Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Football Fantasy: Broken Hip

College League: Squid loses, 74.27-64.48 (3-9 overall)
Vermont League: Squid loses, 69.50-61.18 (6-6)
My MVP: Miles Austin (Wide Receiver, Cowboys) with 1 rushing attempt for 60 yards and 1 touchdown, 3 receptions for 25 yards and 1 solo tackle

Photo via NFL Spin Zone

It feels wrong to pity myself over Frank Gore's broken hip. The 49er running back is, no doubt, in great pain and is probably far more disappointed than I that his season is over. But the fact of the matter is that victory was within my grasp in both leagues. In fact, if you add his points for the game to those of his replacement, Brian Westbrook (not really fair, I know), I'd have won in both. Oh well.

The situation is pretty dire in the college league. Even with two games left on our schedule, the best I can finish is 9th out of 12. I might be able to salvage some pride in the consolation playoffs but that's it.

In the Vermont league, it's pretty simple: I have to win this week and the guy currently in 6th place has to lose. I could potentially finish in a three-way tie for fifth with a win but both of the other two guys have a lot more overall points than I do. So, here's hoping!

It was another good game for Austin, despite the Cowboys' loss - just the way I like it.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sports Flicks: Baseball

Inspired by Mock's recent comment, I finally finished Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns last night. I first started watching a couple summers ago, checking the DVDs out of the public library. The Tenth Inning is currently saved on the DVR list but I haven't watched yet.

Image via Sittin' in the Catbird Seat

The epic documentary is masterful, per usual for Mr. Burns. A lot of the stories presented are well-known to even the casual fan but plenty are not. Personally, I am particularly intrigued by both the 19th century game and the Negro Leagues. The highlight of the series, for me, was the Jackie Robinson story. I also really enjoyed The Eighth Inning which covers the '60s. Any montage featuring both Jimi Hendrix and Sandy Koufax is alright by me.

Photo via World Changers

As it turns out, there was never really a pure game. In the midst of our current grumblings over steroids and 10-figure salaries, there seems a yearning for the good old days. But there were always problems in big league ball: violence, cheating, gambling, racism, exploitation, drugs, alcohol, you name it. The game was never free of sin and likely never will be. There have been eras when the powers within baseball were better at sweeping the problems under the rug but they were still there.

Baseball is difficult to watch as an Orioles fan. The features on Earl Weaver, Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson serve to remind that my team was, for a decent period, the greatest franchise in the game. The story of the 1979 World Series is particularly bittersweet now as both participants - Orioles and Pirates - have since endured so many terrible seasons. I do realize my troubles are nothing compared to the frustrations of Cubs or Indians fans. The cycle of success and failure is part of the game, too, I suppose.

Photo via Baltimore Orioles

Ken Burns has reassured me about the current balance of power in baseball. He reminded me that between 1978 and 1987, ten different teams won the World Series over ten years (Yankees, Pirates, Phillies, Dodgers, Cardinals, Orioles, Tigers, Royals, Mets, Twins): the longest such streak in the game. We have actually had six different champs over the past six years (White Sox, Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Yankees, Giants) - not too bad. In fact, nine different teams have won over the past eleven seasons. Perhaps there is greater parity than I have realized.

Despite all of the myriad problems over the decades, baseball has ample fuel for its great pride. Ken Burns has done a great service to the game with his film chronicle. I look forward to watching the next installment.

Friday, November 26, 2010

On the Coffee Table: Peter L. Dixon

I just finished The Olympian, a novel by Peter L. Dixon. The book chronicles the adventures of Winter Wolf, a fictional Olympic swimmer at the 1932 Games in Los Angeles. His event, the 1,000 meter freestyle, was the author's invention as well, though there are many real-life characters who make cameos: William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies and Johnny Weissmuller, among others.

Swimming is really only a small part of the book. In essence, the narrative is a whirlwind tour of 1930s coastal California. It is a fun read, but I have to say that character development is rather clunky. Dixon is at his best when writing about the water, not surprising from a man who has written highly-acclaimed non-fiction books about surfing. His love for the ocean is abundantly clear and the elegance with which he writes about boating, diving, swimming and lifeguarding stands in contrast with the otherwise obvious narrative. His characters are like-able, but not particularly nuanced, nor are the relationships between them.

Here's one for Mock: one of the real-life cameos is Buster Crabbe, a genuine '32 Olympic gold medalist. In his Hollywood career that followed, he is the only actor to have played Tarzan, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, the top three comic book characters of the 1930s, according to Wikipedia.

Photo via Michael May's Adventureblog

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Let's Talk Baseball: End-of-the-Year Awards

The Josh Hamilton story just got a little better today as he won the American League MVP award for 2010. He was also, apparently, a candidate for Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. (It's going to be Phil Jackson. You heard it here first.) Hamilton was my MVP for my fantasy team so I am very pleased.

Photo via jeffpearlman.com

Hamilton was one of three of my fantasy stalwarts to win Silver Sluggers awards. Ryan Zimmerman (3B, Nationals) and Brian McCann (C, Braves) were also honored with that distinction.

Zimmerman photo via Midwest Sports Fans

McCann photo via Ghost of Moonlight Graham

Heath Bell (Padres), another of my guys, was awarded Delivery of the Year as the top relief pitcher.

Photo via Cubbies Crib

My Football Fantasy: The Stampede

College League: Squid loses, 82.45-60.99 (3-8 overall)
Vermont League: Squid loses, 95.54-88.62 (6-5)
My MVP: Matt Ryan (Quarterback, Falcons) with 253 yards passing, 2 passing touchdown, 1 two-point conversion and 8 yards rushing

Photo via birdsfan.com

Completely out of the blue, I was overrun by the Buffalo Bills this week. I was confident of a win against fellow blogger Marc (Marc Whitman's Blog) but he had two Bills on his roster who both had very good games against the Bengals. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had 316 yards passing, 4 passing touchdowns, 2 interceptions and 11 yards rushing. 3 of his 4 touchdown passes went to wide receiver Steve Johnson who accounted for 137 total receiving yards.

We're hitting the regular season home stretch. It's nearly curtains for me in the college league. I'm three games out of the playoffs with three more to play. The situation is much happier in the Vermont league. I am still in sixth place and, despite my loss, made up some ground on points against the fifth place team. As the race tightens, I'm starting to pay more attention to what's going on in the other matchups. Mock clinched a playoff spot this week. So did my dear college friends who were our last-minute twelfth member in both leagues. I shall call them the Breeders as they just had their third baby daughter this fall.

As disappointing as the week was, I sure can't complain about my starting quarterback in the Vermont league. It was another great week for Matt Ryan.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Commissioner

As previously written, I serve as commissioner for my Vermont-based fantasy football league and was also commissioner for the group's baseball league this summer. It is a role I take very seriously. I humbly offer a few thoughts on what I feel are important considerations for an effective commissioner. I hope any readers might share their own thoughts in the comments section.

1. A commissioner must be fair. This is, of course, obvious. But it's not always easy. First of all, as a playing member of the league, you must consider all league members as equal partners, self included. All rules and decision must affect everyone equally.

2. A commissioner should open the league as early as possible. From now on, I intend to open leagues as soon as they become available on Yahoo, even if it means ultimately passing on the commissionership (-hood? -ness?) to someone else. Starting early affords plenty of time to invite players and change league parameters as needed.

3. A commissioner should have a process for rule changes once the league is opened. Parameters must be set as soon as the league is launched. Site default settings or rules from previous seasons would be the obvious place to start. However, that is not to say that all is then set in stone. But you also can't go making changes every time someone complains. Otherwise, you'll go crazy and, more importantly, risk being unfair. I figure if two people make the same suggestion, or one expresses agreement with the suggestion of another, it amounts to a motion and a second. Then you can safely put the matter to a vote and majority rules. Some things cannot be changed once the season starts but one should bear in mind such changes for future seasons.

4. A commissioner should hold a postmortem towards but not after the end of the season (which I suppose technically makes it a quasimortem). A league is its own focus group and I think it's important to sound everyone out on what went well and what needs fixing in order to plan for future seasons. You should do it while people are still checking the league site regularly and before they get on with their lives once the season's over. In this case, I'm not sure majority rule is the best way to go. Over the long-term, not all votes are equal. Keeping the regulars happy takes precedence. With Mock's leagues, for instance, he and his cousins are the most important voters.


That's all I've got so far. I may add others in time. Again, please don't be shy with suggestions.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Football Fantasy: Friendly Fire

College League: Squid loses, 71.60-65.48 (3-7 overall record)
Vermont League: Squid wins, 109.44-105.84 (6-4)
My MVP: Matt Ryan (Quarterback, Falcons) with 316 passing yards, 1 passing touchdown and 5 rushing yards

Photo via BC's View from the Cheap Seats

Both of my Week 10 opponents are highly important people in my life. Mock, my opponent in the Vermont league, is my valued friend, colleague and fellow blogger (Stay on target...). We shall call my college league opponent The Best Man as he performed that role in our wedding. My Wife and I each had a best man and a maid of honor. The Best Man was hers. In fact, I would never have met My Wife if he hadn't been friends with her first.

Once again, the scores were close in both leagues with everything coming down to Monday night. I had no one left in the college league whereas The Best Man had Ryan Torain (RB) and London Fletcher (LB) - two Redskins. Torain was a non-factor but Fletcher was a beast: 9 solo tackles plus 4 assisted tackles, more than enough to cement The Best Man's victory.

Mock may take a while to forgive me for my late comeback in our matchup. I was nine points behind heading into Monday night. I had LeSean McCoy (RB, Eagles). He had Santana Moss (WR, Redskins). As you may have heard, Eagles QB Michael Vick had the game of his life and McCoy was one of many fantasy beneficiaries. Moss? Not so much. Squid wins.

My week started off quite well in the Vermont league with Matt Ryan's performance on Thursday. I'd completely forgotten that there was a Thursday night game (it feels like there are more every year) and that I had my starting quarterback going. He had the best game of his young career, taking down the mighty Ravens and cementing Atlanta's place atop the current NFC standings. Matt Ryan is credited on Wikipedia with creating the game folleyball for NFL Play 60.

My record in the college league now stands at 3-7. Last week's loss became a win after the stats were adjusted for the week - lucky me! I am still two games out of the playoffs and still have a chance at a .500 regular season record, but no better. My situation in the Vermont league is much better. I am now in playoff position and I'm very happy with the current state of my team. 109 points is a great weekly score, win or lose.

As discussed previously, fantasy sports can play wicked games with your rooting interests. All else being equal, the Redskins are my favorite NFL team and the Eagles are one of their most bitter rivals. But it was hard not to root for Philadelphia last night. The writing was on the wall early in the college league so I didn't have much of a chance to root against London Fletcher. And really, how can you root against any middle linebacker: among the more thankless yet vital positions in football? But I really wanted a big game from McCoy (nothing personal, Mock) and it's difficult to root for a lead running back and not for his team.

And so, it appears that I care more about my fantasy team than I do about the Skins. I'm only a little surprised by this revelation. After all, I've suspected all along that I prefer fantasy football to the real thing. Not so with baseball, I found this summer. However, I might feel differently in a head-to-head baseball league. I'll find out next year.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My Football Fantasy: The Mike Williams Society

College League: Squid loses, 66.20-64.46 (2-7 overall record)
Vermont League: Squid wins, 73.50-71.66 (5-4)
My MVP: Mike Williams (Wide Receiver, Buccaneers) with 89 receiving yards and 1 touchdown

Photo via Hawk Fantasy Sports

Things are definitely heading in opposite directions for me in my two leagues. I'm still in seventh place in the Vermont league, only points behind the sixth team for the last playoff spot. In the college league, I can now only manage a .500 record at best for the season. It could happen.

Squeakers in both leagues for me this week. In both cases, it came down to Monday night, my having a slight lead with no players left. Both of my opponents had one Steeler to play: Hines Ward (WR) in the college league, Heath Miller (TE) in the Vermont league. Neither had a great game but Ward scored a touchdown which was enough to ensure my opponent the win.

I have two wide receivers named Mike Williams on my Vermont roster. The other plays for Seattle but I didn't start him this week. The Tampa Bay Williams is a rookie making a pretty decent splash in his first year.

Monday, November 8, 2010

On the Coffee Table: Doris Kearns Goodwin

Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir by Doris Kearns Goodwin is the celebrated historian's account of suburban life in the 1950s. The title comes from the motto of the baseball team she grew up with: the Brooklyn Dodgers. She does a very nice job of interweaving the story of the team with the story of her own coming of age.

Photo via Taki's Magazine

It's dangerous to call anything unique. As soon as you find something similar, uniqueness is lost. But I think it's fair to say the experience of Dodger fans of the '40s and '50s is unique in American sports. They witnessed the arrival of Jackie Robinson in 1947, perhaps the greatest of all sports stories of the 20th century. They were on the losing end of baseball's most famous home run: Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World" in 1951. They won the World Series after decades of disappointment in 1955. Finally, they were on the business end of perhaps sports' greatest heartbreak when the beloved team left town for Southern California in 1957, robbing the borough of its only major professional sports franchise. Predictably, Goodwin's retelling of the team's story is expertly conveyed.

Photo via Baseball Forum

And yet, baseball is but a single thread in the book's fabric. Goodwin's portrayal of life in the '50s goes far beyond the love of her favorite team. As readers, we are welcomed into her family's home. We wander her neighborhood, meet her friends and visit the butcher shop. We follow her to her first confession and grow to admire her favorite teachers. We join in her outrage over McCarthyism. In short, it is a warm and intimate account of growing up during interesting times.

Goodwin is a serious person. She has written eloquently on serious matters. And yet, she reminds us that even in the midst of our personal struggles and the grander sweep of political history, our passions are important. For her, the love of a baseball team links her to the stories of her childhood just as surely as the teams I followed in my youth link me to mine. Sports are part of our mythology as a society. While the score of last night's game is not as important as the latest unemployment numbers, it is still important in its way.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My Football Fantasy: A Double-Edged Sword

College League: Squid loses, 93.71-75.76 (2-6 overall record)
Vermont League: Squid wins, 83.70-78.52 (4-4)
My MVP: Larry Fitzgerald (Wide Receiver, Cardinals) with 72 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns

Photo via NFL Gridiron Gab

Obviously, I'm much happier with the way things are going in the Vermont league than in the college one. If the trend continues, I'll need to give a lot of thought to how I've managed things differently in the two leagues. There haven't been a lot of differences, but enough to warrant consideration. In the Vermont league, I'm currently in 7th place, just under 21 points behind the 6th place team for the final playoff spot. In the college league, I'm still 2 games out of the playoffs.

Fitzgerald was a double-edged sword for me this week. I had him in the Vermont league but my opponent had him in the college league. Plus, in the college league, he gets credit for his tackle. It's been a turbulent year for the Cardinal offense with their quarterback situation but Fitzgerald's big game this week reminds me why I drafted him.

November Baseball: Happy for the Giants

As much as I would have preferred the Rangers to win, I can't deny that it's pretty exciting for a team to win its first World Series in 56 years. 5 games is pretty decisive, too. The Gaints are certainly worthy champions.

Bold Proposal

We had just one day of November baseball and, fortunately, it was in a southern climate. November baseball would still exist in my bold proposal universe but with a twist. The major league title would be just the beginning for the Giants. From here, we would move on to a real World Series, a tournament to include not only the United States/Canada champion but also the champions from other great baseball nations: Cuba (Industriales are this year's champion), Japan (Japan Series currently being contested by the Chunichi Dragons and Chiba Lotte Marines), South Korea (SK Wyverns), etc. The teams could gather in one city with a domed stadium (Tokyo, New Orleans) or a balmy November climate (suddenly, no NFL teams in LA becomes an advantage) and play a round-robin tournament to determine a true world champion.

Checking in with the Orioles

The next adventure on the baseball calendar is free agent signings. The conventional wisdom with the Birds is that they need a veteran pitcher to mentor their young staff and a power hitter or two for the 3- and/or 4-spots in the lineup. Here are The Baltimore Sun's thoughts on the best targets for the O's.