NCAA and Baseball Culture- Sunday Ramblings for March 31, 2013-

NCAA: I just watched the Michigan Wolverines demolish Florida to get to the Final Four. We all know what Final Four that is as this is NCAA Tournament time and all eyes, well at least mine, are on every game available. This is true even when my wife schedules dinner with friends during the Ohio State game against Wichita State. my friend Tom Hull and I were sitting opposite each other thinking about the game and I pulled out my Galaxy Cell phone and liking to March Madness and we were then watching the game, although only exciting as Ohio State came to life near the end. My wife read to me this morning a Times column on ‘Digital Etiquette’ especially the part about never putting a device on the table, but you can’t read the score if it’s in your pocket.

The game was to determine which team would move to the Final Four. I saw a very interesting article on Brackets those branching diagrams of proposed winners and finally, after seventy two teams have been whittled to two, a championship game on April 8. it seems that 8,150,000 Brackets were submitted to someone like ESPN, however, before yesterdays games, only 19 remained unblemished. Of course, most of those can now be tossed unless the Bracket listed Wichita State over Ohio State and the other victors. This is highly unlikely. That is one reason why I stopped filling out Brackets. The other is that I can’t stand it when some fifteen year old asks how I could have possibly made the choices I made and not be able to present an intelligent argument.

My continuing observation is that there are lots to very good basketball players in colleges, an abundance, in fact, and that’s why this tournament is so good.

BASEBALL CULTURE: I have posted predictions for the Major League season and in those made mention of baseball culture. This is more than but includes properly referring to Clubhouses and not to locker rooms, the latter being in elementary school hallways, and places where the back and forth games are played. Not putting a hat on a bed is important too, do that and you will have your next line drive caught by the pitcher. You must respect each bat because it only has so many hits in it and if you waste those in batting practice, you may go 0 -20. This is why some players take their bats to the hotel with them or keep them in the trunk of the car so the hit capacity is not diminished by someone touching the bat improperly. There is much more, and I will add to the lore from time to time.

Today, however, I want to explain why each baseball game is two games in one.  The first game is one that lasts six innings. It has its own cast of starting pitchers, regular players and such who play to get an advantage going into the three inning game. This is the seven eight and ninth innings and these innings have their own cast of set-up men, short relievers, and closers, as well as pinch hitters, pinch runners and defensive replacements.

Managers keep out of the six inning game as much as possible limiting their role to making out the line up and rescuing an inept starting pitcher. The manager’s proper role is maneuvering players into the game at the right time.

Baseball pennants are won by those teams that win the fifth game, both teams having lost two of the preceding four. Teams that win the fifth game finish with a .600 winning percentage and those that lose it are at .400. Look it up, its almost guaranteed

The season starts tonight. Let’ I can’t wait to see what happens after 1500 innings have been played by each of the 30 teams.

National League Predictions for 2013

The 2013 season will find the Washington Nationals dominating the National League simply because it is the best team.

National League East. Here is where the Nationals win. The team has dominant pitching with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. I like teams with dominant players and this one has gold gloves, Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman, at the corners, as well.  Zimmerman was the best player here for years until the Harper’s showed up. It is nice to have high draft choices, but this team has made perfect choices with theirs. They will not draft in the top twenty five for the rest of the decade! 

The Braves will come in second unless the Phillies have outstanding years from pitchers Halladay, Lee, and Hamels. The offense is where the improvement must appear and I don’t think Ben Revere is the answer. I watcher this player closely and he has some flash in running speed that has a defensive benefit as well as the obvious offensive benefit, but the Charlie Manual will get tired of his lack of power and tendency to just slap the ball around will feel despair watching National League runners advance on his poor arm. So, I pick the Braves for second and this is due to Braves culture. They will play well and find players. By the way, team culture is a very important factor in team success.

The Mets and Marlins will clog up the bottom. See comment on culture above.

The National League Central will play without  Houston this year, a burden on the Cubs, of course.  This division has the Cardinals and Reds and I can’t pick one over the other with any certainty. This is a culture thing again and the Reds and Cards both excel at baseball culture. This can be seen at the lowest levels as their minor leaguers act like big leaguers from the first day.  I will pick the Cardinals because I like Bill DeWitt, and the Reds have Joey Votto and some uncertainty after that. I also think the Cardinals will find young players to fill in.

The remaining teams are the similar Pirates and Brewers and then the Cubs, Talk about cultural issues.

The National League has culture issues as well. The Dodgers and Giants have been  battling  each other for 100 years. The Dodgers have spent enormously this year but that is no reason to grant them a cake walk with the Giants. I like the Dodgers as I like Ned Colleti and know he will make wise decisions, but I have learned to like Brian Sabean as well. So indecision arises .again and the Arizona pitchers, all kids, can take over the division. Therefore, I go with LA, SF less than five games in back and Colorado two or three behind SF.

The Padres will try to win 80 times and Colorado is a KPKP team,(see earlier post for explanation.

How about that for fearless prognosticating in a game where anything can happen. I may review this in June, just to see how I’ve done.

As to the culture thing, the Washington Nationals have changed its culture and that is due to its owner, Ted Lerner. I got to know him when his team was terrible and his comments indicated to me that he was a perfect owner. He is proving that in spades and deserves his success.

DISCLAIMER: THIS IS BASEBALL AND PROJECTIONS MADE IN MARCH OF WHAT WILL HAPPEN OVER 162 GAMES IS AN EDUCATED GUESS. THAT’S WHY I WILL PAY CAREFUL ATTENTION TO EVERY DAY OF THE SEASON, CHEERS, CLARK

Tubby Smith Gets Fired- Is this the right move?

Norwood Teague is the new athletic director at the University of Minnesota who just fired a fairly famous coach yesterday. His action is proper for the following reasons.  A coach is judged by how well he coaches. This is determined by the improved perfomance of individual players during the player’s career. Smith’s players didn’t seem to get better. Strike one. 
Players own the first half of a game and coaches, by making moves, control the second half. Smith’s teams were often ahead in the first half and got beaten in the second half.  Briefly, he got out coached. Strike two.
A coach must run a program that can compete in the conference or league. Smith’s teams could not win in the Big Ten. Strike three.
Norwood Teague has made the correct move and now needs to find a coach that can achieve the three goals set out above for a coach.
I suspect he has someone in mind.

American League Predictions for 2013- Sunday Ramblings for March 24, 2013;

I have been thinking about the coming baseball season because this is a year that may find a significant shift in the rankings of teams. Here are predictions for the American League in 2013 with the National League predictions coming later in the week.

In the American League, the Blue Jays will win the East because Jose Bautista and the addition of pitchers R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle, and players Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonafacio, Melky Cabrera, Macier Izturis and Mark DeLarosa. This increases the payroll to around $120,000,000.The willingness to spend in Toronto is triggered by an awareness that the old guard of Yankees and Red Sox may be finished, at least for a while. The Tampa Bay Rays will be in second and, if Toronto stumbles for any of a variety of reasons, like Bautista’s wrist, and this very solid, very well managed team will win again. Baltimore is improving but is just too young and thin to challenge and the Yankees are really old and injured. The Red Sox are still recovering from whatever it was that wrecked them last year. You still won’t get a ticket in Fenway Park. In the AL East, there will be the top two, Toronto and Tampa Bay, and the bottom three. How’s that for a major shift?

In the American League West, it is Angels all the way. This is easy. Trout, Hamilton, Pujols, Trumbo and an adequate pitching staff. The Athletics and Rangers will follow and may overtake the Angels if there are the unforeseen events of injuries to the key players. I have learned to appreciate the Beane Athletics and am now a fan of Nolan Ryan’s Ranger operation. Still, any team that has the incomparable Mike Trout followed by other hitters is going to be vary hard to beat. If the pitching falters, however, KPKP applies, (more on this later).

In the AL Central, the division I watch the most, it is the Tigers that should dominate, especially if they have a closer. Like Toronto, the Tigers have a dominate hitter, MVP Miguel Cabrera, and the superb Prince Fielder, who is one on the best situational hitters I have ever seen. He is at his best when the going is tough. The pitching, Verlander, Fister, Porcello, Scherzer and others will be sufficient to stay ahead of the much improved Indians. The White Sox and Royals will battle for third and the Twins, my beloved Twins, that lack pitching to such and extent the KPKP rules apply. That team will get better but the Mauer and Morneau pair is over 30 now and heading downhill. (KPKP comes from a from a scout I worked with who used KP to mean “Can’t Play” in reference to a player and we expanded that to KPKP for a team that Can’t Pitch Can’t Play.)

The American League Wild Card will come from Tampa Bay, Oakland or Texas or, if these teams win, the second place team in that Division. I think Tampa will do it, but there is a play-in game with the two top finishing second place teams, so anything can happen there.

Predictions for the National League will come soon, but let me say the Washington Nationals may be the best team in the business.

A Big Week in Sports: Spring Training, NFL, Hockey, NBA, NCAA Tournament

It just occured to me that this may be the most sports intensive week of the year. Where no major championships are on the line, virtually every major sports enterprise is in the news.

First, the NCAA tournament selections will occur tomorrow and fans are eager to see if their team, mine being the Minnesota Gophers, will make the “Big Dance.” Thirty one of the sixty-eight selections are automatic and go conference champions like Belmont of the Ohio Valley Conference, Florida Gulf Coast of the Atlantic Sun Conference, Liberty of the Big South, and Harvard of the Ivy League. The first action is the play-in round with the bottom four automatic teams playing the bottom four at-large teams for tournament spots. The methodology for selecting the at-large teams is a convoluted statistical system that picks teams based on difficulty of schedule, big wins and stuff like that. I think is sounds very random. Because of that, my Gophers may just make it.

Second, we are near the end of baseball’s Spring Training and the World Baseball Classic. As for Spring Training, it is an interesting period but its relevance will disappear on April 1 when the real season starts. As for the World Baseball Classic, I must admit this event is gaining some traction with the media and, it is assumed, fans around the world. With Puerto Rico’s defeat of the USA team, my own interest in the outcome lagged, but my interest in the event increased as this will be a more important event as time goes by.

Third, the NFL has the ability to remain in the forefront of media reports with its free agent period and coming league meetings. The NFL and Vikings ability to dominate the local media is an indication of its overall dominate position. The Vikings dominate by trading a disgruntled receiver, Percy Harvin, and then dominate by signing a free agent ex-Packer, Greg Jennings. Of great interest is the proposed rule change suggested by the Commissioner to make illegal helmet-first contact by a running back outside the “tackle box, ” that area of the field between the tackles and extending a few yards downfield. This is a major change in the way the game is played but is necessary given the concussion problem. This would make my high school football coach, Eddie Willamoski, angry as he thought the way to play was to plant your head in a tackler’s chest like a battering ram.

Fourth, the NBA is heading for playoffs with the unbeatable Heat leading the way. That doesn’t get much play here as our Wolves are well out of it. This has been a very discouraging year for the Wolves, who started well. The loss of All-Star Kevin Love has been devastating, but the loss of a single player should not doom a team that is otherwise solid. so there is a lesson there.

Lastly, hockey is dominating the local news with the Wild in second place in the NHL’s Northwest Division. So the team is playoff bound. Such is the local interest that the NHL is covered on page C8 of the Star Tribune. The big hockey stories are about the University of Minnesota Women’s and Men’s teams that are advancing in the WCHA Tournament. Of these teams, it is the Gopher Women who get the most interest. The women are 38-0, that’s right, 38-0 this year, and are the most dominant team Minnesota has ever had since the First Minnesota stopped Wilcox Confederates at Gettysburg in 1863. It is my favorite team and I think they will continue to win for a long time. Considering in-coming freshmen, this team will improve next year.

We can look forward to the frenetic NCAA tournament starting next week and extending until The Final Four April 6-8. The NHL and NBA playoffs will come with most interest local, as baseball takes over until the World Series, and the NFL season captivates us until the Super Bowl. That will take us into the new year and it all starts again. It is a wonderful time to be a sports fan. Go Gophs

Baseball’s Timeless Appeal

Baseball’s timeless appeal captures the minds of fans who are enthralled by a game that, like the “Odyssey,” tells a story of the human condition, of confronting enemies, helping friends, and, of course,  getting home safely.  This appeal applies to softball and Little League baseball as well as to the Major Leagues. In other games, teams of equal size battle from one end of a court, arena, or field to the other. In these “back and forth games,” success is measured by crossing a line or placing an object in a goal.  Not so in baseball, where the batter competes against nine opponents and success is measured by a player’s ability to overcome the odds by safely moving  from base to base so that he or she gets home safely.
Baseball is played on the largest field in team sports not involving a horse, even larger than cricket. Its field is distinguished from those of the back and forth games, which are all rectangles covered with lines, circles, and dots, by its simplicity, with two lines diverging at 90 degrees from a single point to define both the infield and the outfield. At the point of intersection is home plate, an oddly shaped five-sided figure, smaller than a basketball hoop, where all action begins and ends. The infield is a ninety foot square that is tipped on its end to form a diamond with the outfield beyond. There are three 15 inch bases positioned on the corners of the 90 foot square.  The pitcher’s mound rises 10 inches above the infield, 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate.  All infields have this perfect symmetry, while the outfields vary widely.
The story unfolds as the batter stands in the batter’s box facing his nemesis, the pitcher.  The batter is surrounded by seven fielders and the pitcher in front with the catcher behind.  The pitcher starts the action by pitching the ball over or just near home plate.  The ball is leather bound and moves at lethal velocity.  Fear is the first emotion that the player must overcome to play the game well. Many young players drop out when they can hear the ball in flight, are knocked down by an errant fast ball, or fooled by a curve into falling away, swinging weakly– insulted, stripped of all dignity, and humiliated, as courage and skill are shown to be lacking.
The pitcher attempts to put the batter out by using his extensive arsenal of pitches to cause the batter to strike out or hit the ball so it is caught in the air or on the ground to an infielder who throws him out.  The pitchers can use any combination of speed or spin to defeat  the batter, including illegal spit balls that sink precipitously, or scuffed and cut balls that spin viciously.  Pitchers succeed in putting batters out nearly 75% percent of the time.
If the batter hits a fair ball that is not caught, he becomes a runner and begins an odyssey around the bases. This must be done carefully, but speedily, as he moves from the sanctuary of one base to another.  The sanctuary of the base is available to one runner at a time, and a runner is compelled to leave the sanctuary when the batter becomes a runner and there is no empty base between them.  When a runner is forced to leave the base to go to the next base, he can be forced out merely by having a fielder touch the next base while holding the ball.  Otherwise, the runner is safe while touching the base, but is subject to being put out anytime a fielder touches an “off base” runner with the ball.  For Odysseus and his crew, the ship was the base and sanctuary and Odysseus tied  himself to a mast to be safe from the Sirens’ pitch.  Fielders, like Scylla, Cyclops and Circe, can use any form of deception, guile, misdirection, feints, hidden-ball tricks, and pick-off plays, all aimed at putting a vulnerable runner out.  The runner is bound to stay on the straight and narrow base path while his enemies plot his end.  He, like Odysseus, only wants to get home safely, and to do so, he must take risks, and be crafty, careful, and fleet of foot, and he usually needs a little help from his friends.  Like Odysseus, the runner often finds home blocked by the catcher, armored like a Greek warrior in mask, breast plate, and greaves, who is the last barrier to success.
The runner’s fate is determined by umpires, who are the ultimate judges of safe and out, or life and death, which they signal with single swipe of a hand, thumb extended for “out” or both hands outstretched palms down for “safe,” which means “nothing notable happened, let’s keep going.”  The “nothing” that happened  is no out was made and baseball keeps time with outs.
Baseball’s most prestigious feat is the home run. However, it only accounts for one run,  plus one for each runner on base, whereas in cricket a ball hit over the boundary on the fly counts for six runs. The home run derives its prestige from the act of driving the hostile pitch out of the field of play in a showing of complete victory.  It is the ultimate show of dominance, like Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian Knot. A home run allows the batter to trot regally, with impunity, in an ostentatiously slow, plodding, sometimes taunting pace, while the fielders must stand and watch, incapable of action, mute.
Baseball tells a story that relates to the human condition.  The game requires great physical and mental skill in hitting a pitched ball, fielding, throwing, running, and taking risks to advance through the dangers of the infield.  It is unique in its imagery and its appeal is the story of players alone in the wilderness, relying on friends for help, and being alert to dangers, while focusing on the single goal of reaching home safely. For a baseball player, like the rest of us, this occurs everyday. The story played out is like life itself, and that is the appeal of the game that has enraptured its fans for more than 150 years.
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Clark Griffith is a lawyer and arbitrator in Minneapolis. He grew up with four uncles who played in the Major Leagues, Clark Griffith, for whom he is named, Joe Cronin, Joe Haynes and Sherrard Robertson.  His great uncle Clark and Uncle Joe Cronin are in the Hall of Fame. He learned a lot about baseball from these uncles, but it was his mother, Natalie, who taught him the majesty of the game just as she had learned it from her father.

Mr. Griffith was an executive with the Minnesota Twins, and Chairman of Major League Baseball Properties before becoming a lawyer.  He attends games on a very regular basis and still scouts every game he sees, including amateur and professional games, especially those of the Northern League, where he was Commissioner.    Mr. Griffith grew up in Washington, D.C., mainly at Griffith Stadium, graduated from Dartmouth College and the William Mitchell College of Law. He can be found on Twitter at @ccgpa

Yahoo meets The Wisdom of Crowds and Telecommuting

Several years ago, I attended an alumni class that discussed James Surowiecki’s book, “The Wisdom of Crowds.” The essence of this book is that a crowd, or group of people, can make wise decisions that no individual can make. Early in the book it describes a contest at a fair to guess the weight of a steer. No one got it exactly, but the average guess was withing 10lbs of the actual weight. Surowieki went on to describe the decision making benefits of groups.

Recently, an understanding of this effect found Marissa Mayer, the dynamic new CEO at Yahoo, to end that company’s policy of allowing, if not encouraging, a practice known as telecommuting. This practice allows employees to stay at home and connect with the company and co-workers by logging onto the company’s computers. This practice was seen as very advanced as it allowed people to take care of children, avoid time wasted in commuting, and, it was thought, to be productive at all times. What was missing, as Mayer has discovered, is the dynamic nature of grouping workers in the office.

Among the benefits cited was that workers who saw each other trusted each other more, that non-telecommuting workers were jealous of telecommuters (thus promoting divisiveness), and informally exchanged ideas in the break room or the hall way. At Xerox, it was found that repairmen solved problems while exchanging stories drinking morning coffee together.

Yahoo is a company that lives on new ideas. As Surowiecki shows and Mayer now hopes, the generation of these ideas does not occur with employees sitting at home, or some Caribou Coffee shop, while telecommuting and being digitally connected with co-workers. The Yahoo work place will again be a crowded laboratory of thought with employees chatting with each other, discussing problems face to face, asking others for solutions to real time problems, and probably generating the very ideas that is Yahoo’s tour d’force. That work place had been empty on Fridays. Furthermore, the cohesiveness of the work force will be re-established after being disolved under the concept of telecommuting. In fact, as Xerox found out, workers are more productive when their break times were all at the same time.

In “The Wisdom of Crowds,” Surowiecki points out that trust and cooperation are critical to business success. By eliminating telecommuting, Marissa Mayer is promoting that idea that was promoted in “Wealth Nations” and practiced by J.P. Morgan by enhancing those factors within its workforce and by extension, its customers. This is a very wise CEO that will move this company forward by enhancing the efficiency of its work force.