On baseball, parenting and memory

I have a bit of a thing for father-son baseball experiences. So when I saw that Justin Verlander was pitching for Detroit this weekend against the Yankees, my mind immediately flashed back to a Friday night last spring.

Alex Rodriguez sat at 2,999 hits on a Friday morning with Verlander taking the mound. A-Rod hits Verlander hard: .344 in 32 career at-bats with five home runs. So on a few hours’ notice I bought two tickets for the game, mostly for my son, Nathan, who despite his father’s repeated exhortations loves A-Rod. (“Well, Jeter’s my favorite Yankee, but since he doesn’t play anymore, A-Rod is my favorite. He cheated but he learned his lesson and now he’s a really nice guy.” Sigh. How about Gardy?) Our anticipation was that by being opportunistic we might be able to see a bit of history.

What we hadn’t quite anticipated was barely having settled into our seats when Rodriguez turned on a first-pitch fastball and blasted a home run for hit number 3,000.

The hit came in the bottom of the first inning. (That’s Rodriguez at the plate behind Nate in the photo above, seconds before Verlander’s pitch.) It was what the crowd had come to see, and it made for an early peak to the game: the two men next to us literally said goodnight and left, their plans fulfilled. Nate and I stayed for the whole game, though, and even found some friends in the bleachers in the late innings. I brought home our souvenir popcorn bucket and affixed a ticket (a real one, picked up at will call) to the underside as a memento.

I still don’t like Alex Rodriguez, but I love having constructed this memory–from the hit to the homer to the very late night for a seven-year-old at the Stadium. So we’re good. Even if Nate still thinks A-Rod has three thousand homers, not hits. Go Yankees.

Assessing the importance of North American cities by their major league sports presence, revisited

A few years ago, I dissected what a city’s sports footprint says about it, a fun (for me) exercise that gave interesting perspective to the American landscape. In light of Stan Kroenke’s merciless city-bashing as he took his Rams out of St. Louis this week—he’s from St. Louis! He’s named after two local sports heroes! And he told the city it’s a national laggard!—I’m revisiting the list, updated below.

Herewith, a revised tally by city of the major sports markets in America, covering MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL teams, in descending order of size, organized by my own arbitrary but numerically derived categories.

The majors
New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Washington, DC. These dozen cities are the hosts with the most: a team from every sports league. Of them, New York is the most major of all, as it has two teams in every league, if you include the Jersey-based football teams with NY in their logos. (New York’s position atop the hierarchy is much cleaner with the Nets’ and Islanders’ moves to Brooklyn.) Chicago gets bragging rights for its two baseball teams, while Dallas gets a partial bye, since its baseball and football teams technically play over the border in Arlington; and Los Angeles, long a football pariah, has a team once again, and may have two NFL franchises by the end of the decade.

The mid-majors
Cleveland, Houston, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Toronto. These cities have 3/4 coverage, not a bad haul, especially for cities you wouldn’t otherwise think are major or important on other scales, like Tampa. With the Rams’ move to L.A., there are now just six cities with this kind of sports presence. I almost demoted San Francisco because the NBA Warriors still refer to their location as “Golden State,” which makes no sense to me, even with the Golden Gate Bridge in their logo. Also, bonus points to Toronto for being so American that it boasts several of our pro sports teams.

The players
Charlotte, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Kansas City, New Orleans, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Nashville. Each of these cities has two pro teams. Interestingly, all of them count a pro football team as one of the two (with the exception of Milwaukee, which has Green Bay up the road). Indianapolis and Nashville get less credit here than the others, because they have teams that cite a hometown state rather than the city. And woe to St. Louis, longtime home of the proud Cardinals baseball team, which has now suffered the loss of an NFL franchise—twice.

States that matter, because their cities don’t
Minnesota, Utah and New Jersey each have teams that don’t bother to name-check any town in particular. Poor New Jersey not only lost the Nets, but the Jets and Giants, who have played in the Meadowlands for decades, continue to pretend their port of call is across the Hudson River. And Utah has a lone sports team, which migrated there from New Orleans but retained its name, so we get to enjoy the dissonance of a team in straightlaced Salt Lake City called the Jazz.

Legacies
I love cities that have a sports team much larger than they would otherwise deserve. Green Bay, for one, with its legendary football club. And San Antonio with a leftover from the NBA-ABA merger in the 1970s–which, by the way, explained the New Jersey Nets for more than 30 years.

Canadian cities that make the list thanks to the NHL
Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver. I bet the CFL has a team in each of these cities. (Montreal had an MLB team until a few years ago, and Vancouver briefly sported an NBA franchise.)

One-sport oddities
Columbus has a hockey team. I don’t know why. Jacksonville has a football team, and not even the NFL is sure why. They play basketball in Memphis and Oklahoma City, mainly because wealthy men chose to buy teams and plunk them across town from their estates. Orlando, on the other hand, has a fairly strong basketball presence but no other teams.
Portland has a lone and legendarily popular basketball team; Sacramento also has an NBA presence. A few miles south, San Jose has a hockey team, which I’ve also never understood, although they always had a pretty terrific logo.

And speaking of hockey, the NHL has a team in Raleigh, N.C., which is probably why they call themselves the Carolina Hurricanes. Got all that?

Truth in advertising: New England Patriots Jersey Guarantee

The New England Patriots got some favorable press today, including a front-page link on ESPN.com, for their new “jersey guarantee.”

Under the terms of the guarantee, if a jersey is purchased of a Pats player who departs the team within 12 months of purchase, the customer is entitled to a new jersey at a 25 percent discount.

Generous? Not so much. Clothing markup is typically 40-50% from wholesale; that $100 jersey costs the Patriots $50-60 to procure. So at a 25% discount, the replacement jersey is in all likelihood still sold at a profit.

The Patriots aren’t accepting product returns or giving refunds. They’re offering a well targeted coupon code. The only certainty from this promo is that the Pats have a new path to selling more jerseys and making more money. Some guarantee.

Another good guy (you didn’t notice?)

The news was released with little fanfare on a Monday evening: the Yankees came to terms on a contract extension with ace CC Sabathia, averting a crisis and a major free agency story.
The basic news wasn’t all that noteworthy, as Sabathia is a) handsomely paid, b) happy as a Yankee, and c) receiving another twenty-five million dollars to weigh 290 pounds and throw around a baseball. Sabathia, after all, will be receiving $122 million over the next five years–not too shabby.
But subtly, the signing reveals that Sabatha is one of baseball’s good guys, the players that do what’s best for them personally and professionally, and not just financially.
He didn’t force the hand. Sabathia had an opt-out clause in his contract that would have allowed him to seek unmentioned riches on the free-agent market rather than honor the four years remaining in his existing deal. He used this as leverage to get the extension he sought. What he did not do, though, was actually opt out of his contract: he remained with the Yankees, didn’t play competing offers off one another, didn’t push his employer to the brink. He and his agent and the Yankees’ general manager instead said, “Okay, what’s the equitable way to address the situation?” Fine-tuning the existing deal turned out to be the best answer.
He didn’t seek excess. As a free agent, Sabathia could have hunted for longer deals or more money than he ultimately received. Of course, he’s extremely well paid, by the wealthiest team in baseball; but that doesn’t preclude one of the other wealthy or big-spending or splashy teams in the sport giving him even more money to land a prized asset and stick it to the Yanks. But Sabathia didn’t play that hand at all. The value of the additional year on his deal is in line with the ones already in place, and it pays him handsomely, without the free-agency dancing that could have landed him a few million dollars more.
He kept it quiet. The public heard next to nothing about Sabathia’s contract, not from him, at least: lots of media speculation, near-certainty that he’d opt out, then, at deadline, an announcement that a deal was done. Credit goes to the Yankees on this one as well (unlike their handling of the Jeter affair last year) for playing it cool. Ultimately, though, Sabathia looked at his situation, figured it couldn’t get much better, and made a deal that was rational for both sides, and to fans.
This also speaks kindly about agent Brian Peters, who certainly did right by his client, securing him another $25 million while maintaining a positive relationship with the ball club.
Sabathia’s extra year is still great money, and it’s not quite Jered Weaver spurning free agency (and his very powerful agent) to re-sign with the home team below market value. But in some ways it’s not far off. Kudos to Sabathia for admitting his comfort and sticking around.

Now this is how to blog

Bill Simmons’ latest column on ESPN quasi-Rickrolls readers deep in football mode into watching Hulk Hogan defeat the Iron Sheik at Madison Square Garden. Which, in turn, gets said reader’s mind into nostalgia mode, whereupon one quickly discovers all kinds of great Hulk Hogan nuggets–he was huge in Japan!–and then to the real “who knew?” moment, unearthing this thorough list of pro wrestling terms on (where else?) Wikipedia.

A worked screwjob, is part of the storyline and the match is intended to end controversially. A shoot screwjob is extremely rare and occurs when a change is made without one of the participants knowing, creating an outcome that is contrary to what was supposedly planned for the storyline by the participants. The most famous example of a screwjob of this type is the Montreal Screwjob.

Behond, the wondrous serendipity that is the Internet. And those 23″ pythons.

On baseball strategy

Terrific analysis of pitcher-hitter mindgames by Joe Posnanski.

So, when you see a guy who gets a lot of curveballs — say Aaron Rowand
— that is not because he can’t hit a good curveball. It’s because
pitchers believe he can’t hit a mediocre curveball. It’s a great game.
The pitcher knows Rowand isn’t very good on breaking stuff. Rowand
knows the pitcher knows this and comes to the plate expecting to see
breaking stuff. The pitcher knows that Rowand knows that the pitcher
knows, so he is on alert that if he throws a hanging curveball, Rowand
might just crush it. But Rowand knows this, so he might be overanxious
if he sees the hanging curveball and hit it nine miles foul. Or he
might be thinking curveball so much that he promises himself to not
wing, and the pitcher might cross him up and throw fastball — even
Aaron Rowand got more than 50% fastballs last year — and Rowand is so
screwed up in his head that he just watches it go by for strike three
and … yeah, it’s a great game.

Yeah, it is.