Thursday, July 29, 2010

Top 5 Guys Who Should've Been Cast in Con Air Instead of Nicolas Cage

We can all agree that Con Air is entertaining. But I submit that, without Nicolas Cage bringing the movie down with every awful line, it'd have been a great movie, one of the classic action films of all time. So, let's replace him. I'm only picking people who were active actors in 1997, when Con Air came out.
  1. Lennie James - "Robert Hawkins" from TV's Jericho. If you know him, you know he'd have been righteous. Just imagine him saying this line: "I'm gonna save the fuckin' day."
  2. Woody Harrelson - It took Zombieland for me to realize that we should've been watching Harrelson in intense action roles for a decade now. Lesson learned.
  3. Kiefer Sutherland - If only we knew then what we know now...
  4. Bruce Willis - I know he was busy doing The Jackal and The Fifth Element in 1997, but I'm sure we could've made time for him. I'd have waited another year or two for Con Air if it meant Willis instead of that ass clown Nic Cage.
  5. Adam Baldwin - Would've been a tough sell to bill him as a headliner in a cast with John Malkovich and John Cusack, though.
So what do we take away from this list? Only that Nicolas Cage is a movie-ruining monster.



Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Boss

An era came to an end this morning, as longtime New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died.

I wasn't so lucky to have seen the totality of his time as owner. And even when I first started paying attention to baseball, I was more focused on players and teams than owners. I saw them as peripheral parts of the equation, but Steinbrenner was anything but. His impact on the Yankees, and on baseball, was profound and far-reaching.

It's important on a day like today to realize that history should and will recognize Steinbrenner as a hero. In a time when baseball needed help after the strike that canceled the 1994 World Series (and ruined any hope the Montreal Expos ever had of a title), Steinbrenner was as important as the chase for 61 in revitalizing the sport. Think about your favorite stories, and you'll find they've all got a villain.

Steinbrenner was happy to be a villain for baseball fans in every other city by pouring his heart, soul, and money into the Yankees. My favorite recent memory in baseball is the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks. I wasn't much of a D'Backs fan, but because of the Yankees' dominance for a decade, I rooted for whoever opposed them. The drama of blown saves, seven games, and two of the most dominant starting pitchers of our time in Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson was great, but everything was accentuated by the fact that it was the Yankees.

As I've come to appreciate baseball, and as the Yankees have encountered more regular disappointment in October, my disdain for them has waned. I've also come to appreciate that the world needs villains. The Celtics need the Lakers, the Colts need the Patriots, the Capitals need the Penguins. Without adversity to overcome, sports is just a bunch of guys running around.

Thank you, George Steinbrenner, for helping baseball when it needed you. Rest in peace, Boss.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Fill In the Blank: LeBron James is a ____.

There are two answers to this question, but let's look at the whole situation for a second first.

First off, money was never going to be an issue for James. He commands a max contract wherever he goes (I mean, Joe Johnson got a max deal in this market), and I imagine he'll get that or close to it in Miami. But he'll likely get at least as much money from endorsements, and possibly a lot more than his basketball salary. Miami, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Cleveland, it wouldn't really matter. James is a nationwide sensation, and between sodas and shoes and razors and fast food and clothing lines and everything else, he'd have garnered serious income regardless of where he played basketball.

If anything, he actually hindered his endorsement brand by going to Miami. He's going to a city that already has an elite basketball talent. The main difference between James and Dwayne Wade is that Wade's already got a ring. And as an elite passer, James is the most likely to find his production drop, specifically with regards to scoring. He'll have to be as good as or better than Magic Johnson to earn more credit than Wade for any future title runs. Not exactly an easy task.

But even still, James was going to make truckloads of cash anywhere he went. So let's get back to the title of this post, and let me give you my first answer.

LeBron James is a child.

I read an article yesterday by Bill Simmons that hearkened back a rumor that went around back in 2008 about LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and Chris Paul wanting to work themselves onto the same team. Making a "pact" even. I don't remember hearing the rumor at the time, probably because it sounded so ridiculous, but today it obviously sounds a little more believable. And if it's true, if James' plan all along was to find a way to get on the same team as Bosh and Wade, then he's a child.

He's a child because that would've been impossible with the Cavaliers, and the team and Cleveland deserved to know that right away. This is the city that threw themselves at James, came out in droves to support him, and rooted him on even through playoff loss after playoff loss. James' Cavaliers kept coming up short, but Cavaliers fans were always willing to say, "Next year is our year. Just gotta get rid of ____, or find someone who can ____." If James was always planning on getting together with Wade and Bosh, then he should have used his considerable marketing machine to get the word out that he wouldn't be staying, and he certainly shouldn't have set up last night's ridiculous, narcissistic, anti-climactic ESPN special. There's a way that adults go about things (Michael Jordan's fax saying "I'm back" comes to mind), and LeBron James seems to have gone the other way.

Furthermore, he led on every other team that poured their hearts into every pitch to try to bring James to their town. Wade may have done the same, but everyone in the NBA was 99% sure he'd be back in Miami. So when he announced his intention to stay in Miami, no one was surprised, and realistically, no other NBA team could feel particularly slighted. But the Bulls, Knicks, Nets, and Clippers sent envoys to Ohio to meet with James, to try to sell him on the idea of playing for their franchises. Say what you will about NBA executives, and you can certainly think that the Knicks and Clippers sometimes show some questionable leadership. But these are serious men with serious jobs, and James yanked them around. Wouldn't it have been awesome to hear that Clippers GM Neil Olshey walked out of their meeting a la Al Pacino in Heat (2:40)?

Now, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert didn't exactly act completely mature when he went off about James' "disloyalty," in his open letter to Cavaliers fans. But I do get the sense that he put himself into a better light with a lot of Cleveland basketball fans. And while I think Gilbert is a little bit delusional when he guarantees that Cleveland will win a title before Miami, it's certainly nice to have an owner show that kind of passion. I'd be proud to be a Cavs fan today.

Moving on to answer number two...

LeBron James is a coward.

As I mentioned above, James went to Miami, which regardless of MVP trophies, is Dwayne Wade's team. Wade already has a championship, and Wade figures to be right there with James when it comes to assigning credit for any future championships that the Heat might win. So at most, James will be one of two elite players on an elite team (I don't see Bosh as much more than an All-Star, kind of like Ron Artest or Lamar Odom for the Lakers). And if the team doesn't win, Wade will take nearly as much blame as James.

Cleveland, the only team that anyone thought had a chance to jump in after the Miami rumor gained steam, is also a destination of lessened pressure. While Cleveland fans are rabid, and eager to find a championship team they can embrace, their patience for their native son might have known no bounds. He would have likely benefited from the same hometown mentality that Joe Mauer will get for the Twins, or Cal Ripken for the Orioles (though Ripken did win a championship in his second season). True, the annals of NBA history are defined by champions, but the pressure to win in Cleveland would have been smaller for James.

Look at the other four teams who passionately courted James: the Chicago Bulls, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Knicks and Nets, both of whom will claim New York City as their home soon. Those are three cities with histories of success in sports, and the three biggest media markets in the United States. For comparison, Cleveland and Miami rank 16th and 17th, respectively.

Had James gone to the Clippers, he'd have committed himself to a career-long comparison between himself and Kobe Bryant, a comparison he'd almost surely never win. If James chose to sign with the Bulls, he'd live in the shadow of Michael Jordan, the greatest player of our generation. And had he chosen the Knicks or Nets, he'd be the focal point of basketball in the nation's biggest city, particularly with the Knicks.

And that's exactly why he should've gone to one of those teams. I read a post on Facebook last night that I'll paraphrase here:
We should be happy with LeBron's decision. We're always saying that we wish athletes would just care about winning, and not worry about money or fame or anything else. I say good for him for having his priorities straight.
It was when I read this that I realized that a desire to win isn't what I look for in athletes, at least not on a general level. I didn't like it when Gary Payton and Karl Malone went to the Lakers to try to ride Shaquille O'Neal and Bryant a title. I don't care for athletes who try to latch onto other players to get titles. I like players who say, "I'm the guy other people should be latching onto." James had the opportunity to go to other teams and actually be a king. He had the chance to make his own history, to take his own run at being the best player of all time. Instead, he hitched his wagon to Dwayne Wade's star (and vice versa; they're two of the top five players in basketball).

I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a personal interest in James going to New York. I've liked the Knicks since I was young, and I'd have liked to see them return to glory; James was essentially a free pass to 50 wins, and a healthy Amare Stoudemire makes them a force in the East. But I have to think the NBA would've loved for James to go to the Knicks as well. They're perhaps the most religiously followed team in the NBA, the most widely supported, through good times and (as has been the case recently) bad. Having the Knicks become relevant again would be a boon for basketball. Had LeBron James led the Knicks to an NBA championship, he'd have cemented his place in history. Just one championship. In Miami, he'll need four or five.

I'm not a Cavaliers fan. As the Wizards are my home team, the Cavs were something of a nemesis in the middle of the 2000's, bouncing Washington out of the playoffs three straight seasons. But I feel for Cavs fans like my partner Joe Mandi. I don't think I'd say that this is worse than Art Modell stealing the Browns away to Baltimore, but it's worse than any on-field disappointment the city has ever endured. I can't make myself root for the Cavaliers, but you'd better believe I'll be rooting against the Heat.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Lebron to Miami: A First Response

As most of the readers of this blog know, I'm a pretty avid Cleveland fan. Having grown up in Northeast Ohio, my childhood and early adult years were filled with terrible sports teams. I remember vividly being excited for the 1986 Cleveland Indians team...a team that went on to lose 100 games. In the few and far times when Cleveland sports teams have not been terrible, the teams offered hope enough only to cause the Cleveland fans the most pain possible: The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, the 1997 World Series that saw the Indians one out away from a coveted title and the Browns leaving town. In more recent history, the 2007 Indians took a 3-2 advantage into game 6 of the ALCS against Boston before falling flat, the 2002 Browns were one Dennis Northcutt drop away from burying the hated Steelers on the road in a Wild Card matchup and the Cavs were a missed Flip Murray rebound away from sending the former NBA champion Pistons home for the summer. Somehow Lebron leaving is worse than all of these.

Let me set one thing straight before going forward: I don't blame Lebron for leaving. He's got to look out for himself and do what's right for Lebron. I get that.

What I do hate is the disappointment. The disappointment to know that one of the three major Cleveland teams will probably not compete for a championship for a long, long time. The disappointment to know that the Cavs may actually never recover from Lebron leaving (it's not inconceivable that the Cavs could have so little interest in economically strapped Northeast Ohio that they could leave for greener pastures). The disappointment to know that it's looking more and more likely that an entire generation of die hard Cleveland fans may die without knowing the feeling of seeing a team that represents them walk away as champions. The disappointment to get close time and time again, only to fall short every time.

Anyway, like the title says, this is just my first response. I've got more to say, more logical arguments, but I'm really just too bummed to get them straight in my head.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Twi-Night Doubleheader - Week 13 (The 2010 Fantasy All-Star Teams)

Every year, we see the All-Star participants, and it's always fun to talk about who should've made the team, and who didn't deserve to be an All-Star. We don't always have an Omar Infante to talk about, but we always have something to talk about.

This year, for the first time ever (and hopefully, assuming my survival, the first of many times), I'll be creating what I believe to be the fantasy All-Star teams in each league. I'll name two players at each infield position, five outfielders, seven starting pitchers, and three relief pitchers, for a total of twenty-five players. It's smaller than the standard All-Star team, but we're fantasy owners; we don't pay attention to half of the players in baseball anyways.

Without further ado, the teams. Eligibility will be determined simply by position eligibility in Yahoo fantasy baseball.

American League

First Basemen
  • Miguel Cabrera (.339, 61 R, 20 HR, 71 RBI, 2 SB)
  • Justin Morneau (.344, 51 R, 17 HR, 55 RBI)
Second Basemen
  • Robinson Cano (.342, 59 R, 16 HR, 55 RBI, 2 SB)
  • Dustin Pedroia (.292, 52 R, 12 HR, 41 RBI, 8 SB)
Third Basemen
  • Kevin Youkilis (.299, 66 R, 17 HR, 55 RBI, 2 SB)
  • Evan Longoria (.296, 49 R, 12 HR, 60 RBI, 12 SB)
Shortstops
  • Elvis Andrus (.290, 56 R, 0 HR, 25 RBI, 22 SB)
  • Derek Jeter (.281, 55 R, 8 HR, 39 RBI, 9 SB)
Outfielders
  • Josh Hamilton (.340, 55 R, 20 HR, 61 RBI, 6 SB)
  • Carl Crawford (.320, 63 R, 7 HR, 42 RBI, 29 SB)
  • Alex Rios (.299, 49 R, 13 HR, 45 RBI, 22 SB)
  • Vladimir Guerrero (.328, 52 R, 18 HR, 70 RBI, 4 SB)
  • Shin-Soo Choo (.286, 48 R, 13 HR, 43 RBI, 12 SB)
Starting Pitchers
  • Jon Lester (10-3, 118 K, 2.76/1.10)
  • Jered Weaver (8-3, 124 K, 2.82/1.06)
  • Cliff Lee (8-3, 89 K, 2.34/0.95)
  • David Price (11-4, 90 K, 2.42/1.20)
  • Andy Pettitte (10-2, 78 K, 2.82/1.15)
  • Felix Hernandez (6-5, 122 K, 3.01/1.14)
  • Clay Buchholz (10-4, 64 K, 2.45/1.25)
Relief Pitchers
  • Mariano Rivera (2-1, 19 SV, 32 K, 1.08/0.66)
  • Rafael Soriano (2-0, 22 SV, 28 K, 1.42/0.76)
  • Jose Valverde (1-1, 18 SV, 33 K, 1.00/0.81)

National League

First Basemen
  • Joey Votto (.318, 56 R, 21 HR, 59 RBI, 7 SB)
  • Albert Pujols (.305, 48 R, 20 HR, 60 RBI, 9 SB)
Second Basemen
  • Brandon Phillips (.307, 64 R, 11 HR, 28 RBI, 10 SB)
  • Martin Prado (.331, 57 R, 7 HR, 36 RBI, 4 SB)
Third Basemen
  • David Wright (.317, 51 R, 14 HR, 64 RBI, 15 SB)
  • Scott Rolen (.301, 43 R, 17 HR, 57 RBI)
Shortstops
  • Hanley Ramirez (.297, 48 R, 13 HR, 53 RBI, 15 SB)
  • Rafael Furcal (.335, 44 R, 5 HR, 30 RBI, 12 SB)
Outfielders
  • Carlos Gonzalez (.295, 49 R, 14 HR, 52 RBI, 12 SB)
  • Chris B. Young (.268, 46 R, 15 HR, 57 RBI, 16 SB)
  • Ryan Braun (.291, 50 R, 11 HR, 51 RBI, 11 SB)
  • Matt Kemp (.265, 56 R, 15 HR, 47 RBI, 11 SB)
  • Corey Hart (.288, 42 R, 19 HR, 61 RBI, 4 SB)
Starting Pitchers
  • Adam Wainwright (12-5, 123 K, 2.24/1.00)
  • Ubaldo Jimenez (14-1, 107 K, 2.27/1.08)
  • Josh Johnson (8-3, 115 K, 1.82/0.96)
  • Roy Halladay (10-7, 119 K, 2.33/1.08)
  • Mat Latos (9-4, 91 K, 2.62/0.96)
  • Yovani Gallardo (8-4, 122 K, 2.58/1.26)
  • Clayton Kershaw (8-4, 116 K, 3.02/1.23)
Relief Pitchers
  • Billy Wagner (5-0, 17 SV, 52 K, 1.35/0.93)
  • Heath Bell (4-0, 23 SV, 49 K, 1.72/1.34)
  • Jonathan Broxton (3-0, 17 SV, 52 K, 2.02/1.07)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

How To Fix Your Fantasy Football League

And trust me, it's broken.

I've played in several fantasy football leagues each year for the past decade or so, and over time, you learn some things. You learn that Priest Holmes is going to burn someone. You learn to trust the elite quarterbacks to stay elite. But more importantly, you learn what makes a league fun, and what makes it frustrating. Right now, I'd like to share with you a few ways that I think your league can be more of the former, and less of the latter.

I figure the first of July should be plenty early to get your league on board with the changes.

Use Fractional Points

I get not using fractions back when fantasy sports were conducted with pencils and paper, but this is 2010. This is the year that every pre-teen science fiction writer used as his setting when I was growing up in the 1980s. Technology allows us to calculate fractions pretty easily, so there's no reason not to use them.

Certainly the advantages of using partial points are obvious. Say you give 1 point for every 25 passing yards. Does the difference between 173 yards and 178 yards really constitute an entire point? Is it unreasonable to think that 222 yards is actually more valuable than 203? The reality is that we have the mechanisms in place to allow yards to be assigned a specific, decimal value. Using those mechanisms will allow us to be maybe just a little more certain that the most deserving team will win on any given Sunday, and that's always an admirable move.

You also almost certainly eliminate ties, which nobody wants. As the old saying goes, ties are like kissing your sister, which unless your sister is Rachel McAdams is pretty gross. I guess it's gross either way, but man, she's gorgeous.

Shorten Your Benches

Losing a player to injury can be a bummer. Losing a player to injury and finding nobody on the waiver wire who even comes close to being startable is brutal. When this happens, chances are it's because your league has too many bench spots on each team. It seems the convention is fifteen roster spots, split up into nine starters (1 QB, 3 WR, 2 RB, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 DEF) and six bench spots. Most teams won't have a bench tight end, kicker, or defense, so you have six bench spots for six starting spots.

Too many. You want to force people into tough decisions, and you want to prevent players from being held just to be held. I'm in favor of having one bench spot for each non-special team position (QB, WR, RB, TE), plus one additional spot for every four total non-special team roster spot. In the case of a standard league, you have seven of those roster spots, so you get one additional bench spot, for a total of five. That keeps the waiver wire populated with the occasional interesting play: a borderline tight end, a slot receiver on a pass-heavy team, a goal-line running back.

Speaking of improving the depth of your waiver wire options...

Use Return Yardage at the Same Rate as Passing Yardage

Default Yahoo leagues don't implement return yardage at all, which borders on criminal. But even when leagues do use return yardage, it's often at an irrelevant pace, something like 40 or 50 yards per point, when rushing/receiving is 10 yards per point, and passing is 25. That means that, in order to match a 100-yard rushing/receiving day, a return man would have to accumulate 400 or 500 return yards.

As a reference, the all-time record for most kickoff return yards in a game is 304, and for punt return yards it's 207. The most prolific return man in 2008 (among startable players in standard leagues; that is, non-defensive players) was Darren Sproles with 1,625 total return yards. Michael Turner and Adrian Peterson had more rushing yards than that, and thirty quarterbacks had more passing yards than that. Certainly we can all agree that big return numbers have a positive impact on a real-life football team. Since fantasy football is supposed to reward players who do positive things for their real-life football teams, it's only fitting that return yards become part of the equation.

Most importantly, giving real value to return yards turns otherwise unstartable players into reasonable quick fix options. Joshua Cribbs is an elite return guy, but in a normal league, he wallows on the waiver wire. Adjust the return yards impact, though, and he becomes a decent option if you're in a bind. And that's really all we're looking to create here, is a little extra depth on the waiver wire for tough situations.

Consider Eliminating Kickers

Now, about a year ago, I was adamant that kickers should be eliminated from my main football league. I didn't (and still don't) like the complete luck that's involved in kickers acquiring points. They're completely reliant on particular offensive sequences to create the opportunities for them to kick field goals, and those sequences are extremely difficult if not impossible to predict. With most other facets of fantasy football already being somewhat unpredictable, why add in what essentially amounts to a roll of the dice for a few extra points?

I've backed off of that stance somewhat, however, as a result of the simple logic of one of my fellow league members. There are kickers in real football, so there should be kickers in fantasy football. It's a simple enough reasoning, but it does make sense. So, while I still think that kickers are unnecessary for a fantasy football league, and I think that removing them will result in the "better" fantasy players doing better in the win-loss columns, I understand keeping kickers. My recommendation here is just to make sure that you're not just keeping kickers because of convention, and that you actually find value in having kickers on your teams.

And Whatever Else...

Listen, I don't know your league. You know what your owners find interesting, and what they don't care about. I personally like assigning .25 to .50 points per reception, and giving 2 points for 100 yard receiving games versus 1 point for 100 yard rushing games, to increase the value of wide receivers versus running backs. But that's not for everyone. My most sincere recommendation is to listen to your league. You're going to find things that bother everyone in your league, and those are the most important things to change.

And the fractional points thing. That's just a no-brainer.

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

This was always going to be the hardest of my band lists, because I like so many of DMB's songs, and have liked them so differently over...