Real Life Sports Movie: The 2014 Kansas City Royals

Everyone has their favorite comedies.  Mine happens to be an energetic and formulaic (but surprisingly smart) screwball1 comedy from 1989.  Major League, for the unfortunate few who have not seen it, is the story of a ragtag bunch of baseball players who are thrown together by malevolent Cleveland Indians owner Rachel Phelps with the intention that they will lose enough games to make attendance fall low enough that she can justify moving the team to Miami.  For various reasons, and by way of various dynamic personalities, the team improbably begins to win in spite of (and in order to spite) Ms. Phelps.  The flick culminates with a wild win-or-go-home game against the hated Yankees that involves, in no particular order, an infidelity ruse, a voodoo idol, and a sacrificial bucket of chicken.

One of the unspoken reasons that many comedies, including Major League, are so engaging is that they are not bound by realism or probability in the same way that our lives are.  In other words, Major League neither would nor could ever happen in real life.  Except…it very nearly did.

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Tulo

Recently, balls have been flying around and out of Coors Field like the cards at the end of a Solitaire game.

One big reason is that the best player in baseball (no, not Mike Trout), has been unleashing hell all spring.  That player is an unstoppable force of Polish descent at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.  Troy Tulowitzki, the Colorado Rockies’ “large” shortstop in the grand tradition of his idol Derek Jeter and Cal Ripken, has quietly been putting together one of the greatest starts in decades.  And although the Rockies don’t tend to get much press on the coasts, it has become impossible to ignore the greatest shortstop of his generation.  At least, while he stays healthy.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Colorado RockiesPhoto credit:  USATSI

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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.

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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

The Three Oscars

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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

Scale the ladder

As baseball spring training gets underway, the heated rivalry between 22 year old phenom Mike Trout and reigning MVP Miguel Cabrera will skate front and center once again.  Each fan’s preference for one or the other generally comes down to new school versus old school arguments, such as advanced metrics (which rate Trout as a much better all-around player than Cabrera) versus the traditional Triple Crown statistical categories (which rate Cabrera as the superior offensive force).  Much ink has been spilled on the subject, and this season will likely keep the trend going.  This post is no attempt to re-hash that debate, but rather to appreciate Trout in a much more important historical context.  Everyone knows that he has made his historical mark in just two seasons, but where does he rank on the all-time MLB fish rankings?

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Controlling the narrative

Two all time greats.  Each made a similar announcement within a day of one another.  First, on February 12, the all-time Yankees hits leader, modern baseball legend, and gift basket enthusiast Derek Jeter told his fans via Facebook that 2014 would be his final season playing baseball.  The following night, probably the greatest male figure skater of all time, Evgeni Plushenko, withdrew from the male short program event in front of his home crowd in Sochi due to a back injury, and announced his retirement shortly thereafter… Continue reading