Saturday, September 13, 2003

Billy Beane's soulmate 

Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is one of the better young defensive coordinators in the NFL, and has begun to use his economics background to bring Moneyball-esque analysis to the game of football. Read about it here in the Nashville Tennessean.

"Inspired by Moneyball, a book by Michael Lewis detailing the unique management and personnel decision style of Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane, Schwartz farmed out some analytical work to statistic-minded friends... Schwartz said he's looking to challenge conventional wisdom about what's most important in a football game, the way the A's have with baseball."

I have been wondering when someone will bring sabermetrics-style analysis to other sports. It seems like it might be a little harder statistically, because of the relatively few number of observations in football compared to baseball (162 games vs. 16 games). It's still doable and hopefully we'll read more about this in the future.

Coincidence or the beginning of a huge story? 

Seth Liss of the San Jose Mercury News has this nugget of information on Barry Bonds. You can read more here.

"The IRS and a San Mateo County narcotics unit are investigating a Burlingame manufacturer of nutritional supplements, Balco, run by nutritionist Victor Conte. His clients include sprinter Marion Jones, Raiders LB Bill Romanowski and Union City sprinter Kelli White, who tested positive at the World Track and Field Championships on Aug. 24 for a banned stimulant. Agents also searched the home of Greg Anderson, the personal trainer of Barry Bonds, a Balco client."

Stay tuned. This could be unrelated to Bonds entirely, but we'll have to wait and see where this might go.

Wishes for a speedy recovery 

Sometimes, we end up rooting for teams or athletes who find themselves under wretched circumstances, in part because I guess we feel sorry for them in some way, but also because they seem to be due to have something good happen to them. That's the way I feel about the Baylor basketball team this next year and it's how I now view the Bulls' Jay Williams, who is trying to recover from a horrific motorcycle crash. I'll be rooting for Baylor and for Williams if/when he gets back. The Chicago Sun-Times has this update.

"Bulls guard Jay Williams continues to make progress in his recovery from a devastating motorcycle accident ... Williams likely will declare his goal of playing during the 2004-05 season, though doubt remains as to whether he will return to the level he played at before the June 19 accident."

Friday, September 12, 2003

Confessions of a sinner 

David Whitley of the Orlando Sentinel says: "Only a moron would rank Auburn No. 1"

"Auburn, No. 1? The Tigers aren't just 0-2. They haven't even scored a touchdown. To be fair, the New York Times also pegged Auburn No. 1. But that prediction was based on Jayson Blair's recent interviews with Knute Rockne and Amos Alonzo Stagg."

"Of the hundreds of e-mails Mr. X received, he said about 70 percent demand he either be fired, deported or shot at dawn. The rest are really nasty."

Quite funny. Go read the whole thing.

No love from the home folks 

One of the most compelling matchups of this weekend's NFL slate of games is the Colts-Titans tilt in Indianapolis. Perennial playoff contender in a home opener against division rival that is the winningest team in the league since 1999. Only, if you want to see this game, better hope you don't live in Indy. Check out this story from the Indy Star.

"Seriously, if you can't sell out in time to lift the blackout for the home opener against Tennessee, when are you going to sell out? Sometime this season? Ever? If this development doesn't send up a red flag about the quality of this market -- not just as an NFL market, but as a pro-sports market -- what does?"

Unbelievable that folks in Indy aren't lining up for this one. Titans fans are going by the busload up I-65 for the game.

An analysis of a double standard 

The New York Times' Harvey Araton explores the different ways that the major professional sports address the development of future players, in an article that can be accessed here (registration at NYT required).

"... baseball has never exploited moral ambiguity the way football and basketball do. In baseball, as in hockey and the individual sports, not attending college is an undisputed matter of ability or choice ... The N.F.L. and the N.B.A. have sat back like fat cats for too long as the college assembly line churns out heavily marketed prospects, free."

Yes, it has been an interesting observation that we, the public, decry the 18-year old who jumps to the NBA out of high school, but that we don't tend to pay as much attention to the 14 year old figure skater or the A-level baseball player who makes education and lifestyle sacrifices to pursue a pro sports career. If you are the NBA or the NFL, no wonder you are loathe to establish an intricate developmental league system when the NCAA does it for you.

An Endorsement 

USA Today has this editorial on Vanderbilt.

"Cynics compared Gee's battle to titling at windmills. Maybe. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be fought... Gee recognizes the problem: Sports programs that are given separate, special status are ripe for abuse."

Reaction to Vanderbilt falls into one of two camps. One: this is a good idea, why hasn't anyone thought of it, it's at least worth a shot because of the widespread disfunction in our intercollegiate athletics culture, and best of luck to you. Two: what? this is stupid, well no one else will do this, I just don't understand this. You can quite easily figure out which writers fall into which camp.

"Well I strenously object!!" Part 3 

For the third installment of our feature highlighting columnists who denounce the VU athletics restructuring, but really have no argument against it, we have Ft. Worth Star Telegram's Wendell Barnhouse in this column.

I'm not going to bother to quote any of it, because there isn't anything worth quoting in there. He even takes a shot at the Vanderbilt women's basketball (?) team which is one of the winningest programs over the last dozen years in the country.

He basic thesis is: this idea sounds weird, I can't imagine anyone else trying it, and it's Vanderbilt, so it must be wrong. Again, not one attempt to construct an argument as to the merits of the idea. This is not the grand solution to our athletics problems that will work for every school out there, but at least investigate why you don't think it will work.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Boswell: Red Sox' Alignment of Stars  

Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post suggests the possible, yet unthinkable, in this column.

"I actually think this is the year the Red Sox will win the World Series. My editors, told of this, have already suggested a suitable "employee drug rehabilitation program." But I have my sober reasons... Go on and laugh. This is the year that (the vile fates willing) the Red Sox are going to spit in the Bambino's beer. Let the gutless Cubs, who never even reach the Series, pull their weight for a few decades."

I will be rooting for Red Sox (or the A's) to make it out of the AL to the World Series. It'd be great story, and I think they have the horses to pull it off.

A Hometown Endorsement 

The Nashville Tennessean, never the biggest cheerleader for the hometown Vanderbilt Commodores but certainly fair to the school most of the time, has this editorial.

"On its face, the problem Gee addresses is so obvious and his formula is so sensible that it begs the question of why this solution hasn't been tried already, not just at Vandy but elsewhere. The negative reaction that the plan has received in some quarters is a sad reflection of how college athletics has become so out-of-whack."

"In the face of the growing imbalance between colleges and their sports programs, are Vanderbilt officials supposed to do nothing? Officials did nothing at St. Bonaventure, Villanova, Iowa State, Ohio State, Baylor and the Universities of Alabama, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nevada-Las Vegas. Over the last year, all those schools encountered problems involving the integrity of their athletic programs. Coaches have been fired, players suspended, presidents have resigned and NCAA punishment levied."

It is a wonderful editorial and a welcome endorsement from the major newspaper in the metropolitan area.

More Readings 

Zack McMillin of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has a column titled "Vandy's Gee takes hopeful first step" which can be accessed here.

"And in Vanderbilt's case, who's to say that the decision to deviate from the rotten culture of big-time college sports is a bad competitive move? ... Big-time college athletics, in its current state, is ruled by the mentality that says it's OK to compromise your core mission in order to win. That must change."

For full disclosure, Zack is a Vandy alum, as am I.

Also, David Vescey of Sports Illustrated has this column.

"The time has never been more right for a fire-and-brimstone appeal for reform. The baby steps approach hasn't exactly prospered. [The NCAA] needs widespread change in the way its athletes, coaches and, yes, administrators do business. They need to stop cheating, partying and gambling.

[The big fear of opponents is that athletics] start being treated like every other department at the school. Or worse, being held to the same standards of conduct. That's all Gee is saying. It's really quite simple. It just takes a radical act to make it heard."

A View from the Windy City 

The Chicago Sun-Times has this article on how schools like Depaul and Northwestern are reacting to the Vanderbilt athletics news.

"[VU Chancellor Gordon Gee's comments] may have been stronger than the effect the school's restructuring will have on big-time college sports."

"Well I strenuously object!!" Part 2 

Reaction to the Vanderbilt Athletics restructuring news from Jerry Greene of the Orlando Sentinel in a column here:

"There is truth in his fears about the 'wrong culture' of athletics -- truth we write about in these pages far too often. But to describe the problem as one of total alienation is going too far. Band members may be isolated from the rest of the student body, too, as may members of the chess club or the drama club or any other group. Any student body is composed of thousands of separate units. As for Vanderbilt, Chancellor Gee is ignoring the more logical course of action -- pull out of the Southeastern Conference. And as for football, pull out of Division I-A."

There is no explanation for why this last bit is the "logical course of action." There is no argument, only bluster. But I'll leave that alone for now.

As to the isolation of student-athletes which Greene doesn't believe, but which is central to the philosophy behind Gee's decision, here is an excerpt from the Chronicle of Higher Education's article this morning: (you need a paid subscription, so I can't link it)

"Athletics departments, especially at SEC universities, are worlds unto themselves. They have hundreds of employees and auxiliary units to manage stadiums, arenas, parking, ticket sales, media relations, sports medicine, merchandising, tutoring for players, and other areas. The departments at the Universities of Florida and Georgia are even set up as 501(c)(3) organizations separate from their parent institutions."

Anyone who has ever worked in or spent much time around a Division I-A athletics program will recognize this description. Institutions may differ in degree, but not in kind. And comparing this to band members and chess players shows a complete lack of perspective and observation. The simple point is not to dismiss the presence of intercollegiate athletics problems, but to admit what they are and then determine an appropriate method of dealing with them. If a school thinks this Vanderbilt plan is not right for them, that's fine. There are several ways to attack the problems in athletics, but you've first got to at least understand and admit the problem.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Were we watching the same game? 

The normally insightful and fair Skip Bayless of the San Jose Mercury News offers this column/critique from Sunday's 25-20 Titans win over the Raiders on national TV. Unfortunately this quickly degenerates into a cry that "woe is the Raiders, the refs are against us."

"Three blown calls cost the Raiders seven points and helped give the Titans seven in a 25-20 loss to an obviously inferior Tennessee team."

"Despite the out-of-sync hangover from the preseason, despite converting only one of 12 third downs, despite 17 penalties, despite 15 missed tackles on special teams, despite losing deep threat Jerry Porter in the first quarter, despite Derrick Gibson foolishly canceling an interception by fumbling while trying to lateral -- despite all that, the Raiders could and should have won."

An obviously inferior Tennessee team? How about the Raider team that, as Bayless describes, converted only one of 12 third downs, drew 17 penalties and had 15 missed tackles on special teams? Are those the stats of a clearly superior team?

Let's remember, the first Raider touchdown was after an automatic first down from a personal foul call, after the Titans had forced a 4th and long punting situation. The second came in garbage time, when Tennessee made the mistake of playing the mislabeled "prevent defense." These teams were fairly evenly matched and I'll admit if they played 10 more times, no team would win more than 6. They are fairly even. But Sunday night, the Titans were better, and blaming Big Brother NFL doesn't change that fact.

Time to move on 

Maurice Clarett has been suspended for the year from NCAA competition, after multiple NCAA violations. Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post offers this opinion on Clarett's future and the possibility that the future could include D I-AA Grambling.

"There are kids, particularly young black men, who don't need to be on campuses that have 60,000 students, with perhaps 5 percent of them black. It isn't, to them, ever going to feel like home. It's not particularly nurturing, no matter how many assistant coaches and tutors there are. Though rural Louisiana itself would likely be a culture shock for Clarett, an urban Ohioan, at first, life at Grambling would not be."

I hope this ends well for Clarett, at Grambling or somewhere else.

"Well I strenuously object!!" 

I'm sure the Vanderbilt Athletics Department restructuring news is on the minds of many columnists right now, so I'll begin to link their essays.

Out of the gate, we have Steve Hummer, of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, with this column. Read carefully, now.

I really wish Mark Bradley of the AJC would chime in, but for now we'll deal with Steve. The basic premise of his column is that it's just way too idealistic to work, this Vanderbilt plan. That may be true, but we've all had 24+ hours to think about this now and he can't come up with one argument against it? Maybe he agrees with it, well then say that and tell us why. But for dozens of column inches all he says it that it won't work because that's not the way things are done in the SEC. I guess I'll take solace in the fact that there wasn't any objection to the merits of the idea, that he didn't construct an indictment of the proposal.

His column does make this unsubstantiated claim:

"Just when you thought it impossible for the Commodores to de-emphasize major athletics any more; they went and did it."

If by emphasis he means adding more seats to the football stadium or graduating fewer players or proving your drive to win by cheating on recruiting and academics, then yes VU has de-emphasized athletics by SEC standards. But measuring this idea by SEC standards is exactly the problem. There is only one acknowledged paradigm for NCAA athletics in the SEC right now and it is the way that 11 of the 12 SEC schools do it. Vanderbilt just introduced a new one. But, to Steve's point, he needs to check the record of facilities construction and coaching hires the past few years (see my post here) before he guesses at what's going in Nashville.

NCAA President Myles Brand reacts to Vanderbilt Restructuring 

In a statement at the NCAA's site:

"Chancellor Gee and Vanderbilt University have made a significant commitment to the concept of integrating intercollegiate athletics with the university's mission. I applaud the action. This is more than an experiment; it is a major shift in the collegiate sports culture. It will be a model for how to embed the operations that have been isolated from the university with similar functions throughout the campus. Their model may not be right for everyone right now, but it is sure to be a topic of discussion as universities manage their athletics programs in the future."

Again, the emphasis is on culture.

The Money Quote 

Vanderbilt Chancellor Gordon Gee on the athletics restructuring:

"For too long, college athletics has been segregated from the core mission of the University. As a result, we have created a culture, both on this campus and nationally, that is disconnected from our students, faculty and other constituents, where responsibility is diffuse, the potential for abuse considerable and the costs — both financial and academic — unsustainable."

Exactly. This is about the twisted culture of athletics. The fact that this revolution is occuring in a program that is a model for NCAA compliance is a testament that this is not simply about cleaning up cheating. This is not treating the symptoms, but erradicating the disease, that is to change the culture of intercollegiate athletics.

Read the entire press release here.

College Athletics Reform 

Well, if the initial reactions are any indication, then no one gets it. I am referring to the post below that announces a restructuring of the athletics department at Vanderbilt. Wednesday's stories are all local, so either no one cares nationally (i don't think that's the case) or news just hasn't traveled yet. Nashville's best daily newspaper, The Nashville City Paper, has a story titled "Chancellor overhauls VU." The Tennessean has a story titled "Turner out as AD in restructuring." Columnist David Climer chimes in with a clueless article that asks "Gee whiz, what happens when no one follows Vandy's lead?"

No one gets this. The knee-jerk reaction is that Vanderbilt is de-emphasizing athletics or that this is the first step towards a Division III program. Nonsense. A cursory review of recent history proves the opposite. In the last 5 years, Vanderbilt has hired a tremendous cadre of coaches, several of which are in the $500,000 range (football, men's basketball). As well, they spent more than $20 million renovating Memorial Gym, constructed an entirely new baseball stadium, upgraded the football weightroom, purchased the Legends golf course and constructed a soccer stadium. Now, I don't know how much all that costs but it is in the $50-$100 million range. Former AD Todd Turner is the most visible college athletics leader other than NCAA president Myles Brand, by virtue of his leadership in athletics/academics reform. An athletics department that is about to be downsized or eliminated doesn't do these things.

This is going to make a lot of people very nervous. Athletics at Vanderbilt is changed forever, and those who operate the mini-university (or mini-versity) of an athletics department at other schools are going to take notice. Make no mistake, this is not a capitulation to the pressures and demands of big-time college sports, nor is this a veiled attempt to move Vanderbilt out of the SEC and Division I athletics. It is a revolution of cultural change.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Major Reform or Shuffling of Deck Chairs? 

My alma mater, Vanderbilt University, charter member of the SEC announced a major structural change to the athletics program today. You can read the press release here, and tomorrow I'll link the major news stories (there are ones now, but the media are so startled they don't know quite what to write other than regurgitating the press release).

The major news is this:

"Under the new organization, Vanderbilt will bring together intercollegiate sports and recreational activities for students in a single department that will be part of the Division of Student Life and University Affairs. In addition, the University will take a leadership role in the national reform agenda for college sports.

In the most significant change, Vanderbilt will combine the programs and operations of its varsity sports with those of student recreation, intramurals and community sports programs into the new Office of Student Athletics, Recreation and Wellness. Assistant Vice Chancellor Brock Williams, a longtime Vanderbilt administrator, will directly oversee the day-to-day internal operations of the new office, which is now responsible for 14 varsity sports, more than 300 varsity student athletes, 37 club sports with more than 1,000 participants and an active student intramural program."

As well, former Athletics Director Todd Turner will serve an expanded role as a "special assistant to the Chancellor for athletic/academic reform." Turner is currently the chairman of the NCAA’s Incentives and Disincentives Committee, "which has developed proposals for sweeping changes designed to improve the academic performance of athletes," (per the press release). Read more about the committee and the proposals here.

Essentially, the Vanderbilt Athletics Department has been dissolved, or more appropriately, has been absorbed into the university structure at large. The facilities will be handled under a university wide Office of Facilities and Conferences, media relations and broadcasting will be absorbed under VU's Division of Public Affairs, etc. Each separate activity of the athletics department appears to be folded into an appropriate existing university structure. Williams, mentioned above, will effectively be the A.D. who will make hiring/firing decisions and other major activities. While former A.D. Turner serves in his role as reform czar, VU Chancellor Gordon Gee announced that he would hire a new A.D. within the next 6 months.

This last part makes me wonder if this isn't some elaborate scheme to basically fire Turner and move him into a larger role, so Gee can hire his own man for A.D. That's a bit cynical, though no doubt in my mind that's a partial truth. But Gee and Vanderbilt are serious about reform in the NCAA. This isn't convenient president-speak. He has been preaching about the necessary clean-up of intercollegiate athletics for some time now. He now has allies in NCAA president Myles Brand and SEC commissioner Mike Slive, who are philosophical kindred spirits with Gee in this issue.

So, to the basic point, what does this mean for college athletics at Vanderbilt and how could it potentially influence NCAA athletics? Big decisions in the athletics department won't change much, I imagine. As a season ticket holder, I probably won't see much difference. On the whole I doubt student-athletes will either. There will be different reporting relationships, but it will be the nature of those relationships and the culture of athletics that I think might change and that I think Gee has his eye on.

I have worked as a student assistant in 2 SEC athletics programs, Vandy and Tennessee, and still know several people at each school. My own conclusion that the athletics program operates as a mini-university within the university is an observation shared by many people that I know. I believe it is this sub-culture that breeds much of the malfeasance we see in college athletics. Coaches, boosters, players feel like they are athletes first, members of the So-and-So athletics department first, part of the wider university community second. Within this mini-university, athletics departments have established a chief academic officer (usually someone in the Student Life), a separate advising system exists, individual review of academic records occurs, a fully functional media relations department exists, publishing services, facilities management and on and on.

This mini-university is what Gee is trying to eliminate. Athletics reform at Vanderbilt is not a major need. Vandy has run a clean program, stayed off NCAA probation, been recognized for exemplary graduation rates, fielded competitive teams (though struggled in the high profile football and men's basketball). This is not a reaction to any events at Vanderbilt, though the cultural symptoms I note are prevalent there and no different in kind as any other athletics program, only different in degree perhaps. Gee sees an opportunity and a need for NCAA reform and he is taking the lead in making it happen. I'll be anxious to see how other schools react to this as the weeks unfold.

More on this later, when I have time to digest it fully.

Bonds and Ruth 

I read Ralph Wiley's Page2 piece at ESPN about why certain athletes get admired and romanticized while others are respected from a distance, but not embraced. Wiley names the distinction The Classic vs. The Frontier athlete. Especially, he writes about Barry Bonds ("I neither like him nor dislike him; it's irrelevant to the discussion we're having. I do find him to be smart, though")and why and how fans and writers evaluate the greatness of Bonds as a player and where he ranks among the all-time greats.

"No, Bonds isn't Willie Mays, or Henry Aaron, or Babe Ruth. As a hitter, he is, in fact, better. How we react to that fact says much more about us, and our biases, and where we are in life, than it does about Barry Bonds."

Wiley's piece is excellent, as he is wonderfully gifted at sorting through and dissecting the sociology of sports. But the central question he ponders is whether or not Bonds is the greatest player of all time, which is quickly boiling down to a discussion between Bonds and Ruth. I have to admit a bit of ambivalence on this issue. I have a slight bias against old-ballplayers for the same reason Wiley and others do - that they never faced full competition from black players. Yet, I also, with no proof, have a tendency to be biased towards the very modern (as in the last 10-20 years) superstar like Bonds in that there is enough uncertainty over the issue of his and others' use of steroids that I can't help but wonder if the game is being cheated. So, the simple yet abstract question of "who is better, Bonds or Ruth" is as much conjecture and values than it is any level of statistical analysis, even though I am a believer in the essence and methods of sabermetrics.

So, when a Bonds v. Ruth debate pops up, I am quick to nod when pro-Bonds folks speak of the lack of true, wide competition in the Ruth era. Similarly, I am a bit perplexed when Bonds folks claim statistical supremacy. Ruth's career slugging percentage is nearly 100 points higher than Bonds career. I am amused when the 2003 MVP debates dismiss Albert Pujols because of the relative distance between him and Bonds (and i do think Bonds is this year's MVP), yet they turn a blind eye to the gulf between Bonds and Ruth on major stats like BA, OBP, and SLG. For the record, Ruth slugged .700 nine times, while Bonds has logged two seasons at that level. Ruth's career OBP and BA are nearly 50 points higher than Bonds. Yes, Bonds 2001-03 seasons will rival Ruth's 1920-21 seasons, but the career numbers lean in Ruth's favor. But, here again, Ruth's numbers were put up against "incomplete" competition.

To further the debate, I ran across a very interesting piece from Flak Magazine by Andy Behrens that you can and should read here.

"The opinion [that Ruth is the better player] is based largely on creaky sentimental bullshit, dubious logic and anti-Bonds hostility. In the end, Bonds vs. Ruth is a silly and unwinnable argument. But in the end — the real end, when baseball is only played in New York and relegated to tape-delayed broadcasts following the local news — Barry Bonds will have all the numbers, and there really won't be anything to discuss. For now, Bonds and Ruth are difficult to compare for precisely the reason Barry wants to eclipse Ruth's records: The Babe's stats are a sham, as are all pre-integration baseball stats."

The column goes on to offer this interesting opinion of Bill James' Win Shares system:

"The all-time Major League top 10 win shares list features six players who accumulated stats in the dead ball era — Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Cy Young, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins — and another, Stan Musial, who had already won six batting titles before his own team integrated. The other three players among the career top 10 — Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Bonds — are black. Maybe it's entirely true that six of baseball's 10 greatest players were active in 1915. The alternative is this: Segregation allowed a few talented white players to achieve absurd and artificial statistical dominance, the kind of numbers that wouldn't have been possible with fair, integrated, plenary competition."

Provocative, but it is prime evidence that the debate of Ruth v. Bonds has passionate and cogent arguments on both sides of the debate. I really wonder though, why are we in such a rush to rank Bonds among the all-time greats? And why does it truly matter?

Right now, I am very comfortable with and very grateful for my ambivalence.

Maurice Clarett 

The Cleveland Plain Dealer is reporting that "OSU won't reinstate Clarett"

"[Local TV in Cleveland] Channel 8 reported that in formulating a response to NCAA allegations against Clarett, the university learned the sophomore 'received extra benefits worth thousands of dollars.'"

This story is sad and it looks like there is no chance of a happy ending. I hope that Clarett lands somewhere and can move on with his life and career. The question I have is when did Clarett receive these extra benefits and would it potentially jeopardize OSU's 2002 championship (by playing an ineligible player). And from whom did he receive benefits? Someone connected to OSU? Clarett might leave, but OSU still has a lot of questions to answer.

UPDATE: "Clarett to be charged with falsifying report." The cover up always gets you.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Rookie Rules 

Jayson Stark of ESPN discusses whether or not players from the Japanese Leagues should be considered for Rookie of the Year awards in a column that can be accessed here.

"... it's time we start treating Japanese baseball for what it is -- a third "major" league. It would be a farce to adopt that stance just to keep foreign players from being the Rookie of the Year. We should adopt it to respect and honor the accomplishments of the Ichiros, the Matsuis and the Nomos in Japan -- in every way. Those accomplishments, those stats belong in their listings in the baseball encyclopedias and registers. Those feats should be part of those players' credentials when we consider their Hall of Fame worthiness. And all we ask, as we lend them that respect, is that it means they shouldn't be eligible for Rookie of the Year awards."

I agree totally with Jayson, something I wrote about a few weeks ago in a post here. So, If Matsui is out (and just for the record I think he will win the award because most voting writers probably don't agree with Jayson that Matsui shouldn't be on the ballot), then who is your AL ROY? Angel Berroa of KC? Mark Teixeira of Texas? What about Jody Gerut of Cleveland? Rocko Baldelli of the D-Rays?

Tough call, let's see how it plays out down the stretch, but if I had a ballot in my hands today, my top 3 (without Matsui) would be as follows:

1) Berroa
2) Baldelli
3) Gerut

Even with Matsui, I'm not sure my ballot changes too much. Matsui has by no means locked up the award.

Today's Readings 

"A roller coaster of magnificent drama", courtesy of Dan Le Batard of the Miami Herald, on the magnificent Miami/Florida game Saturday night.

The Orlando Sentinel defends college football's BCS system.

"Reformists say the BCS formula is skewed to favor the big teams. Well, yes, it is undoubtedly skewed to favor teams that win a lot of games and play tougher schedules. But with only two at-large berths, reformists say the little guys don't have enough opportunity to make a BCS bowl. So what? In 43 years before the BCS, only one non-BCS team won a national title (BYU in 1984). And in the 20 years before the BCS, 159 of 160 berths in the four big bowls went to BCS-affiliated teams. Mathematically, the little guys have a better chance than they ever have. It's not the BCS formula that's keeping smaller schools out. It's natural selection."

Yes, Tulane and other non-BCS schools will get a little publicity for awhile by having their grievances aired before a Congressional audience, but the reality is that Congress is not going to jump in here and upset the BCS system. Fact is that the big money schools do and should generate and keep most of the big money in college sports. I don't know that I want to leap over with the pro-BCS crowd - I generally favor a playoff system - but arguments of fairness aren't going to get very far.

Remembering a Great Moment 

Today is the 5th anniversary of Mark McGwire's 62nd home run, breaking Roger Maris' 37-year old record. I remember watching the game in grad school, scorebook on my lap. That summer captured the imaginations of even casual and non-baseball fans. My college roommates, who during school only noticed baseball by my ever-present obsession with it, were following the daily Sosa/Big Mac chase like wide-eyed grade school kids, calling me up to chat about who had hit one lately, how far it had gone, etc. It really was a great summer of baseball, bittersweet in that my beloved Cardinals were out of playoff contention, but most memorable nonetheless.

I had the pleasure of witnessing 3 of the historic 70 that year. If memory serves, they were numbers 21, 22 and 23 against the Giants in late May. Several college buddies took a trip to St. Louis a few weeks after college graduation before we all split up too far. We sat in the left field bleachers and weren't but 20 feet or so from one of the homers. But my favorite homerun that year was the straight center shot McGwire hit off Livan Hernandez that hit the "Y" in the "This Bud's for You" sign, some 500-550 feet away. Remember that big band-aid they put over the sign? Classic. Stayed there all year.

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