What a Messi made

Why Lionel Messi should thank Michael Phelps, and other ramblings about historical legacies.

It was a chance to stand beside, if not pass, his country’s greatest soccer star.  A rare moment, in his prime, when he could take full advantage of his singular talent.  A golden opportunity to enter the rarefied air of the consensus all-time greatest sporting legends.  Messi (with a massive assist from an excellent defense) made his Argentina squad relevant, at times impregnable, and nearly unbeaten at this World Cup.  But in the end, once the comfort of the group stages were behind him, he looked all too ordinary and could not quite inspire his countrymen to glory.  Even though he dazzled with his usual mesmerizing dribbles and pristine shots, and even though Argentina made it farther than most expected them to, and even though he was even awarded with the 2014 World Cup Golden Ball (best player) award, many will judge this World Cup as a detriment to Messi’s legacy rather than a benefit.  It’s illogical.  It’s not fair.  It’s also sure to happen.  Just look at his face below — despondent for his country’s loss, and surely aware of its ramifications for him as an individual.  Here’s why that’s a bunch of bull.

Lionel MessiPhoto credit: Clive Rose, Getty Images

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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

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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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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Get shorty

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As the NFL Scouting Combine gets underway this week, many eyes will be turning to standout Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.  Many of those eyes will not see anyone at first, and will peer left, then right, then squint forcefully, and will only notice Manziel after dropping their chins and their gazes downward toward the Indianapolis turf.  He is, after all, a “short” quarterback, or so the media would have us believe.  Out of all the variables used to judge quarterbacks, height is the only one that cannot be controlled or managed.  What effect does it really have on a quarterback’s success?

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Sir names

A couple years after the historic 2003 NBA draft, I remember thinking it was odd that the three marquee talents from the draft all had common first names as their last names.  LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade.  They had joined other more established stars with the same attribute, namely Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Ray Allen.  That’s mildly interesting, I thought.

It may have been when Brandon Roy of the Portland Trailblazers was establishing himself as a top 10 player – 2009 or so, when he made the All-NBA Second Team – when the trend crossed my mind again.  Brandon Roy was making waves.  Dwight Howard was already the best center in the league.  Chris Paul was probably the best point guard in the league.  James, Bryant, Duncan, Anthony, Wade, and Allen were still at the top of their games.  It was officially a strange trend among NBA stars.

And now it is 2014.  Continue reading