Uncommon Sense

April 27, 2022

Surprise . . . Maybe Not!

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 10:07 am
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(Note: It is Spring, so a baseball post is appropriate, one of the two I tend to allow myself. S)

Last year, everyone picked the Dodgers to win the NL West, with the Giants coming in a distant third or fourth. At the end of the season, the Dodgers had 106 wins . . . and the Giants 107.

This year, everyone picked the Dodgers to win the NL West, with the Giants coming in a distant third or fourth. Currently, the Dodgers are 12 and 5 (Ws and Ls) and the Giants are 13 and 5, the best W-L record of all of the teams in MLB.

Are the Giants the Rodney Dangerfield of MLB, in that they “don’t get no respect?” Just askin’.

April 21, 2022

The Transgender Sports Kerfuffle

There is in the news a great deal of discussion about transgender kids and adults participating in sports. Most of this discussion is focused upon all of the wrong things, things like how brave transgender athletes are, or how progressive an event coordinator is, etc.

What is missing is reality. Gender plays no role in sports competitive categories. I believe the word does get used, but only by people who prefer not to use the word sex in this context as they think it refers to copulation. (In my sport, the term “cock feather” (or cock vane) refers to the way arrows are attached to bowstrings (with that particular feather/vane “cocked” away from the bow. And eight-year old boys find the term quite funny. Consequently the prudes want us archery coaches to use the term “index feather/vane” instead. These are the same people whose gentle sensibilities encourage them to use the word gender instead of sex in this context.)

You see, sports competitive categories are defined by biological sex, not by gender. So, it doesn’t matter whether you are gay, lesbian, or transgender, you compete against others of you biological sex, age, ability, etc.

Some of these categorizations stem from people not wanting their sons/daughters mingling closely with competitors of the opposite sex. Girls, for example, were not allowed to wrestle boys when I was in school, and now some can (some, not all). Many of these segregations were completely unnecessary to create competitive balance, just to preserve prudishness, dignity, or whatever. (In my sport, archery, I would lump all boys and girls together in age group or ability categories and I have the data to back that position up. I also recognize that boys and girls can lose points to their score because they are more interested in flirting than shooting, but they have to learn that lesson some time, why not then?)

The separation into competitive groups by biological sex has to do with the biological differences between males and females of our species. (If you haven’t noticed, human beings are sexually dimorphic, with males tending to be larger, stronger, faster, etc. And, please, yes, I know that each of those attributes is represented by a Bell curve distribution and those of males and females overlap in every case, meaning that there are some females with more pronounced characteristics than males. But athletic competition is supposed to be seeking out the best of any sport, which means you don’t compare the top of one curve with the bottom of the other; you compare the top of one curve with the top of the other.

So, transgender kids should be competing in their category as determined by their sex at birth, until . . . until there is an actual medical procedure that allows adults to switch biological sexes. (Something I don’t think kids we allowed to do until they reach full sexual maturity.)

Note I fully expect to be flamed for this post, but I am also willing to be surprised, so fire away!

April 12, 2022

Dissing Sports History

Filed under: Entertainment,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 11:01 am
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Recently, NBC Sports dropped this factoid on us: “Joel Embiid averages more points per minute than anyone who has played at least 300 games — ever. He averages 0.83 points per minute, or about five points for every six minutes he plays.” They went on to gush “Embiid had 13 games this season with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds.” And, of course, to pump up Embiid’s chances to be voted Most Valuable Player for the season, they added “For 31 games this season, Embiid averaged better than a point per minute. Think about that. It’s tied for the fourth-longest streak of its kind in the last 40 NBA seasons.”

Interesting.

In the 1961-1962 NBA season, Wilt Chamberlain scored 50.4 points per game (including 45 50+ point games, two 70-point games, and twelve 60-point games) and he played 48.4 -minutes per game. (Since there are only 48 minutes of playing time, how did he get to 48.4 minutes per game? Answer: there were seven overtime games.) Of course, he also lead the league in rebounding with 27.2 rebounds per game.)

Now, where is my calculator. Let’s see. He played in all 82 games, so 50.4 points per game divided by 48.4 minutes per game is . . . carry the one, uh, . . . 1.04 points per minute played.

So, how did NBC Sports come up with “Joel Embiid averages more points per minute than anyone who has played at least 300 games — ever.” Gosh, I guess it was just laziness, since the record book is wide open. Oh, it was Philadelphia-based NBC Sports? Maybe that explains it as Mr. Embiid plays for the Philadelphia 76ers.

And the ironic part of this is that Mr. Chamberlain played for the Philadelphia team (Then it was the Warriors who moved to San Francisco later) in 1961-62 when he set those records.

February 11, 2022

The NFL is Concerned . . .

. . . as to whether you might have a gambling problem. They now regularly run commercials urging you toward moderation while betting and if “it” gets out of hand, to consult a support group. Funny, they never used to show such a concern. But I also read that Americans will wager $8 billion (that’s billion with a “B”) on the Super Bowl and the NFL now gets a cut of that. And the commercials started right at the time they started to cash in.

So, apparently the commercials are of the “cover your ass” variety in case anyone decides the NFL is a bad influence and decides to sue.

January 25, 2022

WTF, NBA Fans?

Filed under: Sports — Steve Ruis @ 8:56 am
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Now that the NBA season is fully under way there is, of course, talk, talk, talk about who is worthy of certain awards: Most Valuable Player, Comeback Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, etc. And when comparisons are made, I often hear the phrase “in the modern NBA” which seems to equate to “since the NBA has been on TV a lot.”

The reason for this is clear. If a modern players stats are compared with all players across the board, they don’t look so good.

For example, in Wilt Chamberlain’s rookie season, 1959-60, he averaged 37.6 points, 27.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 72 games. He was selected to play in his first All-Star game. He won the Rookie of the Year award and his first MVP award.

In his career, he is also the only player to average at least 30 points and 20 rebounds per game over the entire course of his NBA career. He clearly stated that he stopped trying to be a leading scorer later in his career because his team needed other things. So, Wilt became the only center to lead the league in assists for a season.

Wilt also averaged over 48 minutes per game in a single season. Wait, how many minutes are there in a game? (Answer: 48, not counting overtime minutes) Some wags attribute Wilt’s incredible stats to his large number of minutes played, but they have that point backward. If any “modern” player were to play that many minutes, what do you think the result will be? I will tell you: injury, lower performance, etc. Wilt was not only the strongest player in the NBA when he played (possibly so far), but he also had the most stamina.

Some go so far as to claim that the level of competition was lower “back then.” Well, there were far fewer teams. As a result, because Wilt and Bill Russell were both in the Eastern Division for much of their time they met a whopping 94 times in the regular season. In the playoffs, they added another 49 matchups. Imagine having to play against the best center in the league that many times. (Wilt said that Bill was the best center he ever played against. Bill said that Wilt was the best center he ever played against. I have them ranked 1a and 1b all-time.)

And, Wilt Chamberlain averaged 30.0 points, 28.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists in those 94 games versus Bill Russell. And, Bill tells the story of when he watched the greatest rebounding game in NBA history. Wilt grabbed 55 rebounds in one game. Bill says he had a great seat to see this happen, as he was the opposing center. Imagine setting the all-time record for rebounds in a game while being guarded by one of the greatest defensive centers of all time. (Bill averaged 22.5 rebounds per game for his career. And you might want to note how many the “great” rebounders average now . . . 15-17.)

And to top off the whole argument a fan observed about 120 games Wilt played in and counted the number of shots he blocked. (Blocked shots did not become an official stat until later.) In those games Wilt averaged over eight blocks per game. Currently the NBA leader is averaging just under three blocks per game. And, in addition, I have seen film of Wilt blocking the unblockable shot, Kareem’s Sky Hook.

Modern NBA, my ass.

February 11, 2021

The Right-Wing: Symbols, Not Actions

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 8:54 am
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It is almost like the debate between Christians as to whether one needs good deeds to be saved or will just faith suffice. According to those on the extreme right-wing of the political spectrum of this country, it is symbols, not actions which are more important.

What this refers to is the playing of the national anthem at the beginning of every professional sporting event in the U.S. Fascinatingly, these events are not political events, or patriotic events, or sacred events, or really having anything to do with politics or religion, so why is it so important to play the anthem at the beginning of every game? What would happen if we did not? Well, now we know.  Nothing. The Dallas Mavericks of the NBA did not play the anthem before the team’s home games this season. The Mavs managed to get through 13 preseason and regular-season contests at the American Airlines Center over 56 days before anyone seemed to notice.

But then someone noticed and the right-wing propaganda sphere lost its collective mind. Either they were trying to distract people from the dumpster fire that was Donald Trump’s insurrection, or they thought there would be dire consequences if the anthem were not played. Maybe people might forget which country the game was being played in.

“During our games, most people don’t even show up for the anthem. When they’re at the game, on the concourses they don’t stop. Some don’t even stand,” said Mark Cuban, the owner of the Mavs and the person who made the decision to not play the anthem. “I would rather not play it if people won’t respect it, and I would rather not play it if it is going to be used as a weapon when people disagree with what it represents.”

“I wanted to see if anyone noticed,” Cuban added. “No one said a word.”

Interestingly, I don’t remember the anthem being played before high school basketball games, so if that is generally true then the “tradition” of playing the national anthem is apparently restricted to profit-making sports and the practice is not important enough to teach our young.

Also, the people complaining the loudest are identical to those telling professional sports figures to “shut up and dribble” and “keep politics out of sports.” Apparently this crowd thinks that “consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” When Mark Cuban obliged them, they blew their tops.

I wanted to see if anyone noticed,” Cuban added. “No one said a word.”

November 25, 2019

No Respect for Goliath

Filed under: Sports — Steve Ruis @ 10:11 am
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I was watching an NBA game the other day, one involving the Dallas Mavericks, specifically so I could watch their new star, 20-year old Luka Dončić from Slovenia. I was not disappointed. He is not only really, really good but he is a likable young man also.

He doesn’t, however bear any responsibility for the comments of those broadcasting the game. They used visuals to show that only three players had averaged 30 points and 10 rebounds in their first seasons. None of the three was Wilt Chamberlain.

For the record—in Wilt’s Rookie season, 1959-60 he averaged 37.6 points per game and 27 rebounds per game. To show that was not a fluke Wilt averaged 38.4 points and 27.2 rebounds per game the next season and then in 1961-62 he averaged 50.4 points and grabbed 25.7 rebounds per game. Many of these are still all-time records, as is the 55 rebounds he grabbed in one game. (Bill Russell claims he had the best seat in the house to observe this performance, so this wasn’t some stat put up against a lame opponent.) Now a great many people will say that that was a different era, which is was, but along with the positive attributes there were negatives. In that incredible 1961-62 season it wasn’t as if they weren’t trying to stop Wilt—he lead the league in free throws shot. As just one example consider this quote “Half the fouls against him were hard fouls … he took the most brutal pounding of any player ever.” That was from Boston Celtic Tom Heinsohn, one of Wilt’s most fierce competitors, with regard to an NBA Finals series.

So, why the disrespect? Chamberlain said himself, that “no one roots for Goliath” even though he was not the largest player in the league by any measure (but was most likely the strongest ever to play).

Dončić is a 6´ 7ʺ guard-forward and his numbers are quite extraordinary, but commentators should know better than to claim that only three people had better numbers for some stretch without mentioning Wilt.

Nobody had better numbers than Wilt, except for free throw percentage. Wilt even led the league in assists one year. Wilt had 30.1 points per game, 22.9 rebounds per game and played 45.8 minutes (out of 48) per game for his entire 15-year career! No other player could come close to his endurance, nor could they even try out of fear of breaking down (load management my ass).

If you are going to quote US professional basketball statistics, always, always, always start with the most prolific player in NBA history. Have some respect.

October 30, 2019

WTF? (World Series Version)

Filed under: Sports — Steve Ruis @ 8:42 pm
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I have been listening to, watching, or following in the news the World Series of Major League Baseball (MLB) for about 65 years. Setting aside the misnomer of calling an American national tournament the “World” Series, there are basic views of these contests currently being shredded.

Most obviously, the concept of “home field advantage” is being ridiculed. The so-called home field advantage is that the team playing in their home stadium has an advantage. The advantage is substantial. The “home team” bats last and the team with the most runs after nine innings (five minimally but rain sometimes truncates games) wins. So, no matter what the visiting team does, the home team has “last licks” and a chance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. If the home team is ahead after eight and a half innings, they don’t even have to play the bottom of the ninth inning; they just win.

In addition, the home team is more intimately aware of the quirks of their ball field (all MLB fields are unique and all have quirks for which there are lists of official “ground rules” that only apply at those stadia), players and coaches get to sleep and eat at home. The home team’s locker room is often quite lavish and the visiting team’s room is often a dump. And the home team isn’t jet-lagged from travel or getting kinked up from sleeping on poor beds or eating poor food or. . . .

The home field advantage is so substantial that teams struggle mightily to acquire it through the quality of their record. MLB, to great uproar, thought that giving the league that won the All-Star Game the home team status in that year’s World Series. Purists were outraged, that such a valuable thing, such as home field advantage, would be awarded based upon the outcome of an exhibition game, and not upon the records of the teams playing in the Series. The practice of alternating years between leagues to receive the advantage was considered more fair in assigning home field advantage, than that travesty.

So, explain to me why in this year’s World Series, between the Washington, D.C. Nationals and the Houston Astros, the home team has lost every game of the six played so far. WTF?

I can remember chatter between series announcers discussing what happened to the home field advantage as the series advanced. If the home team lost a game, the advantage switched to the other team as a majority of the remaining games were played on the other team’s field or at least those games were played first. The usual pattern was 2-3-2, although others were tried, with the team with the advantage getting the first two games and the last two games at their field. If the team with the advantage lost either of the first two games, then the other team could win the series (it takes four wins) at their home stadium by winning all of those “home” games. So, the minimal goal for the visiting team was to win one of the first two games and “steal” the home field advantage. If this were to happen the team which had lost the advantage then had a goal of winning at least one of the next games and “stealing” the advantage back. This was a tried and true discussion topic for every World Series I can remember . . . until lately.

So, when the Nationals beat the Astros on their field . . . twice to start the Series, some commenters said “This Series is over.” implying that their advantage was now too great to overcome. Then the Nationals lost all three of their home games. Amazing.

Currently there seems to be no discussion of home field advantage at all. I wonder what has changed. Have modern athletes with modern training and modern diets overcome this basic advantage? I don’t think so, statistics still show the better teams win more games “at home” than they do “on the road.” That is the basic manifestation of the home field advantage. If I had the energy I could do a study to see if home and away records of teams have changed much over the years.

This is one of the joys of baseball, that there are statistics available going back centuries. This is one of the pains of baseball, that there are statistics available going back centuries.

Thus ends my annual baseball post.

~30~

June 9, 2019

There Is Just One Way Out

Filed under: Sports — Steve Ruis @ 1:34 pm
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Welcome to the Sunday Baseball Sermon! It is baseball season and I just can’t help myself, but I will hold in my enthusiasm to just one or two posts.

A Crisis in Popularity
You are probably aware that baseball used to be called “America’s Pastime” because it was by far the most popular sport in the land. Not any more. In fact, baseball’s TV ratings have been dropping for a number of years now. A major problem identified by Major League Baseball (MLB) as a cause of this is that games are longer than ever before. I remember games in my youth which involved pitchers who worked fast and pitched the whole game that lasted an hour and a half. An average game back then involved two hours and a bit. Now an average game lasts almost four hours.

MLB is considering a number of innovations to deal with this. One is a pitch clock, with a restrictions on how many seconds a pitcher has to make a pitch. (Damned dawdling pitchers.) One is to require batters to stay in the batters box. (Damned hitters are stepping out after each pitch and fiddle with their batting gloves. ban the damned gloves!) Another involves extra inning games with one suggestion being to have each team be given a runner on second base in each half inning, to act as an icebreaker.

The problem with all of these “innovations” is that they disrupt the basic structure of the game. Baseball is an intellectual spectator sport tat has been around for over a century and there are records (oh, my there are records) that are discussed ad nauseum. I can wax poetic about all of the things going on defensively in any inning. There are nuances galore, like first basemen who chat up base runners in the hope that it will disrupt their concentration, and various forms of trash talk. There is a great deal of things to focus on between pitches, there are just too many damned pitches.

Here is What I Think has Happened
The bloated games we see today are a result of the number of pitches thrown, in effect the length of any game seems directly proportional to the number of pitches thrown. (Technically, if a pitcher through a single pitch to each batter that they hit a feeble popup or ground ball on, they could get the 27 outs need to make an ordinary game in just 27 pitches. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.) Batters are walking and striking out at unprecedented rates and walks and strikeouts require a great many pitches to be thrown. In the old days, pitchers threw the ball over the plate (or close enough) and if the batter didn’t swing at those pitches he would be “grabbing some pine” very quickly (baseball slang for returning to the bench, even though they are no longer made of wood). So, why don’t pitchers throw more strikes?

It all started to come apart with the Steroid Era. Granted the home run title competition between Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa in 1998 saved baseball from a self-imposed perdition (strikes/lockouts/lost seasons aka labor disputes) but we now know that many of these performers were performing under the influence of anabolic steroids, a performance enhance drug not banned by baseball but illegal to self-administer. No pitcher likes to see his pitches crushed out of the ball park, so pitchers got cautious and a number of them started taking steroids themselves. When this issue was eventually sleuthed out and dealt with there was a bit of a power vacuum for a while. Not as many home runs were being hit and not as many pitchers were “unhittable.”

The next phase involved “swing path” changes by the hitters. Seeing a salary premium placed upon power hitting, hitters did a few things. First they changed the angles of their swings to a more upward path. (We were taught in my youth to swing “level.”) The other part was to swing for the fences, no matter the situation. (We were taught to swing away, but when you got two strikes, you were to choke up on the bat and try to put the ball “in play.”) The problem with this approach was that swinging really hard all of the time resulted in more home runs, yes, but more swings and misses, too. So, strikeouts, which used to be problematic (too many of which shamed a batter) became more frequent. Home runs became more frequent, so pitchers became more cautious and walks, aka “bases on balls,” became more frequent, too.

Pitchers didn’t stand pat in the post Steroid Era, however, they actually upped the ante and threw harder. There are more pitchers now capable of throwing 100 mph pitches than ever before. But if you are going to throw that fast, accuracy suffers and walks increase again.

Managers wouldn’t be left out of this, either. Since every damned batter in the lineup was capable of hitting the ball out of the park, starting pitches got pulled earlier and earlier. The constraints are that a pitcher has to complete five innings to qualify as a winning pitcher (and few would want to play for a manager who would not allow them to win games by pulling them earlier in the games) and by about the sixth inning, pitchers will have pitched to each batter at least twice. (At three outs per inning, batters are guaranteed one “at bat” through the first three innings and two at bats through the sixth. But, the effectiveness of most pitchers dips significantly the “third time through the batting order,” so managers are inclined to forestall any problems by bringing in a new pitcher for the seventh inning. We now have specialist pitchers for the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings, for Pete’s sake. (The first specialist “relief pitcher” was in 1948 if I remember right. Prior to that point, all pitchers were “starters,” and if one faltered, they were replaced by one of the others, one not scheduled to start for the next three days any way.)

Specialist relief pitchers have become beasts. Unlike starting pitchers who have to be able to throw pitches for five innings (more is better, of course). These relievers are out there for just one inning, and sometimes just for one batter. This means they can hump up and use all of their energy on just a few pitches. In the old days, pitchers got tired in the later innings and you might be able to “get to them” if you hadn’t before. Pitchers often threw 150-200 pitches in a game, but now when they hit the 100 pitch mark, the manager’s hook comes out and they are soon to exit the game. (Have I mentioned that pitching changes take time?)

So, what to do about this? There have been various “tweaks” made. When the pitchers got the upper hand in the 1960’s, they lowered the pitchers mound. They had “adjusted” the size of the strike zone a number of times, etc. These things worked, somewhat, but obviously not enough.

There is One Way out of this Mess, However

Deaden the ball.

If the ball was just a bit harder to hit far, there would be fewer home runs hit, pitchers would throw over the plate more, etc.

Now some purists will argue that it would change the game, invalidate records, etc. I remind them there is something in MLB called the “Dead Ball Era.” Baseballs were “livened up” considerably, thus changing the game and making Babe Ruth possible. Also, what about all of the records set in the Steroid Era? Are those valid?

I think deadening the baseball . . . just a bit . . . makes more sense than reducing the number of strikes need for a strike out to two (and balls for a walk to three) or having a pitch clock (Baseball is the only major sport with no game clock!), or requiring relief pitchers to throw to at least three batters, or any of the other “innovations” that have been proposed.

And . . . for those you who think I have beaten this subject to death, consider that the upper part of the strike zone had ceased being called for strikes, causing batters to become low ball hitters, which requires an upward swing path and . . . this is now bringing back the high strike. . . .  Oh, and did I mention how modern sports technology is helping batters and pitchers to do these things with video analysis, bat speed indicators, radar guns for pitchers, etc?

July 31, 2018

Respect the Football!

A question came up on Quora recently that is indicative of a great many similar questions and discussions. Here it is:

Why do some liberals think it’s okay for black athletes to disrespect the flag (think about the soldiers that died fighting for our country)? Yes, I get that racism still exists, but a (American) football game is not the time.

So, the points being made here are … uh, umm … well that soldiers fight for the flag? WTF! That’s not true. Most combat soldiers fight for one of two reasons: to protect their buddies in arms or they fight for “their country.” I have never heard of any soldier who fought for the flag, either literally or figuratively.

Kneeling, what the players were doing, is disrespect? Is this true in church? If so, the Catholics, for one, are going to be in deep doo doo. Imagine disrespecting god … in a church! As a research project, I would like to know who was the first person to rule that civilians needed to stand and take their hats off during the playing of the national anthem. Soldiers I can see, civilians … I wonder.

And the football players are not kneeling for the flag. The flag is flying before they kneel and after. They are kneeling during the anthem and the anthem is a song.

And, whoaaaaa, an American football game is not the place or the time to discuss or address racism. Really? Hmmm, 70% of the players are Black or Hispanic, 100% of the owners are wealthy and White. Seems like the perfect place to discuss racism.

Look, I can resolve this whole issue simply.

Before the playing of the national anthem, post the following message on the message board and have it read over the loudspeakers. Ahem … “The NFL, <team owner’s name>, and the <team name> bring you to your attention that Black Americans face police brutality and prejudice and racism almost every day. We urge you to work in your community to ensure that all citizens are treated fairly and without prejudice by their community’s police.”

Then play the anthem. Not a single player will kneel.

Ta da!

Note That was all the players were trying to do with their “protest.” What they received from it was a face full more of racism and authority deliberate mischaracterization of their motives and not a single ounce f understanding and acknowledgement. Can anyone tell me what disrespecting “the flag” or “the troops” means or would be motivated by? The mischaracterization is easily seen as being motivated by racism and politics and little else.

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