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Friday, April 17, 2015

Eugene, Oregon Wins 2021 Track and Field World Championships, But Was The Race Fair?

Track and field is a funny sport. The individual disciplines- the 100 meters, the shot put, the steeplechase, the javelin- are simple. If I run the same distance as you but do it faster, I win. If I throw the object further than you, I win. The simplicitycof it in a complex sports world is amazingly refreshing.

But because nothing can apparently be that simple, the governing bodies of the sport, be it the USATF or the IAAF or the Olympics, are incredibly complex behemoths that seem intent on being as difficult to figure out as the disciplines are simple to win. Unlike events on the track or field, which reward the fastest or strongest regardless of age or gender, the governing branches appear to be committees stacked on committees stacked on committees. It seems like they have to take a vote to decide whether they can take a vote.

Which makes Thursday’s announcement that Eugene, Oregon,  will be the host of the 2021 IAAF World’s Championships rather surprising. That Eugene is the first American city to host World's is not surprising. They had a strong bid for the 2019 event because Eugene is A.K.A.Track Town USA, with the classic and world-renown facility known as Hayward Field,

In one way, Eugene capturing the 2021 championships is a perfect example of the old boys club. There was no open bid for the event, it was just given to Eugene. This angered Swedes in Gothenburg, (yes, Swedes can get mad) who wanted the championships to celebrate the city’s 400th anniversary. Other cities were no doubt planning on bids and didn’t even have time to form exploratory committees so they can’t even start to get mad.

But in another way, it’s a perfect example of the complexity of the governing bodies of track and field. After Eugene didn’t land the 2019 championships (they went to Doha, Qatar, which means every human rights organization will protest this at some point, if they haven’t already), the IAAF invited the organizers to come learn what they could improve on. Because Eugene was already down the bidding road for world championships, the IAAF decided to keep them on that road but just switch the destination. As the world governing body of the sport, they can do that. And they did.

The complexity of the IAAF plus the familiarity of the previous Eugene bid let TrackTown win the race without any competition. The championships location committee, already knowing what Eugene would have done if they had won the 2019 event, took an exploratory vote for 2021 that would become final if it passed overwhelmingly. And it did. Eugene was led down the road and assured of the win. Just like, if you read between the lines, Qatar and the 2019 championships, which technically did go up for bid.

Does this smell not quite right? Of course it does. The thing is, every international sports governing body is tainted. FIFA comes to mind, as well as the Olympics committee. To say nothing of so-called private sports leagues, who are heavily subsidized by public money yet give next to none of it back directly to the community those sports are played. Roger Goodell and the NFL, anybody?  The bad taste in Sweden's mouth will pass. Because of this Gothenburg or Stockholm or somebody will get fast-tracked to host some other major track and field event. You watch. It's how this works.

Once the shadow passes, it will be very impressive that Eugene becomes the first U.S city to host the IAAF World Championships. Combined with hosting the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Track and Field Olympic Trials, the NCAA Track and Field Championships through 2021 as well as many other championship-caliber meets like the Pre Classic and the IAAF World Junior Championships, Track Town USA is more prominent than it ever has been.

In a way, it reminds me a bit of Watergate: Track Town would have won the 2021 bid anyway, they didn't need to rig the vote. Eugene- and Hayward Field- is the best place in America for top track and field. And that’s something no complex governing body can change, no matter how many committees have to vote.

photo by the author

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Is Steve Kerr In Trouble Because the Golden State Warriors Are So Good?

The Golden State Warriors have set numerous regular-season awards for success. Steve Kerr has pretty much every first-year head coaching record that you can think of. Perhaps the most amazing part of Golden State’s 67-15 record is that the Warriors are the first team to win at least 50 games and then have at least a plus-15 win differential the next season.

This statistic, however, is slightly misleading because the Chicago Bulls won 47 games in 1995 and then set the NBA single-season record with 72 in 1996, and the ’72 Lakers, who held the previous record by winning 69, had won 48 games in 1971. It’s still damned impressive.

The Warriors head into the playoffs as the favorite, but the regular season-success may work against them because of Kerr’s inexperience coaching in crunch time of must-win games.

Because he hasn’t had any.

When the Warriors have lost this season, they’ve just shrugged it off and moved on to the next one. They haven’t lost three games in a row at all. They came kind of close when they lost to San Antonio and New Orleans on consecutive nights earlier this month, but Golden State had already wrapped up the top seed by then and weren’t going to show any special tricks to their likely playoff opponents.

Kerr has never been head coach for a win-or-go-home game. Of course he’s been part of many as an assistant and as a player. Most notably, he hit the NBA Finals-clinching shot for the Bulls in 1997 against the Utah Jazz. But he’s never had the (artificial, media-generated) pressure of coaching a team on the road to win a playoff game or a series. Since Golden State has been so good, he’s never even come close to facing that (artificial) pressure this season.

He’s had exceptional training on how to coach those games, playing for Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich and having teammates like Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan and, uh, Craig Ehlo (but not that year). But he’s never done it himself, as the guy who is responsible for all the on-court decisions.

That’s why the first-round games against New Orleans will be absolutely key to Steve Kerr’s growth as a coach. It’s one thing to coach one game against a team and move on, win or lose. It’s another to coach against the same team four or seven times in a row when the season is at stake. It’s still another to coach a close-out game against a team that will do anything to win and keep playing another day. Steve Kerr has done none of those things.

This is why Warriors fans should be a tad concerned about the playoffs. Especially when they go up against Gregg Popovich, Kerr’s former coach. The masterly Popovich will do everything he can to jangle the rookie coach’s nerves. The one guy who knows this for sure is Steve Kerr. Which is why Pops and the Spurs already have an advantage over Kerr and the Warriors.

Coach Kerr knows that the regular season superlatives will mean nothing unless the Warriors win the title. In that respect, he’s already acting like a veteran coach. Now it’s time to coach like one.

"Then, after we beat you...." Ah, but who's saying it?

photos courtesy: nbcbayarea.com, nytimes.com

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

After The Masters: Jordan Spieth's Future

Spiethin' ain't easy.
Jordan Spieth tied or bettered several of Tiger Woods’s records at The Masters, so of course the sports world is now busy deifying a 21-year-old as “The Next Tiger."

It’s common to call somebody “The Next” so-and-so. Usually, those guys don’t become “The Next” whoever. The number of guys designated “The Next Michael Jordan” is a long list that includes Hall of Famers, pretty good players, average players, and flat-out busts. But the best players on that list earned their way off that list by being phenomenal players in their own right. Kobe Bryant isn’t known as the next MJ, he’s just Kobe. LeBron is just LeBron.

How many golf guys have been given the title “The Next Tiger” since 1997? It seems like any young golfer who won a major in the last 18 years has gotten it. If we just look at people whose first major win was at Augusta, I seem to recall Mike Weir, Trevor Immmelman and Charl Schwartzel all being heralded as "The Next Tiger." You know how many combined major wins those guys have? Three. Their only major win was at the Masters.

Most recently before Spieth, it was Rory McIlroy. I’m not the only one to notice how quick people are to anoint Spieth as the new king and shove Rory to the side. It’s not like McIlroy will never play again because he is pushing everything to the right. Rory has four majors, including the last two of 2014- the Open Championship and the PGA Championship- and is just 25. He's not going anywhere anytime soon.

Spieth is doing his best to ignore the hype by putting his head down and playing more. He claimed on his Letterman appearance that he’s playing his third tournament in a row, headed out to Hilton Head, because they helped him get started on tour and that he feels obligated as well as a special kinship to the event.

That explanation could be true.  It could also be because Spieth knows you have to ride a hot hand when it’s dealt, seeing that he has finished in the top two in his last four tournaments.

But it’s probably because he has no desire to become the next Tiger Woods. He wants to be known independent of Tiger. He wants to be the only Jordan Spieth.

He’s taking the best course of action to not becoming the next Tiger by continuing to play. He’s surviving in the short-term by doing what brought him success in the first place: playing golf.

In the long-term, he already has a role model for how not to do it: Tiger Woods. It’ll be hard for Spieth to stay a regular ole Texas country boy, but we need to give the kid a chance.

Because the best thing to happen wouldn’t be for Spieth to become “the next Tiger,” but for Rory and Jordan to become “the next Arnie and Jack.” Now that’s something we can all root for.

photos courtesy: nydailynews.com, strangegolf.com

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Please Don’t Let The Top San Francisco Giants 2015 Season Highlight Be Madbum On A Horse

Because right now, it is.

Of course that’s not really true. Rookie Chris Heston has pitched marvelously in two starts, taking over for MattGreg OdenCain. Unfortunately Heston only has one win to show for it since the Giants can’t seem to score any runs. In the home opener they left the bases loaded in the first two innings, and had 10 men LOB through five.

Scoring runs has seemed to be a problem for this team for several years, but winning three world championships in five years has allowed the problem to be somewhat ignored. At some point it will turn out to be a huge problem and it won’t matter what the pitching does. It’s kind of like weight gain. A pound or two every now and again doesn’t seem like much until you look at a picture from five years ago and find out that you’re 50 pounds heavier, and that’s a problem. Errr, so I’ve heard.

April just seems like a month for the Giants to survive and not get too far out of contention. It’s also not good to say “When Hunter Pence gets back everything will be fine,” because Pence can’t make Cain’s dead right arm come back and keep Tim Lincecum’s head on straight and ensure that Tim Hudson doesn’t break down and that Brandon Belt and Casey McGehee don’t succumb to freak injuries.

Other than that, he can pretty much do anything. And step one is making sure that Madison Bumgarner on a horse isn’t number one on the season highlight reel.

"You ain't seen nothin' yet."
photos courtesy: sfgate.com

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A New Baseball-History Oriented Blog

Friends, readers, and friends of readers.

I have begun a new baseball-history oriented blog over at MLBlogs.com so I can indulge my baseball nerdness among other baseball nerds.

It's called Townballstories.mlblogs.com, which in itself is a historical baseball nerd name.

My latest post is:

How Baseball Helped The Masters Become a Top Golf Tournament

I'll link to the new stuff when there's new stuff there. But I'll also still be here. In other words, just keep reading. Link and follow and all that jazz 'cause it's hip.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Fantasy Baseball 2015 Versatility Winner: Brock Holt, Boston Red Sox

Is that hair even real?

I’m in a fantasy baseball league again and I promised to pay more attention to it this year just like last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. I haven’t finished higher than 10th in years because that resolution generally lasts until, oh, week three.

For whatever reason my middle infield is always the worst, and I’m always looking for somebody who can play more than one position so I can swap him out when I remember to check my lineup and realize that I have four guys who have been on the DL for weeks, usually starting with Daniel Murphy, who I have yet again this year (how Matt Kemp didn’t wind up on my team for approximately the 8th year in a row is mystifying).

After the auto-draft (first pick: Mike Trout. Second pick: Josh Donaldson. Third pick: Ryan Braun), I saw that my shortstop (Jimmy Rollins) is 200 years old and could only play shortstop and my first baseman (Joey Votto) could only play first base and my third baseman (Donaldson) could only play third base, something that has happened every time I have played fantasy baseball. This, of course, forces my other third baseman-only guy in Kyle Seager to the utility role, meaning that Andre Ethier is on the bench. Not to mention that two of my outfielders can only play one spot (Trout in center, Braun in right). I also only ended up with one catcher, a fellow I have never heard of named Travis D’Arnaud who plays for the Mets. I don’t know what’s worse: that I had never heard of him or that he plays for the Mets.

As a result, I went looking for a guy who could play more than one position, hopefully on the left side of the infield, and I hit the jackpot. I found that the Boston Red Sox have a guy named Brock Holt. He is listed as eligible for every position on the field except for pitcher and catcher. 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, LF, CF, and RF. I couldn’t believe it when I saw him on the free-agent pile. Since my league is mostly filled with retired hippies who scroll the waiver wire looking for players, I was certain that there was something wrong with the guy. Nope. He played in 106 games and had at least ten starts in every position but first base and left field. 39 at 3B. 10 in CF. He’s going to make the opening day roster, the question is where he’ll play and when.

In these days of specialization- LOOGYs and so on- it is refreshing to see a guy willing to play everything. I’m sure that if Brock Holt had his choice he’d just play one spot, but on the loaded Red Sox he’s forced to be a true utility man. Besides, would you rather be a back-up on the probable World Champs or a starter on the Astros? It depends on what size fish in which pond you’d rather be in. Since it’s just his second full year in the league, it’s more beneficial for Holt to learn from the veterans.  

Now, I’m not expecting Brock Holt to do anything much except for remind me of Arrested Development. He’s not going to get an opening day start for me over any of my starting seven. But he’ll be there when one of the seven guys ahead of him gets hurt of has an off day. If I finish higher than 10th this season, it’ll be precisely because of Brock Holt. As long as I don’t forget to sub him out after he fills in for Mike Trout one day.

Photos courtesy: twitter.com/soxlunch, bombasticdynamo.deviantart.net

R.I.P. Cynthia Lennon (1939-2015), The Original Beatlemaniac

Cyn in 1964
Before there were millions of screaming fans worldwide clamoring for more of the Beatles, there was Cynthia Powell of Liverpool, who died April 1st  of cancer at age 75. She deserves a place in history as one of the first to see something extremely unique in John Lennon, and went out of her way to become exactly the kind of girl he wanted (he had a mad crush on the blonde Brigitte Bardot). It worked because he fell for her. It didn’t work because she acceded to his every whim and desire for approximately the next decade. She’s overlooked in the John Lennon mythology because John’s second wife is in charge of that stuff, and Cynthia was the first wife as well as the mother of Julian, who’s just like his father because of his father.

It’s beyond simple to classify John and Cyn’s relationship as “early Mad Men marriage,” but that’s the only way to accurately describe the pair in less than six thousand words. It was more like Pete and Trudy than Don and Betty. Betty had aspirations of her own, Trudy had none. Like Trudy, Cynthia overlooked the womanizing in hopes of providing a domestic life that John and Pete never had growing up- and also never really wanted. Although nominally exclusive since just after high school, John never acted that way while the band was out in Germany or on the road in Great Britain and Cyn (John’s nickname for her) was back at home in Liverpool living in a bedsit, which is exactly as charming as it sounds.

Almost at the same time the Beatles finally got a record deal with George Martin and Parlophone Records in the summer of 1962, Cyn found herself expecting a child. At the time, everybody involved in the Beatles- from John and Paul to manager Brian Epstein to producer Martin- thought the worst thing that could happen to the most popular band in Liverpool was their leader becoming a husband and father. The image of the Beatles was, and still remains, four independent lads who are free to change the world without worry. For one to be re-classified as a tied-down normal human was, in their minds, disastrous.

It is hard to fathom such a mind-set today in this internet world of sex tapes and paparazzi capturing images of children of famous people every chance they get. But that was the entertainment world of not just 1962 Britain, but 1962 everywhere. Wives and children were hidden from public view at almost all times. They were only helpful in creating staged scenes of domestic bliss or during legal proceedings when it was important to show the celebrity in another light.

So Cynthia was hidden even further from public view. A child being born out of wedlock was unheard of whether it was secret or not, so John and Cyn were married in August of 1962, a few weeks before the band’s first single, “Love Me Do,” was released. The band was eventually asked about Cynthia and John- seeing as how a marriage is kind of public record- and everyone involved denied it. The way Cyn was being treated by him as well as everyone else began to trouble John, finally, and he wrote the song “Do You Want To Know A Secret?” based on the Snow White classic “I’m Wishing,” about his hidden wife and even more hidden unborn child. While Lennon claimed in later interviews that he gave the song for George to sing because of its simplicity, in all likelihood it was to bury the secret even further.

Cynthia and Julian were not revealed to the public until late 1963, well after Beatlemania had enveloped Britain and only after fans found out where she lived- still in Liverpool, while her husband and the rest of the band had decamped to London- and started harassing her. Cyn came on the first tour of America- to the Ed Sullivan show and so on- and John allowed her to be photographed with him, which angered band manager Brian Epstein. She was treated so horribly by fans and band associates she never went on tour again. That summer John bought the large Kenwood estate outside of London and stashed her there more or less permanently. She said many times that after going on the tour, she didn’t mind being tucked away.
Cyn and John at Heathrow Airport, one of the photos that angered Brian Epstein

John’s marriage to Cyn was basically eating him alive by the end of 1964, but it was his own doing by being an absentee husband and father to the nth degree. He receded into food and drugs, and admitted later that the title track to the band’s 1965 film “Help!” is little more than him begging to be rescued from the life he had created and felt responsible for but wanted no part of. (In his solo years, Lennon expressed an intention to re-record the song in a slower tempo to emphasize that. Deep Purple didn't do a bad job of it.) He called 1965 and early 1966 his “fat Elvis period,” where he lay around and felt sorry for himself. Cynthia didn’t help John here, in fact she started taking the same drugs as John just to be part of his life, the same way she completely changed her life to attract him in the first place. It didn’t help.

In late 1966 John met Yoko Ono and we all know what happened after that. Cyn was cast aside once more, but this time for good. She was waking up from that nightmare of a marriage and probably would have left him soon enough, but Yoko hastened the final breakup. For all everybody complains about Yoko, peace-activist John and political-activist John is a direct result of his relationship with Yoko, not Cyn. Cyn was content for the most part to be whatever John wanted her to be, not to challenge his world and personal views. Yoko did that.

Cyn gets the short end of the stick in the Beatles mythology, just like Ringo’s first wife Maureen (who died in 1994 of leukemia). She devoted her energy to raising Julian and trying to find herself. John treated Julian poorly the remainder of his life, a likely result of John regretting his own actions when Julian was a small boy. They were only starting to forge an adult friendship when John was killed in December 1980.

Most people probably don’t even know that John even had a first wife because of Yoko. Most people also probably don’t know Julian is John’s oldest son, and that’s a shame. Cyn was an important part of John’s early Beatle years, and his failure at being a father to Julian resulted in John quitting the music business for five years to raise Sean in the mid-1970’s.

Cynthia was a believer in John when few people were. She was the first Beatlemaniac, and for putting up with everything she put up with, she deserves better than to be an afterthought in the legend of the Beatles. It’s better that she’s getting some recognition now than not at all. Do you want to know a secret? Cynthia remained one most of her life.

Condolences to Julian and Cynthia's family and friends, who knew the secret Cyn and loved her all the more for it.

John Lennon's two wives and two sons

photos courtesy: beatlesthroughtheyears.com, flickr.com (but really Dezo Hoffman), showbiz411.com (but really Bob Gruen)