Class Warfare Blog

November 2, 2017

Probably of Interest Only to Chicago Sports Fans

Filed under: Sports — Steve Ruis @ 9:47 am
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Newsflash The 49ers just traded a second round draft pick in next year’s draft to get the New England Patriots back-up quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. You know Jimmy Garoppolo, who last season posted a stellar 117.0 rating while completing 70 percent of his passes and throwing four touchdowns without a single interception. He led New England to an opening night win over Arizona on the road before pushing the team to a 24-3 halftime lead against Miami. He exited that game with a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder.

The Chicago Bears last year cashed in their third overall (First Round!) pick and the Bears’ third- and fourth-round selections, Nos. 67 and 111, and a third-round pick next year (aka this year) in order to acquire rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who has started four games for the Bears this year and has played like a rookie. How much value Mr. Trubisky will have is still quite debatable because he played just one year in college for a notable basketball school.

Mr. Garoppolo has been tutored by the Patriots and been able to observe and learn from Tom Brady, who is probably the best quarterback of a generation, if not of all time.

The Bears paid a first round pick, two thirds, and a fourth for Mr. Trubisky. The 49ers paid one second round pick for Mr. Garoppolo.

At what point does the quality of the Bear’s management come into question?

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October 26, 2017

Okay, People, Listen Up

Filed under: Sports,The News — Steve Ruis @ 10:32 am
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I am more than a little sick of the round the clock hyping of sporting events. Every damned Monday Night Football game has a longer pre-game show than the first forty Super Bowls did, for example

I wakened this morning to this sports headline:

World Series: Astros save season in wildly dramatic Game 2 win over Dodgers!

Save season …, WTF?!

Idiots, I am surrounded by idiots.

The World Series is just that, a series of games. The team which entered the playoffs with the better won-loss record has what is called home field advantage. In this case, the Dodgers had the home field advantage because four of the possible seven games were scheduled to be played at their stadium and only three of the seven scheduled for the Astros home stadium.

It is called the home field advantage because the team that plays half of their games in that stadium during the regular season, the home team, the team which considers that stadium their home, tends to win those games more often than not. This is because: they get to sleep in their own beds, eat home cooking rather than restaurant cooking, they don’t have to sit in an airplane seat for five hours the day before a game, they get to play on a field they are more familiar with than any other field (they know all of the subtleties, quirks, and oddities about “their” field). Not only that but American League pitchers don’t normally hit in their lineup; National League pitchers do, so every ninth batter on the American League team has had virtually no practice hitting major league pitching. That is part of the home field advantage for National League teams. (In American League parks and games, the National League looks at the ability to basically pinch hit for their pitcher, using the same pinch hitter over and over, to be a major benefit, so that lessens the home field advantage for the American League teams.)

The home team has the advantage over the other team when the games are played on their home field. (That’s why it is called the …) Get it?

In the previous series, the Astros lead off winning the first two games … at home. Then the games switched to the Yankees’ home stadium and the Yankees won the next three games … at home. Then the Astros won the next two games, becoming American League Champions and winning the right to go to the World Series … at home.

Get it? It is called home field advantage for many, many reasons.

Every school boy when I was growing up knew that a series couldn’t end until Game 7 or at least the “away team” won a game in the other guy’s park.

Every school boy when I was growing up knew that the team without the home field advantage had the goal of winning one of the first two games because … wait for it … wait for it … then they would have the home field advantage. The current series is tied 1-1, but now the Astros have three games scheduled to be played in their home park, but the Dodgers only have two of such games left (they played two of their four already).

So, now the Astros are “in control,” or “in the catbird’s set,” or “one up on the Dodgers,” but if they had lost Game 2 in Dodger’s Park, well, that would have been normal, just like it was in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees.

So, “Astros Save Season?” WTF?

Could these news companies please get some headline writers who understand baseball … please? At least get someone who is over 25 and didn’t grow up playing video games all of the time. They don’t have to have played baseball, but at least understand it … that would be nice.

 

October 13, 2017

Just Sayin’ (This Time It is Post-season Baseball … Again)

Filed under: Sports — Steve Ruis @ 1:09 pm
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This post-season we have both Jose Altuve (5 feet 6 inches tall) the shortest MLB player and Aaron Judge (6 feet 7 inches tall) the next to the tallest MLB player and their ghosted in strike zones on the TV are roughly the same size (all such zones having a fixed width but height adjusted to the height of the batter). I still think that on their best days this service appears to be run by an intern touching a light pen on a tablet display near where he thinks the ball crossed the plate and on their worst days, it appears they replaced the intern with a chimpanzee. I wish they would just turn off the distracting, inaccurate thing!

And while I am grousing here, they need to find some directors who love baseball. They frequently show a sequence of the pitcher’s face, then the batter’s, then the pitcher’s face again, then the batter and then snap out to a “normal” centerfield shot which shows the pitcher, batter, catcher, and umpire (then they cut to someone in the dugout, well their face anyway, and …). Why they are doing this I do not know. Do they believe the eyes of the pitcher and batter are windows into their souls? It is strange and they are missing the game at the same time. The infield has shifted to match the batter’s “spray pattern;” do they show that? No. The first baseman is inching in suspecting a possible bunt; do they show that? No. The pitcher throws to the first baseman while the runner is standing on the base; do they explain that? No. “The pitcher throws to first” is the comment. Hey, television is a visual medium, we can see that …. it …. just …. happened! This is not radio in which the action needs to be described. Why did the pitcher throw over when there was no chance in hell of “picking off” the base runner? There are reasons. He might have just been checking his pick off throw. If he hadn’t made one from that mound, or made one in quite a while, it is best to try an easy one, a rehearsal, before trying a harder one. He may have been lulling the base runner into thinking that weak ass throw was his “A Move” to first base, when he actually has a much quicker and better move in his repertoire. And there are other reasons.

Baseball is a sport declining in popularity … on TV, but with still strong attendance in ball parks. When are they going to wake up to the fact that their incredibly lame TV coverage might be due part of the blame.

September 14, 2017

Racism is as American as Baseball

Filed under: Culture,Race,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 10:53 am
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Some baseball fans unfurled a banner with the above printed on it at last night’s Red Sox baseball game. Of course they were ejected … for telling the truth. (Actually there is a team policy forbidding “signs of any kind to be hung or affixed to the ballpark,” but I was feeling snarky writing this.)

Actually I believe this statement is true but baseball may show us the way forward. Baseball had a racist past. Early on, people of color played but soon enough, Backs and Hispanics were banned from the professional game. (There were still plenty of “colored” baseball players, but they usually were relegated to playing on and against teams made up of just Black and Brown players in front of Black and Brown audiences.)

In 1942, as almost everyone knows, the “color barrier” in white, major league baseball was broken by Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey. Robinson, the player, took the abuse on the field while Rickey, the schemer behind the effort, took the abuse from other baseball executives and from fans in his mail.

Many brave actions were taken by players supporting members of their own team and many despicable actions were taken by players not supporting members of their own team but eventually everything was sorted out. I saw my first major league professional game in 1958 and by then there were quite a number of Black and Brown players. What I did not know was that even my team, the S.F. Giants, had a self-segregated clubhouse. The Blacks kept to themselves, the Hispanic players kept to themselves, and the whites kept to themselves, mostly.

Fast forward to now and you see major league teams in which Black, Brown, and White players mingle, enjoy each other’s company off of the field, support one another when they have family issues, etc. It isn’t a perfect world, but it is far, far better than where it began.

Sports teams, in general, have embraced Rodney King’s plea of “Can’t we all just get along?”

The U.S. is not the last bastion of racism. Racism is a live and well elsewhere around the world. But racism is a smear on a facade of a country claiming to be a better place, an exceptional place. It is time we address our racist past and our racist present and make ourselves an exception, rather than a manifestation of the rule.

August 24, 2017

Why is Colin Kaepernick Still Unsigned?

The Guardian summed up the situation thus:

The NFL season begins in two weeks and the quarterback who took the San Francisco 49ers to within seven yards of winning the Super Bowl four years ago does not have a job. His absence isn’t difficult to explain. His refusal to stand for the national anthem last year as a way to draw attention to racial inequality in the US has apparently made him toxic to the league’s owners who fear a backlash from white fans and corporate sponsors offended by a perceived lack of patriotism.”

So, the obvious question is why is “patriotism” symbolized more by a mindless participation in a ritual than in the actual exercise of rights of citizens as defined by our constitution? In a similar vein, why do people equate support of our military as support for our country? Are we not more than a support system for a mighty fist? How was Colin Kaepernick being “unpatriotic”? How possibly could exercising one’s rights as a citizen be unpatriotic? Is the argument one of balance? Is overt and vicious racism no good reason for disrupting the jingoistic symbolism surrounding a football game?

I wonder how this would all have gone had Kaepernick been white? I am sure team and league officials would have huddled with a star white quarterback and figured out a symbolic way to “address the issue.” which typically would be a grant of some money to a symbolic organization, the quarterback would then have been hustled in front of some microphones to read an apology written by his publicist, and then everyone would be back doing what made this country great: making money, for fuck’s sake! That’s patriotism!

July 9, 2017

The Puzzlement of the Talents

Filed under: Culture,Science,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 6:33 pm
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I have been going back and forth with one of my students, who is in many ways my intellectual superior, over the nature of “talent.” I have argued and continue to argue that their ain’t no such thing. He argues that surely there must be.

I argue that scientists have looked and looked for a biological source of a talent and come up dry. There does not seem to be such a thing. What I am talking about is a specific talent, such as for baseball or poker or the violin, not a general propensity to be good at something. People with “talent” seem to progress rapidly and effortlessly in their chosen endeavor. I argue that in most cases what people are observing is a developed skill. When somebody sees a basketball star execute a slick play, gosh they just have to be talented. Of course, the commenter hasn’t seen the dozens and dozens of hours that move got practiced.

People in my camp argue that a physical skill, e.g. hitting a baseball or playing the flute comes from a considerable amount of practice. We acknowledge that people have built in attributes that make them stand out amongst beginners and allow them to learn faster than the crowd. Tall people have an advantage in basketball, for example. (Coach John Wooden used to say “You can’t teach quickness or height, so I recruit for those.”) Baseball requires good hand-eye coordination, strong wrists, and, etc. But is there a talent for baseball? I do not think so. (As an example, think of the multi-sport star athlete in high school. were they born with talents for all of those sports or are they just a good all-around athlete who practices hard?)

My argument is that high levels of skill are developed through training. Training is only pursued when there is interest, so the people who seem to “have a lot of talent,” tried something and were good enough at it that they liked it and so pursued serious training for a time. For example, Mozart was considered a musical child prodigy. But Mozart’s father was a music teacher and Mozart spent many, many hours in practice because, either he had to or he enjoyed it. Expert analysis of Mozart’s early compositions, those of his youth, indicated that they were rather derivative and ordinary. But how many youths are composing serious classical music at a young age? We tend to compare these “prodigies” with ordinary adults in the same endeavor, not with the greats of that endeavor.

One of the counter arguments offered against my position is so many people used the word talent in describing their situation, surely it can’t be just made up. Actually I think it was just made up. I offer, but cannot prove, the following scenario as justification. A youth shows behavior beyond his years. His parents fear demon possession, but a passing clergyman, eager to claim all good happenings for his god, counters that the child has “a gift from god.” These “gifts” became “God-given talents” over time, again to claim their god as the source of all good things (but not the bad things—interestingly, the bad things come from the Devil, or Satan … nobody asks where they came from).

So the idea of a talent was spin. It was an explanation of something that was borderline uncanny that was acceptable to most all people. The existence of talents/gifts was not questioned because they were so common (most people tend to be good at something) but when finally some scientists set out to find the basis for talents, they came and continue to come up with nothing.

If you are familiar with the Bell curve, aka a Gaussian distribution, it is obvious that our attributes and abilities are spread over quite a range. My height, for example, puts me in the top 2.5% of Americans. My IQ puts me in the top 0.5% of Americans. People that are way out on the tails (both high and low) are considered “different.” So, somebody who shows abilities far exceeding the expectations set up for his/her age can be singled out. But I do not see humans who are “off the charts” in their abilities. I see many kids who have opportunities and a few who embrace them seriously and a very few who excel at that activity. We do not sit around and discuss the child who quits right away. (This is a stupid sport; I am going home!) We sit around and ooh and ahh about those whose performances exceed our expectations. We say “They have talent.” What that means, in my thinking, is “They have developed a great deal of skill.” They stand out because they developed that skill faster than others, so at a younger age. Studies of “whiz kids” and “Wunderkinder” do not show a common continuation of their rate of progress into adulthood, many plateau off or “burn out” (not literally). How many stellar performers are you aware of who were child prodigies when young? Not many is my guess.

So, talent? Meh, not so much.

What do you think?

May 3, 2017

This Is Ridiculous!

Filed under: Education,Morality,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 9:23 am
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The University of Alabama has just given its football coach a three-year extension on his current contract with a price tag of $65,000,000 additional in salary. This is ridiculous.

If said coach worked as many hours as an average worker, this means he would be making $11,500 per hour, that’s right per hour.

This means that said coach would make more than the average worker in the U.S. makes in a year in one afternoon.

This is madness. This is not for some life-saving surgeon or freedom-ensuring lawyer, this is for an effing football coach, a coach of amateur football.

Do we need any more evidence that capitalism is broken?

November 20, 2016

A Follow-up to Baseball Season: Ted Williams’ Balls

Ted Williams was one of the finest hitters to ever play professional baseball in the USA. When he retired he wrote a book (“The Science of Hitting”) on hitting that included a famous photo: it was of the “Splendid Splinter” at the plate and the current strike zone was filled with baseballs, each ball labeled with William’s estimate of the percentage of these locations that he would get hits at. The balls were color coded in that if he would hit for a high average, they would be “red” hot, and for a very low average they would be grey, with various colors in between. Note that pitches “low and away” were mostly grey. But realize that ‘Teddy Ballgame” (whatever happened to splendid nicknames?) played in what was then a “high ball league.” In the American League, umpires set up right above the catcher’s head, making it easier to see high strikes and harder to see low strikes, so you might get the benefit of the doubt on a low pitch but not on a high one. The National League’s umpires set up over the catcher’s shoulder on the inside of the plate making the National League a “low ball league” because the umpires had a better view of the low part of the plate. If you couldn’t hit the high fast ball, you couldn’t play in the American league and if you look at Williams’ color code, he feasted on high pitches.ted-williams-balls-2

The only time these two umpire’s perspectives came into play was in the World Series, but when baseball decided upon more “interleague play” one of the things that had to be sorted out before that could be done was this difference between the strike zones in the two leagues. This has been done and both leagues are now “low ball leagues” as MLB standardized on the NL style of umpiring.

The yellow box I have superimposed on Williams’ box of balls is what his current strike zone would be. I wonder what he would have hit had this been the zone in his day. Williams is the last major leaguer to end a full season with a batting average over 0.400 (he hit 0.401 in 1941 if memory serves). Now the pitching has gotten a great deal better but I wonder what Ted Williams would have hit with such a small strike zone. His 20/15 vision and wonderful hand-eye coordination plus his fierce competitiveness would certainly have allowed him to adapt to the new zone and being much smaller that he had to contend with, how high do you think he could have gone?

As an aside, this year’s NL MVP, Kris Bryant of the Cubs, was taught to hit by his father … using the principles described in Teddy Ballgame’s book.

November 4, 2016

World Series Afterthoughts

Filed under: Philosophy,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 9:12 pm
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cubslogoI just finished watching the victory parade of the 2016 Chicago Cubs, who just two days ago won the “World Series” best of seven games mini-tournament. As a resident of the city of Chicago, I couldn’t be happier, but it wasn’t that long ago that I had basically given up on watching sports because, well, it was all so meaningless. Then an editor of the Atlantic magazine made a comment about sports, namely that they possessed a “magnificent meaninglessness.” At that point I realized that “meaning” was overrated in the first place and sports allowed one to pretend they were meaningful, they allowed us to be passionate and to root for our team, but not so that others would take mortal offense at our actions. I have yet to hear of a war being fought over a team or event and I hope never to. (Do you hear me, soccer fans?) So meaninglessness wasn’t a bug, it was a feature.

This World Series, I thought, was fabulous and it would be whether the Cubs had won or not. (I am a Giants fan and when the Cubs eliminated the Giants in the playoffs, I felt it was okay to root for the Cubs.) Here are some other thoughts:

  1. How can one not like the Cubs? They have quality players who are young and very talented and play the game right with a blend of humility and common sense. They have a nice blend of rookies and veterans and play intelligent baseball.
  2. It is a shame someone had to lose this series. Cleveland’s players played their hearts out and came within an eyelash of winning.
  3. Why does every baseball player when photographed in their dugout, chose that moment to spit?
  4. Apparently Fox Sports 1 is locked in as the network to cover the World Series for some years which is a shame. Their coverage was absolutely awful. Now, I understand that baseball games have had declining ratings for many years now and the networks covering them have been looking for ways to spice them up to draw more viewers, but sheesh. Fox started irritating me by injected commercials and interviews into innings (I could skip over the tedious and drawn out pre-game shows). Baseball has always been an advertiser’s delight because there is a natural break after every half inning of a nine inning game, but squeezing in more commercial shots between batters? C’mon man!

And the broadcast crew (not the pre-game or post game stuff, those can be avoided, but the in game announcers … would … not … shut … up. It was if they were broadcasting radio. Joe Buck would tell us who was up at bat and what the count was as a reminder and would call balls and strikes when the little box in the corner of the TV screen had all of that info on display continuously. Then they would be telling stories that were barely relevant when important things were happening on the field. Their cameramen would be taking close-ups of player’s faces in the dugout who were deep in conversations but the shot wasn’t wide enough to show who they were talking to, nor would they speculate on what the conversation was about.

The on screen “enhancements” were lousy, as usual. When a home run was hit they would show a colored line in a replay, supposedly showing the path of the ball into the stands, except you could see the ball in the same shot and it was clear the colored line was somewhat close to the ball but not on the path the ball was taking, making the line … what, another path the ball could have taken or … maybe just eye candy for the underage set?

And the strike zone graphic. The effective strike zone of most umpires is over the plate and from just under the batter’s knees to about their belt buckle (when standing straight up, not in their normal stance, otherwise Rickie Henderson would have drawn a walk every plate appearance). Some of the players were in the range of  6′ 7″ tall  and others closer to 5′ 9″ tall but the box never changed size and often it was clearly positioned too low for the player at the plate. Then, of course, on important pitch replays they used a graphic, with a swoosh line for the ball’s trajectory, leaving behind a circle where the ball crossed the plate. If the grid was in the wrong place, the graphic conclusion was incorrect and it often was. This was clearly shown a couple of times when a replay from an overhead camera showed a different path than the one described both verbally and graphically.

And the bullshit statistics they kept coming up with … argh! In baseball, statistics are used for myriad purposes, but the Fox Sports 1 statistics were typically bizarre, things like “the youngest player to hit a home run in a World Series Game, since year yada, yada.” At one point they breathlessly explained that in one game the #3 and #4 hitters in the Cubs lineup had combined for seven hits and that had never happened in a World Series game before. So … what? Particularly uninteresting were the “Cubs firsts” when they compared home runs with the team’s previous win, in 1908, which was in the “dead ball era” of baseball, an era in which almost no one hit home runs. In the dead ball era, baseballs were used so long in a game that they became so dirty they couldn’t be seen as light faded into evening. Now, if a ball touches the “dirt” (it is not really dirt, and I’m not sure there is any dirt in it) it is removed from play. Such comparisons were stupid to say the least. Now all of the games are played at night, then they played in sunshine, etc.

There is one comparison that seemed valid, though: there were more people attending the Cubs Victory Parade and Rally today than lived in the entire city of Chicago in 1908, the last time the Cubs won.

The best trivia question today was Cubs’ owner Tom Ricketts asking the crowd: how many years has it been since the Cubs won the World Series? The crowd dutifully answered: “108 years,” and Ricketts responded “The correct answer is … zero years.” And so it is.

September 29, 2016

Kudos to ESPN

Filed under: Business,Culture,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 9:36 am
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Not only has ESPN hired a female, Lindsay Czarniak, to anchor their flagship program SportsCenter but she recently went through a pregnancy and the birth of her first child and now is pregnant with her second child. Not only has there been a “no big deal” attitude regarding Ms. Czarniak’s pregnancies but she also hasn’t been made to cover up the fact that she was pregnant. When I was a youngin’, back in the middle of the last century, women were expected to don garb that masked their pregnancies. Certainly they wouldn’t do anything so outlandish as to wear something formfitting that would let everyone know that she had, you know, done what people do to get pregnant.

Ms. Czarniak wears stylish clothes, clearly showing the state of her pregnancy, and which also surely would have probably gotten her shamed and/or arrested in the 1950’s.

Kudos to Ms. Czarniak and kudos to ESPN for integrating women into their programs, and not stylized, Barbie-esque women, but women with opinions and knowledge and the ability to share that.

PS After I wrote this, the ESPN show Around the Horn, a sports roundtable discussion show conducted in the style of a panel game, had women as three of its four panelists (Kate Fagan, Ramona Shelburne, and Jackie MacMullen, a basketball hall of fame sportswriter). This was not a gimmick show, with cute questions surrounding women’s’ participation in professional sports, the questions were of the ordinary type and the interplay between opinion givers vigorous. Just another sign that the times, they are a changin’.

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