News and Notes

Very busy week has caused a slight slowdown here. A few items of interest:

1) Good commentary from Bomani Jones at the end of Around the Horn on Tuesday. The topic was the Washington football team’s participation on Sunday in the league-wide celebration of Hispanic heritage month.

After giving them faux credit for doing so, Jones said:

“On Sunday, they did it up for Hispanic heritage month, honoring our Latino brothers and sisters. But my question is, why didn’t they honor those people the same way they honor the Native Americans? Why were there no caricatures, no sombreros, no sale on tacos, nothing else preposterous like that? Because that, according to the Washington team, is how you honor people. Why is it that that’s how you honor people for your team, but when it’s time to carry this out for the league, you’re playing a whole different ballgame. Cause you ain’t honoring nobody, that’s why?”

2) Last night was Mariano Rivera’s and Andy Pettitte’s last appearance in Yankee Stadium. It was a nice tribute, involving also Derek Jeter. As a friend said to me last on voice mail, “I was about to say there’s goes our youth. But there goes our middle age.” It’s remarkable how long those guys have been around and how long they’ve played at the level they have, especially Mariano, who has been the focal point of a season-long farewell tour. Like many commentators, Mike and Mike this morning talked about the legacy of the so-called “core four,” which includes Jorge Posada, who retired in 2011.

A major omission in these retrospectives is Bernie Williams. River Avenue Blues has a good write-up about it. Baseball Prospectus once noted how surprising it is that the Yankees could have a center fielder who was a great player in his prime during a dynasty and somehow flown under the radar, but Williams did. He finished with a career WAR of 49.5, making him a borderline hall of famer, and for a nine year run, between 1994 and 2002, he pretty much did everything well offensively – he got on base, hit for power and average and ran well. During that stretch, he never had worse than an OPS+ of 120. I suppose that because he never did any one thing spectacularly – though he did many things really, really well – he was easy to overlook. But he was a tremendous presence in the middle of the lineup for a long time (he did, it is true, have just about the worst outfield arm of all time).

Posada was great, too, of course. But though he is often credited with having been on all five World Series champions between 1996 and 2009 he did not, in fact, appear in the 1996 postseason and only really started playing regularly in 1998. Of the five players most central to the two decade run that is now ending, Posada has the lowest career WAR (42.7), according to baseball-reference.com. That makes him a borderline Hall of Famer by some accounts. And I loved Jorge. But Bernie gets short shrift here.

River Avenue Blues, in the same post, rightly points out the near impossibility of replicating what the Yankees constructed in the 1990s:

The development of that five-player core is not something the Yankees or anyone can repeat. You can’t fire that idiot Brian Cashman and replace him with that genius Gene Michael, wait five years, then have another core with those caliber of players. It doesn’t work like that. The Williams/Posada/Jeter/Pettitte/Rivera core is a combination of both great scouting and historic luck. I’ve been using the word historic a lot because that’s what this is. There’s no other way to describe these guys individually or as a five-player unit.

And, of course, the financial resources to keep them all (Pettitte was gone for a few years and retired for one, but still).

For Yankee fans, all I can say is *sigh.*

3) 99.9 the FAN is one of two all-sports radio stations in the Triangle. Its afternoon drive show, from 3-7 on weekdays, features Adam Gold and Joe Ovies. I like them a lot. Gold grew up in New York, went to Maryland and has been down here for about fifteen years. Ovies is younger, and went to NC State. He and Gold have been together for four years, I believe. Anyway, along with the Raleigh CBS affiliate, WRAL, they hosted a one hour documentary earlier this week, Mission or Money. This was a part of a two-hour evening broadcast, that featured a slew of interviews before and after the documentary, a bunch of listener tweets, in-studio interviews with former athletes Julius Hodge (NC State basketball) and Quincy Monk (UNC football) and some impassioned on air debate about whether and how college athletes might get paid. I thought it was very well done, all in all. Gold and Ovies have staked out a pretty clearly pro-pay position, but their were a range of views throughout the broadcast. As Gold and Ovies pointed out in the final, post-documentary segment, there was lots of hostility on twitter toward the athletes, which they found surprising. In summary, many folks believe these athletes are being coddled, they have a great deal (free education, lots of women, fame, etc), and most folks have to pay their way through school with no such circumstances.

One thing that always strikes me about the I-had-to-pay-so-why-shouldn’t-they line, is that most folks who are making such arguments, I think it is fair to say, would be very much considered pro “free-market” in most other contexts. And it shouldn’t need pointing out that Ty Lawson’s value to the university is not the same as the average student’s. In other words, it’s awfully silly to argue that whether you yourself had to pay your way through school really has any relevance to the pay-for-play debate.

But one hears it all the time. In any event, the FAN, Ovies, Gold, WRAL sports guy and documentary narrator Jeff Gravelly all deserve a lot of credit for stimulating an interesting discussion.

Gold wrote a long post on Wednesday, the day after the documentary aired. I recommend reading all of it.

Here’s a key piece:

There’s no other way to say this, but there are players, at almost every single major college program – and many of the minor ones, too – that are simply not qualified to do college level work. But they can play ball, and they can help schools win. This is reality and it begs another, far more difficult question to be answered. Do you want your favorite school to only admit athletes that meet the basic university requirements for regular students? If you answer ‘yes’ to that question, you’re lying.

Colleges need to do a much better job educating players as opposed to keeping them eligible. Every single time I hear about the “value of the scholarship” I cringe, because the value is relative to the athlete. For 80 percent of college athletes in the for-profit sports, the scholarship value is just. I’d even argue that they receive far more than they give back to the school. The other 20 percent is a completely different story. Whether through ‘no-show’ classes, bogus majors, grade-fixing scandals, or tutors – or even teammates – doing their coursework, it’s easy to keep players eligible.

The schools OWE the players an education, and we have too much evidence to the contrary that we now understand that the institution of higher learning that we hold dear isn’t doing their job either.

 

 

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