Mastersball

Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down


Disconnected PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 25 October 2014 00:00

"You are an IT Professional," my brother-in-law Eric Hedgecock noted to me earlier in the week when I relayed my tales of streaming woe to him as I tried to figure out how to stream the World Series as we spent the week at the mountain home in Soda Springs.

Eric noted this as I was trying to figure out how to get the Smart TV in the house to start talking to our Uverse router so we could at least try to stream Sunday football.

As I have noted numerous times, our mountain house does have Internet, but nothing else, really. There are a couple of televisions, and a bundle of DVDs to play, and I can stream my favorite radio station (KTKE, in Truckee, as it so happens), but for the most part there is no radio and there is no TV.

With one of the best sports weeks of the year on the horizon, I tried to figure out how, among our cable, wi fi, my Surface tablet, two iPhones, two laptops, and a blue ray with wi fi, how to simply stream the NFL on Sunday, the ESPN on Monday, the Series Tuesday and Wednesday, the NFL Thursday, and then the Series again going into the weekend (said it was the best sports week).

Thanks to my Sunday Ticket opening up their Max program October 19, I was indeed able to watch the Sunday day games, but I could not find a way to hit up NBC to view the Niners and Broncos (which, bearing in mind the results, might not be a bad thing).

Same Monday night, as I looked for ways to stream ESPN on something other than my iPhone with audio. And, though I love my DTV and Sunday Ticket and MLB Extra Innings packages, the company does not yet have a interface that works with Windows-based tablets.  Although, I guess if you want to watch the NFL, then you are ok, which both makes sense, and makes none.

Tuesday morning I scrambled around looking for a way to get the Series, preferably by listening to the Giants main broadcasting corps of Mike Krukow, Duane Kuiper, Jon Miller, and David Flemming, and 30 minutes before the first pitch I got the flagship KNBR station on my tablet.

Since I love listening to baseball on the radio, this was fine, save as soon as 5 PM Pacific Time came, the station blacked out as fast as a Raider home game on the local channel when the game has not sold out. Which is always.

So, I decided to bite the bullet and subscribe to MLB.tv since I would be here for the first four games of the Series, and after three attempts to get my $9.95 charged to my Visa, I finally succeed, only to find out that since I don't have a local Fox feed that I cannot get the video. Even so, I tried to hit the audio, to at least listen to Kruk and Kuip, but as hot as the radio button seemed to be, nada.

Finally, I gave up, and tuned in ESPN radio (oh boy, Aaron Boone, analyst!) on my iPhone via TuneIn Radio, and that is mostly ok until the seventh inning when apparently the buffer filled up and I could do very little but hear Boone discuss how Eric Hosmer was almost a platoon player, and then the third out of the inning. Over and over and over and over.

Thursday was better, as the NFL Network does indeed allow streaming, so I managed to log in using my Sunday Ticket access, but on Friday afternoon, at game time, Fox Sports Go, suggested by my friend George, gave me a soccer match and nothing more.

But, it is crazy. I mean, network TV can still be accessed for free, sans cable. Except here where the mountains get in the way of the signal, so, I can stream what everyone else can see for free for $6 a month or something like, but that seems as wrong as having eight separate electronic devices within one room, and still not be able to connect.

Looks like dinner at the Soda Springs Lodge is the only way to enter the weekend in a reasonable fashion, eh?

 
Getting Unstuck PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 18 October 2014 00:00

Way back in 2003, when the Xperts Fantasy League had her inaugural season, I remember being so excited when Ron Shandler told me the format.

At the time, it was a 12-team mixed 5x5, a format I had played for a number of years in my first local league, and one in which I had been a dominant team with three titles over the first ten years--including back-to-back crowns in 1996-97--only finishing out of the money twice before I left at around the time the XFL was forming.

Since then, the league has expanded to 15 teams, and invoked a few rules that are both singular to the XFL, and which have been reviewed here over the past few weeks by Brian Walton and me.

The source of those articles involved a combination of dump trading, trying to keep owners active all season, but the bottom line was trying to ensure that all teams had a chance to compete each year.

In the end, after weeks of owner arguments ranging the gamut of human analysis, and spanning around 150 e-mails, we voted and changed almost nothing.

Part of the reason for this was indeed we all became weary of arguments upon arguments, and just wanted to play and be done with it. We could invoke the old"if it ain't broke, don't fix it" aphorism, but I think the words of this year's champ, Jeff Winick, says it best when he quoted Paul McCartney to us: "Let it Be."

What the ultimate lack of rule change really tells me is that the rules and format work just fine as it is, not that there are not owners who would like to see a change, but I think those guys are barking up the wrong tree.

And, I can use myself as a case in point, for I joined the league and made all the moves I always did in my local mixed league for a number of years, finishing worse and worse in the standings as the rules around minor leaguers stratified.

In such a mixed $260 cap format, I was happy to eat stars at premium prices and then forage for the $1 Barry Zitos and Mark Ellis's at the end game, thinking if I drafted shrewdly during our November auction, I had a chance to win every year.

After years of banging my head against the "why doesn't this work anymore" wall, I came to a few realizations.

First is that all the XFL players were simply better players all around than my local league. Not that there was not fine competition in WIFL (Western Internet Fantasy League), but as with most leagues, there were owners not as fixated on winning as the social event of the draft and going to some games. Which is both fine, and which makes up a percentage of most leagues.

Second, and more important, the good owners had learned to seriously exploit the rule of $1 minor leaguers whose salaries only increased by $3 a year as long as retained.

Now, there is a risk with owning too many such prospects, especially if the players need a couple of years to develop, for there are strict rules that do not allow such a prospect to ripen on the minor league vine: we either activate players with more than 20 innings or 50 at-bats, or we lose them.

What the subtext of that really is is that you have to gamble on maybe a handful of such prospects and add the bigger stars, a few at a time at reasonable salaries and ideally after two to three years, this platter will coalesce into a team that will be competitive for a few years before you get to start the rebuild process again.

Three years ago, I did indeed get it through my thick head that this was the way the successful owners did it, and I had to change my approach if I wanted to be a winner (which I really do, especially in this league).

This year, I feel pretty good that my cheap nucleus of Yoenis Cespedes, Mike Zunino, Nick Castellanos and Jedd Gyorko, coupled with some moderate stars like Leonys Martin, Kyle Seager, Matt Kemp, Yan Gomes, and closers Kenley Jansen and Sean Doolittle, will give me enough strength and core balance going into the draft taking place in two weeks at First Pitch Arizona, that I can even move up from the sixth place finish I enjoyed this year, and challenge for a title.

I have to admit that it has been hard both figuring out how to rebuild, and then actually pulling it off in a tough league, not to mention finishing at the bottom for a few seasons was equally difficult to swallow.

But, by being able to pull back and see that the path to success was not what I thought it should--and should, because it defines expectations, is the key word--be, but rather the reality of a different way to play the game.

In other words, like the game on the diamond, I had to adjust.

I do sort of think that the owners in the XFL who are the staunch advocates of those rule changes issue is largely that: that since the game is not conforming to their notion and experience of what a mixed somewhat shallow format should be, by retooling the rules, the end result would indeed make the whole season play out according to those expectations.

I also don't think that is going to happen, as it is pretty clear the bulk of the league likes things the way they are. And, as my team has been improving, I have to say I like them that way too.

 
Just Deal With It PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 11 October 2014 10:20

Last week, my partner Brian Walton channeled Leslie Gore in his It's My Team and I'll Dump if I Need To article, as he charted the woes in the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL) as owners debated rule changes for the coming Halloween draft (to be conducted as part of First Pitch Arizona).

A myriad of thoughts and arguments were presented on how to achieve better parity within the league, ideally so the playing field was a little more even season to season going into said auction.

Mind you, the XFL is mostly an industry league, save arguably the best and most successful pair of owners, Don Drooker and Jeff Winick, who have won four out of the last five titles.

To me one of the reasons I actually run from the moniker "fantasy expert" is that: I can indeed play the game pretty well, and I can write pretty well too which is really how I solidified a spot in the industry. But I am well aware that there are a lot of folks out there who can draft and strategize better than I.

But, I also find there always seems to be a subtext to harping on about rule changes, and that is the change is not so much about parity as it is "but I am having a hard time winning under the existing rules."

I have to confess I have absolutely no patience with that, in this league or in any other.

Sure, owners cheat and that should be dealt with swiftly, and I believe harshly. And, truly, rules can be tricky things for each one actually screams for scrutiny and an angle begging owners to outsmart them.

But, essentially the game is simply the game, just as is baseball on the diamond.

Injuries can kill a squad just as a bad hop or bad trade can. Furthermore, we can pursue the likes of Brandon Wood at all costs, and sometimes Brandon becomes Mike Trout, but more often than not such players turn out to be something between Marlon Byrd and, uh, Brandon Wood.

But, trying to adjust rules in order to somehow account for these pitfalls is just dumb in my opinion for a couple of reasons.

First, baseball, despite its gorgeous body of statistics, is still as unpredictable as those same bad hops. To me, dealing with and adjusting around those bumps is just part of the game. (It is also a metaphor for life, to me.)

Second, the paradox is that old "every solution presents a new problem" conundrum, for surely every time a rule is changed, the possibilities to exploit that solution in a new way--be it good or bad--exists.

Add to that as rules become more layered, they become not just convoluted, but as often at odds with existing rules.

Personally, part of what gets me going in playing in leagues is indeed in watching what the other teams do, for there is usually a sort of mainstream path to success, and then deconstructing said path and trying to figure out a different road to a title by reconfiguring the puzzle pieces that point to victory.

Truth is, I really love doing this, and though as often as not the attempts fail majestically, sometimes there is indeed a blind spot no one saw coming, and ideally the force that drives it is my team.

The bottom line is if we play--especially at a competitive level--we know what it takes to win, and most of the time winning falls within good drafting and management within the construct of the rules.

Regarding the discussion over dump trades, for example, which are business as usual in most leagues, for two years I lived by them working to rebuild, and as my team, which has easily been the worst over the past decade in the XFL, I traded some of my cheap buys shoring up in what I hope is a serious pennant run for the next few years.

I do think keeping rules simple is a solid path, and similarly, when playing any game, changing the rules in order to offset what seems to be an imbalance simply creates more problems and chaos than such a path fixes much of anything.

I truly think the best and most satisfying road to victory is to simply understand the rules as they exist and build the best team you can to succeed within that framework.

Everything else just seems like whining.

 
Does Mellow Mean I am Losing My Edge? PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 04 October 2014 00:00

I will turn 62 at the end of this month. Writing that previous sentence is a very strange out of body experience, for in my head I still feel 24 much of the time. I still play rock and roll live every week, and I watch Adult Swim pretty much every night, so even if my body ages, I am trying to remember the joy and wonder we all get to experience when we first move out of our parent's nest and take a stab at making a mark on the planet.

But, the reality is like it or not, I am staring down the final phases of my time here.

As I go through this odd process of aging, and reflecting, I have been thinking a lot about about the fine line between becoming a cranky old man, and mellowing into what I hope will be akin to some kind of Bohidsatva, patient, and accepting, and mostly kind.

I did pop into this world in Oakland, the year that Topps produced their first baseball cards, and the year "Rashomon" won the best Foreign Film Oscar, which I often think explains my love for Kurosawa films and cards.

But, it wasn't until the late 50's I became enamored of baseball for sure, and as noted before, being contrary, I chose to become a Dodger fan in the heart of Giants territory.

Because of baseball cards, I bought football cards as well, so when my hometown of Oakland actually got an original AFL franchise in 1961, I was a fan right away (funny, because again the area belonged to the Niners, so I could be both contrary and loyal at the same time).

For years, I just loved the hell out of both the Dodgers and Raiders, though I also had flings with other teams (like the Royals, who were my principle Strat-O-Matic team in the late 70's). I mostly kept those allegiances until the 80's, when I started picking weekly NFL winners with my friend Dee Holloway, and then began writing about fantasy.

I learned that the surest way to lose money was to bet on the team you liked, as opposed to the team you thought would win in picking every game with Dee, and then as I began to play fantasy ball, I realized that it was essential to remain objective when assessing player skills.

Over the years, I have really loved it when indeed the Niners or the Athletics or the Giants have done well (not the Raiders, over this span of 20 or so years) but, again, I might admire the same things in a player as Billy Beane, but contrary to public opinion, I don't take his players because they are Athletics. Rather, I take them because they can get on base.

Still, over the past few years, I have felt some degree of sentimentality within. I did follow the Bears pretty closely while Diane and I were carrying on our relationship long distance, but over the past couple of seasons I invariably find myself turning on the Raiders on Sundays (they are not good enough for Monday Night any longer).

It is a tough go, for they are not just awful, but don't seem to have a cohesive plan for how to get out of their swamp of awfulness.

By the same token, a couple of years back, when the Athletics surprised the world by winning the AL West title in 2012, I have so totally enjoyed watching the team coalesce into the dominant squad they were over the first two months of this season.

But, somehow I could feel that the Yoenis Cespedes swap would not bode well (I guess it is the Zen), but I hit a point this late summer where I simply was afraid to watch the team, for every time I would turn them on, something bad would happen. A walk. An error. A seeing eye single or a failed fielders choice (it seemed the A's were always on the losing end, both at bat and in the field). And then usually a homer in there somewhere.

Though the Athletics did squeeze into the postseason, I just had a feeling of doom about them despite the fact that the team had excellent pitching, the real key to playoff success.

True to form, I did start watching the Tuesday game with the Royals, but I had been to the dentist for one of those marathon appointments earlier in the day, so I began dozing off once Oakland dropped their 2-0 lead. Sure enough, I awoke in the 7th to find the Athletics were ahead 7-3, with Jon Lester on the hill, and only a pair of innings for the great bullpen to mow through.

I should have turned the game off right then, but I simply couldn't help myself, however, when the game was knotted at 7-7, and going into extras, I followed Diane's suggestion to turn on the Food Network or "Family Guy" or something. So, I turned the channel (although someone does need to explain to me why Bob Melvin did not stick Sean Doolittle in to face Alex Gordon in the bottom of the 8th, especially knowing he would use his lefty closer for two innings if necessary anyway).

Still, between commercials I would flip the channel back to the Athletics, but again, never at the right time.

I suppose it really was a great and epic game had I both watched, and been able to retain my equanimity, but all I could, and can feel, is the vertigo of lost hopes.

Over the past couple of days, I have been trying to figure out why I have been so ambivalent about the playoffs (though I did watch bits and pieces of the Giants Wednesday) when while messaging with Todd, somehow I blurted out that since the fall of Oakland, I didn't really care who won.

Up until that moment, I guess it had not dawned upon me that like it or not, I was indeed an Oakland fan, baseball and football, and with my mellowing age, that simply rooting for the home team was kind of comforting.

Life is so odd, as is our journey through it.

Since the Athletics are toast, I guess I will simply keep turning on the Raiders every Sunday (it doesn't mean I cannot catch a Seattle game, whom I really enjoy watching) and take my lumps and hope they get the hang one of the next 15-20 years.

It doesn't mean I cannot write objective player profiles.

It just means I am getting too old to fight some things any longer, and old enough to find some comfort in things familiar.

 
A Perfect Season PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 27 September 2014 00:00

I looked at my Tout Wars numbers for today just a little while ago and I am having a great day. 20 innings over three starters, with just two runs and 15 base runners allowed to go with 15 whiffs, and a .433 OBP with a swipe.

But, perhaps my season can be best summed by Chris Archer's performance today: 7.6 innings, three hits, two walks, six whiffs, one earned run, and a loss.

In AL Tout, I have been among the leaders for pretty much the entire season, along with my Mastersball partner Rob Leibowitz, and Rotowire's Jeff Erickson, and all three of us have built strong teams and traded well, while playing a solid FAAB, hanging in the 80-point range virtually all year long.

The problem for us is that Glenn Colton and Rick Wolf, of Fantasy Alarm, have had a nearly perfect season, drafting in what has turned to be a brilliant fashion, getting bargains, but mostly assembling the most consistent team I have ever witnessed.

As I write, Jeff has 81 points, I have 83, and Rob 89 (generally close to enough to win), but Rick and Glenn have an amazing 107.

Got that?

107.

This is in a 12-team 5x5 where the most points a team can possibly grab over a 162-game season is 120, meaning only 13 points elude the Fantasy Alarmers from that perfection.

At present, team Colton/Wolf leads in five categories, are second in one, third in one, fourth in one, and fifth in two.

What is amazing is that their team has been this strong all season.

I had thought maybe when Garrett Richards was injured that perhaps the Fantasy Alarm team would slump just for a few weeks, but instead they picked up a couple of points, buoyed by the emergence of Corey Kluber and Rick Porcello along with Richards' great season helped their well priced pitching support the stellar offense which includes Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Victor Martinez, Albert Pujols and Alex Gordon.

The 107 points Rick and Glenn amassed is easily the most ever, blitzing Sam Walker's 100 points in 2008, and the pair have pretty much run the season in first, something if memory serves, only Jeff Erickson managed in 1999.

Truth is, some years I try things and they work, and some years I try the same things and they fail. Last March in New York, I did the same and it worked to the tune of those 83 points, but just third place, definitely enough to contend every year, except this one.

Congrats guys for a job well done, and an elusive AL Tout title that is equally well deserved! 

 
What's With the Athletics? PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 20 September 2014 00:00

Last Saturday, we were at my friend Mark's, acknowledging the first birthday of his grandson Gavin, as part of a pretty big soiree.

The core of the 50 or so attendees are also regular participants in Mark and his wife Debbi's annual Passover Seder, an annual affair that has grown from four couples and eight folks in 1977 to somewhere around 40 now, and over that time my mates have had children, and as Gavin proves, have even become grandparents.

Needless to say, the generation of Gavin's parents have all grown up with fantasy sports (in fact we now have the Knights of the Passover Table Fantasy Football League) and all are baseball fans, though with clearly divided loyalties between the Giants and the Athletics.

Since the Giants were hopelessly hosting the Dodgers-they would lose 17-0--a lot of the Giants loyalists were absent, leaving me to answer the myriad of queries as to what is wrong with the Athletics.

I wish I knew, though I have my suspicions, just exactly how did a team with a run differential of 120 scores above the next closest team around All Star break time drop to third in the American League in total tallies over just a couple of months?

First and foremost--and as I noted at the time--Oakland vastly underestimated how the presence of Yoenis Cespedes made Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson better hitters.

I do think Billy Beane and his front office brain trust did calculate the team's run production would drop, but also figured that with the addition of Jon Lester to their seemingly strong rotation, the team would be in the position to win more games 3-2 than 7-4.

Furthermore, with such a strong squad at the time, the idea was to maintain and make it to the playoffs, where over a short series pitching generally dominates hitting.

Which was indeed a reasonable assumption irrespective of how the plan has panned out.

But, I think more the team that was crushing it with a 66-41 mark through July simply had not had a slump, something every team endures every year, and the good breaks and timely hits the team was getting the first four months of the season melted away with the trade and the Zen of even breaks that baseball gives us.

In other words, the team has had six bad weeks of play: something that had each bad week occurred after three strong weeks, would not have been as noticeable as the team's slip from front runner to wild card hopeful.

I still have hopes that the Athletics can kick off the jams the last ten days of the season, get into their groove (are they not now due?) and sneak or at least limp into the postseason, giving new life and a chance for the Beane plan to be tested.

But, this is a lot different than I thought it would be, marching into the postseason with another AL West title (that is now gone) and the best record (also a thing of history), so for some reason, this makes it harder to feel confident rooting for the guys.

For so long this season, I had relished Oakland charging into the Series, ultimately facing the Cardinals, the best team in the National League, with John Mozeliak and Beane's team facing off with the best squads and the smartest GM's.

That may well come to fruition, but at this point, I am not any more optimistic that the Athletics can make it that far, let alone beat Adam Wainwright and Matt Adams and company.

I am not really sure anyone can.

 
Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 13 September 2014 00:00

It just so happened that following the Ravens' triumphant victory over the Steelers Thursday night, my favorite sports movie--"North Dallas Forty"--was on cable.

I have seen the film, based upon the novel by former Cowboy Peter Gent, and based based upon the career of Raider great Fred Biletnikoff a bunch of times, particularly right before the Super Bowl because it reminds me about the bottom line between sports and business.

What I love about "North Dallas Forty" is it was the first film to realistically look at pro football, at the machine that drives the game, and the impact upon the players living in the isolated bubble of the NFL.

To a degree, the now infamous Ray Rice incident has certainly pointed to this, as there is surely an "old-boy network" attitude where the league will protect its own, up until a point.

Never before--and the film was made in 1979--had a story been so honest about sex and drugs and racism in professional sports, just like never before had the indulgences of the successful money generating players, like QB Seth Maxwell--played brilliantly by Mac Davis, and loosely based upon Don Meredith--get a blind eye from the powers that be, while an aging and ostensibly interchangeable part like Phil Elliott (Nick Nolte) cannot afford to breathe wrong for fear of being cut.

Within the film, we see the North Dallas Bulls as they go through a week of practice as they prepare for a potential playoff game with the rival Chicago Marauders.

We see the aftermath of Sunday play, a day off and subsequent after-game party that shows menacing athletes howling at the moon in an effort to subvert their own potential weaknesses.

We see the politics and pressure of ownership, publicly embracing rules and lines of decency as long as they don't compete with success, while passively condoning any deviant behaviors as the mood strikes them.

The problem is that the players are as vapid and self indulgent as the front office, making for a freight train of self righteousness and lack of critical thought about the game or how it is administered.

The players, that is save Phil Elliott, who does question and wonder and for the most part see incidents and teammates and coaches largely for what they are, as opposed to what they think, are blissfully ignorant of much of anything beyond their own needs. As long as the team is winning, ownership plays the same head in the sand game.

But, in the 35 years since the film was released, as we have seen over the past few weeks, very little has changed in the front offices aside from the fact that the league has more money and power than ever.

There is a fabulous scene near the end of the film, where a player (no name in the cast, but played by former Raider great, the late Lyle Alzado) reams out coach Johnson (Charles Durning), screaming that every time he calls it a game, they call it a business, and every time he calls it a business, they call it a game.

That says it all, aside from Nolte, at the end of the film, being threatened with release by the team for violating the morals clause of his contract (he is photographed smoking dope with Maxwell by a Dallas policeman who works undercover for the NFL, spying on potential problem players, although no one in the front office or the league seems to be able to recognize the team's QB).

Nolte quits, walking away, noting to his Tom Landry-like coach that it is indeed time to put away childish things.

Somehow, in watching the insane machinations of the league and Roger Goodell over the past months, all the movie does is confirm the worst and most self indulgent about what has become the biggest economic sports entity ($10 billion a year) in our land.

Over the past months, I was watching the great HBO mini series "Rome" with Diane. I watched it when the show was first presented back in 2005, but Diane had never seen it.

Over and over, as we watch petty behaviors and political backstabbing and silly wars waged as much out of ego as anything, I have looked at Diane and said "2000 years ago, and very little has changed in our human nature, save the Roman politicians were a lot more cutthroat and serious than wimpy morons like John McCain and Louis Gomert and Dick Cheney."

So much for nothing changes, everything changes.

If you think it does, I am happy to bet by the football playoffs Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice won't even register a blip and spousal abuse will go back into complacency, under the radar of the interest level of America, being of slightly less notable than the next Super Bowl Budweiser commercial.

 
In Defense of Ray Rice PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Thursday, 11 September 2014 00:00

Don't jump to conclusions: I do not think Ray Rice did nothing wrong.

The TMZ videos confirm he can be a brute.

But, as I was mostly appalled--along with the rest of the world I suppose--with Roger Goodell's initial penalty for the Running Back, I now think the world has gone overboard in trying to right some bad judgement from a path that was messed up from the start.

To be sure, Rice seriously clocked his now wife--Janay Palmer--and now we have a pretty good look at before and after.

There have been so many analysts spitting it out how men should never hit women, and I agree, although I kind of think women should never hit men, either. Hitting is not a good thing, no matter who does it, so while I understand that Janay might need a crow bar to return the favor to Ray, it is indeed the lashing out that needs addressing for it is the main behavior that needs modification.

I am, though, curious as to why everyone seems so shocked as to how visceral Ray's knockout punch really was?

I mean, we see him drag her, unconscious, out of the elevator, and even go back to pick up Janay's errant shoe. How did anyone think she got that way? A ruffie? Sodium Penethol?

Aside from the fact that there was a police investigation, and apparently Rice has been somewhat contrite about admitting he belted Janay, what did we think the blow would look like? Gentler?

Yet when the McGuffin-like imaginary punch turned into an actual video, suddenly the league and team were shocked and Rice lost his job and ability to play in the league.

He also lost his Nike contract, his likeness on the EA Madden football game, and god forbid, if you liked Ray and bought one of his jerseys, the Ravens will let you trade it in for another number.

Again, I am not so much defending Rice as suggesting he too has become a victim of a set of inadequate guidelines from the NFL and then the incredibly fickle judgments of the media and public.

So, think about this.

The incident was reported to the police. Rice was charged, and he has begun going to counselling with Palmer.

And, though I agree--as I wrote at the time--two games was an insignificant penalty relative to say Wes Welker losing four games for illegal self-medication.

But, the league had no rule for Rice, or for the other 75 players charged with spousal abuse since 2000, none of whom seemed to merit a mention save Jovan Belcher last year. But, it was only Belcher's sad actions after the arrest that caught our attention.

That incident did, however, offer Goodell and the owners an even more high profile opportunity to take a stand on spousal abuse--under far more dramatic circumstances--but, well, they all fumbled.

I do ask, as a matter of ethics, is what Rice did worse than what Josh Gordon did? How about Michael Vick?

What about the idea of double jeopardy (ok, so the NFL front office is not a court of law), and changing the punishment to Rice after the fact? Total bullshit, that is, and if you think not, imagine if you were arrested for spousal abuse where you work?

True, your employer might fire you, but more than likely, you would be required to seek help (which Rice is doing) and perhaps face some kind of disciplinary action at work.

For a first offense--of which this is Rice's, anywhere, it seems--that would pretty much be it. It isn't like after levying judgment, your employer or the court would say, "hey, what we sentenced you to was incorrect, we are going to change it to make us look better."

And what about it being Rice's first offense--not that the anger or frustration might not have been building for years, or even that he has lashed out before, and we didn't know about it--and giving people a second chance? Or, at least a chance to learn and redeem themselves?

Now, I am not saying Nike was wrong for terminating their contract. That is appropriate, but something the company should have done months ago, but really, taking him out of Madden football? How petty and punitive is that? Or, allowing fans to trade in their jerseys?

That is just mean-spirited at this point. Had the Ravens, like Nike, taken action right away stating that spousal abuse had no part in their organization, that might have seemed harsh, but for me I would have understood.

But now that the punch is public instead of just the aftermath of the holocaust, suddenly the NFL and Ravens have become holier than though.

If you asked me, suspending Rice for a year off the top, giving him that time to go to counselling and get his life together to go with a year's NFL suspension, seems appropriate. That strikes me as a business dealing directly with an employee who is facing a challenge, and even supportive of him or her.

But, now, after a first series of penalties, changing the parameters, and essentially casting both Rice and Palmer to the emotional wolves is beyond inappropriate and cruel. 

It is wrong.

 
The Groove of the Game PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Sunday, 07 September 2014 00:00

It's no secret that my favorite leagues are the two Strat-O-Matic contests in which I play.

Both my Strat Leagues are keepers. One, the MidWest Strat League, allows us to freeze up to 28 players from year-to-year, while the Summer League of Champions lets us retain ten players, but all are HOF'ers.

Both leagues are more than tough, each having 30 teams with 30 equally savvy owners. And, since both leagues have very strict usage rules--in the MW League you get the previous season plus 20% at your disposal, while in the SLOC, it is straight up whatever the card says at-bats or innings are--so having a roster of good players, plus a strong bench is critical.

Like playing in a deep fantasy contest, I really enjoy this kind of setup, where it becomes essential to have Chris Stewart (who is on my MWest team) or Carlos Hernandez (who is on my SLOC squad) in order to get through the season sans penalties.

For, that is so much more realistic than playing in a 12-team mixed league where Jason Castro or Mike Zunino could be floating along in the free agent pool.

That said, the SLOC league is pretty shallow, as my bench of Mickey Lolich, Bobby Murcer, Richard Hidalgo and Tim Salmon suggests.

For the first two-thirds of this season, Hidalgo and Salmon and Murcer have been pushing pine since my regular starting outfield has been Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonds and Mike Tiernan, a more than effective troika, with essentially plenty of plate appearances to simply trot out there every day.

Which is what I did over the first chunk of games, and over a spell where I wound up 16 games under .500.

So, looking at the roster, and my games ahead, I went more of a path of platooning, even placing the high OBP Salmon atop the order, sticking Hidalgo in the #2 slot when he started, and even moving Murcer to third (where he qualifies, per Strat rules) against right-handers, giving Bill Dahlen a day off.

Same with Lolich, who I had pegged as a fifth starter, and who in a league with Ed Delahanty, Cy Williams and Josh Gibson wound up being shredded to the tune of a 6.53 ERA. But, plopping Lolich into relief--both long and situational--has seemed to be a tonic as well.

Not that my SLOC team will make the playoffs, but over the past two months, we are a little over .500, and that is largely because Hidalgo, Hernandez and another sub, Nate Allen, have been red hot.

Same in the Midwest League, where I relied on an infield rooted in Jedd Gyorko, Brandon Crawford and Pablo Sandoval, with Eduardo Escobar in a utility role.

In that format, Escobar has been a revelation since I started playing him somewhat regularly, hitting close to .300, batting in front of another switchie, Sandoval, who are just dynamite at table setting.

This is not unlike Allen, and all three do have batting from both sides in common, something that seems to precipitate a bit of a hitting boost in Strat.

What is interesting is that statistically. and logically, my teams--any teams--should play their best by sticking the best eight position players out there every day.

Especially in a game like Strat, where the cards are based upon stats, and the dice are completely indifferent as to who is in the field and who is at bat, but as with baseball on the diamond, that is not necessarily so. Which is part of what makes baseball so intriguing to me.

What I have a tough time with, however, is remembering this, for the temptation to simply put my best eight out there every day is so great, yet it takes a losing streak and sticking an Escobar in the lineup for a few games to remember.

Despite my hardheadedness, it does come back to me, and I actually think having the tough usage rules also fosters the need to play those bench guys and actually see what they can do.

And that reminds me to use all my players from the start.

Too bad it does take 100 games for me to remember.

 
Two QB Too Many? PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 30 August 2014 01:39

There is something in general that is a little more laid back about fantasy football than fantasy baseball.

A lot of this is rooted in teams playing once a week rather than six, and there is also the principle of just drafting say 16 players instead of 30, and playing 11 instead of 23 on any given day.

I think there is also that angle that most of my football drafts--currently in process--are handled via e-mail, during the week, over several days, rather than over three-to-four intense hours sitting at a table trying to out-think a dozen guys.

For me, though, after a long haul of baseball, which pretty much starts in January, and pushes into November, the weekly transactions and games, leading up to a long and leisurely Sunday on the couch with the NFL, a fire, and a mound of wings is as relaxing and pleasurable as life can get.

Of course, during those Sundays there is the constant stat tracking among my five football leagues that goes with the channel surfing as I watch for signs of Cam Newton and Matt Ryan and Anquan Boldin, my favorite players.

The only problem I really have had with fantasy football is that though there certainly is skill involved in selecting and starting the right players, there is also so much more luck involved in the game.

Obviously, the chance for injury leads that list, but there is also the Zack Crockett factor, a stigma that harkens back to the Raiders days when Napoleon Kaufman would gain 1,000 yards each year, and be a fine player, but it was Crockett, so much bigger and more powerful, who was the guy punching the ball over the goal line.

The other thing that has bothered me about standard fantasy football dynamics is that the specific luck in most leagues is rooted in the Running Back.

Quarterbacks are important, as are Wide Receivers, and Tight Ends but most players in most leagues favor the numbers driven by RBs, and for me that tends to make the draft, the game, and the season more one-dimensional that baseball.

Hence two-QB leagues, of which I play in...two.

One, the Utter Genius League, is what is known as a "Super Flex" competition, where one can indeed play a second signal caller at an offensive Flex position.

The second, the long standing Kathy League Gifford, is not only a two-QB league, but one in which we added the wrinkle of playing three individual defensive players instead of a single defensive unit.

Needless to say, this league is my favorite, the hardest, and the most fun.

To start, just the fact that if we consider bye weeks, in a 12-team league, when you are obligated to start a pair of Quarterbacks each week, then there will be teams caught short as there simply are not enough starters at the position to go around.

And, since only one really plays for each team on any given week, obviously there is a shortage before we even go into the draft.

So, the question is how to balance a roster, and points, making sure you pick the perfect combo of receivers and linebackers and runners and throwers to simply field a full roster each week.

This all makes for a fun draft where there are crap shoot QBs selected in the late rounds, for we are allowed to freeze three players from the previous season, with draftees moving up three draft rounds each year. Meaning if you drafted Russell Wilson on a crap shoot in the 15th round in 2012, he would be a ninth rounder this year, and that is a real help.

This setup also makes for some really fun FAAB weeks, where shelling out $75 on the likes of Josh McCown is something that happens all through the season, and which generates some great bidding wars, coupled with an enormous amount of shame and second guessing (nothing like bidding that much on Charlie Batch, huh?).

Similarly, the rule works for some fun draft strategies as noted, though from start to finish.

In League Gifford, though, the fun does not stop there, as that use of an individual defensive player similarly is a game changer, for a sack and fumble recovery that result in a touchdown make the likes of Patrick Willis as valuable any given week as Pierre Garcon.

It does seem that over the course of each season, however, the two-QB rules always force talks for rule changes, because it can indeed be so frustrating to suffer with injured and/or ineffective QBs.

Or, worse, I can cite a couple of years back, when I decided to play it cautious, drafting Alex Smith and Eli Manning, figuring quiet, steady, and healthy was just fine.

And, both guys did indeed start out well, but by Week 7, Smith lost his job to Colin Kaepernick while Manning simply lost all of his skill set.

On the other hand, even with just one Quarterback, in League Gifford, if you can adjust around your remaining players and get good week out of your defensive players, your team can still put up some points.

Because, one other angle of the Gifford League is we are an "all play" configuration, meaning each week, each team's point total is matched up against the other 11 teams, something that mitigates a lot of the anguish of who gets lucky with the Crockett principle on any given Sunday.

So, while there are a lot of things to consider when both drafting, and even setting a roster in Gifford, all those wheels in motion make play so much more fun and challenging.

Which is great for me, as though I like to win, victory is never that satisfying to me if there is no effort expended.

 

 
Dealing With Cheaters PDF Print E-mail
Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Saturday, 23 August 2014 00:00

I have a hard time thinking in terms of cheating.

It isn't that I don't like to win, and truly, within the rules, I will do whatever I can to do just that.

But, I think of my league mates as just that--my mates--and betraying a friend just seems out of the question to me.

More so, though I do indeed like to win, were I to cheat and finish on top, irrespective of the suspicions of the rest of the league, or even the fantasy world, I would always know I didn't really win, and that would make the victory so hollow it was more than worthless.

I am also a pretty trusting soul, and naive in the sense that I just assume everyone else on the planet thinks this as well, but I am not so lost in it that when I find myself in the midst of a cheater, I am surprised, and yet not so surprised at the same time.

A case in point is the Summer League of Champions (SLOC) that I was invited into this past off-season.

SLOC is a 30-team league that allows a throw-back every three years of all players.

At the time of the throwback, there is a 300-player draft that allows each owner to create a core roster of ten out of the Strat-O-Matic HOF League.

Those players remain constants over the three years, and then to fill out our lineups, the league selects a season (right now it is 1996) from which we then draft our remaining 25 players.

That means I get to have Pop Lloyd, Ed Walsh and Barry and Bobby Bonds on my roster, and it is a fun league, but it is also very tough.

That is because I am playing against a bunch of experienced Strat players, who also know their history.

But, one particular team had a home record of 51-2 before Commissioner Larry Denicola locked the league. Since Larry enforced the lock, the team was 10-6, yet they also had a record of 15-54 on the road in the SLOC this season.

And that suggests something fishy.

It also suggests, to me, someone who wants to get caught, as it would not have been that hard for the owner to win say 65% of his games instead of a gaudy 90% margin.

The owner in question is in a couple of other leagues, and his home record in all three this year is an astounding 193-20 (.903 PCT), and that number sort of hearkens thoughts of the "Superman" movie with Christopher Reeve, when he laments to Earth father Glenn Ford that if he played football he could get a touchdown every play.

To me, even that cannot be any fun, for as frustrating as it is to have the bases loaded in a tight Strat game, with no one out, and not be able to bring in a run, it is equally satisfying to get that single just when the game is on the line, scoring what turns the outcome of the game.

It seems to me, then, when cheating, you simply don't get to experience those highs and lows that modify life itself, making the whole affair something not to bother with, in my meager opinion.

In other words, I would rather lose 90% of the time for real than win 90% of the time by cheating.

 
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