Friday, July 31, 2015

My Favorite Story in Sports

By Travis Stahl

In the blink of an eye time passes by.  You don't even recognize it as it's happening.  I was in Subway one night and one of my best friend's daughter was working behind the counter.  How did that happen?  I think we get so used to things being how we think they are in our mind we fail to notice how they really are.  This week is one of those anniversaries that reminds you how quickly time can pass.  It's been 25 years since H.G. Bissinger's book Friday Night Lights hit the book stands and it still stands as one of the greatest sports stories of all time.

If you have been under a rock for the past 25 years Bissinger's book follows the Odessa Permian football team in it's quest to win a state championship.  It highlights the obsession with football in the west Texas town and even delves into the history of the once booming oil town.  It is certainly my favorite sports story and America fell in love with it as well.  The book spawned a movie starring Billy Bob Thornton as head coach Gary Gaines and then there was an award winning TV show by the same name that ran for several seasons on NBC.

Why?  Why do we love this story so much?  It is the ultimate story of what we still want sports to be.  There is community involvement, talented kids overachieving against all odds, a team banding together to overcome adversity and even a little bit of controversy to make you root just a little harder for the Panthers.  I heard stories about Odessa Permian as a kid from Steve Davis who was from Texas.  I never thought it was a real place with a real team.  And I certainly never would have thought it was the dominant program through the 60's, 70's and 80's that it was.

As with everything else, times change.  The Permian program is not the pillar it was back then and (gasp) sometimes the Panthers don't even make the Texas State Playoffs.  Maybe that is why we forgot.  Sure we have TV shows and movies and we can always pull the book back off the shelve and read it for the fourth or fifth time.  But that isn't the same thing as living it the way the people in Odessa have.  We remember Ivory Christian and Brian Chavez now because it's an anniversary.  The people of Odessa still remember them everyday.

That is what makes this story so special.  It's not just football players or a high school.  Friday Night Lights was about an entire city that lived off of what happened at Ratliff Stadium every week.  Is that healthy?  Probably not.  But it sure kept that city together through the decades.  If you've never read the book I would encourage you to do so.  As good as the movie is the book is 10 times better.  Trust me, there are few stories better than this one.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Brady Mess Gets Even Worse

By Travis Stahl

Tom Brady is not going to make this easy is he?  Yesterday as we learned that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell upheld Brady's four-game suspension we were bombarded with one surprise after another.  When the smoke cleared we realized we were standing exactly where we thought we would be.  Brady is still suspended by the league and Brady is still going to fight.  And you thought this was all going to go away.

So, to catch you up here is what happened yesterday.  Goodell said Brady's suspension would stand for his role in deflating footballs in the AFC Championship game.  We learned that right before the Wells investigation began Brady destroyed his cell phone and got a new one.  That doesn't look good.  We also found out that Brady had offered the NFL a deal.  Brady was willing to accept a one-game suspension if the league sealed all record pertaining to the investigation.  That doesn't look good either.  I understand people who hate Brady and the Patriots are going to play connect the dots.  But destroying the phone and proposing the deal still don't constitute proof.

Let me be really clear.  I think Brady is as guilty as the day is long.  I think he had a role in taking air out of the balls and I think he has done everything to try to cover it up.  But just like every moron fan who thinks Brady is guilty because he is a Patriot, the league has no proof of wrong doing.  They can think he is guilty all they want.  Thinking it and proofing it are two very different things.  Brady's attorney says the quarterback gets a new cell phone several times a year and destroys the old one.  Brady and his wife are very famous people and the attorney says they both do this so as not to have any personal information leaked to the media.  It's flimsy but it's possible.

If you think Tom Brady is missing one minute of football this season you're crazy.  Brady will now file suit against the league in court for this.  Once that happens the judge will file an injunction allowing Brady to continue to play until the court can rule on the case.  That will take until December or January before the case can be in front of a judge.  Then it will take another week or two for a ruling.  By then the season will be almost over and I have serious doubts the judge would rule that Brady can miss playoff games.  If it goes to court the league is in trouble.

Remember Bounty Gate with the New Orleans Saints?  Who won that in court?  The players!  Not one player who was suspended as part of Bounty Gate was punished.  The judge in that case overturned every one of the NFL's penalties against players saying there was not enough proof of wrongdoing.  Then there was the Adrian Peterson debacle.  Who won the Adrian Peterson ruling when it went to arbitration?  Peterson!  The NFL for all it's glory has one fatal flaw when it comes to punishing players.  It jumps very quickly and very harshly without accurately analyzing all of the information objectively.  That's what the NFL has done again here by punishing Brady without actual proof.

All of the attention has been on Brady through this whole process.  Mostly because narrow minded people fail to look at the big picture and only see this from a viewpoint of hating the Patriots.  Maybe the spotlight needs to be on Goodell and the NFL discipline process.  The system is broken and when a court of law repeatedly tells you that what you are doing is wrong it's time to make some changes.  But the NFL is holding fast in its Goodell as dictator system and in doing so they will continue to be embarrassed with cases like this when they lose in court.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Biggio Was Hall Worthy

By Travis Stahl

Normally I don't pay too much attention to hall of fame ceremonies.  Don't get me wrong, I'm always happy for the players who get enshrined and it is a special day for fans to get to see their favorite players go in the hall.  I just don't stop everything I'm doing to watch it on TV.  I do wish I would have taken the time to see Craig Biggio get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday.  If there was ever a guy who really represented what being a baseball player is all about it was Biggio who was the face of the Houston Astros for a generation.

Biggio was never the biggest guy or the fastest player.  He didn't hit 50 home runs in a season or lead the Astros in RBIs.  Biggio did all the little things a baseball player is supposed to do and he did them better than anybody else.  Diving on a bad hop to knock the ball down and make the throw to first; Biggio's got it.  Need to steal a base to get into position to score a run; Biggio can do that.  Beat out a single to first because the team needs a spark; nobody will out hustle Biggio.  That is the kind of player the common baseball fan can get behind and recognize as playing the game the right way.  Biggio loved the game and it showed.

Just picture Biggio in your head and you know what I'm talking about.  His horrible Houston Astros uniform was constantly covered in dirt.  His batting helmet was always smeared with a mixture of pine tar and dirt.  Sometimes he would have a rip in his pants or his shirt or a skinned up elbow from a slide into second base after a steal.  And Biggio wasn't a big guy either.  If you saw any of the pictures from the induction yesterday you would notice that even slight pitcher Pedro Martinez is a little bigger than Biggio.  But I doubt if anybody in the game ever had a bigger heart thatn Biggio.

Houston was never great when Biggio was playing and maybe that is why he gets overlooked by critics.  The Astros were always good but never great.  It was Biggio and Ken Caminiti and that was about it.  They had the end of Nolan Ryan and then no pitching for years to help out.  Think about it, other than Biggio and Caminiti name me another Astros from that era who stood out.  There wasn't much support.  Maybe that is why Biggio worked so hard and played with all-out abandon.  If he didn't he knew the Astros had little shot of winning.

Power hitters and pitchers are a dime a dozen.  I'll take a guy like Biggio anyday.  I think the closest thing we have to the former Astro now would be Dustin Pedroia in Boston.  Every team needs a guy like that.  Somebody you know will give you a hit when you need it the most.  A player who is going to walk off the field 182 times having given every ounce of energy their body can give.  Those guys are hall of famers.  Guys like Biggio.

Friday, July 24, 2015

I'm Not Excited About College Football

By Travis Stahl

We've talked a lot about the upcoming NFL season and with good reason.  It's the NFL.  In doing so though we have kind of neglected the fact that the college football season is getting ready to begin also.  Now that we enter year-two of the playoff era with Ohio State as the reigning national champion things just don't seem as exciting in college football as they once were.  I don't know why.  I'm sure we could come up with several possible ways to fix the game, lord knows it's damaged.  So where is college football going from here?  Straight to the bank.

The playoff system that I was very much in favor of made college football very wealthy.  And in sports all you need to do is follow the money.  The playoff started with four teams and seemed to work out well.  Once universities start seeing how much money these games are generating on a yearly basis more games will surly follow and before you know it we will have eight playoff teams.  That might not be a bad thing.  It could drive interest even higher if that is possible.  The old school backers will tell you the regular season is the most special thing about college football.  Maybe in 1960 it was but not now.

What excitement is there for the Big 10?  Ohio State is the best team in the country, after that you have Michigan State who is very good and then a bunch of poop.  The SEC is always going to be loaded with a bunch of NFL ready players and have at least one team in the playoff.  The Big 12 has TCU, Baylor and West Virginia who are three very exciting teams.  And we didn't even mention Oklahoma.  In the PAC 10 it's looking there is USC and ... well that's it.  There's not much else out there.  Sure, Boise State or another school from a power conference might sneak into the discussion but that's about it.

It's not too hard to look at the landscape of college football right now and say who the playoff teams are going to be.  It's Ohio State, Alabama (maybe Auburn), TCU and USC.  That's it.  End of discussion.  Right there is your proof of how meaningless the regular season is in college football.  Don't get me wrong, I love the games.  Nothing in sports is more localized and home grown than going to tailgate parties on a Saturday afternoon at the local campus.  It's one of the greatest experiences in all of sports.  If that is why you enjoy the game, for the experience, more power to you.  But if you are after results you better look somewhere else.

I used to love college football.  It was my favorite sport.  But as the rich got richer and the poor got poorer it became more clear that the power conferences were pulling away and hording all the clout.  The game is quickly approaching college basketball territory in which star players can't shine because they are micromanaged by their coach from the sideline to try to minimize mistakes.  It's boring.  I want to be excited but at this point I'm just not interested.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Fake News of the Day

By Travis Stahl

As I have said before, I would love to write for the Onion.  I think the satirical "news" organization is hilarious.  Nothing brings me more joy than sharing a story from the Onion on Facebook and having people comment on it as if it were a real story.  It would be so much fun to make up fake sports stories, just think of the possibilities.  I thought I would practice here and see if I have what it takes to write fake sports stories.  I will use my name in each of the stories so as not to offend anyone.

Local Man Sets Playground Scoring Record - Columbia City man Travis Stahl broke the career scoring record at the Marshall Middle School playground.  Stahl, 41, was involved in a pick-up game with several middle-school kids when he exploded for 34 points in the second of three games to 50.  Stahl said after the game he was unaware he was so close to surpassing the mark which had stood for close to 22 years.  "Wow, really?" Stahl said in surprise when told he broke the record.  "You always dream you will be good enough to break a record like this someday."  The new record by Stahl was verified by a Marshall janitor who tracks all activity on the playground.
 
Family Putt-Putt Outing Gets Heated After Water Hazard -
A Family outing to area putt-putt fun spot Paige's Crossing  became tense for one local family when the water hazard on hole number 14 caused emotions to run high.  The Stahl family was involved in a high-stakes game of putt-putt when mother Kristal accidentally kicked her ball off the path and into the water.  Father Travis Stahl, who was down two strokes at the time, insisted the kick counted as a putt.  Words were exchanged and things became even more tense when the dad tried to enforce a one-stroke penalty on the mother for using profanity at a family-oriented facility.  Cooler heads prevailed and the family was able to finish their final four holes with good sportsmanship.

Running Still Just Walking Really Fast - After extensive research local running expert Travis Stahl broke news from his recent study that running is really just walking really fast.  "You move one leg in front of the other in a forward motion creating movement," said Stahl.  "With walking you do this slowly but if you increase the pace it turns into running."  Stahl pointed to a 5K which had taken place the previous weekend as evidence that his new theory could be proven to be true.  Those in the field critical of Stahl's findings have stated the world has known about running for years and that it in no way is related to walking at this time.

I could do this all day.  I just think it is so much fun.  And I didn't even try to write anything about national news stuff.  I could make stuff up about Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods for hours.  Just imagine the possibilities with those two crazies.  Sports and writing doesn't have to always be serious, the whole point is entertainment.  I'm sure somebody will read my short news stories above and think they are real.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What Happened to the Mavs?

By Travis Stahl

We make fun of the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks a lot.  Mostly because it's funny and they stink and they don't know how to actually run an NBA franchise.  It's easy to see why they strike out year after year in trying to attract meaningful free agents to play for them.  Nobody wants to play in LA or New York right now.  But why do players not want to play in Dallas for the Mavericks?  Despite all the hoopla surrounding the DeAndre Jordan fiasco the Mavericks still had no other irons in the fire and even if the center had signed the team was no better than seventh or eighth in the West.

It doesn't make any sense.  Dallas has what looks like a "players owner" in Mark Cuban who is willing to lavish his players with the best of everything.  They have a coach in Rick Carlisle who knows how to put players in a situation to be successful on the floor and maximize their talents.  It's a fun city with a desirable climate.  More importantly the team has proven that it can compete for and win titles although that may be a little more difficult now with Dirk Nowitzki nearing the end of his career.  Yet every NBA free agent with any amount of worth what so ever has dodged the Mavericks at all costs.  It even feels like they are never really a serious option.

So what gives?  Well, first of all it might have to do with the Western Conference itself.  Do you see any other big name free agents leaving the Eastern Conference to come West?  Nope.  The Western Conference is an all-out slaughter house right now with arguably the four best teams in the league all out West.  No high profile player is going to leave the Eastern Conference to come to that.  Not when they are given a clear path to the playoffs and a pretty significant chance to play in the conference finals in the East.  The Mavs reportedly wanted to sign Goran Dragic away from Miami and DeMarre Carroll from Atlanta.  Dragic stayed in Miami and Carroll decided he would rather play in Canada than with the Mavericks.

Another big factor is Nowitzki.  Players want to go where they see a clear opportunity to compete for rings.  Dirk doesn't have a lot left and Dallas has done a poor job of adding talent around him.  Instead of continuing to bring in young talent to develop the Mavs have tried to keep chasing rings by trading away draft picks and young players in an attempt to win now.  The return on their investment has not paid off and now the only young talent the team can point to as a building block is Chandler Parsons.  That isn't going to attract too many good players.

I think Carlisle might scare some people also.  Yes he is a championship coach and an absolute genius on the bench.  But he also works his players hard and expects a lot out of them.  Carlisle isn't the task master Tom Thibadeau is but he definitely pushes his guys during practice more than most coaches.  Word gets around about stuff like that.  So when Carlisle is forced into dealing with a guy like Rajon Rondo who Dallas acquired in a trade this year that is never going to work.  With Carlisle as coach you need guys who want to work hard and have that self determination to push themselves to the next level.  Rondo certainly was not that kind of player.

Losing out on Jordan to the Clippers was not the death sentence some people made it out to be.  He really was not going to make Dallas that much better.  They were seventh or eight in the West with or without him.  This is the time for the Mavericks to rebuild.  I know Cuban doesn't like the thought of that but he may not have much choice.  Dallas is likely going to be in the lottery next year.  This is where Cuban can show how smart he really is by keeping the pick and starting the process of adding quality young talent through the draft.  If Dallas rebuilds its foundation it might find free agents will see them as a more attractive franchise to play for.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pitching is Tough to Beat

By Travis Stahl

The hardest thing to do in sports is to hit a fastball from a pitcher traveling 95 miles per hour.  No question asked.  The ball gets from the pitchers hand to the catchers mitt in one-tenth of a second.  That's how quickly a hitter has to pick up the ball and know where to swing.  It's also why pitching beats hitting about 70 percent of the time.  Now more than any other time in the history of baseball pitching is king and Major League hitters are having a hard time adjusting to this new way of life.

We talked about this a little bit the other day when we discussed automatic strike zones.  I'm not in favor of having a full-time automated zone in favor of a live umpire.  Having said that, we saw another great pitching performance just the other night when Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke was handcuffing the Washington Nationals.  Greinke is a great pitcher and has gone now for more than 40 innings without allowing an earned run.  Good pitching is dominating good hitting.  It helps when the umpires are giving the pitchers the benefit of the doubt the way they were Greinke.  He was getting called strikes on balls eight inches off the dirt.

Pitchers now are asked to make fewer throws.  Starters have a pitch count, are replaced by middle relievers and then the closer comes in to finish the game off.  Because pitchers now specialize there is less stress on their arms and they can maximize their time on the mound with more effort into every pitch.  Of course it helps the way the umps call the strike zone there days.  We should have seen this coming too.  When baseball eliminated PEDs from the game they evened the playing field.  Bulked up batters can no longer swing at will on helpless pitchers launching balls into the far seats of the outfield.

I heard a great stat the other day about just how dominating pitching is right now.  The American League won the All-Star game last week even though they had 15 batters strike out.  So far this season there have been 14 times in which a team struck out 15 times or more at the plate and still won the game.  In the first 50 years of MLB that statistical anomaly was only accomplished 14 times in total.  If you want to win in baseball right now you better have a roster stocked with pitchers because that is how rings are earned.

Hitting will catch up eventually.  Baseball, more than any other sport, is one in which the pendulum swings back and forth through the decades.  We will never see numbers like we did during the steroid era and that's OK.  Hitters will find a way to catch up and put more baseballs in play even if it takes a few more years.  That's the beauty of the sport.  Baseball is an ever changing, ever evolving organism.  Right now pitching is at a premium and teams that win in the playoffs have several options to throw at opponents.