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How Did Baseball Writers Exist without Advanced Metrics?

May 23rd, 2019 · No Comments · Baseball, Sports Journalism

I was watching the 2011 movie Moneyball in the wee hours last night, and I was struck, anew, by one big question:

How did baseball writers evaluate what they were looking at … before the dawn of advanced analytics?

How did veteran reporters — including most of them right on through the Baby Boomer demographic — assess the 1927 Yankees or the 2004 Red Sox? How did they sort out who were the real heroes, and why, with statistical tools hardly any sharper than “batting average” and “runs batted in” and pitching record and ERA (earned-run average)?

I imagine there are legions of Millennials and Gen-Xers now covering ball who also wonder that, now that they are sunk in analytics up to their eyeballs.

The stat blizzard has been intense, the past 20 years, as a brief list of them would suggest.

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French Numbers, Difficult? Count on It

May 19th, 2019 · No Comments · Uncategorized

I have been in France for most of the past 40 months, and I not only lack the basics of the language here, I cannot even count to 20, much less 100.

Not knowing how to construct simple sentences? That’s my fault. I am not trying hard enough. Aside from my one sentence: “Desolee je parle pas francais.” Which apparently is not quite correct but seems to get across the key information: “Sorry, I don’t speak French.”

Or let’s concede I may be too old or dull-witted to pick up a new language.

However, I will not apologize for my inability to count to 100. Why? Because the French go about it in some crazy ways.

As can be seen in the video, above.

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Today’s List: My 10 Favorite Road Trips

May 17th, 2019 · No Comments · Angels, Baseball, Beijing Olympics, Budapest, College football, Drugs, Football, Italy, Landon Donovan, Lists, London 2012, Los Angeles Rams, Olympics, Rams, Road trip, Rome, soccer, Travel, UAE, USC

Been donkey’s years, as the Brits would say, since I did a list.

It’s time.

This one is going to be a little apples-and-oranges.

My favorite road trips as a professional sports journalist.

Some considerations:

–What is more important? The travel? Or the event I was there to cover?

–Or will we almost certainly get some from each category? Heck, I don’t know. I’m just banging away at the MacBook Air and in the next hour or two I will figure it out.

The usual shtick. A top-10, counting down from 10th-best road trip to 1st. This is during my 40 years in the sports journalism business. I’m looking forward to sorting this out, because I loved being on the road, and I got a lot of chances to be out there, and I will be tinkering with the ratings after I am (in theory) finished.

Here we go!

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Manchester City and Abu Dhabi: Premier League’s Dynamic Duo

May 12th, 2019 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Barcelona, Champions League, English Premier League, Football, soccer

In 2008, when Manchester City Football Club was sold to a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, it hardly warranted intense foreign interest, let alone surprise.

Man City was a middling-to-lower-middling club in the English Premier League, and foreigners already were buying up English soccer teams. Two of the biggest brands in English soccer, Manchester United and Chelsea, had already been bought, respectively, by the American Malcolm Glazer (in 2005) and Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich (2003), and in 2010 Boston Red Sox owner John Henry swooped on Liverpool.

In this 2008 case involving Manchester City, it was an investor from Thailand who sold, netting 210 million British pounds (about $273 million, at current exchange rates) from Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, son of the first president of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates.

What happened since has become one of the biggest stories in world football.

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James Holzhauer Is Breaking ‘Jeopardy’

May 10th, 2019 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Nearly every day over the past month, I wake up hoping the new day will be the one when I learn that James Holzhauer has lost on “Jeopardy”.

He usually crushes the opposition with monstrous cash totals. In 22 consecutive victories on the greatest quiz show ever invented the man who describes himself as a “professional gambler” has banked (brace yourself) $1,691,008.

Yes, nearly $1.7 million. In 22 games, or about $70,000, on average.

But it is not the money I worry about.

It is about his assault on the competitiveness of the game. Only once in his run of enormous scores has he been pressed by an opponent. And that is bad for “Jeopardy”.

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Liverpool, Barcelona and the Need for Physique As Well As Technique

May 8th, 2019 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Barcelona, Champions League, English Premier League, Football, soccer, Sports Journalism, The National, UAE

I have some history with Jonathan Wilson, going back to when I was in Abu Dhabi working for The National, the emirate’s English-language newspaper.

Wilson was one of our European soccer correspondents, contributing a couple of pieces per week. He often took on topics focusing on what he perceived to be significant trends in the game. Looking back, sometimes he was right. Sometimes he was premature. Sometimes he was wrong.

We parted ways with him, mostly amicably, during the Oil Price Collapse of 2014-2016, when the UAE’s most important commodity went from $115 per barrel to $35. We had to slash newsroom expenses and I, as sports editor, had to tell Wilson that we could no longer keep him as a contributor.

I would have preferred to keep him on the roster, but it wasn’t a heart-breaking event for either side; I felt as if Wilson gave us something less than his best effort. Which was found to be the case when he shrugged off our disassociation by remarking, “You pay me less than any paper I write for.”

I have continued to read him, however, at least when he appears in The Guardian, and this morning he seems to have come up with a fairly brilliant general theory that explains Liverpool’s stunning comeback last night from down 3-0 to Barcelona to a 4-3 victory on aggregate in the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League.

And in short, this is it:

Barcelona represents a decadent proponent of modern soccer because 1) their forwards are not asked to play defense, and mostly do not, putting their outnumbered defenders in peril; 2) their passing style works best with small, agile players but Barca struggles against bigger, more physical teams; and 3) all things being equal, soccer has not changed as much as we might have thought because the more physically imposing team is likely to win.

In this case, Liverpool, in a night of strong emotion at Anfield.

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Circuses Still Make the Rounds in France

May 7th, 2019 · No Comments · France, Languedoc

In the United States, a traveling circus is a historical curiosity.

The age of the portable “big tops”, which came into U.S. cities and towns, usually by train, often announcing their presence by parading down Main Street … that age is so last millennium. It was two years ago that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey folded their tents and exited the business.

It is a bit strange, then, to see smallish traveling circuses, complete with big cats, still making the rounds in rural France.

Like Cirque du Zanetti, which created a camp here a day ago and announced two shows in two days in our little town of about 600 people.

How do the circuses here survive in a post-big-top setting?

One big reason: France is much more comfortable with a circus full of animals than an audience in the U.S. might be.

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Thanks, Coach Young

May 3rd, 2019 · 1 Comment · Baseball, Football, Journalism, Los Angeles, Lutherans, Sports Journalism

It is a cool November night, and I don’t know it yet, but I am sprawled on my back at the Cal State Los Angeles football field.

Above me, a rectangular patch of vision switches on inside my facemask. On the fringes, darkness broken up by banks of electric lights. In the center, dominating the scene, the smiling face of my coach, Jim Young, leaning over me, staring into my eyes and saying: “Obe! We thought you were dead!”

I had been significantly concussed, and I may have had a moment or two of seizures that sometimes come with concussions and make them look scarier than they already are.

Minutes earlier, I had recovered a game-opening onside kick for my school, Los Angeles Lutheran. It had not occurred to me that the play was already dead because my knee had touched the ground. Too much NFL, I guess, where play is ended only when “down by contact.”

My bright idea was to lurch forward a yard or two before our opponents from Pater Noster arrived, and I rose up just as a teammate attempted to hurdle me, kicking me in the back of the head, I later was told.

Whiplash. Concussion. I never felt a thing. I was “out” for more than a few seconds. Smelling salts brought me around. Lots of aspirin helped me past the headaches and blackouts that followed for the next month. My football career was over, but I have a fuzzy memory of footballs sailing high in the air, launched by our quarterback, caught by our speedy wide receivers, that led to a 28-20 upset victory.

Looking back, I could have taken literally Coach Young’s enthusiastic welcome of my return to the Land of the Conscious. Maybe it had been scarier to watch than to experience. But I immediately knew he was trying to reassure me. “You’re here. We are with you. See, we can joke about this.”

Six years ago I posted on this blog an entry about a gym teacher/coach I encountered while attending L.A. Lutheran, from 1967 to 1971. A memorable individual, certainly.

It has struck me numerous times, since, that it was another coach who was a greater inspiration, and not just to me but most everyone who played varsity baseball or football in the 1970-71 year at our gone (but not forgotten) school.

That would be Jim Young, 1964 LHS alumni, second-year athletic director (back then), two-sport head coach and one of the first adults to ask my opinion.

In my mind, Coach Young is forever a mid-20s bundle of energy and enthusiasm, running practices and putting us through drills, but after seven years as a coach and teacher at LHS, he went to seminary and in 1980 was ordained a minister in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.

He retired early last year, after nearly four decades of being “Pastor James Young”, and he must have reached, on a personal and ecclesiastical level, far more people than he did while coaching at a school of 500 kids four decades ago.

His interactions with kids, however, certainly were appreciated by most of us. Young people, young men, often see adult behavior modeled by their teachers and coaches, and Jim Young may have touched other kids the same way he reached me. With kindness and patience leading to fondness and respect.

Let us move to some bullet-points of the “Coach Jim Young” experience.

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Can I Have a Premier League Do-Over?

April 28th, 2019 · No Comments · Arsenal, Champions League, English Premier League, Football, soccer

A sort of silly string of posts stretches through this blog, going back to 2009, in which I ponder the great question of our time:

“Which English Premier League soccer team should I support?”

This is a weighty and defining decision in large parts of the world, increasingly including (of late) the United States, which is discovering that the Premier League makes Major League Soccer look like minor-league soccer.

People make judgments based on the teams that other people support. Especially those who support a club outside their hometown. “Liverpool? Hmm!” “Manchester City? Ah, nouveau riche.” “Manchester United? How … Ordinary!”

And in my case? “Arsenal? Oh, You Have a Thing for Spineless Sides.”

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Brian Goff: 1974-2019

April 25th, 2019 · 4 Comments · Football, LANG, London, NFL, Sports Journalism, The Sun

The last time I spoke with Brian Goff, I was a little annoyed with him, or so I thought.

Really, I was annoyed with myself.

See, Brian Goff did not annoy people. He was polite to the nth degree and seemed to have no enthusiasm for drama in the workplace. Or raised voices, for that matter. Or off-color words. Always looking for smooth sailing in his daily encounters, that was Brian Goff.

It could have been a function of his deeply held Christian convictions. Or perhaps he came from a home where everyone spoke with a quiet voice and abstained from “blue” language.

He came from a blue-collar background — I’m thinking West Virginia here — and he was working in an auto-parts store when we hired him as a clerk at the San Bernardino Sun, on the recommendation of the faculty adviser at the Riverside City College student newspaper, Dan Evans, a former Sun colleague.

That was in 1997. Brian and I were to work together for the next 11 years, and what we got from him was reliability, accuracy, enthusiasm and the work ethic of someone who loves what he does.

Brian died yesterday at the age of 45, which is much too young, in 2019. He had a heart attack in his home, and responders could never quite get his heart going again.

Leaving behind a lot of people who are going to miss him.

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