Before I begin a 24-hour fast at sundown, I wanted to provide a few little morsels for folks chew on (nice use of metaphor, eh?)
1) As was true of the squall surrounding Ray Rice’s assault, the controversy over Michigan’s negligence regarding Shane Morris is most useful as a window onto a larger issue. Morris’ injuries were so obvious that even an ESPN broadcast crew – not usually in the business of directly criticizing a team’s staff – really went after Michigan for leaving Morris in the game on Saturday (for which, again, Mike Patrick and Ed Cunningham deserve real credit). But football players suffer significant head injuries *all* the time.
According to a new study by Harvard and Boston University, “college football players report having six suspected concussions and 21 so-called “dings” for every diagnosed concussion, with offensive linemen being the least forthcoming to trainers and team personnel.” This follows recent reports that the NFL, in submitting documentation for the proposed settlement of a lawsuit brought by former players against the league, estimated that up to one third of retired players would have suffered significant brain injuries. Chris Nowinski, the former wrestler who has become among the most outspoken advocates for athletes suffering traumatic brain injury, noted that there is a “learned perception that [a player’s] coach may not support reporting a concussion.” That’s useful context for when the next coach says he didn’t think a player was badly hurt because the player said he was OK.
Michigan deserves to be pilloried for its conduct during and after Saturday’s game. But the tip-of-the-iceberg metaphor is itself inadequate to convey the depth of the problem organized football faces.
2) Billy Beane is being hammered following the A’s early exit from this year’s baseball postseason. Between 2000 and 2014, Oakland has made the postseason nine times. Including this year, they’ve been eliminated in the opening round eight of those times. Only in 2006 did they advance to a second round and that season, they were swept in four games in the League Championship Series by the Tigers. Beane has famously said that, when it comes to the postseason his “shit doesn’t work.” Unavoidably, though, players, managers, coaches and executives are going to be judged in significant part by their postseason resume, when the most is on the line.
Is there something particular about Beane’s teams that make them particularly ill-suited to playoff success? I don’t see it. In particular, Beane’s teams have tended to have strong pitching staffs which the conventional baseball wisdom Beane has often famously bucked says is exactly the formula for championship baseball.
But Beane also draws fire for the perception that his analytical approach leaves too little room for hard-to-quantify qualities like leadership or chemistry. Did he tempt fate when, on July 31, he dealt his mashing cleanup hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for ace lefty Jon Lester?
The A’s post-Cespedes swoon speaks for itself. The team was 66-41 when they traded the slugging Cuban. They went 22-33 following his departure. Their offense was the best in baseball through the end of July, scoring five runs a game. They scored fewer than four runs a contest once Cespedes was gone.
Was it chemistry? Is Cespedes just that good?
Mike Axisa tackled some of the criticisms of Beane a few weeks back. The bullpen struggled, key injuries struck and, as for that vaunted offense, Axisa noted that the team’s two best hitters for the first two months of the season, Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss, were already in steep decline before the trade. Moss did struggle especially badly after Cespedes left, though he finished the season with a .772 OPS, very close to his career .785. Donaldson, an all-star, had a .926 OPS in April and May. In June and July, his OPS had collapsed to .647. Donaldson finished the season with a .798 OPS. His career mark in that department – . 805.
It’s pretty easy to tell a story there that has little to do with Cespedes’ PRESENCE in the lineup.
As for the two principles in the now infamous trade – how’d they do?
Lester was terrific for the A’s, pitching to a stellar 2.35 ERA in eleven starts.
Cespedes, whose main value is in his homerun hitting, managed five in 51 games for the Red Sox. His OPS for the Sox was a quite pedestrian . 719, versus .767 in his first four months of the season as an A. Maybe Cespedes became so depressed upon his trade that he stopped trying. Maybe the Oakland bullpen would have done better had he still been there. Maybe the fact that Lester was one of the very best pitchers in the AL in the last two months of the season didn’t help his new club at all. Maybe Moss and Donaldson would have rediscovered their early season form had Yoenis’ not flown off to Venus.
But I doubt it. Sometimes, shit really does just happen. For those out there inclined not to like Beane, I don’t expect anyone to be persuaded at this point.
3) Note to self – must read the New York Times’ Michael Powell regularly. Here’s how he introduced a recent column about Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning:
“So much is silly and reductive in the way we turn sports stars, from LeBron James to Kevin Durant to Luck and Manning, into characters in fate-driven morality plays.”
Yes, yes and heck yes.
Powell wrote this week about the travesty that has been the Vikings’ fleecing of Minnesota taxpayers in the latest instance of America’s favorite form of welfare – state and municipal giveaways to billionaires.