Ok, this is about what to watch during the baseball off-season, but we’ve got a few housekeeping points before we start.
First: the final standings for our Playoff Pool:
10. My Mom (1 for 7)
9. Michael (3 for 7)
8. Tim (3 for 7, 1 correct World Series team)
7. Kate, the long-suffering Girlfriend (4 for 7, 1 WS team)
6. Jeff (4 for 7, 1 WS team, correct length of WS)
5. Ben (4 for 7, 1 WS team, correct NLCS MVP)
4. My Dad (4 for 7, Correct WS winner)
3. Paul (4 for 7, correct WS winner and length of WS)
2. Blockie, Friend of the Blog and Sometime Fantasy Sports Antagonist (5 for 7)
and our winner, because even though I took her picks and not Paul, I’m still going to blame him for rigging the contest in favor of his woman-friend, with a perfect postseason….after the jump….
1. Ashley (7 for 7, correct WS winner)
There was talk, when we thought Blockie, Friend of the Blog and Sometime Fantasy Sports Antagonist, was going to win it, of granting a guest post to the winner. Now that a Yankee fan won, we’ll have to talk it over. Nevertheless, congratulations to Ashley, and I swear I’ll do better next time.
Next, this talk about Cole Hamels replacing Kyle Drabek in a potential Halladay trade needs to stop. I’m as big a Halladay fan as anyone. The angriest I ever got during last season was when I heard we traded for Cliff Lee instead, and that seemed to work out pretty well. I have never eaten so much crow in my life.
But to give up Hamels for Halladay is lunacy. LUNACY. Not only is Hamels just entering his prime and Halladay about to leave it, which is LUNACY, Halladay is more expensive than Hamels. Hamels has just had a bad (read: extremely unlucky) season, which means his value will never be lower than it is now. It would be LUNACY to trade him. Trading for Halladay now gets you only a year of the sinkerballing Mormon’s services, instead of a year and a half, plus an extra playoff run. If Drabek, Gose, Brown, and Happ was too much to give up last July, then Hamels, Gose, Brown, and Happ is FAR TOO MUCH to give up now. Giving up more to get less? LUNACY. What’s more, without Lee, it was more necessary to get that big-name No. 1 starter. Now that we’ve got Lee (and I see Hamels bouncing back next season), there’s no need to get Halladay, much as I’d like to have him.
Listen, I think that a large part of Hamels’ drop-off last year was bad luck. His BABIP jumped up by about Eric Bruntlett’s batting average between 2008 and 2009, which will screw with any pitcher. But not only was Hamels unlucky, but he was, for the first time in his life, under a national microscope. More than that, he’s 25, had a pregnant wife all season, became a father during the first round of the playoffs, dealing with serious season-long adversity for the first time in his charmed career. I think that in addition to being unlucky, his mind was ANYWHERE else but in the ballpark, and rightly so.
What makes me think that Hamels’ travails were due to something else in addition to a high BABIP is Game 3 of the World Series. Pitching with a 3-0 lead, Hamels is mowing down batters. He looked like Lefty Grove through three and change, but he gives up a cheap homer to A-Rod. Now, 2008 Cole Hamels was good for at least one cheap homer a game, but it was usually a solo shot or with only one guy on, and he’d get the ball back, shake it off, and get on with his life. This year’s version of Cole Hamels went to pieces when things started to go bad. I think he knows this, and will come back next year with renewed focus and something to prove. To run him out of town would be LUNACY, but I worry, because Philadelphia sports fans are famous for being lunatics.
So, we’ve got a pitcher primed for a bounceback year at age 26 versus a 33-year-old. And the younger pitcher is under team control for 2 more years, with the older pitcher only under team control for 1 for more money. To trade Hamels for Halladay straight-up would be LUNACY! To throw in 3 of your best prospects with him would be LUNACY beyond comprehension. LUNACY I tell you!
Ok. Now that I’ve got that out of my system, I’ve found a void in my sports-following life. Now, the baseball off-season is realtively interesting, with the NFL Draft being the only comparable offseason entertainment. But still, it doesn’t compare to being able to watch your team every night. So what should you follow instead?
Well, here are my two choices:
- First, like baseball, it’s very globalized and cerebral. It rewards smart managers and smart players.
- Also, like baseball and unlike any other team sport in the world except college football, it has existed in its current from for 100 years. The result is a rivalry culture unlike anything you’ve ever seen. If you think Red Sox-Yankees or Michigan-Ohio State are bad (and they are, in a sort of naive, American Exceptionalist kind of way), Google “Old Firm Derby.” Celtic-Rangers, the rivalry between the two biggest clubs in Glasgow, Scotland, has more in common with the Yugoslavian Civil War than it does Red Sox-Yankees.
- It takes forever to develop, so you have a chance to think about what comes next, unlike in ice hockey and basketball, where everything goes by in the blink of an eye.
- It’s low-scoring, like baseball, so each score takes on added significance.
- Something I never thought about until Bill Simmons brought it up recently: it only takes 2 hours for a game. You know what kind of a time investment you’re going to make, unlike baseball, or even the three major American timed sports, where you could be around forever.
- It’s commented on and announced by people with British accents. I’ve found that a snarky and clever Briton’s voice makes just about anything more interesting. Plus, European announcers seem to have much more felicity in their prose and are much more prone to hyperbole and metaphor than are their American counterparts. Football announcers are more likely to be total meatheads, using nothing but shouting and normative language to make their points. It’s tiresome.
- This is the biggest reason: the World Cup is next summer. Every four years, American sports fans pretend to fall in love with soccer for three weeks and start copycatting everything that John Harkes says on ESPN. Well, if you start watching now, you can say things like “Yoann Gourcuff is the most underrated player in the world” or “Maradona’s refusal to play Gonzalo Higuain is going to cost Argentina a shot at the title” and people will think you know your stuff. You just need to learn half a dozen players’ names (other than David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Landon Donovan) and you’ll look like an expert. Also, this World Cup, God willing, will not subject us to Cristiano Ronadlo and his combination of being annoyingly homoerotic as well as head and shoulders above any other player in the world. We’ll know the World cup field in toto by this time a week from now, so it’s time to start on your homework.
- You get to say names like “Yoann Gourcuff” and “Gonzalo Higuain.” My personal favorite is Chelsea and Russia midfielder “Yuri Zhirkov.”
- Once the World Cup rolls around, the best international rivalries (USA-Mexico, England-Argentina, Germany-Netherlands) aren’t precipitated by anything as petty as the Babe Ruth trade. They trace their roots back to war.
- Paul has decided to start following soccer. Unfortunately, his recently selected club (Sunderland AFC of Newcastle, England) is going to get its teeth kicked in in its next match (home against my Arsenal team).
- The history argument, as iterated in the soccer section.
- The average NCAA football game is about half an hour longer than an NFL game (don’t quote me on that, it’s not an exact figure), which means you can fit about 2 1/2 more beers into a game in college than in the pros.
- It’s not as soulless and predictable as the NFL. Teams have personalities: the decidedly un-Christian TCU, the insufferably arrogant Florida, the lunch-pail Virginia Tech. NFL teams look like clones in comparison.
- You get to bitch about the BCS, which is always fun.
- The option. I love the option.
- There are only two NFL games on at any given time. Without a satellite dish, you get at most 6 NFL games a week, 3 or 4 of which will either suck or involve the Steelers. College football, with only basic cable, gets you aobut 10 games on Saturday alone, with other games littered around during the week. For a weekly game, it sure is on TV a lot. And that’s not even counting the games you get on ESPN360.com streaming live for free. You ought to be able to find at least one decent game.
So that’s just my own bias. I’m sort of tired of the NFL and its predictability. While I love playoff NBA and college basketball, it just seems pointless until March. And I’ve been away from the NHL so long, what with the lockout and my being in the South without Versus for four years, that I still turn on Flyers games and wonder when Chris Pronger (possibly my favorite hockey player ever) left the Hartford Whalers. But I know I need to watch something until pitchers and catchers report in February, and when in need of a fix, soccer and college football, in addition to being the two sports I covered in college, fit me best. I hope you’ll give them a shot.