The View From Wisconsin

Just a random set of rants from a Sports Fan from Wisconsin.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Do They Or Don't They?

As spring training opens, camps are abuzz over Jose Canseco's kiss-and-roid-up book. The biggest question posed by the book is whether or not steroids really help in baseball. That topic was tackled by Barry Bonds in his press conference, where he stated that it doesn't help hand-eye coordination, it doesn't help you actually "hit" the ball.

So the question that everyone wants to know is, why then would any baseball player take steroids? The answer is deceptively simple: because it gives you an advantage over everyone else.

It's the primary reason why anyone in any sport does anything - no matter how strange, no matter how potentially harmful, no matter if it's illegal. You want to win, you do what you have to do to gain that extra edge. It's the reason why players take greenies, or sniff ammonia, or do any sort of other routines to get ready to play.

Now, I'm obviously not advocating illegal activity, but the use of steroids is, in some cases, beneficial for players. Consider the theraputic use of that class of drug, especially for athletes trying to recover from an injury. Mark McGwire (the other "poster child" of steroids, according to Canseco) utilized andro as a way of recovering from workouts and injury. It helped him hit 70 homers, mostly because he stayed healthy enough to play in enough games to hit 70. In that case, I can't say that steroids and "precursors" don't have their place. The problem with this route of thinking is that players don't do this with the supervision of a trained professional or doctor. What happened to that Oriole farmhand who died from OD'ing on that diet supplement is proof of this.

So the question now becomes twofold: does steroid use actually give a baseball player an advantage, and if so, how would we measure it? Experts on steroid use point out that the increase in muscle density improves reaction time - the latter part of the "hand-eye" coordination that Barry talks about. In essence, after the batter makes the decision to swing, his body reacts faster to the decision, meaning (theoretically) that he gets a better "jump" on the ball. Realize that steroids alone won't do this; weight training is needed along with any "supplements" or such.

So what would that mean, for a player? Balls would be hit harder and farther, basically; ground balls would be hit over the head of infielders, while fly balls that would hit the wall or the warning track now clear the fence. And, because a player would have more time to react to a swing, he'd be able to lay off on pitches that he normally wouldn't. Unfortunately, it would also mean that players would become less fussy over pitches, thinking they can hit anything because they can react faster to the pitch - which would mean more strikeouts and fewer balls put in play.

Given that information, is it measurable that there's a difference in the game? Obviously, there's been the great increase in home runs; since the last strike, players are averaging 3.2 home runs per 100 at-bats. But that difference may be attributed to other factors - like the incredible shrinking size of ballparks, for one. The part about a difference between hits (or ground outs) and extra-base hits (or line drives) can be established if there's a significant difference in total bases. In the years since the last offensive boom in the late 1920's, total bases per game have averaged about 13 to 13.4 (with the exception of the 1960's, where TB per game dropped below 12.5).

Since 1995, MLB has averaged 14.6 total bases per game - the most of any 10-year period in the last 100 years of baseball. The only other period that the majors came close to 14 TB/G was in the era between 1925-34, when the average was 13.9 per game. In the 10 years before the '94 strike (1985-94), there were only 13.4 TB per game. That's not the largest gap between 10-year periods (there were only 12.2 TB/G averaged between 1915-24, 1.7 TB less than in 25-34), but it's still more than one extra base per game.

As for strikeouts: well, there have been an average of 18.9 K's per 100 AB over the last 10 seasons; that is hands-down more than at any other time in MLB history. Strikeouts per 100 AB actually didn't top 10 until after WWII. Granted, the period from 1985-94 was at a high of 16.8, but to jump by over two strikeouts per 100 AB... well, that's a bit much. When you then consider that the percentage of outs made "in play" (fly outs and ground outs) per AB is below 55%, you see that batters are swinging for the fences (and missing) more often than not.

Now comes the tough question: should there be some sort of asterisk or "note" associated with stats that were apparently aided through the help of steroids? Let me answer this question with another question: Because gambling on your team was not considered "illegal" before the 1919 World Series, should we throw out all records achieved before 1920, because they weren't "legitimate"? Just because Pete Rose bet on baseball, does that mean we should remove his name from the record books and not consider him to be the all-time record holder in base hits? Since Ty Cobb was a southern racist and a dislikeable man, should we disregard his records as well? And since Grover Cleveland Alexander was an acknowledged lush, should we toss his career win totals out the window as well?

As much as we'd all like to put a tidy little bow on the last decade of MLB and say it was the "Roid Rage Era", we really can't. We can't say that all of those homers that McGwire and Sosa and Bonds hit were done because of steroids or andro; some of it was the really lousy pitching that Barry, Big Mac and Sammy saw on a regular basis, while some of it was smaller ballparks in the NL (including Bonds' own park, SBC).

Good players are good players, regardless of how they may have gotten that way. The really great ones find ways to stay that way, and longer. McGwire realized that he was out of options, and got out. Sammy hasn't quite dealt with his issues yet. Barry is still getting around on the ball; whether or not his injuries will affect him this year will be telling.

This has been one of the most offensive decades in baseball history - not "offensive" as in "can't stand it," but offensive as in "pro-hitting." Whether steroids were responsible for this is like trying to determine if lighting a match in the Sahara causes the ice caps to melt.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Needing More

Reason number 527 why the city of Milwaukee is in desperate need of a second daily newspaper:

The Journal-Sentinel, in their continuing quest to remain relevant to daily life in Milwaukee County, has been running a series on new housing construction within Milwaukee and neighboring counties.

Today's front page had an article about a new condo complex that would abut a stone quarry in Lannon - which is a few miles north of where I live in Waukesha County. Apparently, the quarry's owners don't want the condos built, because they fear the residents would complain too much about their operations.

However, there's just one itty bitty problem with the article: the photo that accompanied the article is not that of the Halquist stone quarry.

Mark Belling made this revelation today on his talk show on WISN radio 1130 AM. From the photos, you can tell that it isn't the quarry - mostly because Halquist's quarry is split in half by what used to be STH 164. It also has a small bunch of side-streets on the southwest corner of the property that would have been visible from the supposed photo.

This is a goof of epic proportions for a newspaper like the MJS. You think they could at least do a fact check and make sure that the photo is of the right place.

Someone get Ruppert Murdoch on the line; we need someone else to print the truth in this town...

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


1. The NHL never really intended to play the 2004-05 hockey season. This was pretty clear by the way the league "went through the motions" of not declaring a deadline and continually painting a picture that the season was lost. The players knew it, too, because so many of them heeded Goodenow's warning to find work elsewhere for the year.

2. Both sides played the press like a drum. This dispute had so many "inside sources" that were about as reliable as a stopped clock, you weren't sure if you were listening to sports analysts or weathermen. So much misinformation was out there, it'll take years to figure out who was actually saying what and when.

3. There was a lot of "truth stretching" in the final two weeks before the cancellation of the season – on both sides. First, they were meeting. Then they weren't. Then there was a new deal on the table. Then therre wasn't. Then there was a late concession, then there wasn't. People didn't even believe Bettman when he said the season had been canceled.

4. Neither side had a very good grasp on collective bargaining techniques, nor did they have a comprehensive, well-thought-out plan to resolve the issue. Let's face it: both sides put their pet plans in their proposals, but didn't cover a lot of nuts-and-bolts stuff that would have been required for a completed CBA. There were flaws with the cores of the plans of each sides as well – the 24% solution would have been wiped out in a few years, when owners were back and flush with cash; the $36 million hard salary cap was unworkable, as was the "dispersal draft" that would have gotten teams down to the limit.

5. The internet and 24-hour sports news made it almost impossible for the two sides to engage in private, behind-the-scenes, meaningful dialogue. These guys couldn't hide from the cadre of reporters, wanna-be reporters, bloggers, cameras and microphones who wanted to get the inside scoop. Bettman and Goodenow couldn't take a dump without it being scrutinized somewhere.

6. Canada discovered that there is more to life than the NHL. The Grey Cup had record ratings, as did CFL regular-season games. More people paid attention to junior hockey and their local rinks. Canadian MP and Hockey Hall-of-Famer Ken Dryden said it best: "I think that there are a number of fans in this country who have sensed over the last number of months that actually, maybe, it (NHL hockey) was more habit than it was passion. I think for the great majority, it's still a passion. But others have discovered that maybe it was something else."

7. Neither Mario nor Wayne made a difference in the negotiatons; if anything, they probably cemented the lack of progress at the end. The way they were seemingly bewildered at the fact that the NHLPA didn't have a new proposal when they came in to negotiations last Saturday spoke volumes about their supposed "power" within the league – or with the membership of the NHLPA. Don't kid yourself: neither of these guys will be involved in a resolution.

8. We will honestly never completely know how much damage was really done by the lockout and cancellation of the season. There will probably be a minor cottage industry that will develop out of economists and other noted experts who will swear up and down that irrevocable damage was done to the game of hockey. People will throw out monetary estimates left and right. But we probably won't know how many lives were really changed by there not being hockey this year – unless the NHL never comes back.

9. The real losers in this whole dispute are the service workers at arenas and ancillary businesses, the NHL talent of the future, and – of course – the fans. The restaurants around the arenas; the ticket takers and parking-lot attendants; the junior hockey players; the college kids; all of them were the unrepresented persons in the labor dispute – the ones who a difference of a few million per team doesn't help pay the rent.

10. Money will end this dispute. No, not the lack of a paycheck by players, or the lack of income by owners. The money that will end this dispute will be the banks that hold the loans that are out on the teams and arenas, and the ones that issue credit ratings to the league. When they tell the NHL, "get something done or we're going to demand our money," that is when there will be a deal.

Saturday, February 19, 2005


So I come home from work this morning and discover that E.J. "Hrink Happenings" Hradek is telling everyone on the family of ESPN networks that a deal had been reached "in principle."

And then, I get up this afternoon to discover - surprise, surprise - that after meeting with each other all morning, talks broke off yet again between the NHL and NHLPA - even with the supposed "help" of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

In the words of the "President of Beers" commercial guy, this is a TraveShaMockery.

The NHL is more of a punch line than it is anything else right now. And to add to the joke, Steve Moore has decided to file a civil suit against Todd "Goon in Scorer's Clothing" Bertuzzi for his antics back when the NHL was actually playing hockey. Leno and Letterman's joke writers will have a field day with these - if they're not oversaturated with the Canseco steroid jokes.

I know one thing about this lockout: I will not believe that a settlement has been reached until "The Bettman" and (not)Goodenow walk out in a joint press conference with a piece of paper signed by both that it's over.

Anything else is nothing more than a joke.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Thoughts on losing a friend

A few thoughts, now that it's over:

  1. Every time Bettman used the words, "and our fans" in his statement (which was probably dated Sept. 16, 2004), it got me angrier and angrier. If he cared about the fans, HE WOULD HAVE ENDED THE LOCKOUT AND PLAYED UNDER THE OLD CBA UNTIL THEY COULD AGREE ON A NEW ONE. It just drove me crazy by the end of the press conference.

  2. It's a good thing that I have lousy aim, or my remote would have been right through the TV set after I snapped off the press conference on ESPN. As it is, I had to replace the batteries and battery cover (which is now loose, thanks).

  3. The National Hockey League NEVER INTENDED TO START THE SEASON. I'm sorry, but that is now crystal clear. Their intenton is clear: they are out to break the union and implement their own rules, their own financial structure.

  4. When do the lawsuits start? I'm sure that the creditors that are propping up Lemieux and company are going to start beating down his door, demanding that their letters of credit be paid in full - now. And what about all of the players who signed one-year deals before September 15th?

  5. Everything in this lockout was nothing more than posing, posturing, and preparing for the real battle that's to come: the legal warfare to be fought in the courts and in front of the NLRB.

"Welcome to the era of the No Hockey League..."

Sleepless In Cheeseheadland

According to, there may be a push at the deadline today (in less than 10 hours, as I post this) to try and move that proposal to something that'd be workable for both sides.

Any amount around $46 million would work, as it would punish those who have really messed up the sport, and yet wouldn't hurt the bottom-feeders.

Most important, Gary Bettman wouldn't have to read that damn piece of paper he's got in his briefcase at 1:00 PM Eastern.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

36 Hours

We are now less than 36 hours from the end of the NHL season.

Normally, that statement would be made sometime in early June, and the ending would be noted by a final horn, a bunch of guys mobbing one another, some silly hats being passed around, and those two impeccably dressed guys with white gloves carrying the greatest trophy in all of sports out onto the ice for the celebration.

No, this NHL season will end with a short guy in a suit standing up at a podium at some hotel in New York City, reading a prepared statement that had been printed up probably six to eight months ago. No silly hats will be handed out; no guys in suits with white gloves will carry out a trophy to be paraded around. And no one will be hugging anyone in celebration - though a whole lot of hockey fans will be crying in consolation.

It was the unthinkable, not that long ago, that a major professional sports league - any sports league, for that matter - would lose an entire scheduled season to a labor dispute.

There will be press, there will be reporters asking questions. The answers will be measured out, rehashing the same old words that have been thrown around for over a year now - "cost certainty", "salaries tied to revenues", "change is needed."

All this because a bunch of people can't decide how to split up the money they earn from playing a children's game.

Even the kids don't understand why this is. Perhaps they should be the ones consulted in negotiations; the mighty mites who get their gear on every Saturday morning, go down to the local rink, play hockey, and then go out to the local Krispy Kreme or Dunkin Donuts afterwards as a reward. Maybe they'd be able to figure out how to divvy up all that money, even if they can't count to 100.

36 hours. That's all that's left between the NHL and oblivion.

On a brighter note: in less than 12 hours, pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Florida...

Friday, February 11, 2005

Better is not always a Good Thing

I've learned something this week about technology: improvements are not always a good thing.

On Sunday afternoon, I was going to sit down and watch Super Bowl XXXIX from the comfort of my own couch, on my digital cable box-enhanced TV.

Only one small problem: the channel that was carrying the game in Milwaukee, Fox affiliate WITI-TV 6, wasn't coming in.

This was somewhat strange, because I had actually tuned in to the station before-hand that day (just to see the blathering about the game), and there hadn't been any problems.

But there was one, and I hadn't noticed it - because I'd tuned in to Fox 6 on my TV in the basement, next to my computer.

The issues was what cable techies call "blocking and tiling" - the picture freezes with blocks of incorrect colors or blacked-out "tiles" interspersed among the picture. It can be frequent in some digital cable channels that are on the "weaker" end of the spectrum, and more sensitive to "line noise."

After doing some soft resets of the box - and then a hard reset that involved unplugging the thing - I got nothing but a black blank screen. The lady at customer service suggested that I just unplug my cable line from the box and plug it directly into the back of the TV so I could watch the game.

Now, I don't think I would have done anything truly different if I'd been using digitial cable to watch the game, but there might have been the temptation to flip over to ESPNews afterwards to see the post-game press conference, or something to that effect.

Still - not having the game on digital was frustrating enough. To add to that, the technician wasn't going to be coming out to the house until Thursday.

Thursday came, and channel 6 came back - not at 100%, though. There were still issues of blocking and tiling, and a few times when it black-screened. The techie did a whole analysis of the line, saw that I was still getting errors, even when we bypassed the cable amplifier in the basement.

Then he did something that struck me as something right out of Ernest T. Bass or Larry the Cable Guy: he ran a line directly from the common cable box in my condo building's unit right in to the back of the cable box.

Guess what the problem was? Yep - the line coming into the house from the junction box outside - which is currently covered by several inches of ice and snow.

TWC's customer service e-mail was succinct: "A sidewalk bore is needed to replace and run the new drop [their term for a new line into the unit]. Unfortunately, this requires digging and cannot be completed until spring. I will adjust your account for the inconvenience you are experiencing."

Like Dana Carvey said when he played the Church Lady - "Well, isn't that special."

And what's worse is, I was planning on dropping digital cable at the end of May, anyways, because that was when the prices were going to be going up.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Puking Up

So the latest story is that Donovan McNabb was "sick" on the way down the field for that last series they had the ball in the Super Bowl. Donovan now is saying he wasn't - but boy, this whole thing doesn't look good, does it?

Of course, Packer fans are asking themselves, "Why couldn't the Eagles have done this last year?"

Prediction: the Eagles go 6-10 in 'o5.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Same Ol' Same Old

Seems like things are repeating themselves, and it's not even Groundhog's Day:
Jeff Foxworthy once said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, each time expecting a different result."

I'm starting to think the world is insane right now.

Saturday, February 05, 2005


Friday, February 04, 2005

Black Friday

It appears that today, February 4, 2005, will be the day that lives in sports infamy.

Probably sometime today, after the National Hockey League and its Players Association are done meeting with each other over a proposal for a new CBA that they cannot agree upon, the NHL will announce that the 2004-05 season is cancelled.

That report came from ESPN's E.J. Hradek, via an "unnamed owner." Who that owner is, we don't know. Bettman would probably have a major hissy fit if he found out who it was - unless, of course, it was part of an orchestrated plan to try to force the union into capitulating. Like the Board of Governor's meeting of late last month.

The truth is, there is exactly one line in the "framework" the NHL put forth on Tuesday that the players can't abide by: the line restricting salaries to between 53-55% of league revenues. With the owners insisting on limits on player compensation, the PA doesn't even want to go any further.

It's too bad, too, because the two sides are close on most of the other issues. Unfortunately, they're as close as the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is to the South Rim. You're in the same state, on a clear day you can see the other side - but you might as well be on different sides of the planet.

This is, to paraphrase Don McLean, "the day that hockey died."

I hope something happens before it's all over, that one side decides to change its position "for the good of the game."

But I'm not holding my breath.