Cutting a handsome figure: Sports team skylines

HongKong from above

Every city has a feel to it. Ah yes, the fountains of Rome, the smog monsters of Beijing, and the Ian Zeiring Chippendales posters of Vegas.1

Walking the streets of a city is the best way to get a sense of its ambiance — a person strolling through New Orleans’ French Quarter would never mistake their surroundings for the streets of Cairo.  But every city also has a larger visual identity, and a city’s skyline is the best way to get a sense of this broad aesthetic character.  Think of it as the shadow that each city casts on the wall while it awkwardly dances in candlelight in an 80’s teen movie.  The silhouette created by a city is partially determined by population and wealth and development prospects, of course, but it also reflects the image that the city wants to present.  The steady low rooftops of Washington, D.C., broken only by historical monuments and colossal political egos, cut a very different figure and send a very different message than the contempo towers of the Frankfurt skyline, which advertise the city’s status as one of Europe’s leading centers of finance and cocaine.

Likewise, every sports franchise has a history.  Some teams have short and forgettable histories, like the Charlotte Bobcats, who will be soon changing their name to the Hornets to begin that forgetting process as soon as possible.  Some have long and storied histories, like Real Madrid and the New York Yankees.  If you plotted a team’s success and identity over time, what would it look like? Continue reading


The Miggy bank

Two hundred and ninety two million dollars.  Of the U.S., not Monopoly, variety.  With that kind of money flying around, you’d think we were talking about a tech company going public, or, gasp, a re-election campaign of a junior senator.  To be sure, Miguel Cabrera’s new 10 year $292 million contract (technically a contract extension) with the Detroit Tigers has certainly made his piggy bank as fat as, well, a pig.


So is he worth it?

What does “worth it” even mean in professional baseball?  The modern era of bloated contracts and, seemingly, zero consequences for massive overbuys, is still so new that we probably don’t know yet.  Everyone knows that athlete compensation has ballooned in the modern era.  Hell, I’ve gotten so used to it that I don’t even bat an eye at nine figure deals these days.  But the colossal Miggy contract, which is the biggest in the history of professional sports, got me wondering about just how recent this phenomenon is, and whether baseball is as far ahead of the pack as it seems.

Let’s start here: the ten priciest sports contracts ever have all been in baseball.  Amazingly, 23 of the 25 priciest sports contracts ever have been in baseball.  The only exceptions have been champion boxer Floyd Mayweather and his ongoing deal with Showtime ($180+ million), and Formula One and World Rally Championship driver Kimi Raikkonen ($153 million from 2007-09).  The rest are baseball players.  That is amazing enough, but doesn’t alone come close to capturing the recent deluge of cheddar spewing forth from MLB checkbooks.  People have griped about the salaries of sports stars for generations now, but the real explosion has been more recent than most people think, and the degree to which baseball has dominated this domain, particularly at the high end of the spectrum, is sure to surprise some folks. Continue reading

March Madness: The American Way

The NCAA Tournament is the most American of all sports institutions.  Yes, even more than NASCAR.


Here in the U.S. of A., we are often very results oriented.  The process that leads to those results often gets forgotten or lost in the shuffle, or even disregarded in some systemic way.  For example, our presidential elections are decided by an abstruse system that officially turns a blind eye to a candidate who wins the popular vote if he or she loses the electoral college.  There’s a system in place that is used to determine a winner, and if someone else believes that it would have been more “fair” to crown a different winner, the system pays no mind to such beliefs.  This idea is never more true than in our sports leagues.

We are a playoffs country.  Continue reading

What happened to the MOP?

For many decades, the “Most Outstanding Player” trophy of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament went to a signature star, year after year, many (or even most) of whom went on to have Hall of Fame NBA careers and become all-time legends.  The more recent winners have been… let’s just say less memorable.  Why might that be?

North Carolina Tar Heels v Illinois Fighting Illini

I’m sure you’re thinking that the duration of college athlete careers is the cause.  While the greats of yesteryear commonly stuck around for all four years of college ball, the “one-and-done” freshman stars of today’s game are the rule rather than the exception (at least among top talents).  However, I’m convinced that is far from the only reason for the decline of the MOP trophy, and I’m fairly confident it’s not even the biggest reason.

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Un-mending fences

How to succeed in causing a media firestorm without really trying.

Running back Rashard Mendenhall shocked the sports world by retiring at the ripe age of 26.  Mendenhall was drafted in the first round out of the University of Illinois in 2008, and after taking the reins from Willie Parker, he enjoyed three prime years on the Pittsburgh Steelers, topping 1,000 yards twice and appearing in two Super Bowls (winning one), and has now hung it up after one season with the Arizona Cardinals.


It is rare to see a well-known athlete pull a Ricky Williams and retire in what is normally one’s athletic prime.  Mendenhall apparently was a bit surprised at the shock that his announcement has engendered, and so he took to his blog at the Huffington Post to explain the decision as he sees it:  Link to article at Huffington Post.  What is most interesting is how this decision will shape his legacy perhaps more than anything he did on the field.

Now what good would this blog be if we took all of his musings at face value?

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Mortem Post: Champ Bailey

A post mortem on Champ Bailey.  No, he isn’t retiring, and no, he isn’t dead.  The news that the Broncos are releasing him, however, does feel like an ending of sorts, and it’s high time to celebrate his career.


I remember watching my beloved Broncos about a decade ago, not long after we shipped star running back Clinton Portis off to Washington for star cornerback Champ Bailey.1  I had been aware of his talent during his college career, and I knew he had already made several Pro Bowls, but I didn’t have a feel for him.  Lo and behold, it didn’t take long for him to make an impact, as he plucked an errant Trent Green pass in his first game as a Bronco.  That play, along with his swagger and his reputation, caused him to instantly become my favorite player.  (Admittedly, there was a gaping void in that particular category in the post-Elway and Terrell Davis years).

His signature moment for me came either that year or the next.  I don’t remember the specific game or opponent, but I have a perfect image of the play in my mind.  Continue reading

The Three Oscars


The acceptance speeches from last night’s show are finally over, and Matthew McConaughey is surely still elbow deep in champagne.  Every year, the Oscars are a breeding ground for judgments to be cast from every direction, focusing on the movies themselves to the red carpet cameos to the host’s good-natured barbs.  The affair pulsates with arguments about overratedness and underratedness — who should have won, who lobbied the hardest for an undeserved award, and who was belatedly gilded for unrelated performances in decades past.  It turns out Oscar is an important name in the sports world as well, and has produced several of the most wildly underrated and misjudged athletes of all time.  It is worth telling the story of three notables in particular, each an all-time great in his sport and each in need of a bit of clarification:  Oscar Charleston, Oscar Robertson, and Oscar De La Hoya.  Continue reading

Air Ball

Open air hockey.  It’s a good thing.

Pond hockey, obviously, has been a tradition for generations.  Long before there were legitimate organized hockey leagues (we’re talking deep into the 1800’s), all hockey was outdoors.  The game was slowly moved indoors, and it became the norm.  Although there were occasional exhibition and college games played outside over the years, the first outdoor NHL game that actually counted was played in 2003 in Edmonton, wherein the Canadiens bested the Oilers.  The NHL instituted its “Winter Classic” series five years later, and since then, occasional outdoor games have been a popular fixture.  The same is true across central and northern Europe.  Outdoor pro hockey was good in “Mystery, Alaska” and, as it turns out, it is good in real life too.  Tonight’s Blackhawks versus Penguins game at Soldier Field has had its crowds thinned by frigid temperatures and inclement weather, but it maintains the trademark charm of outdoor hockey.

There is one other major American sport that has a robust outdoor history but is also played indoors.  So why haven’t we seen the NBA show any love for open air basketball?


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