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Playoffs Baseball: Almost Unwatchable

October 6th, 2019 · No Comments · Baseball

The home run era has been fun. I think a consensus has developed among baseball people that it is beginning to grow tiresome and that something will soon need to be done to make baseball look more like baseball.

Know who wrote that? Bill James, the man whose insights jump-started baseball’s advanced metrics revolution back in the 1970s.

Know when he wrote that? In 2001.

I wonder what he thinks now, after the real Home Run Era landed in the bleachers all around the game?

In 2001, Major Leaguers hit 5,458 home runs.

In 2019, nearly two decades later?

MLB hitters mashed a record 6,776 homers.

All those home runs! This season’s totals were half again as many hit just five seasons ago — 4,186, in 2014.

Adding 2,600 homers has changed the game. And not in a good way.

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Add Asterisk* to Dodgers’ ‘Best’ Record

October 1st, 2019 · No Comments · Baseball, Dodgers

In the 1961 Major League Baseball season, Roger Maris of the New York Yankees hit 61 home runs to break Babe Ruth’s homer record of 60, set in 1927.

However, many fans of the Bambino, and perhaps those not enthralled by the laconic Maris one-upping the charismatic Ruth, clamored for an “asterisk” to be added to Maris’s total.

Why? Because Maris’s 61 homers came in baseball’s inaugural 162-game season, which tacked on eight extra games to the 154-game season Ruth and the ’27 Yankees had in 1927.

Midway through the 1961 season, no less than the commissioner of baseball, Ford Frick, suggested that the any new homer record “should be shown separately in the record books, with some distinctive mark” next to it indicating it had been done in a 162-game season.

A day later, prominent New York sports writer Dick Young suggested the asterisk.

Why are we talking about Ruth and Maris and records and asterisks?

Because the 2019 Los Angeles Dodgers have been quick to make clear that they set a franchise record with 106 victories, beating the 105 rung up by the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers who, like Ruth, spotted their future club eight additional games.

Get another asterisk ready!

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Maybe Yanks Should Give Up on Rugby World Cup

September 26th, 2019 · No Comments · Rugby

Just watched the United States national rugby team play in the ninth edition of the Rugby World Cup. On my television, here in France. Live. With French-speaking announcers. Who knew?

It went badly for the Yanks — as it nearly always does.

Final score: England 45, United States 7.

The highlight for the Eagles may have been the national anthem. The lads sang it with great enthusiasm. “And the home of the brave … who are about to get crushed.”

Actually, it ended with “brave” but you could include the other bit with some certainty. The Yanks have been getting steamrolled by “real” rugby countries since they started appearing at the quadrennial tournament in 1999.

What does USA Rugby have to show for all its efforts?

Two pool-play victories in six tournaments.

Among the defeats? There was 53-8 to Ireland in 1999 … 51-9 to France in 2003 … 64-15 to South Africa in 2007 … 67-5 to Australia in 2011 … 64-0 to South Africa in 2015 … and England 45-7 in 2019.

These are blowouts of such severity that the question has to be asked: Is this worth doing?

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Take Me (and 115,300 of My Close Friends) Out to the Ballgame

September 25th, 2019 · No Comments · Baseball, Dodgers

Did you attend a Los Angeles Dodgers home game this season? If so, you are part of a club record: The Dodgers counted 3,974,309 customers for their 81 home games in the 2019 season. Unprecedented, at Chavez Ravine.

Being part of an attendance record is kinda cool. Especially when you get up into six figures.

I was at a baseball-record-setting game 11-plus years ago, when the Dodgers celebrated their 50th year in L.A. by playing a preseason game against the champion Boston Red Sox at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (photo above)… a one-off event at the club’s first home stadium in L.A. after the 1958 move from Brooklyn.

How big was that crowd of March 28, 2008? The Dodgers said it was 115,301, which makes it the biggest gathering to see Major League clubs play a baseball game.

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‘Glory to Hong Kong’

September 20th, 2019 · No Comments · Beijing Olympics, Hong Kong

In a previous lifetime I spent four months as a temp editor for the Asian edition of the International Herald Tribune.

Many of the entries from this blog, commencing in October 2008 and continuing through January 2009 were about our experiences there.

First memory: The crowds. Second memory: How different it was from Beijing, where we had spent three weeks in the previous August at the 2008 Summer Olympics.

HK had a different spirit. A different ethos. It did not seem as uptight and severe as the capital, where the Communist Party exerts tremendous authority.

Hong Kong seemed like a place that did not belong in the same state as Beijing. It still felt a little British (from the long colonial period) and progressive and forward-looking and ready for self-determination.

Twenty years later, many people in Hong Kong, and especially college-age kids, want to see HK gain some sort of independence from Beijing, and if you want your own state, well, you are going to need a national anthem.

Hong Kong has one, and I love it. It instantly makes my list of top-10 anthems.

First, let’s listen to the Masked Orchestra playing “Glory to Hong Kong“.

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Learning French: Don’t Try It This Way

September 19th, 2019 · 2 Comments · France

“Je suis Americain!”

That was all the French the Red Buttons character knew, in the sprawling D-Day classic movie “The Longest Day” — and he repeated it to himself like a mantra as he and his fellow paratroopers were flown to Normandy on June 6, 1944.

“Je suis Americain.” (I am American.) So the French on the ground would know he was not a German. “Je suis Americain!”

I am a fan of the sprawling old (1962) Second World War movie in which Buttons plays the real-life U.S. paratrooper John Steele, who survived the day when his parachute became entangled in a church steeple and he hung suspended but unnoticed above a massacre in a French town.

It is about learning French, which apparently I have decided to achieve by watching French television and listening to townspeople, here in the south of France. My goal is to be vaguely fluent in five years.

So, three-plus years into my plan, how is it going?

Let me answer with the other sentence of French I know.

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France 89, USA 79: Good for World Hoops and USA, Too

September 12th, 2019 · No Comments · Basketball, Olympics

We live in France. We can vouch for this.

The 89-79 French victory over the United States in the Fiba World Cup quarterfinals yesterday was such a big deal over here that at least two national news shows — including that of government flagship TF1 — led their prime-time broadcasts with the news from Les Bleus, called a victoire historique by both stations.

Some stateside observers might see the result as a disaster for American basketball, snapping a 58-game winning streak stretching back to 2006 in world tournaments that include NBA players. That is, the Olympics and the World Cup.

But that is short-term thinking.

In the long run, France’s victory is likely to encourage international teams around the world, and grow the sport — which might already be the second-most popular team activity in the world.

The result also could jolt the Yanks out of the apathy that led to exactly one American All-NBA player — third-team guard Kemba Walker — accepting the call from the U.S. federation to play in the quadrennial tournament.

Which Americans ignored the call? Pretty much everyone else with any sort of star status in the NBA.

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It’s NFL Time: Ready for ‘RedZone’; Not Ready for Fading Rams or Fishy Patriots

September 8th, 2019 · No Comments · NFL, Rams

In a few hours, NFL RedZone host Scott Hanson will begin firing National Football League news at us, with accompanying action clips. To me, that marks the true start of the NFL season. Not some bad Thursday night game that left people wondering about the competence of Mitchell Trubiski.

I consider Hanson’s work some of the most impressive in all of modern sports. How many of us can stay informed about six or seven or eight NFL games simultaneously and bring us quickly up to date as each game unfolds? Seems like a nearly singular skill, and Hanson has it. He also has the ability to sit in a chair for six-plus hours, apparently doing without a bathroom break on some Sundays. Does he wear an adult diaper?

What I am not looking forward to is the third season of the Los Angeles Rams under the guidance of coach Sean McVay.

I am not yet over the 13-3, “fewest points scored, ever” egg the Rams laid in the Super Bowl. They were the ones with the “3” in the 13-3. And, of course, what made it ever-so-much worse was that the “13” was scored by the New England Patriots.

Which leads us off in a few other directions.

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Note to Self: Dry Southern France Can Burn, Too

September 6th, 2019 · No Comments · France

It was about 1.30 p.m. when the fire equipment began arriving. As I try to reconstruct it, it began with a siren that we attributed to a health emergency in our little town among the hills.

But it was not a lone rescue vehicle. Another came behind it, heralded by the sing-song European sirens. Then the planes came over. At least two. Perhaps a third — and a helicopter with a payload. Water, maybe?

Wait. You mean those of us in the south of France, which has gone through a particularly dry summer, worsened by gusty high winds, might be at risk during brush/forest fires?

Because we are not in California … living, instead, in a country where most areas get quite a bit of rain … doesn’t that leave us immune from the worry that our town could burn?

When I realized the answer to that was “Hell, no; this neighborhood could burn, too,” well that was a jarring moment.

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For Once, a Proud Arsenal Fan

September 2nd, 2019 · No Comments · Arsenal, English Premier League, Football, soccer

Anyone with the patience to follow this blog knows that every now and then … OK, maybe once a month … I go on a rant about how feckless is Arsenal FC, the London club I chose, a decade ago, to offer my support (mostly in the form of psychic energy), in all their competitions. Before I had really thought this through.

I have explained how it happened that, as a mid-life soccer-team free agent, I landed on the Gunners (Stade de France, 2009), when they were still considered an elite side. And how I soon realized I had connected with a team sliding, almost imperceptibly, but steadily, towards mediocrity.

That led to headlines here like the following:

“The Trials and Tribulations of the Arsenal Fan”

“The Agony and the Ecstasy of the Arsenal Fan”

“Arsene and Arsenal: Time for a Breakup”

“Arsenal Angst, as Always”

“The Quiet Hopelessness of Arsenal Fans”

And like that. At least once every disappointing season — which has been pretty much all of them since The Invincibles (2003-04).

Of late, the default psychological position for Gunners fans has been this: “Please, not another humiliation by one of the other Big Six. Or one of the Little 14, for that matter.”

Then came yesterday, when Arsenal gifted north London rival Tottenham a 2-0 first-half lead, including a Harry Kane penalty from the kind of ridiculous challenge Granit Xhaka has nearly perfected, and then fought back (you read that right; fought back) to turn in the sort of inspired, semi-crazed, lung-busting, thoroughly entertaining, full-blast performance some of us had come to believe was the province of any club that wasn’t Arsenal.

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