Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Horserace Handicappers: Double Standard Edition

We all know who Nate Silver is by now. He moved on from crunching baseball numbers, and his Five Thirty Eight site is a national phenomenon and the electoral predictor of record. Until it isn't.

His calculations are based on science and variables, weighting of national and state polls, and historical precedents. He mixes it all in some sort of witch's brew which spits out a probability. Kind of like a sportsbook or a racetrack, hence the "horserace" metaphor.

Since summer, Silver has placed the probability of Obama's reelection as high as 80%, and no lower than 60%, even when Romney overtook the President in the Real Clear Politics national poll average.

As of the time of this posting, Nate Silver has the president's chance at reelection at 78.4%. Coincidentally, European megabook has Obama as a 1/3 favorite. And has Obama with a 69/31 advantage.

Does this mean that Silver is touting Obama? Yes and no. If you're at the craps table and you roll a 2, 3, 4, or 12, that equates to Romney's chances. The rest of the field would be for the President. It's math.

If Obama wins, especially as closely to Silver's model in 2008, the method will be borne out. If Romney wins, Silver loses all credibility. How could he have forecasted Obama so boldly when it was clearly a toss-up election?

Meanwhile on the other side...Dick Morris is an assclown.

His post on Real Clear Politics today is titled, "Here Comes The Landslide." Morris sees the "erosion" of Obama's ground in Ohio, New Hampshire, and Iowa.

He says that in the next few days the battle will move to Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. That "these new swing states look to be the battleground," with even New Jersey and Oregon coming into play. And Morris also says the GOP will see a net gain of six senate seats.

How RCP gives the same amount of space as Silver to someone so clearly in the hinterlands is a farce. The airtime he gets is less for everyone else to breathe.

His electoral map has Romney somewhere in the 350 range. According to Silver's science, the chances of that would be somewhere along the lines of rolling snake eyes four times in a row.

Now as an American, I fully support Morris's right to spew nonsense. What he lacks is both credibility and accountability. On what does he base these projections that allows him to contribute to the national discourse? And if he's wrong, will he admit he was wrong on November 7th?

There's the double standard. Nate Silver's cottage industry needs success to be credible. Dick Morris can predict anything he wants with no consequence.

And in a nutshell, there's the difference in the two bases. One side follows the facts, the other side takes it on faith.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Paper Backtime: Fahrenheit 2030

I've often appreciated Albert Brooks and his unique social commentaries, as an actor (an all-time performance in Broadcast News), as well as an actor/writer/director (Defending Your Life, Lost In America).

So I wonder if his vision of the not-too-distant future was originally intended for the big screen, instead of as a mere novel. But the book is not only funny and cynical, but very imaginative and thought-provoking. Welcome to 2030: The Real Story of what Happens to America.

In an era of watch-phones, self-driving cars, and fat-killing pills, cancer has been cured and the average life expectancy is well over 100 years old. Seniors are living so much longer that Social Security is draining the American economy, and "the olds" have become targets for hate crimes.

The disenfranchised American youth knows that in deficit-ridden America they will never see their slice of the pie, and have resorted to terroristic acts like suicide bombing casino buses and hijacking cruise ships.

It's like The Jetsons meets The Hunger Games.

And with no escape in sight to the country's deficit, the big one hits LA. With one million dead and over 90% of the city destroyed, President Matthew Bernstein (the first you-guessed-it president) enters into a desperate partnership with China to rebuild Los Angeles.

Meanwhile a Chinese visionary completely revamps the US health care system, marries into a formidable political family, and eventually runs for President.

Yes 2030 comes off the rails, but it's a pretty good ride most of the way while the future flashes before our eyes.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sports And Weather, Together

Much has been made over the years of sports teams and their connotations toward various ethnicities, primarily Native Americans.

But what about weather? Something so destructive and remorseless is often hailed and cheered on in college and professional athletics.

The Miami Hurricanes come to mind. As a college sports producer/writer, I find myself frequently looking to make a play on words with team nicknames.

"Hurricane Warning" was the theme song for the 'Canes when they upset Nebraska in the 1984 Orange Bowl.

Ironically, "Rock You Like A Hurricane" was a huge hit released by Scorpions in the same year.

But Miami isn't alone, there are plenty of team nicknames and logos that exploit cruel and soulless meteorological fury. Sometimes they achieve massive successes.

The Oklahoma City Thunder reached the NBA finals this year. The Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004. And who could forget the 2010 WNBA champion Seattle Storm?

The Alabama Crimson Tide is also tied to the weather, though a little more complicated, especially for simple indoor types like myself.

There's also the Iowa State Cyclones in college sports, and the San Jose Earthquakes in soccer. Each are associated with destruction and despair. Far more devastation than the North Dakota Fighting Sioux could ever cause.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Savannah Forecast: Fair

In my 5 years in Savannah, I've had more issues with the weather forecaster than the actual weather. And while the northeast buckles down for a massive storm, we had kind of an ideal fall weekend here.

I actually fell for the rainy, windy forecast upon my arrival back home Saturday morning, so I whisked the kids and my parents off to the movies instead of messing with the outdoors. We saw Frankenweenie, a typical mildly-scary, messagy Tim Burton flick. It wasn't at all too intense for the primary school kids.

We left the theater and it hadn't rained yet, so we returned to Ottawa Farms and got our exercise zig-zagging through the corn maze for the better part of an hour. This time we made it for the pig races.

Today was one of the picture-perfect, chamber of commerce days that is common in the Savannah spring and autumn. We made the team decision to forego the Jets-Dolphins game at 1 PM, which in hindsight was the best move of the weekend - maybe of my entire life. We hit Shalom Y'all at Forsyth Park instead. It was packed as usual.

It was the fifth straight year I made it to the event with the kids, which runs 11 AM - 4 PM. But if you schmooze, you lose. They run out of pastrami and blintzes long before closing. So after the playground, we chilled back at the homestead before the trek to the The Coastal Empire Fair, which was actually quite well-run.

The beautiful weekend capper is pictured up top. It's a good thing Halloween falls on, and is actually practiced on, a Wednesday this year. There wasn't room for it this weekend.

Now we figure out how long Grandma & Grandpa will be stuck in the house with a return to New York very much as questionable as the weather. Unless you live in Savannah.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Just Another Day At The Office

It doesn't suck when your office is in a mobile unit outside a sold-out college football stadium. And only adding to that satisfaction is run of great finishes I've witnessed and documented in the last several weeks.

Last night it was Louisville coming back from 10 points down in the second half, Teddy Bridgewater throwing for 400+, a late Cincinnati rally led by Munchie Legaux, and the Keg Of Nails changing hands on a game-winning FG in OT.

Here are my last 5 college football assignments:

September 15 - Utah 24, BYU 21

Utah thought they had won on two separate occasions. The sidelines emptied and the fans rushed the field, twice. After a clock adjustment and an illegal participation penalty on a Stanford Band-type play, BYU's tying FG attempt doinked off the upright. Then the Utes got to celebrate for real.

October 5 - Syracuse 14, Pitt 13

It wasn't a barn-burner by any stretch, but one-point games don't suck. It helps that the alma mater actually captured a conference game at home.

October 13 - Texas A&M 59, Louisiana Tech 57

Another one for the history books. Freshman legend Johnny "Football" Manziel set the SEC Total Offense mark (for the second time this season) with 576 yards of total offense, accounting for 6 TDs. The Aggies led 27-0, by 23 at halftime, and by 16 going into the 4th quarter. Still, gutty La Tech had two chances to tie on failed 2-point conversions. Texas A&M hung on in Shreveport.

October 20 - Louisville 27, South Florida 25

It wasn't a classic, but just a run-of-the-mill game-winning TD drive with under 2:00 left. And it was led by Louisville's super soph to preserve a still-unbeaten season.

October 26 - Louisville 34, Cincinnati 31 (OT)

Louisville's late magic continues. Eight down, four to go.

Next up: Bowling Green at Ohio U - Wednesday, November 7. The day after election day in Ohio will be interesting whether the game is or not.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Deja Lou

Haven't I been here before? Yes, just a few days ago. And ten times in the last three years. Not quite the time entrenched as I was in 2008-2009, when I spent 30 days in a 7-month period in Oklahoma.

Louisville is a great city but we're stuck at an airport hotel, which is convenient to the football stadium but not to downtown and 4th Street Live.

Thursday night's dinner was at the Cardinal Hall of Fame Cafe' which is a solid sports bar, and serves Bourbon Barrel Ale in frosty 22-ounce glasses.

As noted in the past, this is a great sports town, home to Churchill Downs, Louisville Slugger, and the Muhammad Ali museum.

It is also the home of some great college sports, headlined by the Preseason #2 Louisville Cardinals hoop team, who plays in the downtown Yum! Center, which is already a Top 5 NBA arena.

And the #16 football squad will be playing rival Cincinnati in a packed stadium tonight for the Keg Of Nails. And each team looks to get one step closer to the Big East's automatic BCS bid.

The weather may be a factor with persistent rain, which may douse some of the fire that's been building over the outstanding quarterback matchup: Munchie Legaux vs Teddy Bridgewater.

The Keg's been in Bearcat hands for four straight years, and tonight the Cardinals look to reclaim it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Working Hard For The Money

Game 1 of the 2012 World Series will be remembered for many things, like Pablo Sandoval's three Home Runs (two off Justin Verlander), and who it puts him alongside in the history books.

But there was another significant hit off Verlander, when Barry Zito slapped an RBI single to left in the bottom of the 4th. Zito was 4-53 (.075) at the plate in the regular season, but had been maligned since his arrival with the Giants, for other reasons.

It's because Zito signed a 7-year, $126M contract with the Giants on December 29, 2006. And since switching sides of the bay he had been a colossal bust.

But there had been a time when Zito seemed like a can't-miss investment. When Oakland had Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson way back at the turn of the century, they were that decade's answer to Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine. They were backbone of the A's success, while Moneyball supplemented them.

In 2002 the A's won 103 games, it was the pinnacle of those teams. Barry Zito won 23 of them and dazzled his way to a Cy Young award. But they lost in the ALDS for a third straight year, this time to the Twins instead of the Yankees. It got Art Howe fired.

The Twins lost to the Angels in the ALCS, who eventually won the World Series by rally-monkeying past... the San Francisco Giants. Life is a circle sometimes.

While Zito will likely never justify the $126 Million that was spent on him, he never quit trying to earn it. Zito went 43-61 in his first 5 years with the Giants and was left off the 2010 playoff roster. But he was a more than respectable 15-8 this season, and has already notched two huge postseason wins. And Giants fans know it.

There was an article in Thursday's USA Today, paralleling the Zito contract with the recent money bombs thrown AJ Burnett and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

The Yankees committed $82.5M to AJ Burnett, who went 34-35 in three seasons in New York before being exiled to Pittsburgh for the final two years of his deal (Burnett was 16-10 this year). But when the Yankees lost Game 1 of the 2009 World Series, Burnett was brilliant in Game 2 to springboard his team to a championship.

Red Sox fans throw their hands up in the air every time Matsuzaka pitches now, but does that nullify him winning Game 7 of the 2007 ALCS or Game 3 of the World Series? Or an 18-3 season the next year?

There are sometimes unexpected dividends on dubious investments. You get the feeling Barry Zito's portfolio isn't quite closed.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Paper Backtime: Maddow On Defense

With the third Presidential debate as a backdrop, I thought it would be appropriate to release Backtime's notes on Rachel Maddow's first book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power.

Many of my friends and colleagues unfortunately take their cues from Sean Hannity and Charles Krauthammer, and would dismiss this book solely on the basis of its author. Their loss. 

In fact, here is a prominent testimonial lifted from the back cover:

"Rachel Maddow makes valid arguments that our country has been drifting toward questionable wars, draining our resources, without sufficient input and time. People who like Rachel will love the book. People who don't will get angry, but aggressive debate is good for America. Drift is a book worth reading.

~ Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO, Fox News

War is hell. War is supposed to hurt. When America is at war, everyone is supposed to feel it. That's what the framers like Jefferson and Madison had in mind. The reason to go to war could be too personal or idealogical or partisan for a President to declare, without a congressional ratification process. It's the nature of our checks and balances government system.

But as Ms. Maddow argues, that process has been circumvented in the last 50 years. Now administrations routinely detach our military personnel from the American whole, and place them at their whims like the plastic GI Joe figurine that guards the book's cover.

The first such case was Vietnam, when Lyndon Johnson would gradually increase military presence so as to have a war on the ground out there, without America feeling the effects of war at home. Fighting "a war on the cheap" was obviously ineffectual and deadly for our soldiers, so it was stepped up into a full-scale war.

Ronald Reagan was ultimately the one who tipped the balance in avoiding congressional approval and taking direct military action. First in Grenada, when the US intervened after a communist coup in a country no one had ever heard of, an incursion described by the UN General Assembly as "a flagrant violation of international law."

Then Reagan became obsessed with the crusade of the Nicaraguan Contras, which spawned the clandestine Iran-Contra business, which featured a Watergate-like list of characters facing the music. Reagan didn't have to, despite repeated end runs around congress to trade arms for hostages to fund Central American freedom fighters. Even with the President's fingerprints all over it, the theory is since Reagan was beloved and in ill mental health, an impeachment would've been too heartbreaking for the nation.

The congressman who fought for Reagan's executive authority was Dick Cheney of Wyoming, who coincidentally became George H. W. Bush's Secretary of Defense. When Bush wanted to go liberate Kuwait from the Iraqis, he tried to push executive action. But Congress held him up until January of 1990, when the first Iraq war was approved.

The system worked, in theory. But the major troop outlays now all over the world made us re-think how to handle finances. Along came military contractors. The military need not be responsible for food services, laundry, general transportation, etc., and thus started down the road to privatization of war. And that meant war for profit.

This became problematic during the issues in Bosnia under Clinton, when military contractors were accused of atrocities, including abuse of women and children.

Then came Bush #43, 9/11 and Afghanistan. Which morphed into a search for WMDs in Iraq, to the exhaustion of our forces. But there was no draft as the country at large was spared the sacrifice, we were even given tax cuts; enter Halliburton and Blackwater to pick up the slack over there.

And now under Obama we have increased drone attacks, where we push a button here and a neighborhood on the other side of the world goes boom. No troops in harm's way. No PTSD. No rules of engagement.

Maddow's book isn't too different stylistically from her program. While she is very clever, she is rarely glib. She still entertains in a very roundabout way, but ultimately connects all the dots and opens eyes.

Most importantly she doesn't blame either party, rather chronicling the US history and the tension that exists when politics and military action become intertwined. We are also ultimately a nation that despises war, and legislators are problem solvers (which often creates more problems) so if we can go to war without being at war, it's a win-win, right?

Hence The Unmooring of American Military Power.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Negotiating Giant Obstacles

There was a sublime moment in San Francisco last night when the Giants who had rallied from the brink of elimination twice (or six times depending how you look at it) and were on the field with just three outs to go in a massive downpour. Credit Fox for providing cinematic pictures of a triumphant celebration in the rain.

It was the ultimate victory over adversity. The Giants had lost Second Baseman Freddy Sanchez and Closer Brian Wilson with season-ending injuries before their years had even started. They lost MVP candidate Melky Cabrera with two months to go, suspended for PEDs. Their Ace Starter of previous years, Tim Lincecum, wasn't even a shadow of His Freakishness. They watched their main rival in LA pick up a handful of household names from the Red Sox in a late-season trade.

With everything thrown at the Giants, it only seemed to make them stronger. And ultimately, for the last hurdle, they only had to outlast the elements.

Now the Giants battle Detroit in what should be a great World Series. It should also be cosmetically pleasing, with the second and third best uniform combos in baseball (they climbed up the ladder since the Expos moved to Washington).

Now the Giants find themselves in a disadvantageous position again. The Tigers come off a sweep of the Yankees and their pitching is set up. They also have the toughest out (Miguel Cabrera) and the best pitcher (Justin Verlander) in the game. But if the Giants show the type of spirit and team unity of 2010, and they have thus far, you'd be a fool to write them off.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Top 7 Jets Through 7

I don't want to go into any great detail about the Jets' thrilling, yet disappointing overtime loss in Foxboro. Whether they could've won but should've lost, or played well enough to win and sabotaged themselves are all angles that Mike Francesa will no doubt pick apart at 1 PM ET.

I'm here to assess where the Jets are. While 3-4 is nothing great, they are obviously entrenched in the AFC race, hopefully for the long haul. Even without a number of star players and role players who are now out for the season. But they've shown some resilience and there have been some step-up guys. Here are Backtime's Top Seven Jets in 2012, in progress:

1. Jeremy Kerley - A 5th round pick in 2011, and at only 5'9" he was supposed to be a slot guy and special teamer. Through releases and attrition, Kerley's become the Jets top receiver. He's electric after the catch, and already brought a punt back for a TD this year.

2. Nick Folk - What do you say when your kicker is maybe your best player? You shut up and take the 3 points. After two very productive seasons, the Jets brought in veteran Josh Brown for some preseason competition. Folk won the job and is 11/11 on FGs this year including a 54 and two from 43 yesterday.

3. Antonio Cromartie - Yes he shoots off his mouth and sometimes makes dumb penalties. But he's a shut-down corner, who's had to step up his game with Revis out. Always a threat to pick a ball he looks beaten on, and then take it to the house from there.

4. Robert Malone -  The punter's good too. Robert Malone's got a 47.1 average, and put 11 of his 35 punts inside the 20. The 41.0 net average is very solid. A key field position weapon.

5. Joe McKnight - With the injuries in the secondary, he balked about being moved to corner. And with good reason - because he's the Jets best running back. When will the coaches realize this? Durability is definitely an issue, but he's  proven to be a game-changer. His kick return TD against Houston was the team's most inspired play of the season.

6. LaRon Landry - The Jets' best offseason acquisition hasn't been spectacular, but is a solid run-stopper with 50 tackles on the season. And more than that, his presence (and reputation) makes opposing receivers think twice about going over the middle before they even step on the field.

7. Dustin Keller - He missed 5 of the 7 games and still makes this list, that's how desperate the Jets are for his offense. He was a steady and tough target in the Patriot game, our answer to Gronk.

Please note who is not on the list, neither Mark Sanchez nor Tim Tebow. Sanchez's performance has been uneven to say the least, showing both flashes of brilliance and horror. Tebow could have snuck on the list but clearly hasn't had the opportunities, or done very much when he's had them outside of a few plays.

Also absent from the list, anyone on the Jets' offensive line or defensive front seven. I'm no expert at grading line play, but the O-Line has multiple Pro Bowlers and haven't kept the pass rush off Sanchez. They've plowed the way for a dominant running game in just one out of seven games. And as for the D-Line and Linebackers, nobody is making plays behind the line of scrimmage - and don't tell me about David Harrris's one sack this year!

While the skill guys get the glory, it's the interior guys that mold a team's identity, and the Jets have been pushed around this year.

And four of Backtime's top five are special teamers, which is a silver lining. Special teams are and should be treated as a third unit, and those guys have been good. Now let's talk about the 104-yard kick return TD they allowed to Devin McCourty...

That's the report through Game 7. Oh and by the way, everybody enjoy the big baseball Game 7 tonight. You might want to get out your Bob Carpenter Scorebook for this one!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Teddy Is Ready

I just picked this photo off the internet, I didn't take it. But it embodies Teddy Bridgewater, the 19-year old true sophomore Louisville QB perfectly. Note the steely eyes, the textbook grip, the perfectly centered hand warmer and towel.

It's not surprising at all, when he takes everything about the quarterback position so seriously. His coaches praise his "next level" grasp of the position, mastering the art of play-faking and dummy signaling. He changes the offensive tempo, makes his own checks at the line, and makes his own calls in the no-huddle.

Bridgewater has even programmed the team's offense into his X-Box, so he has thousands of simulated reps under his belt to go with the thousands of actual ones.

On Saturday, Louisville needed all of Bridgewater's poise and efficiency to edge the resilient South Florida Bulls 27-25, including leading the game-winning TD drive with 1:35 remaining.

Bridgewater's statline was just as splendid as his attention to detail: 21-25, 256 yards, 2 TD and 0 INT. And add in 10 runs for 74 yards for good measure.

The only thing more sublime than Teddy Bridgewater's performance was the postgame team dinner in Louisville. Jack Fry's was a Top 10 all-time meal.

Louisville (7-0) is back on the menu next week, when Cincinnati rides south with the Keg Of Nails. Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Alan Arkin: American Treasure

In Argo, a movie about life-or-death hostage exfiltration from Tehran in 1979, Alan Arkin steals every scene he's in as Hollywood producer and bullshit laureate Lester Siegel.

It was a perfect comic relief performance in a tense thriller. After one-lining everyone and delivering the mantra, "Argo fuck yourself," it's a likely Best Supporting Actor award for the 78-year old Arkin, to put on his shelf next to the one from 2006 for Little Miss Sunshine. 

My affection for Arkin is a little more personal. Less than a month after my move from New York to Omaha in 2002, I was toying with making changes in my chosen career of TV production. As if trading in a "212" for a "402" and an entry into co-habitation and future marriage wasn't enough. Arkin came in for a spring weekend and did a full two-day actor's workshop in downtown Omaha.

It was basic stuff about being the character and not just acting like one, getting inside the mind of the car wash operator and the cat burglar. I was motivated and inspired, and I think I was pretty good. There were about 20 of us in the group and it was a great time. But it was like a spring training fantasy camp: you really get into it, but when time runs out and your carriage turns into a pumpkin, you move on and never follow through.

There are 102 titles listed on the Alan Arkin page at IMDB, and though he's achieved massive successes in his 70s, I was just as big a fan before I ever met the man. His bit roles in So I Married An Axe Murderer, The Jerky Boys, and Grosse Pointe Blank were just as memorable to me.

But one movie stands out above all else, The In-Laws, one of the best buddy movies of all-time with Arkin as nebbish dentist Sheldon "Shelly" Kornpett, alongside unhinged CIA agent Vince Ricardo (Peter Falk).  

Their 48-hour adventure takes them on a covert mission into the palace of a Central American dictator and in front of a firing squad. But they escape with an unconventional treasure, and make a grand entrance into their kids' wedding by chopper.

In a word, Serpentine: Changing direction, retracing steps, reinventing yourself. It's Backtime's lofty mission. Thanks for your great work Alan Arkin.

Friday, October 19, 2012

When It All Crumbled: The 2012 Tipping Point

It was shortly after Midnight, Sunday morning October 14th. A freak play in the 12th inning cost the Yankees their shortstop, leadoff hitter, and captain. More importantly they lost their rudder - and their soul.

The Yankees bats were barely alive before Derek Jeter went down, and flatlined after. Hiroki Kuroda pitched his ass off the next day, but he was playing alongside The Walking Dead, in a sneak preview of the season premiere later Sunday evening.

Joe Girardi didn't have any answers. All the magic moves he made all season suddenly collapsed. And where was the on-field leadership going to come from?

Robinson Cano? Too nonchalant.

Mark Teixeira? Too humble.

Ichiro Suzuki? Claims he doesn't speak English. And if he did...

Alex Rodriguez? Marginalized.

People talking without speaking. People hearing without listening... And no one dared disturb the sounds of silence.

Because they all took their silent cues from one man.

If Jeter had been lost like Mariano Rivera, in May, the team could have (and ultimately would have) found their way. Leaders would have been born after the shock wore off. But on October 14th the Yankees went into shock, and by October 18th they weren't yet out of it. Which of course meant they were out of it.

Do you think, do you really think the Alex Rodriguez circus would have taken off like this if Jeter was physically there to counsel Girardi in Detroit? No way.

And let's give some credit to the Tigers as well. There wasn't just a team that got swept away, there was an excellent team that did the sweeping.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A-Rod, The Lightning Rod

"Now this looks like a job for me so everybody just follow me, 'cause we need a little controversy 'cause it feels so empty without me."

I could not let the 40th birthday of Eminem slide without injecting his brilliant words into the events that played out that day, especially in the hometown of the Detroit icon.

I had a number of things to tackle all afternoon in the house yesterday, and I had no interest in any more Hofstra debate post-mortem. So I made the mistake of turning on Mike Francesa - not because it wasn't compelling - but because it was. The feeding frenzy around Alex Rodriguez has reached epic proportions, as pictured above.

They Yankees are down and nearly out. Trailing 0-3 to the very legitimate Detroit Tigers isn't the story. The Yankees' exceptional pitching isn't the story. The anemic Yankee bats are. But Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson, and Russell Martin didn't have the media swarmed on them. Only Alex.

Let me try to explain how a lightning rod works.

The building stands in the path of an oncoming electrical storm. 
In order to deflect attention from the vulnerable foundation, the lightning rod is there to attract the storm's blast and channel it away from the larger structure as a whole.

Sound familiar?

The lightning rod has no say in the matter. It's sole purpose is to stand idly and get struck by a bolt of lightning.

And while A-Rod seems often like an automaton who has no humanity or feelings, he shouldn't stand alone to take a strike.

Although Rodriguez isn't alone among Yankees experiencing offensive woes, he is the most visible. And none of this would be an issue if he were producing. He has been his own worst enemy, going 0-for-18 vs RH pitching in the playoffs.

A-Rod stood and faced the media storm yesterday. He was introspective, calm, and outwardly remained confident in both his ability to hit, and ability to contribute to the team. He dropped an "I don't give a shit" at one point, but it was his only real defiance. He was as professional as anyone could possibly be in that circumstance.

So the airwaves are clogged with A-Rod talk now. Was there a pickup attempted of an Australian model during an LCS game? Have the Yankees already discussed trading him to the Marlins? Will he ever see game action in a Yankee uniform again?

GM Brian Cashman met the media yesterday and called A-Rod's benching a "baseball decision" because of the splits versus right-handed pitching, inferring that he'd be in there against a lefty. The Tigers have no left-handed starters, and the Yankees are one game away from the 2012 season being over. And don't expect the storm to pass in the off-season.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Getting Off The Mat

Another night watching two things at once. And believe me, I much rather would've had a picture of the resurgent New York Yankees to lead today's weblog. But no such picture exists as the Yankees now face elimination, trailing Detroit 3-0 in the ALCS. More on that in a bit.

But in the meantime, our President showed some resiliency and some fight after a comatose doppelganger had apparently usurped his body in Denver 12 nights earlier.

I can't remember a debate of any kind affecting me so much. The first 40 minutes were so full of testy exchanges and personal space invasions, it made my heart race.

Certainly Romney had good moments and bad moments, and I felt he didn't lose so much as President Obama was a total badass.

My initial prediction that in a setting with average members of the electorate, Romney was bound to say something unrehearsed that would underscore his being out of touch. And that turned out to be true, on the issue of women in the workplace. Not that I think the "binders full of women" comment that everyone has run with was so bad. But more the context of women in the workplace, and talking about flexible hours so they can get home and make dinner, etc.

It reminds us that Mitt grew up, and subsequently raised his family in Pleasantville. Where breakfast and dinner were always on the table for Mr. Breadwinner. He is just now trying to re-adapt his thinking that things might be different, but he's too old to change. Except his position on abortion, and guns, and health care.

This is something the President gets. They aren't "women's issues," they are family issues and pocketbook issues.

And on this night, when Romney tried to make his own rules of the debate format, he couldn't just steamroll the moderator and the sitting President like they were long-haired hippies at Cranbrook. He was stood up to and put in his place.

When Mr. Romney did have a good comeback, asking the President to check his own overseas investments in his pension, Mr. Obama one-upped him, saying his pension wasn't as big so it wouldn't take as long to read.

And on Libya, the President adhered to The Art Of War axiom (or maybe it was from a comic book): "Never get in the way of your enemy when he is trying to destroy himself."

Hence: Please proceed, Governor. Or as those on Twitter pointed out in real time "The new fuck you."

Former GOP strategist Steve Schmidt remarked that Romney had a good debate on jobs, the economy and on energy. But he was blunt about where Mr. Romney had mis-stepped into fact-check hell:

"Romney's weakest moment was clearly on Libya. He stuck his chin out and got walloped."

Who really won and who lost the night, much like Denver, could be summed up in a wife's facial expression.

Here was the forced grin after watching your soulmate go through the meat grinder, far from the unbridled joy immediately after the first debate.

Meanwhile in Detroit, things continued along their projected path. Despite the much-needed insertion of Eduardo Nunez into the lineup, as he was the only one who could touch Justin Verlander with a solo HR in the 9th. And he turned out to be a difference maker instead of a liability at shortstop as well.

Both Nunez and Eric Chavez (starting for a benched A-Rod) made brilliant defensive plays to keep the game at 2-0 to set the stage for the 9th inning rally. But Jim Leyland and the Tigers smartly went to ex-Yank Phil Coke rather than the super-combustible Jose Valverde to close it.

Now the Yankees face the near-impossible task of winning 4 straight to get to the World Series. It makes me remember 2004 and the curse I placed on my own team when the Yanks took a 3-0 ALCS lead over Boston.

We were in Toledo for a football game, and the Yankees had just won Game 3 going away, 19-8. I put my arm around Bubba, a lifelong Sox fan, and out of pure placation I uttered the following words:

"Just because it hasn't been done, doesn't mean it can't be done."

The Red Sox tied the game in the 9th against Mariano Rivera in Game 4, ultimately winning in 12; and then they won Game 5 in 14 innings.

Game 6 was the Curt Schilling/bloody sock game, and I didn't see it though I listened to every pitch as I drove my family through the night from Omaha to Kalamazoo. We were moving!

The apartment in Kalamazoo was cable-ready, so my first night in my new home was going to be Game 7 of the ALCS. But there was no celebration for my guys, and there was no drama. Kevin Brown got lit up by Johnny Damon and shut down Derek Lowe (both later found their way to the Yankees) and the long Michigan winter was upon us.

But it was in my 3 years in Michigan that I fell in love (sort of) with another team, the Detroit Tigers. During my time there, they went from doormats to league champions. Day-in, day-out, I watched an all-out CF who could actually hit and tear up the bases named Curtis Granderson, and a rookie pitching  sensation named Justin Verlander.

I will cheer like hell for the Tigers should they advance. But first there's CC Sabathia tonight to get the Yankees off the mat, and we'll take it one at a time from there.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Paper Backtime: MoneyWall

It's always a pleasure to read one of the more eclectic voices of our generation. His sports-themed books Moneyball and The Blind Side were developed into highly-acclaimed motion pictures. And in the last year, Lweis has taken to a number of different projects:

His 2012 commencement address at Princeton, his alma mater, was widely received for delivering a message that was well outside the box. The same can be said of his Vanity Fair profile of President Obama.

Or my favorite, the one-page Foreword in Mike Leach's autobiography Swing Your Sword, titled "The Importance of Peeing on the Dog."

But Lewis's bread and butter is his unique documentation of the financial world. He wrote The Big Short about the real-estate meltdown and Boomerang about the global economic crisis. But it all started with the 1989 semi-autobiographical Liar's Poker, chronicling the 1980's Wall Street boom, which of course was a house of cards.

I actually worked on a Wall Street trading desk in the summer of 1987, scribbling stock and option orders at a clearing house for small brokerages. I didn't take much away from the experience other than the blue "sell" and pink "buy" memo pads I swiped on my last day.

I went to Syracuse for my freshman year in late August, and the market crashed two months later. Black Monday was October 19, 1987 when in one day the market dipped 23%. I would've loved to be a fly on the wall on the trading desk that day. Lewis's book chronicles the events, but even more so the attitudes that led to it.

Lewis wasn't on Wall Street in physical address only. He reconstructs his entry at Salomon Brothers and quick ascension through the London bond trading desk to his confirmation as Big Swinging Dick (his words, not mine).

Stock (equity) trading was a banishment at Salomon. Bonds were where it was at, especially mortgage bonds. Lewis paints a bunch of fat piranhas playing huge gamblers, using money to make money in the most Machiavellian manner, and moving tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars within seconds.

"There was a phenomenon known at Salomon as a priority. A priority was a huge number of bonds or stocks that had to be sold, either because selling them would make us rich or because not selling them would make us poor. When Texaco teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, for example, Salomon Brothers owned about one hundred million dollars' worth of bonds in the company. There was a real danger that these bonds would become worthless. Unless sold to customers, they could cost Salomon a great deal of money. Sold to customers, of course, they would cost the customers a great deal of money. That, it was decided, was the best thing to do. Texaco bonds therefore became a priority for the Salomon sales force." (p. 224)

After making $225K as a 27-year old, and that money went a little further in 1988 mind you, Lewis decided to hang up his suspenders and phone bank.

"My father's generation grew up with certain beliefs. One of those beliefs is that the amount of money one earns is a rough guide to one's contribution to the welfare and prosperity of our society." (p.307)

Lewis left Salomon Brothers to contribute to society rather than merely profit off of it. He would modestly have you believe (refer to the Princeton speech) that he achieved what he has in life by luck, a series of fortunate events.

I think there's some truth to that, but it's what you can do with the ball when it's fortunate enough to come your way. Lewis just happened to be sitting next to the wife of a Salomon manager at a royal dinner while at grad school in London. He just happened to leave a lucrative career in investment banking to become an influential writer.

I like to say "things don't happen for a reason; there's a reason things happen." All of our decisions aren't perfect, Lewis after all has been married three times. But more often than not, we make our own luck.

I like Lewis's work a lot. So I picked up Liar's Poker hoping to understand how banks could take on this much risk, and learn about leverage buyouts and the like. I hoped a straight-talking and pretty humorous writer could dumb it all down for me. He was only partially successful. I need to get an MBA. Maybe I can change my own destiny.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Jets In The Greene, Yankees Singing The Blues

In Week 6, the Jets finally found their identity in a 35-9 win over the Colts. All you need to do is read Shonn Greene's stat line: 32 carries, 161 yards, 3 TD. I don't know if it was his season wakeup call that was late, or his offensive line's, but it's hard to argue with the results. What have you done for me lately? Quite a bit, thank you.

The Jets combined for 252 rush yards including a 61-yard "jet" by Joe McKnight, who injured his ankle on the play, and now Jets nation sweats another Monday MRI.

The run game set up the pass game, which is the way it's supposed to work. Mark Sanchez's totals were way down, but he had a couple of nice TD strikes to the Hill boys. And Tim Tebow completed a brilliantly-designed 23-yard pass out of punt formation on 4th and 11.

So despite the Jets' bipolar start, they are an even 3-3 along with the rest of the AFC East.

While one New York team was finding its way, another just two crossed rivers away, looked completely lost.

The Yankees can't hit, and they really haven't the entire postseason. They scored 5 runs in the 9th inning of ALDS Game 1 vs Baltimore and 4 runs in the 9th inning of ALCS Game 1 vs Detroit. In the other 70 innings they've played this postseason, the Yankees have 11 runs.

While A-Rod is the lightning rod, at least he's occasionally hit the ball hard.

It's Robinson Cano who has disappeared from the face of the earth. In the season's last 9 games, he  was absolutely flammable at 24-39 (.615). In the playoffs, he's hitless in his last 26 AB. You just can not figure out baseball, Suzyn.

After another brilliant pitching performance, Hiroki Kuroda could only shake his head at the outcome.

Now the Yankees head 0-2 to Motown without Derek Jeter, and are in desperate need of some run support. They can't count on the level of pitching they've gotten, and it's time for the bats to pick them up.

I think they need to slide Eduardo Nunez right in at the leadoff spot. His bat is live and he's a terror on the bases. Even though he's a butcher in the field at shortstop, it has to be worth the risk at this point.

Game 3 is Tuesday night, Hughes vs Verlander. Haven't we met somewhere before? Oh yes, June 3rd. It was Hughes's only complete game of the year in a 5-1 Yankees win and A-Rod took Verlander (very) deep.

Then there's the more recent August 6th game when Verlander struck out 14 and the Tigers dominated. So there's always that to look forward to.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Legend Of Johnny Football Builds

My first show in Shreveport in 10 years was somewhat eventful. It was possibly the biggest game in Louisiana Tech history, and delayed 6 weeks by the threat of Hurricane Isaac that forced the postponement of the originally scheduled August 30 meeting.

But to illustrate the difference between the type of resources that divide Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech, I cite my credential from the actual October 13 game. Notice they didn't bother to reprint from Week 1.

Texas A&M raced to a 27-0 lead and we were headed for your garden variety big school-small school, rich school-poor school blowout. Aggie freshman Johnny Manziel (aka "Johnny Football") was flinging the ball all over the place, running for touchdowns, and The Kerrville, Texas product was inspiring visions of Friday Night Lights and Varsity Blues.

But the second half broke out, and as Johnny (Johnny Carson) once asked, "Was that a football game or a track meet?"

The La Tech Bulldogs never quit. They put 41 points on the board after halftime and came within a 2-point conversion of forcing overtime before ultimately submitting 59-57. The game featured 1,293 combined total yards, and we may have seen the eventual Biletnikoff Award winner, Quinton Patton.

The La Tech PR department is obviously all over it, but Patton walked the walk with 21 catches for 233 yards and 4 TD against the Aggies' beleaguered defense.

But the story was Johnny Football. The freshman tallied 576 yards of total offense (395 pass, 181 rush) and 6 total TD (3 of each), breaking the SEC total offense record that he set just 2 weeks ago against Arkansas.

A&M's most important drive started at their own 1 with about 3 minutes to go, leading 53-44. Manziel dropped straight back and fired a 34-yard strike over the defense. Then two plays later, Johnny Football took off on a 72 yard gold rush on a 3rd & 23.

Manziel is listed at 6'1" but I don't believe it. But just because he's a shorter, scrappier, unconventional QB type, and a freshman - doesn't mean he can't win the Heisman Trophy.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Backtime Memo-Random: Shreveport

I was going to follow up on yesterday's Rudy Tomjanovich mantra, "Never underestimate the heart of a champion," so I'll pay it a little lip service.

CC Sabathia was brilliant and the Yankees needed all 9 innings from him in ALDS Game 5 to finally bury Baltimore. Then while we were enjoying an awesome Cajun meal at The Blind Tiger, the champs mounted their relentless comeback from 6-0 down, and the Cardinals shocked the Nationals 9-7.

But I'm going to praise the heart of a TV road warrior instead, myself.

Both stories from the Backtime Travelogue involve where I currently sit: Shreveport.

December 27, 2002

The Independence Bowl had always been a pretty pedestrian matchup between a SEC team and a Big 12 team. Sometimes, a classic breaks out like the 2000 Snow Bowl, when Mississippi State outlasted Texas A&M in the biggest snowstorm ever to hit Shreveport.

The 2002 version was notable for a couple of reasons.

First, the brand-name Nebraska Cornhuskers, who had played for the BCS Championship the season before, came in at 7-6. I had lived in Omaha for less than a year at the time, and was shocked that the Big Red-crazy city sent only one local TV news reporter to Shreveport. The season was already over and the second tier Bowl game was apparently invisible to even the nation's most die hard fans.

Second, Ole Miss had a junior quarterback named Eli Manning. And we spent the 48 hours leading up to the game hunting down a rumor. Finally in the journalistic coup of my career, I discovered that Eli Manning was not in fact dating Britney Spears.

The game was pretty good - Manning threw for 313 yards and the Rebels won 27-23.

It was a good show, and an uneventful departure from Shreveport. Unlike the gamut I had ran nearly four years prior.

January 17-19, 1999

It was in my mercenary (read: whore) period in the business, and I naturally committed to working 4 games in 4 days: 3 as a regional producer and one as a network associate director.

We wrapped up our ho-hum hoop game in Boston College on Sunday (day 2), and I got to Logan on time for a flight to Memphis, expecting a connection to Monroe, Louisiana.

The Monday game was a MLK Day women's matinee between perennial powers UConn and Louisiana Tech in Ruston. It was the national game that I graciously accepted (cha-ching), sandwiched between Boston and South Bend.

I also graciously accepted long before I knew the Jets would be participants in the AFC Championship game. I was waiting my whole life for a Jet game of this magnitude, and I was hoping to catch the end of it on may layover in Memphis.

But a tornado hit Memphis and we circled in the air for nearly three hours. I didn't see a minute of the game, and missed my connection. The Jets squandered a 10-0 second half lead and lost 23-10 in Denver. (Even though I taped the game, I never could bring myself to watch it)

But I had a more immediate problem. I had a 6 AM call time in Ruston, and the first flight into Monroe wouldn't get me in until 10:50 AM, barely 3 hours to tip-off. So I grabbed a rental car and started going. The weather had passed so I figured I'd make most of the 5+ hour drive that night, rack up somewhere along the way, and get to my gig.

It sounded like a good plan. I set the cruise for about 75 MPH, and the drive from Memphis to Little Rock was a cakewalk. But southbound from Little Rock was a different deal. A two-lane highway, no street lights, and deer grazing along the side of the road in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. My grip is probably still indented on that rental's steering wheel.

It was about 3 AM when I finally reached the outskirts of civilization, and laid head down on an Econo Lodge pillow in El Dorado, Arkansas for about 3 hours. Somehow I made it to Ruston within an hour of my call time, and while it was just another plot point on my 4-day odyssey, I was very happy to see some friends.

I had worked the previous year's 1998 WNBA season with Robin Roberts (play-by-play) and Geno Auriemma (analyst). They both figured in this game as well.

Robin was broadcasting this game. It was always a pleasure working with her. She smiled more than any announcer I've ever worked with and her presence on any show added instant credibility. Both were great qualities to have, especially on an occasionally mundane product like women's basketball.

"Oh my God! I can't see!" Geno saw me before I saw him. It was a resplendently sunny day and he was first off the UConn team bus. He was (and still is) the Huskies' head coach. His exclamation as he waved his hand over his eyes was a reaction to the glare coming off my bald head.

I hadn't really slept, but my work on this day was as a mindless role player. We got on the air, had a 2-hour show, we got off the air. I hopped in the car and burned rubber for Shreveport Airport, where I would get a direct flight to Chicago, and then drive to South Bend.

Except on the road from Ruston to Shreveport I ran out of gas. I never filled up on the ride through the night and I sputtered to an exit in Arcadia, LA. Fortunately the exit ramp was downhill. A truck driver gave me a lift about a half-mile to a Shell. I purchased a gallon of water, emptied it and filled it with regular. I borrowed a funnel from the filling station, and begged a quick ride back to the car.

I returned to top the tank off, and got back on I-20. The whole ordeal took about an hour and the last flight to Chicago was presumably long gone. But when I got to Shreveport Airport, the Chicago flight was significantly delayed so I was still able to make it. The funny thing was it was a ground stop. The plane was on the runway, even though the jetway had been retracted.

So I was escorted to the tarmac with my bags. The American commuter jet opened up their door, rolled down the stairs and I climbed onto the plane. This was pre-9/11, so while it was highly unusual it was possible. I felt very important - a Shreveport VIP - as I melted into my seat to grab a few minutes rest before I had to start studying for Seton Hall/Notre Dame.

But that plane that was stuck on the runway would never leave for Chicago that day. After we were ultimately canceled, I walked across the terminal (inside this time) onto the Dallas flight and made the last connection to Chicago from there, where I finally landed after Midnight.

It had been 70 degrees in Louisiana and it was under 10 in Chicago. I scraped the ice off my rental car windshield and ricocheted off to South Bend...a little too fast. About two miles out of O'Hare I saw the lights and sirens and got pulled over.

I was almost happy as I got to tell the story of my day to the cop. I woke up in some roadside dump in Arkansas, I worked in Ruston, ran out of gas in Arcadia, got a flight canceled in Shreveport, and two flights later was now still 90+ minutes from South Bend.

He said something along the lines of "That's quite a story" as though he was skeptical. I fished out my boarding pass and my Louisiana Tech credential. I realized at that point my fingers still smelled like gasoline but resisted the urge to have the police officer take a whiff.

He gave me a warning and asked me to take it easy - at least until I crossed the Indiana line.

I pulled up at the Marriott South Bend, after the time change around 4 AM. I got about 5 hours of sleep when the phone rang in my hotel room. It wasn't my wake up call. It was my network boss, offering his thanks for my efforts above and beyond what was required of me to get to Ruston.

I could have told him what I did to get from Ruston to the landline in South Bend he was calling, but I simply told him it was no problem at all. It's all just part of the job.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Traveling Through The Quad

For the second straight weekday, the MLB Division Series provided 4 games strung in a row. With the constant tension, looming elimination, close finishes, and overlapping action it was reminiscent of March Madness.

I couldn't just sit in front of the TV as I had to travel today so I caught bits and pieces in the afternoon. When I pulled up at the Savannah airport, the Giants and Reds were scoreless in the 3rd in their Game 5.

When I landed in Atlanta I had an hour to kill in Terminal D - not a lot of options, but hit Atlanta City Blues for some BBQ nachos. I couldn't stay for the end, but I did see Angel Pagan's game-sealing diving catch in the 8th.

I had to board the plane for Shreveport but the 2010 champion Giants sealed the deal, winning 3 straight on the road in Cincinnati and advancing to the NLCS.

It reminded me of what Rudy Tomjanovich said in 1995, when his Houston Rockets won their second straight NBA title as the #6 seed in the West.

"Never underestimate the heart of a champion."

I mean seriously. They lost closer Brian Wilson for the year. They lost top hitter Melky Cabrera to suspension. Two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum wasn't even near the shadow of himself (until they needed him the most in relief in Game 4). They dug deep and found the team unity and resiliency of two years ago.

I checked the phone when I landed in Shreveport and saw the Giants result, and the Cardinals and Nationals were tied 1-1 in the 8th. I hopped in the rental car, drove a mile to the hotel, checked in, and dashed up to the room - just in time to see Jayson Werth circling the bases after a walk-off home run.

So Game 5 in Washington Friday night, and it's a great pitching matchup: 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez for the Nats, and Adam Wainwright and his 0.77 career postseason ERA dealing for the Cards.

So double down that Rudy T quote for the defending champs from St. Louis. And what of the 2009 champion Yankees? Well, you gotta score runs to win.

Since erupting for 5 runs in the 9th inning of Game 1, the Bronx Bombers have bombed. In Games 2-4, they have 6 runs total in 34 innings. They've batted .192 as a team in those 3 games.

And while much has been made of A-Rod's struggles at the plate, and granted he's been terrible in key spots, but at least he's hit a few line drives. Robinson Cano is 2-for-18 (.111) and Curtis Granderson is damn-near an automatic out at 1-for-16 (.063) with 9 Ks.

On this night, the Yankees stranded runners in scoring position in the 3rd, 6th, 7th, and 8th before eventually succumbing due to non-support in the 13th.

Now they'll have to lace 'em up and ride CC Sabathia just 17 hours later. And he'll have to go the whole way after Rafael Soriano and David Robertson each pitched multiple innings two days in a row.

But this is why you have to win the division in a 162-game season. The Yankees didn't have to go through the Wild Card - they have one game at home with their top pitcher on the hill. It's a decided advantage that they earned, but anything is possible.

Due to the length of the Yankee debacle, I missed most of the nightcap between the Tigers and the A's. But unlike the Oakland Athletics' season, it was anticlimactic. They had the unfortunate assignment of going against this guy.

Justin Verlander's postseason resume is fairly undistinguished (4-3, 4.96 coming into the game), but seriously who would you rather put out there in one game with the season on the line? And he of course delivered in spectacular fashion with a complete game, 4-hit shutout and 11 Ks.

I didn't watch a second of the NFL game, but I understand there was some Matt Hasselbeck magic and the Titans upset the Steelers. I also didn't watch Arizona State roll Colorado, which was expected. I did stream the VP debate through the laptop, and that was about what I expected.

Now it's time for the Yankees to do the unexpected on Friday... score some runs.