Thursday, July 23, 2015

Old Sportswriter Notes One Fact, Makes Insane Generalization

I'm sorry, I know Frank Deford is a crotchety old dude. I know the NPR just hires him for some color commentary.  I know that his segment is called "Sweetness and Light", so it's not supposed to be serious, but when he says things this stupid, I can't hold back.  Here's one of his segments from this spring: "As American Sports Skew More Arm-Centric, Throwing Injuries Rise"

Whatever happened to rotator cuffs? It seems like just yesterday that every pitcher who was injured had a problem with his rotator cuff. But baseball player injuries now invariably require something called "Tommy John surgery," which has become epidemic.

Right, this is one fact, Tommy John surgery is up. Let's see where we go here.

The difference is simple: The rotator cuff involves the shoulder while Tommy John relates to the elbow, or more precisely, the ulnar collateral ligament. The corrective surgery, by Dr. Frank Jobe, was first performed 41 years ago on Dodgers pitcher Tommy John, and for years it remained fairly uncommon. Now, it is downright commonplace.

Ok, so this is just an extension here.  So far so good. 

It is also indisputable that as more pitchers throw faster — mid-90 mph becoming routine — the more Tommy John surgeries we encounter. It doesn't require a crack detective to solve the case: The more pitchers throwing with all their might for just a few pitches, the more ulnar collateral ligaments that are failing. Pitchers' arms are becoming like football players' heads. The happy difference is that you do not need a good arm to keep on living a long normal life the way you do need an undamaged brain.

Wohoo!  Take that, football! You guys all have damaged brains! But even so far Frank is  just ambling along saying nothing interesting.  But here we go:

But let's face it: American athletics are armcentric. Not just the pitcher — everybody on a baseball team has to throw the ball. Football depends more and more on passing. "What's his arm strength?" the scouts first ask of quarterbacks. Basketball shots are propelled by strong arms, especially now with the long 3-point basket in vogue.

What?  There are so many levels of stupid here:
1. First basemen, offensive tackles, and power forwards basically never throw anything with one arm.  Nothing at all about their games is increasingly armcentric.  In fact, this whole paragraph makes the insane point that Tommy John surgeries are up, and that must be tied to the increasingly armcentric wold of sports.   It's like Frank Deford hates modernity so much that he just makes wild generalizations just to show how life is going to hell in a handbasket.

2. Were scouts in previous ages no longer primarily concerned with arm strength?  Do baseball position players throw any more now than they used to?

3.  What about the statement that "the long 3-point basket in vogue"?!  The NBA adopted the 3 in 1979.  That was 36 years ago, Frank!  Where the hell have you been?

Throwing is certainly not unnatural, but pitching a baseball overhanded is too abnormal an action for the human body. In contrast, throwing a softball underhanded is a pretty smooth motion. A cricket bowler delivers the ball to the batsman in something of a high loop, without being allowed to break the elbow.

Are Tommy John surgeries in cricket bowlers up or something?  Who cares?

It would seem that pitchers have survived, barely, these past 150 years or so, but now the added stress — especially for pitchers who started throwing too hard too young — is just enough to break down too many arms.

It would seem that Frank Deford has survived, barely, these past 150 years or so, but now the added stress - especially for bitter bloggers who started blogging too hard too young - is just enough to break down dan-bob's sanity.

Rob Manfred, is, officially, only the commissioner of professional baseball, but just like the bumbling NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, Manfred is really the steward of his game. 

Take that, football! Your sport is becoming inceasingly armcentric and your commissioner is so incompetent that even 150-year old fossils get their digs in!

Manfred should convene some sort of all-baseball conference to examine this serious issue. Until then, it appears that baseball simply feels that pitchers are fungible, that there's always another kid with a temporarily live arm who can fire it by the hitters.

"Fungible"?  Put away your thesaurus, Frank, The whole article sticks in a pretty simple diction, appropriate for a general audience on the radio, and then Frank drops a totally unnecessarily fancy word as he moves towards his close.  It's the same thing he did in my last post with "high-falutin'".

Really, we've got to do better by our best arms.

National Public Radio really has to do better by its ordinary listeners.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I'm on a mission now

Posting that last piece about Frank Deford felt good.  It felt so good I went to see if he had written any other garbage and boy has he ever.  He has so many hot taeks:

  • "Americans Don't Care about Major League Soccer"
  • "Awards for Athletes Should Honor Unsung Heroes"
  • Some moral grandstanding about Tom Brady being a cheater
  • "Alex Rodriguez is Back, For Better or Worse"
  • "Outside of the Games, Are Sports Corrupt?"
  • An article that declares the truly groundbreaking idea that America's national pastime is no longer good old baseball but FOOTBALL.
  • World Series games start too late!
He's the Platonic version of a crotchety-old-man get-off-my-lawn commentator.  Honestly if I followed more other sports or had enough bile in me I could just do a weekly feature hating on this guy. Maybe I will, if he keeps setting out to ruin my Wednesday mornings with his terrible radio bits.

Anyways, check out another of his amazing insights: "All Star Games Are Worthless if the Players are not All-Stars".  Whooo, boy. Time for Frank Deford to weigh in on this crucial issue of the All Star balloting:

For those of you who haven't got your baseball All-Star ballot in, don't panic, you have until Thursday. It's convenient. You can get a ballot off the Internet, and here's the good news: You can vote 35 times.
Well, all right, that makes sense. It might have been interesting to note that MLB eliminated paper ballots this year, which seems like it would have been the perfect thing for a crotchety old guy to complain about. 
[English teacher usage geekery alert:  Does it make any sense, in this context to get a ballot "off the internet"?  The ballot only exists on the internet, it's not like you could download it and send it in.  I'm imagining Frank spending twenty minutes trying to print a ballot on his inkjet printer and then mailing it c/o Rob Manfred in New York.  But I digress.  That was only one preposition.]
Understand what I'm saying? Each fan can cast 35 votes. Where that magic figure comes from, I don't know. Why not 3,500 apiece? Or 35,000?
Well I mean, 35,000 would be silly, Frank. I guess he's right in pointing out that it seems arbitrary, but it's not like this is anything new.  Actually, paper balloting would have allowed each fan to vote like a zillion times if they really wanted to.
Anyway, it means that more than half a billion votes will be cast. Not only that, but, in order to keep the election on the up-and-up, baseball swears that it tosses out about one out of every five votes. 
Now this is sort of interesting.  I'm intrigued to know that MLB considers 20% of the votes to be fraudulent.  Can you tell me something interesting about that, Frank Deford?
I can only guess that vampires and terrorists are denied the franchise.
ZING!  I submit to you, in the 1,481st post, the worst joke in this blog's history.
So right now –– just to take one example –– Salvador Perez has 11,666,785 votes for catcher. What does that mean? It's like light years or grains of sand on the beach, just number numbers.
Frank, fan balloting with meaningless final vote totals has been going on for 45 years now.  Are you just now understanding it?  And secondly, what's with the insult here: somehow, these are "just number numbers".  Take that, stats geeks!  Either way, Frank, writers like you are idiot idiots.
But having fans vote is the way leagues like to run All-Star balloting nowadays, instead of being old-fashioned and letting the choices be made by people who actually know something, people we dare call experts.
Fan balloting was restored in 1970.  That was during the Nixon presidency. Apollo 13 happened that year. You cannot possibly talk about leagues using fan ballots "nowadays". Nor can you also ignore the obvious fact that fans only select the 17 starters and the two Final Vote guys, while the managers and players collectively select 33, and that doesn't count the replacements. Right now the fans pick about a third of the roster.
You see, when fans vote, it's interactive. It's an interactive world now. Baseball's rationale is that if you voted your 35 times for Salvador Perez, interactively, you'll then be on pins and needles to see if he can win. You're invested in Salvador Perez.
When Frank was growing up the world was not interactive.  It just sat there and you just sat there and nothing happened. You'd wake up the next day and nothing would also happen because the world was not interactive.   Thank god the world turned interactive sometime in like 2002 because otherwise we'd still be sitting there in puddles of our own drool.
Plus, wouldn't voters be equally invested in their candidates with the paper ballot?  Wouldn't the same basic thing be true of elections in sports, politics, online polls, the 8th grade student council president at Otis P. Snodgrass Junior high in Arkadelphia and also the  entire history of human beings?  Didn't ancient Greeks and Romans sit out on pins and needles because they were invested in electing the next group of senators or whatever?
But actually it's the reverse, because the irony is that if you want to get fans just plain actively engaged, the fewer decision-makers the better. Half the fun in the selection of All-Stars — or any award winners — is being able to castigate the people who made the choices you disagree with as dimwitted dummies.
I guess that's true.  It's sort of mean spirited, I guess, but given the nature of this blog I will stay safely in my glass house of castigating dimwitted dummies.
That's why Simon Cowell on American Idol was so good: because he was a loud-mouth, very outer-active judge you could hate. But when it's just millions of interactive ballots filled out robotically you've got nobody to vent to and a lot of emotion goes out of the game before it starts.

Are you kidding? Everybody vented about Royals fans for the last two months. Somehow this took the emotion out of the game?  That makes no sense.  Honestly, the thing that really takes the emotion out of the selection is the fact that there are like eighty players selected which is like more than 10% of the current roster of baseball.  Maybe if they cut back on the dead weight we'd have some more tension here.  

But god forbid then we have a tie and no doubt Frank Deford's Church of Old Timey Baseball would hate any repeats of that one year, you know, the All Star Game Which Shall Not Be Named.

It's even worse this year because the good people of Kansas City have stuffed the ballot box, so instead of an All-Star game, it's going to be more of a royal pain. 
Zing!  Like the time Prince Charles had a charlie horse!
That's the problem when anyone fills out an Internet ballot, times 35: Fans don't make serious judgments. They just vote for all-ordinary players on their favorite team.
What an idiot.  Fans have always done this.  My own Cincinnati Reds did this famously back in the fifties, essentially ending the fan vote for a dozen years. Internet ballots are no worse than paper ballots.  No doubt Frank longs for the glory days of the 1990s when every fan took their vote seriously and the players casually took steroids and Hideki Irabu was a major league pitcher.
Look, All-Star games in every sport are just high-falutin' exhibitions, but they're good fun. Unfortunately, they're worthless if the people playing in the All-Star games aren't, well, aren't all-stars.
Maybe a couple of questionable players are elected of the whole 80-man roster, and Frank declares the whole exercise worthless, even as a high-falutin' exhibitions. Ugh.

Excuse the following usage/English geekery.  If you're not an English teacher nerd like me you may want to stop reading, but honestly, who hyphenates AND adds an apostrophe to "highfalutin"?  The word is not an abbreviation for "highfaluting", and it's not hyphenated. You can't just add random punctuation to try and make your words sound less.... highfalutin.  You actually have to choose a different word.  In fact, arbitrary punctuation disasters aside, it's not even the right word!  What is so highfalutin about a baseball game? It's not played by Dukes (anymore) or Princes (wait..), the preferred foods are hot dogs and sunflower seeds, and it's really just grown men running around and sliding in the mud.  You're not even a good writer, Frank.

Well this has been miserable and I hope you're feeling equally miserable that this guy is employed to say things about sports.  When I am up to it again I will write up another one of his horrible pieces.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

I haven't posted in six months but this infuriated me so much that I have to take time out of my day to excoriate it

Now that I am all grown up and no longer the fresh-faced wise-ass I was when I first posted on this blog back eight years ago, my bitterness has abated somewhat. Now I'm a family guy, two baby daughters, etc.  But every so often something comes along that is so infuriating that it has basically ruined my morning and forced me to spend the first half hour of my work day writing a post for the first time in six months.  I know only like six people read this blog but I am convinced that I must write this in order to expose the banality of evil that is Frank Deford, and that if even one of you goes home and thinks, "You know, Frank Deford sucks", then I will have made the world a better place and there will be some brighter future for humanity.

Here's the scene in the dan-bob family van this morning on the way to work. Mrs. dan-bob is in the backseat dealing with a screaming baby-bob.

NPR Host: Upcoming: a story about statistics and our national pasttime!

dan-bob: Awesome!  [turns up radio over screaming child, tells wife to calm that kid down already]

NPR Host: Here's our weekly commentary from Frank Deford

dan-bob: Oh no. 

Frank Deford: Whereas numbers have never been a significant adjunct to the other performing arts, they've been stitched into the very essence of sport. Not just the score, but how fast, how far, how good. And, of course, no sport is so identified with numbers as is our American baseball.

Here's  a little cheat sheet for any of you who want to know if your commentator is a self-righteous chump like Frank Deford: they use "sport" in the singular. [Note: you're exempt from this rule if you're British.].  Besides that, this is some awful diction: "adjunct"?  "stitched"?  "our American baseball"?  What the heck other kind of baseball is there?  I hate Frank Deford. Honestly I think I hate him more than I've hated anyone else on this website.  He's like HatGuy on steroids invating my morning commute and regularly wrecking my Wednesdays.

In fact, baseball statistics have been around almost as long as baseball. But stats — which is a fairly new shortcut word, about as old as the Mets and Astros are — have proliferated recently, not only in other sports, notably basketball, but to deeper and deeper levels of baseball enlightenment.

First, Frank, in the English language there is actually a word for "shortcut words".  We call them "abbreviations".  Second, is there any reason to note that the abbreviation is as old as the Mets and Astros?  Referencing baseball expansion in the early 1960s makes no sense to me, unless he's trying to argue that baseball expansion is bad or lazy or something.  But if there were any group of fans out there pining for pre-expansion sixteen-team all-white baseball, I'd expect Frank Deford to be their spiritual leader, chanting about the evils of modern baseball and demanding a return to the pure Church of Baseball.

Today, traditional statistics like batting or earned run averages — righteous measures that were accepted as the athletic equivalent of the Ten Commandments — are made to seem quaint and primitive. Baseball even has its own specific brand of analytics, which is known as sabermetrics.

Bible references!  Righteous measures! Anyone who would deny righteous measures like BA and ERA are inherently sinful to the essence of sport! These are the Ten Commandments of the Frank Deford Church of Old Timey Baseball!

Baseball statistics were further glorified by Michael Lewis in his book Moneyball and then on film by the heartthrob Brad Pitt. Imagine on-base percentage being a thing of heartthrob. Moneyball posited the fancy that revolutionary statistical magic had sprung forth from the brain of the Oakland General Manager Billy Beane, like Athena emerging full-blown from Zeus' head. In fact, other resourceful innovators had found original uses for stats all through diamond history.

Dear God: "posited the fancy"?  Someone shoot Frank Deford with a pellet gun.  And the reference to Athena: wait, what? I don't see any reason for the allusion other than trying to overdramatize a nonissue. I'm sure this is just the pure holy Frank Deford defending his Church of Old Timey Baseball against the pagan innovations of modern man.

Plus, at the end of this paragraph, you'd think that Frank is going to talk about the actual resourceful innovators, but no, this paragraph is just one of many examples of his disjointed rambling. This essay has no direction, no organizing principles.  It's just the rambling of a bitter old man.

But now there is an absolute sabermetric explosion. Every team has employed nerds, who are presumably tucked away in secret offices, with computers and green eyeshades, emerging only to hand over new numerical strategies. This has resulted not only in the outward and visible sign of infielders being shifted all around the diamond like linebackers in football, but even in covert skulduggery, industrial espionage and power politics.

Oh man.  This is the new Cheetos-and-Mountain-Dew-in-the-parents'-basement! It's the secret-offices-and-green-eyeshades insult!  Good lord, this man's insults are even more dated than his opinions. Someone please put this fossil of a sportswriter in a museum, but not like on display at the museum.  Just put him in one of those back storage sheds that never gets opened where he can mildew and canker all he wants without bothering people.

I also like how Frank blames the sabermetric explosion for defensive shifts, which any educated baseball fan knows date to the 1920s, covert skulduggery (which of course was never around before, thank god), industrial espionage (i.e. when you use someone else's password to log into a website), and power politics (good thing baseball was apolitical back in the old days!).

Last week the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim general manager up and quit in midseason — something that statistically just doesn't happen — because, it seems, his manager wouldn't apply enough of the new metrics that his computer minions were churning out.

That's hilarious! It "statistically just doesn't happen" because it is uncommon!  I get it!  It's a joke! Good thing we have statistics around to identify uncommon things! I wish someone would glue Frank Deford's mouth shut!  

But wait! Worse than this front-office insurrection, the federal government itself may well bring charges against one or more members of the St. Louis Cardinals staff, nabbed for hacking into the secret files of the Houston Astros. Hacking! Baseball! Like Russians and Chinese. Oh my.

Oh my god! Like this is somehow worse than all the other terrible things that have happened in baseball over the years! Some Cardinals folks used the old password of an Astros guy!  THE WORLD IS GOING TO THE DOGS AND THE PURITY OF THE FRANK DEFORD CHURCH OF OLD TIMEY BASEBALL IS FOREVER STAINED.  ALL THE RACISM AND STEROIDS AND LABOR DISPUTES AND THE JUICED BALL DIDN'T DO IT, BUT NOW THE CARDINALS ARE HACKERS, AND THAT'S THE LAST STRAW!

"Like the Russians".  It's like we're living in 1960 or something.  Frank Deford is still cheering for the Mazeroski home run and ignoring Mickey Mantle's alcoholism.

It makes deflating a few footballs look like child's play, and it makes baseball the darkest statistical art, even more the place for sexy metrics.

What? Ow. How is this even a concluding sentence?  How is this statistics a "dark art"?  What the hell are "sexy metrics"? THE CHURCH OF OLD TIMEY BASEBALL WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS. FRANK DEFORD WILL EXORCISE THE DEMONS!

This wasn't even an essay.  It was just rambling about nothing, with a heavy dose of moral grandstanding.  And yet NPR has him on every Wednesday morning, ostensibly to say something interesting about sports. I generally enjoy getting my news from NPR in the morning, but if they employ Frank Deford, it casts serious doubt on the quality of the rest of their reporting. Imagine if the equivalent of Frank Deford were informing a large number of Americans about something actually important.

Even Mrs. dan-bob, who only caught snatches of it in between infant screams, knew enough to remark. "Why did you listen to that?  Frank Deford sucks so much".