The decline of Boston sportswriting

Alan Siegel explores the reasons for the plummeting quality of Boston’s sports scribes:

The Boston sports media, once considered one of the country’s best and most influential press corps, is stumbling toward irrelevance. The national media not only seems to break more big Boston sports stories than the local press, but also often features more sophisticated analysis, especially when it comes to using advanced statistics. To put it bluntly, “The Lodge”—as Fred Toucher, cohost of the 98.5 The Sports Hub morning radio show, mockingly refers to the city’s clubby, self-important media establishment—is clogged with stale reporters, crotchety columnists, and shameless blowhards. Their canned “hot sports takes” have found a home on local television and talk radio, but do little but suck the fun out of a topic that’s supposed to be just that. And we haven’t even gotten to Dan Shaughnessy yet.

Ah, Dan Shaughnessy. Someday, when I have more time, I’ll devote a longer post to the enormous pile of rubbish that constitutes his writing portfolio. I just don’t have time today.

A spoiled Boston licks its sports wounds

Eric Wilbur takes stock of the city’s last decade in sports:

This was the fifth year in the past decade in which Boston didn’t claim a championship.

Bummer.

It began with heartbreak in Indianapolis, where the Patriots choked away their second-straight Super Bowl. It didn’t get any better for the Bruins in April, when the defending Stanley Cup champs lost in seven games to the Washington Capitals in their first-round playoff matchup. A few weeks later, the Celtics gagged against LeBron James and the Heat, who went on to win the NBA title. Meanwhile, the Bobby Valentine experiment tossed one of Major League Baseball’s most storied franchises into new levels of embarrassment.

By all accounts, it was not a banner year for Boston sports.

The Cannons lost their only playoff game. The Revolution stunk.

Mike Napoli came and went. We think.

Maybe.

They cheered in Manhattan, San Francisco, Miami, and… at some point, Los Angeles. In Boston, there was little but angst and disappointment. The Celtics are an enigma, the Red Sox are in total disarray, and the Bruins are mixed in a web of greed that could ultimately ruin the NHL.

An inglorious ending for Manny Pacquiao

Courtesy of Deadspin.com.

Courtesy of Deadspin.com.

The “Pac-Man” was knocked out for the first time in 13 years, this time by Juan Manuel Márquez:

Marquez, desperate for victory after being down 0-2-1 in the legendary series, flattened Pacquiao with a flush overhand right hand with one second left in the sixth round of their welterweight fight, sending a jolt of human electricity through the sold-out crowd of 16,348 — in a pro-Marquez house — at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Pacquiao went down face-first and was out cold, and the judges, the source of so much controversy through the first three fights, were rendered pointless. Referee Kenny Bayless didn’t bother to — or need to — count as Marquez celebrated on the ring ropes, drinking in the cheers from his Mexican fans, who chanted for him throughout the fight.

“I knew Manny could knock me out at any time,” Marquez said. “I threw the perfect punch.”

Bob Costas goes rogue

And hats off to him for doing it on national television:

And people are already saying he shouldn’t have politicized the murder-suicide. But America already politicizes death, every time we refuse to have a conversation about guns after yet another eminently avoidable murder.

We should be paying more to watch sports on TV

So says Kevin Drum of Mother Jones. After reading a Los Angeles Times piece stating that sports channels account for almost half of the average cable TV bill, Drum advocates a consumer revolution:

The obvious answer, of course, is to offer channels on an a la carte basis—or perhaps on a semi-a la carte basis—but both the content providers and the cable companies fight this tooth and nail. Here’s the excuse:

National and local sports networks typically require cable and satellite companies to make their channels available to all customers….The idea of offering channels on an “a la carte” basis used to be sacrilege to the industry. Executives argued it would not lower prices because networks would just charge more to make up for the loss of subscribers.

You know what? That’s exactly what would happen. People would start to understand just how much they’re paying for sports programming and they’d be appalled. Many wouldn’t subscribe, and sports fans would be forced to pay the actual cost of their sports programming without being subsidized by the rest of us. This is exactly how it should be. There’s no reason that, for all practical purposes, every single person in the LA area should be forced to pay a tax to the Lakers and Dodgers even if they don’t care about basketball and baseball.

Not that I disagree with him, but it’s funny to what extent his sentiment sounds eerily similar to that of Tea Partiers and their ilk — namely, it’s outrageous that should pay for them. Of course, the content is quite different — welfare checks would be quite a bit more foundational on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs than, say, the ability to watch the Lakers at home in high definition — but the philosophy is strikingly similar.

In fact, even the apparent gap in importance between these two examples is somewhat irrelevant, since the entire debate on the role of government is centered on what, exactly, is reasonable or necessary. In other words, even for something as seemingly trivial as sports programming, it would be easy to mount a rebuttal of à la carte programming on cultural grounds: sports, it could be said, facilitate a common social experience, a kinship with fellow citizens, and so on, to such an extent that the costs of broadcasting sports matches should be socialized to the broader population, whether they decide to watch or not.

This may sound ridiculous to many of us, but clearly fiscal conservatives feel very similarly in relation to many facets of government spending such as Medicaid, unemployment distributions, and so on. Again, this is not to justify the archetypal fiscal conservative’s point of view, but just to point out that, even for liberals such as Kevin Drum, there is always a line beyond which the people must “revolt” against undue expenditures that subsidize those other people. The only questions are where the line should be drawn, and which group of “other people” to target as benefitting from unfair subsidization.

Sports, without the athletes

Samuel Arbesman wonders why we even bother with real sports when we could just simulate them instead:

Imagine cutting the athletes out of the game altogether, and instead watching computer-simulated sports. I’m not just talking about virtual games like Madden NFL 18 (e.g., what it could be five years from now). Computer graphics – and the requisite algorithms – have progressed to the point where we could have a lifelike video of the simulation, never worry about replays, and see the action from angles unimaginable in today’s real-life games.

But … why would we do this, you ask (as you reach for your remote control, perhaps)?

For one thing, the possibilities are endless when we go beyond our all-too-fragile wetware towards more hardy software. Software is limitless. The human body is not.

Simulated sports would not only be cheaper but safer, preventing bodily harms such as torn ACLs and ruptured tendons to knee blowouts and traumatic brain injuries.

Meanwhile, sprawling imaginative games allow exotic locales (under the ocean, on the moon), as well as players with fantastical properties (superheroes, the guys from Mortal Kombat) not otherwise possible. Frankly, it’s about time I get to watch a showdown between LeBron and a teen wolf.

Israel’s war on Gazan sports

Dave Zirin asks us to consider why the Israeli Air Force has once again destroyed Gaza’s soccer stadium:

For those attending daily demonstrations against the carnage, this news of a stadium’s destruction must also be seen as an irrelevancy. After all according to The Wall Street Journal, 90 Palestinians, including 50 civilians, have been killed in Gaza. 225 children are among the more than 700 injured and these numbers are climbing. Israeli ground troops are massing at the border and President Obama can only bring himself to defend Israel without criticism. There is only so much concern for a stadium people can be expected to muster.

I think however that we should all take a moment to ask the question, “Why?” Why has the Palestinian sports infrastructure, not to mention Palestinian athletes, always been a target of the Israeli military? Why has the Palestinian domestic soccer league only completed seven seasons since its founding in 1977? Why are players commonly subjected to harassment and violence, not to mention curfews, checkpoints, and all sorts of legal restrictions on their movement? Why were national team players Ayman Alkurd, Shadi Sbakhe and Wajeh Moshate killed by the Israeli Defense Forces during the 2009 military campaign? Why did imprisoned national team player Mahmoud Sarsak require a hunger strike, the international solidarity campaign of Amnesty International, and a formal protest from both FIFA and the 50,000-player soccer union FIFpro to just to win his freedom after three years behind bars?

The answer is simple. Sports is more than loved in Gaza (and it is loved.) It’s an expression of humanity for those living under occupation. It’s not just soccer and it’s not just the boys. Everyone plays, with handball, volleyball, and basketball joining soccer as the most popular choices. To have several thousand people gather to watch a girls sporting event is a way of life. It’s a community event designed not only to cheer those on the field, but cheer those in the stands. As one Palestinian man from Gaza said to me, “[Sports] is our time to forget where we are and remember who we are.”

Attacking the athletic infrastructure is about attacking the idea that joy, normalcy, or a universally recognizable humanity could ever be a part of life for a Palestinian child. This is a critical for Israel both internationally and at home. The only way the Israeli government and its allies can continue to act with such brazen disregard for civilian life is if they convince the world that their adversaries collectively are less than human. The subway ads calling Muslims “savages”, the Islamophobic cartoons and videos that are held up as examples of free speech, are all part of a quilt that says some deaths are not to be mourned.

At home, attacking sports is about nothing less than killing hope. Israel’s total war, underwritten by the United States, is a war not only on Hamas or military installations but on the idea that life can ever be so carefree in Gaza as to involve play. The objective instead is to hear these words of a young girl outside Al Shifa Hospital on November 18th who said, “To the world and people: Why should we be killed and why shouldn’t we have a normal childhood? What did we do to face all this?”

Israel, however, claims that rockets were being fired from the stadium.

Big Macs and the NBA

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah attempted to hit a three-pointer (something he has yet to do successfully in the NBA) last night against the Orlando Magic…just so fans could win free Big Macs. And he missed:

The Bulls have a promotion through which fans can get a free Big Mac if the Bulls score 100 points in a home win. The Bulls won 99-93 as Noah missed his 3 with 3.8 seconds left.

“I talked to him about it, but I’m going to keep that private,” Thibodeau said after Wednesday’s practice.

It’s not the first time the promotion has made headlines. Kirk Hinrich was booed after a game despite leading the Bulls to victory, and evenDerrick Rose said he felt bad after his missed free throws cost the fans a free burger.

Noah made one of two free throws with 23 seconds left to make it 99-93, and Hinrich missed two with 10 seconds left.

“I got caught up in the moment,” Noah admitted after the game.

Despite the fact the Bulls had won, many fans booed the team as the final buzzer sounded.

“I regret it a little bit,” Noah said. “It wasn’t a good shot.

“You have to respect the game because you never know what can happen in a game. I just got caught up in the moment and I was trying to get the people a Big Mac. They really wanted a Big Mac (judging by how loud the crowd was getting) and I felt like, not only did I take the shot and miss the shot, we didn’t even get the Big Mac. Next time, I won’t take that 3-pointer.”

Meanwhile, in another part of town…

…the Major League Baseball postseason (complete with two new playoff wildcards this year) has been a smashing success so far, proving once again that baseball is the greatest sport in the world. (And yes, that is an objective fact.)

Last night, the St. Louis Cardinals stunned the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of their National League Division Series to move on to the Championship Series. ESPN’s Jayson Stark is wowed:

These Cardinals keep doing it, all right. Like no one else has ever done it.

Twelve months ago, they went into the ninth inning of Game 6 of the World Series, trailing 7-5, and won. Friday night, they went into the ninth inning of a win-or-go-home Game 5 of the NL Division Series, down 7-5 again, and won. Again. Seriously.

You decide which of those reincarnations was more incredible, more impossible: Down to their last strike of the World Series in back-to-back innings? Or trailing by six runs ON THE ROAD, with a guy who might win the Cy Young (Gio Gonzalez) on the mound?

Keep in mind, before you answer, that in the 109-year history of postseason play, no team had fallen more than four runs behind in a winner-take-all game and come back to win.

Also keep in mind that only one team in postseason history — the 1992 Braves, in the legendary Francisco Cabrera Game — had trailed by two runs or more in the ninth inning of a winner-take-all game and roared back to win.

And, finally, keep in mind that only four teams had ever trailed by six runs or more at any point in any postseason game and found a way to win.

Until this game. Until Friday night in our nation’s capital. So you could make an excellent case that it was this game, in Nationals Park, that topped that game 12 months ago — yep, even a World Series elimination game.

The Nation‘s Dave Zirin is livid about Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo’s decision to shut down ace Stephen Strasburg when they needed him most:

I have no problem with caring about his health. I do have a problem with the Nats tanking this season out of arrogance and the media whipping a new, unsteady, colt-like baseball fan base into going along with the ride.

The baseball post-season can be an unpredictable, mind-bending experience where, as the Nationals found out, having the opposition down to its last out or even last strike doesn’t mean a thing. It’s a time when leaving a team—especially a veteran, resourceful team like the Cardinals—even a pinhole of oxygen can lead to a cascade of horror. The only truism in post-season baseball is that an ace pitcher, like some kind of Gandalfian wizard, can conquer all the dark magic the postseason can conjure. We saw this in Detroit series where defending Tigers Cy Young winner Justin Verlander shut out the pixie-dusted Oakland Athletics in their decisive Game 5. It happened in New York, where the great C.C. Sabathia broke the will and the bats of the fairy-tale Baltimore Orioles in their Game 5. Stephen Strasburg is DC’s Verlander, DC’s Sabathia. His moment was Game 5. Mike Rizzo took that away from this fan base. He took it away from a city that had poured $1 billion in public money into Nationals Park. He took it away from a team that showed all season that this could have been their year.

Rizzo, Boswell and all those who defended this decision should have the courage and the sense of shame to say that they were dead wrong. The true legacy of the Strasburg shutdown was shutting down an unforgettably beautiful season, leaving a legacy that tastes worse than chewing on dry aspirin. The arrogance of management and an unquestioning local media: it will get you every time.

Thomas Boswell’s column here. Key quote: “So all of the pundits who say the Nats can’t go to the Series or even win it, just because they won’t have Strasburg, can kiss my press pass.”

As Rick Perry so eloquently put it, oops.

The gloves come off in the New York Times newsroom

From today’s editorial, “Amateur Hour in Pro Football:”

The Seattle Times said the last-second desperation pass “should be remembered as the Hail Mary that ended a labor dispute,” and let’s hope it is. Poor officiating has also slowed the game as officials huddle endlessly over calls, while encouraging players to stretch the rules (including outlawed helmet-to-helmet hits).

The officials want a salary increase. The owners want to change the defined benefit pension plan to a 401(k). We do not pretend to have a solution any more than the replacement referees know the rule book. What we do know is that the N.F.L. is, by some estimates, a $9 billion business. Surely there is room for compromise, and surely Mr. Goodell knows that it is in the game’s interest — not to mention his own — to find one.

Meanwhile, ESPN is now reporting that the lockout could end soon:

The NFL and the NFL Referees Association made enough progress in negotiations Tuesday night that the possibility of the locked-out officials returning in time to work this week’s games has been discussed, according to sources on both sides.

An agreement in principle is at hand, according to one source familiar to talks, although NFL owners have postured with a “no more compromise” stance.