December 30, 2008
Fourteen years is a long time at any job, but especially as an NFL head coach. Mike Shanahan hadn't replicated the great success of his two Super Bowl wins of the late 90s, hadn't even come close in a long time. And just when he seemed a cinch to put the team in the playoffs for the first time in 3 years, he pulled a Norv Turner, his team crashing and burning in spectacular fashion on Sunday night.
Denver, like Washington, is a football town. I remember in 1989, the season after the Redskins beat Denver in the Super Bowl, a Redskins pre-season game won it's time slot in what the WaPo,'s TV critic dubbed, "The Redskins devour everything in their path." Denver's pretty much the same way. The town put up with B+ teams for a decade only because of those two Lombardi trophies.
Coaches with total control, who double as GMs rarely do well. It's almost impossible to be both good cop and bad cop at the same time to the same player. Instead of working with what they have, they have to divide their attention with getting more. They'll fall in love with personnel decisions that are a mistake. (Some of Joe Gibbs's biggest blunders came when he demanded particular players. Almost certainly his success the 2nd time around was limited by the lack of a strong GM like Charley Casserly or Bobby Beathard.)
Still, those two Super Bowl wins, numerous playoff appearances, they count for a lot. Towns with winning teams tend to forget how hard it is to get there, and how long it can be between successes. Shanahan's time was probably up. But we should appreciate what he did while he was here.
December 2, 2008
Junior Strikes Out
I've been a fan of John Feinstein's sports writing for years. Not so much of his political writing. Today's Washington Post carries a sterling example of the latter, masquerading as the former.
As some of you may have heard, New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress carried an unlicensed handgun into a New York nightclub (is there any other kind of handgun for a private citizen in New York?), and put himself on the disabled list by shooting himself in the leg.
This is the latest in a series of gun-related, ah, fumbles by NFL players in recent months, and Feinstein uses it as an excuse to call for repeal of the 2nd Amendment, and to launch a broadside at those who might disagree:
Now, let's not start screaming about the Second Amendment. To begin with, the amendment should be abolished -- a sensible interpretation of the amendment is that it was written to allow the people to raise a militia for protection and to hunt for food. Clearly no one needs to raise a militia these days, and those who hunt for a living can be licensed to do so.
It would be nice if President-elect Obama had the time to focus his energies on repeal of the Second Amendment, but he first has to deal with a broken economy and the incredibly wrong-headed war started by his predecessor. What's more, the issue of gun rights causes almost as much screaming from the right as abortion rights, the irony being that those yelling the loudest about the right to life are usually those yelling almost as loud about their right to carry weapons that kill.
Barring that, he says, the NFL should make it a condition of employment that no player can own a handgun. This, because protection even in their own homes is something that NFL players apparently can't be trusted with. To get there, he has to revisit the death of Sean Taylor, who had gotten himself on the straight and narrow just in time to be killed in his own house by what I would presume to be former...associates.
It's not worth arguing the 2nd Amendment with someone who lives near DC but who evidently hasn't bothered to read or understand the Heller case. But the juvenalia on display in the second paragraph could have appeared, word for word, in the Cavalier Daily 25 years ago when I was in school. And probably did.
Imagine a conservative sportswriter writing a column about the evils of McCain-Feingold, the abuses of Title IX (coming to a physics department near you), or the joys of limited government, and in the bargain, questioning man-made climate change and accusing Obama of socialist tendencies. I'm sure it happens every once in a long while, and when politics creeps into sports talk radio, it does tend to be from both sides. But for some reason, the print guys tend to think their columns are a license to shill for the Left.
June 18, 2008
With Apologies to Warner Wolf
If you had the Lakers and 38....YOU LOST!
Before the game, I couldn't believe the line was 4 1/2. I thought the Celtics might blow out the Lakers by, say 10 or 15 points. But good grief. This wasn't just bad. This was Redskins-Broncos bad. This was Yankees-Cubs bad.
Yes, the Celtics scored 131 points, impressive in itself. But they scored those points off of turnovers, rebounds, offensive rebounds, and defense, defense, defense.
And the scary thing is that the Celtics could end up winning 3 or 4 more titles before this thing is over. Unless the Lakers can dig up a big man who knows how to play defense - and perhaps Andrew Bynum's return will do that for them - the Celtics have nobody even close.
Now, with the Red Saux, the Patriots, and the Celtics all playing at the championship level for years on end, it's time that we recognize what we already knew - Boston is the new New York.
June 15, 2008
Oh. My. God.
Good grief. Just when you think Rocco Mediate is going to pull one out for the old guys - like Niklaus at the Masters in 1986 - Tiger rims in a long putt to force a playoff. Rocco played a solid, steady game all day. Tiger was, characteristically, all over the course, and saved this birdie from the left rough and the right rough.
So now, I have to follow this thing from work tomorrow. And now, I have no idea whom I'm rooting for.
February 3, 2008
Substitute for Achievement
Arlen Specter is the reason some people will vote for Ron Paul on Tuesday. Well, that and the belief that the Civil War was optional and that we turned lower Manhattan into a set for Capricorn One so that we could pay Halliburton to visit the apocalypse on Baghdad.
But today, Arlen Specter is the poster boy for the claim that, "Politicians need activity; it's their substitute for achievement." And that too often that activity comes at the expense of our liberty, time, and money, and at the expense of important things like the defense of the realm.
First of all, Specter is just wrong, wrong, wrong when he claims that football has an anti-trust exemption. It doesn't. Competing leagues come up from time to time, and the USFL won an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL. (For damages of $1; tripled to $3; would that John Edwards had been the plaintiffs' attorney on that one. Maybe he could have used his cut to go Dutch at Goodwill with Mark Steyn on that coat.)
Secondly, any taping was a violation of a league rule, not a law. Sure, we all saw Joel Fleischman take down "Twenty-One," but that was actual fraud, misrepresentation of cheating as competition. This isn't the Black Sox or even Pete Rose putting down bets on the Reds. And nobody's claiming that the league fed the Rams' game plan to the Patriots or gave them a wiretap on Mike Martz's line to the booth. I don't recall Specter convening hearings when the NBA ref was found betting on games, although maybe someone in Congress did.
Specter claims that the public has the right to be sure that the games aren't being compromised by cheating. Oh, please. Someone ought to hog-tie him and use him for a fumble drill out at Redskins' Park and he'll see what cheating looks like.
Still, it's sad that Roger Goodell thinks that the fact that NFL discovered and investigated these rules violations on its own is any sort of help at all. The Army discovered and investigated the Abu Ghraib abuses itself. That didn't stop the New York Times and certain Soros-funded arms of the Clinton Campaign (or is it the other way around? Hard to know who you're campaigning against sometimes, as Obama might say.) from turning it into a bludgeon to undermine support for the war, the troops, and the administration, in some order of importance.
Good grief. Has the Senator no respect for our most important national holiday?
October 19, 2006
If ESPN's Chris Fowler can be forgiven for repeatedly referring to the U.Va. grounds as a, "campus" (my fingers rebel at typing the word), U.Va. itself can't be for replacing the pep band with this banal marching monstrosity. Still, it was good to see the U again, even if only on TV.
This was one of those games that ESPN dreads having to show. A 1-5 team vs. a 2-5 team, on opposite Game 7 of the NLCS. Sure, they dredge up this "Oldest Rivalry in the South," thing, the loser of the first game being left to scrawl "Roanoke" on a tree,
As for baseball: looking? He struck out looking? Maybe it's because they didn't have that crazy woman sitting behind home plate endlessly signalling "illegal motion" like in '86. More likely it's because Wainwright started mixing in curve balls that the Mets haven't seen since Doc Gooden.
So now it's a rematch of 1934 and 1968, both 7-gamers themselves. You can count on it, every 35 years or so, the Cards and the Tigers both make it to the Series. Everyone's ready to hand this thing to Detroit, but they're obviously demented. These are the same people who were holding betting stubs for a Subway Series. There's no reason this can't go 7 games again, and it's just a shame it's not being played in old Tiger Stadium.
May 29, 2006
Annual Lacrosse Posting
Once a year or so, usually on or just after Memorial Day, I write something about lacrosse. This year, Virginia's in the championship game against upstart UMass. Apparently, Virginia's offense this year is to Div I lacrosse what Magic & Bird were to the college basketball game in 1979: resurrecting passing. They pass often and they pass hard, and they've got four or five guys who can shoot, which makes being anywhere near the crease on defense eligible for extra combat pay. UMass's defense has been terrific in the tournament, though, and they've been beating good teams, so a win this year is far from a given.
I was sorry (heh, no, really) to see Hopkins get knocked out in the quarterfinals. The natural order of things is for Virginia, Hopkins, North Carolina, and either Cornell or Maryland to be playing in the Final Four. Then again, if I'm drawing the Natural Order of Things from the 70s and early 80s, Virginia usually lost the championship game in overtime, so maybe a little Syracue or Princeton now and then isn't a bad thing.
I also see where the University of Denver made the tournament this year, promptly losing in the first round. Still, it's a start. Colorado is hotspot of lacrosse in a desert of football football football, and this year, CSU beat CU for the A Level club-level championship. Club sports aren't eligible to participate in the varsity tournament, which is why the Colorado schools don't play the eastern schools during the year. We'll see if CU or CSU see DU's move into the tournament as challenge to go varsity.
This comes on the heels of the Colorado Mammoth winning the indoor lacrosse championship, which is to real lacrosse what Arena football is to real football, Japanese baseball is to real baseball, or soccer is to real sports. So it's good and logical that the professional outdoor lacrosse league has finally expanded here to Denver. Of course, half the team is from Hopkins, which says that it's easier for Virginia grads to get real jobs, I suppose.
Now, if we could only get them to play some of their games on Sundays...
April 27, 2006
Why Finance is Like Baseball - II
I read Michael Lewis's Moneyball the other week, and one of the first things that came to mind was a comparison to investing. Moneyball explores the Oakland A's search for better cheap talent through market inefficiencies. They discover these inefficiencies by sifting through massive amounts of data, and by, in effect, playing a different game from everyone else. The look for correlations between statistics and runs - in their case, on-base percentage and slugging.
They also do something really funky. They calculate the value of everything a player does - ever batted ball, every fielding play, every pitch - in terms of how much that play made his team more or less likely to score in that game, and then add them up. Nothing matters but outs and runs. Get enough runs, forstall outs long enough, and wins will follow. That's playing a different game from everyone else.
They are the quant funds of baseball.
Compare them to the Atlanta Braves. Boys not born the last time someone else won the Braves' division were complaining about getting fountain pens last year. They rely on traditional scouting, trying to project what a player can become, looking for them one gem at a time.
The Atlanta Braves are the value investors of baseball.
Compare them both to the Red Sox & the Yankees. These guys have money to burn, they frequently try to buy whatever proven talent is out there, often overpay for it, and often don't keep it very long. They'll break teams apart, change management with glee, raid weaker & poorer teams for their best players.
The Red Sox & Yankees are Carl Icahn and T. Boone Pickens.
The interesting thing is that you can win both ways, and you can make money both ways. And what's more, you can find lots of different types of value, and you can and you can find lots of different quantitative inefficiencies. As part of my research last year, I interviewed three different quant fund managers, and know of a couple others. They each do something different, and they each consistently beat the market. Finally, you can also make a lot of money turning around failing enterprises and buying up juicy bits of your competitors. But it's a lot of work running the business.
March 17, 2006
Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game is Wrong. I've been a Bill James fan for a long time, and this sort of thing never ceases to fascinate me. It'll be interesting to see how well it holds up against the baseball blogs.
Power, Faith, and Fantasy
Six Days of War
An Army of Davids
Learning to Read Midrash
Deals From Hell
A War Like No Other
A Civil War
The (Mis)Behavior of Markets
The Wisdom of Crowds
When Genius Failed
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Back in Action : An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude
How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?
Good to Great
Built to Last
Financial Fine Print
The Day the Universe Changed
The Multiple Identities of the Middle-East
The Case for Democracy
A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam
Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory
Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures
Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud