book ever written. How the hell do you write a sequel to THAT? If anyone is equipped to do it, Lewis is.

-- D.S.

Great Take on A-Rod from King Kaufman

In typical fashion, King Kaufman presents a clear-eyed and sane take on an issue that seems to drive others insane. Worth your time to read.

Update: Joe Sheehan joins the "Best A-Rod takes" list with this sensible analysis.

Monday 02/09 A.M. Quickie:
A-Rod, Lakers, Pro Bowl, Dog Show, More

Wouldn't you rather throw around "Best In Show" quotes all day, rather than talk about A-Rod?

And, yet, this is where we are -- A-Rod (yes: "A-Roid") overload. Leads today's SN column, as you'd expect.

After thinking it over all weekend, I simply can't get outraged. Partially, that's because I'm not surprised he was cheating. Partially, because the whole thing happened in 2003, which is eras ago in baseball terms. Partially, because there's more than enough faux-outrage to go around.

I think most fans are past it all: This notion that there was "cheating" in baseball. Or is. Whatever. With the mainstream media cheerleading all the way, we were happy to turn a willfully blind eye to cheating by McGwire and Sosa during the "Season That Saved Baseball." (Ha.) We were happy to turn a willfully blind eye to Bonds. Clemens, too. Now, A-Rod.

It won't help A-Rod that he isn't particularly well-liked as a player by fans. He is well-respected, but not well-liked. The jeers will be intense, particularly for a guy who seems to hear them quite clearly.

He can be defiant and probably do fine -- it really is hard to get too worked-up over something that happened in 2003. He can 'fess up and do better -- when will athletes learn that contrition helps (see Pettitte) even if it doesn't necessarily save everything (Marion Jones). I suspect he will pursue the former, and 200 home runs from now, only stodgy sportswriters will care.

It continues to amaze me: Everyone -- everyone -- knows that PED cheating is rampant in the NFL; check that, because that makes it sound like it's still outside the norm, rather than THE norm. But no one cares. Like: At all. But there's all this outrage over A-Rod.

I'm no apologist -- I'm just very quick to stipulate that he cheated (I'll presume they all cheated, probably with the exception of Manny, who seems to dumb to cheat) and move on, rather than linger on the contrived outrage.

But given that PEDs weren't technically against the rules back in 2003 -- something you should blame on MLB and the union, rather than the players -- shouldn't we cast a more critical eye on players who took greenies and other amphetamines?

Amphetamines were also a performance enhancer -- enough to be banned by MLB. And they were used and abused by a far wider proportion of MLB players than your traditional steroids. And this is going back, like, decades. If we had test results for amphetamines from 1955-2005, how many players would test positive? (How many wouldn't?)

I'm not saying that's analogous -- it's just something I think about when evaluating how much outrage to assign to this story.

I'm hoping that's all I will want or need to say about it -- as you can see, my thoughts are disjointed at best -- but I suspect this will linger for months, if not longer. I'll pass.

I'd even rather talk about the Pro Bowl... and that's saying something.

Or the Lakers being the team that finally beats the Cavs in Cleveland.

Or the weekend's reveal of the college hoops teams not ready for March yet.

Or, yes, "Best In Show" -- Westminster is today and tomorrow, and nothing says "dog show" like talking about your favorite parts of "Best In Show," which is arguably the funniest sports movie of all time. (Dog shows aren't sports? Then why is coverage found in your sports section?)

Comment about A-Rod if you want to, of course, but I'd rather have your favorite quotes/moments from "Best In Show" -- I'll try to publish comments frequently throughout the day.

In that spirit, I'll leave you with a link to today's SN column and this:

"I'd hate to go on a date with Judge Edie Franklin and have her judge me. That'd be no fun."

-- D.S.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Sunday 02/08 (Very A-Rod) Quickie: A-Roid

Aaand.... welcome to the story that will dominate the next month or two or ever:

A-Rod is a cheater. Or was a cheater. Or whatever. Positive PED test a half-decade ago...yada yada yada...cheater.

I find myself unmoved by this news, for a couple of reasons: Who DIDN'T think he was using PEDs... The entire ERA is assumed to be tarnished by cheaters (why didn't we hear about the other 103 players to test positive?)... The 2003 test seems like forever ago... Oh, god: the media coverage of this is going to make you even more sick than the coverage of Barry Bonds.

So the greatest hitter ever (Bonds) cheated. The 2nd-greatest hitter ever (A-Rod) cheated. "Meh" has become a cliche, but that sums up how I feel about this story. And, yet, it will be unavoidable.


*Gonzaga ain't ready for prime-time: I didn't think Memphis was all that good, and the Tigers just beat down on the Zags.

*Is Duke just not that good or is Miami better than we thought?

*(Clemson is NOT as good as anyone thought, as usual.)

*Just when you thought Xavier was a cool pick to get to the Final Four...

*Given the way Michigan plays against top teams, should their decent-but-not-great record keep them out of the NCAAs?

*Texas loses again (3rd straight L): This qualifies as a tailspin.

*For those of you tracking Northwestern's bubble NCAA Tournaments status, it took a huge hit with a loss at Big Ten bottom-feeding Iowa. Typical NU hoops...

*It seems so strange that Georgetown isn't going to be in the NCAA Tournament. This seemed like such a talented, well-coached team. Biggest disappointment of the year, nationally.

*Adam Morrison traded to the Lakers: He can't play D (which the Lakers do very well), but I see him having a career renaissance on the NBA's top contender.

*Best NBA performance in a win: Dirk (44 pts); best performance in a loss (Ramon Sessions: 44); best fantasy performance: Al Jefferson (36 pts, 22 reb... and he's NOT an All-Star?)

-- D.S.