Sunday, August 20, 2017

Look who's back

And now your It's Gonna Be A Great Day moment for today, because we all need those moments, especially on those occasions when it doesn't look as if there's ever going to be a great day again ...

This.

Good on ya, Jaylon Smith. May that tackle on Jack Doyle be the first of many.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Less is more

Mid-August now, and summer has grown old and weary. A million little tells are there now, dropping hints its hold is loosening: School buses rumbling again, high school football lighting up Friday nights, the very light in the sky taking on a different, bronzer cast as it rouses itself later in the mornings and flees earlier at night.

And then of course there's this: Two different universes of baseball showing us both the promise of the game, and perhaps its waning.

Every sports bar in America now has the somehow flawed finished product on one TV these days, and the somehow better, lesser version on another TV. On this particular night in this particular place, the finished product at one end of the bar is the Red Sox and the Yankees, renewing their endlessly renewed ancient beef from Fenway Park. And down at the other end?

Two groups of kids playing a game on national TV they've been playing all summer.

It's Little League World Series time again, and if once that was relatable to every American who ever picked up a bat and swung it during his or her summers, it is unfortunately less so now. If Little League baseball was the game unalloyed, the all-seeing eye of ESPN has transformed it into a Spectacle now, because that's the inevitable result when you turn the TV cameras on a thing. And now the TV cameras are everywhere, airing not just LL World Series games but regional qualifying games -- so many games, in fact, they've become so much late summer background noise.

The Blob has made its unease with this phenomenon known before, so we won't re-plow that ground here. Suffice it to say it still believes giving 12-year-olds the full ESPN treatment is something that should be viewed with a raised eyebrow at the very least. Proceed with caution, in other words.

Of course, that's not how TV does things. Less is not more; more is more. With the inevitable result that it winds up being less.

And yet ... you can understand why the teevees are so all in on this. Whether or not it's a byproduct of the Steroids Era, which has thrown a shadow over the game that exists to this day, baseball at the finished-product level has something empty at its core. It is not definable, and the Cubs winning the World Series last fall was a respite from that, but t's there. 

This summer, for instance, baseballs are flying out of ballparks again. There should always be magic in that act, but the Steroids Era now makes us innately suspicious if it happens too much, and that's where we are right now. Baseballs are flying out of ballparks, but they are going too far and it is happening too often. The magic has become the commonplace -- and after awhile, the commonplace elicits not wonder but a shrug, and more of the aforementioned raised eyebrows.

Oh, look. Giancarlo Stanton hit another homer. Wonder what HE'S on.

That sort of thing.

But the LL World Series, for all the corrupting influence of TV, remains untouched by this. Whatever is missing in the finished product, it remains found in the Little League product. There is something purer, more elemental in it, something more in tune with the game we all grew up playing. It is, yes, less, but it is more.

Even now. Even if it, too, is on the TV at the end of the bar every day now.

Background noise it may be, here in mid-August. But there is still music in it.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Your Old Man Shouting At Clouds Moment for today

In which we venture down to Tuscaloosa, where Alabama football coach Nick Saban is either 1) feeling the pressure of being the odds-on favorite to repeat as national champions, or 2) just being cranky because guys his age (65) tend to get cranky now and again.

Anyway, Saban was asked about redshirt sophomore linebacker Christian Miller's progress in practice yesterday, a seemingly innocuous question. And he ... well, went off.

"Oh, I don't know. You guys make all these predictions about everything, about guys who are going to be great players, that have been here for two years. Who's gonna win all the games? I don't even know why we play," Saban ranted. "Why do we even play? Why do we have practice? Why do we compete? Why do we coach guys? ...

"Sometimes I wonder ... why do we play? Why do we even have practice? Because you guys have got all these conclusions already drawn about who's what, how good they are, what they can do. So why would you ask me? That's what's puzzling to me. Why would you ask me?"

Oh, I don't know, Coach. Maybe so we can watch you get all mad and start spluttering stuff that doesn't make a whole lot of sense?

(Football preview stuff? You're mad about that? You're mad about stuff that's been a routine part of football coverage for eons? Wha--?)

In any case ... the spluttering was sort of entertaining. So thanks for that. I mean, we media types have to find something to amuse ourselves occasionally, right?

Not any given Sunday

Some things have no explanation, like what goes through Resident Donald "Donny" Trump's head besides refreshing breezes, and when America became a place where people fighting Nazis became as bad, in some people's minds, as the Nazis themselves.

And then there's this, just in from Atlanta.

Look. The Blob has no issue with Chick-fil-A's owner deciding his stores won't be open on Sundays. He's the owner. He can impose his religious beliefs on whomever he likes.

But why, then, would he put a Chick-fil-A stand in an NFL stadium, where your biggest sales day is almost always going to be Sunday? Does this make sense to anyone?

Because I don't get it. I just don't.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

In pursuit of the real

Giancarlo Stanton parked a baseball in the seats for the sixth straight game last night, for the 11th time in 12 games, for the 18th time since the All-Star break. He now has 23 home runs in his last 35 games, and now people are talking that he might hit 61, matching Roger Maris in 1961.

Which some people will tell you is the "real" home run record.

The Blob's annoying question about that: How do we know what's real and what isn't anymore?

And unless we can definitely say that what Stanton is doing is "real" (i.e., without the aid of illicit chemical enhancement), how is Barry Bonds' 73 home runs not the industry standard?

It's become chic in the last decade or so to de-legitimize what Bonds did, in part because it was Bonds -- a truly nasty person in those days -- and in part because tests in 2000 revealed traces of the fabled fabled Cream and Clear in his bloodstream. But the entire culture of the Steroids Era precludes the devaluing of his record, because so many others were chemically enhanced then, too -- including a number of the pitchers he was taking deep.

Those 73 home runs, in other words, were a product of their time, just as Maris' 61 were a product of their time. And just as what Stanton and his contemporaries are doing is a product of their time -- a time when no one knows for sure who's getting what sort of boost from what.

You'd like to think it's just fruits and vegetables and lots of milk, because if we're entering another Steroids Era, it means PED development has once again outstripped current testing procedures. And baseball is inordinately proud of those testing procedures.

In the meantime, big guys are launching baseballs into space again, just like they did 20 years ago. And Stanton?

His 23-jacks-in-35-games burst has been matched only by Sammy Sosa in 1998 (25-in-35), Bonds in 2001 (24) and Mark McGwire in 1999 (23).

In other words: Three of the biggest names of the Steroids Era, in the very heart of the Steroids Era.

So again the question: What's real? And what isn't?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Slow ride

The best of baseball happened last night, when a pitcher named Chad Bettis threw seven scoreless innings for the Colorado Rockies, scattering six hits while getting a no-decision.

What was significant about that is it was Bettis' first start since November. In the interim, he's undergone surgery and chemo for testicular cancer that spread to his lymph nodes.

So it was a triumph of no small measure, that no-decision. And the best of what baseball, and sport itself, has always given us.

And the worst?

The worst is that it was a 3-0 game that took almost three hours to play. And at 2 hours, 44 minutes, it still constituted what's considered a quick nine innings these days in Major League Baseball.

Maybe you missed it, but MLB commissioner Rob Manuel's crusade to speed up the pace of play in baseball is losing ground, after some initial success. The length of an average nine-inning game has jumped nine minutes in the last two seasons, including five minutes this summer alone. We're now up to 3 hours, 5 minutes for a nine-inning game, the longest average in baseball history.

This is not good news when you're trying to survive in a world in which technology has speeded up everything, and has turned all of us into creatures with the attention span of a gnat. It is also not what baseball was intended to be, as the Blob has pointed out ad nauseum.

Back when it first became the National Pastime, it was a fast-paced game that generally breezed through nine innings in two hours or fewer -- and sometimes, much fewer. Even taking into account the advent of modern TV commercial breaks, that still means the average nine-inning game in 1908, if played today, would run 35-40 minutes quicker.

But now the Pastime is the Passed Time, and even if attendance is up, interest among the demographic that will be the next generation of baseball fans is down. It's an old-timey game now, played at an old-timey pace suited to the oldtimers who constitute most of its audience.

And why not?  If baseball slogs around at a snail's pace these days, so do those oldtimers. They can relate.

But the rest of America?

Eh, not so much. Mostly, the rest of America is just waiting for pro and college football to fire up again.

Meanwhile ...

Well. This seems more relevant than ever.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Distract this

That Word came up again the other day, and the Blob was compelled once again to roll its metaphoric eyes and shake its metaphoric head. And then of course to shout angrily at the sky, because that's what Blobs do when they start getting up there in years.

That Word, just so you know, is "distraction."

Media in Sportsball World love this word, love to apply every time there's some controversy/suspension/other occurrence that doesn't have anything to do with normal Sportsball stuff. It's a contagion, they believe, that seeps into every clubhouse/locker room/organization on occasion, and when it does all those big, strong athletes, autocratic coaches and captains-of-industry owners are helpless against it.

Distraction happens when key players get suspended, the way Ezekiel Elliott just did. It's why Colin Kaepernick and other socially conscious athletes shouldn't express their beliefs on the sacred Sportsball field, and why Kaepernick suddenly can't find a job. Distraction interferes with winning, and winning is the bottom line in Sportsball World. It diminishes performance by making highly trained and conditioned athletes unable to function at peak capacity.

Why, just look how many catches Cowboys tight end Jason Witten will drop now that he's had to answer a few questions about Zeke Elliott's lack of maturity and focus.

That's what happened the other day, and Witten answered the questions, and then he likely headed out to practice. But I bet when he lined up for the snap, he was still thinking about Zeke. I bet he was thinking about Zeke so much he couldn't remember what his assignment was on a particular play.  I bet he ran the wrong route a zillion times because he was thinking about Zeke.

Excuse me? You say that's just silly?

Well, of course it is. Which is why it's the Blob's firm belief the whole "distraction" thing is a unicorn, a mythological beast that lives largely in the fevered imaginations of the Sportsball media.

Let's look at Kaepernick, for instance.

It's become chic for those who don't want to admit he's being punished for his political beliefs to say the reason teams won't sign him is because he'd be a "distraction." This despite the fact former 49ers coach Chip Kelly is on record saying Kaepernick wasn't a distraction at all.

Apparently he got up at the beginning of the season and explained what he was going to do, and that was the end of it. He didn't keep talking about it in the locker room. He didn't try to divide the team. And the rest of the Niners, accordingly, shrugged and went about their business.

"We heard from the outside about what a distraction it is,” Kelly said. "Except those people aren't in our locker room and it never was a distraction. And Kaep never brought that and never turned it into a circus ... came to work every day, extremely diligent in terms of his preparation, in terms of his work ethic in the weight room, in terms of his work ethic in the meeting room."

Well, of course. This is how these deals tend to work, after all, in a reality-based world. The idea that some issue or other is going to impact the performance of professional athletes simply because they have to answer a few questions about it is ludicrous.

Distractions?

Yeah, they surely exist. But the "distractions" the media and outside world like to talk about?

Bigfoot is more real.