Podcast: Ahead of Their Time

I’m a baseball nerd. Ever since I was a kid, I was enamored with the history, statistics and strategies of the game. I know not everybody is as interested in that in-depth stuff as much as I am, but odds are, if you come to this page, you have more than just a passing interest in baseball.

Well, this is an episode of a podcast put out by FiveThirtyEight called “Ahead of Their Time” where the host talks about a singular topic and the impact it ended up having on the game. This one tells us the origins of the defensive shift as first popularized by then Cleveland Indians player-manager, Lou Boudreau as a way to stop Ted Williams from just killing them with the bat and how other teams picked up on it before it fell out of the game.

Eventually, the Tampa Bay Rays brought it back in the mid-2000s and it became the wonderful ruiner of baseball that people hate and/or love depending on how your team manages it, but the story of and about it was absolutely fascinating to me and I think you’ll enjoy it as well. Give it a listen.

It’s a pain in the ass to find a direct link because godforbid ESPN make it easy on you, but here’s the FiveThirtyEight¬†podcast page¬†where you can stream it; titled “Why Baseball Revived a 60-year-old Strategy Designed To Stop Ted Williams”.

TV Review: ESPN 30 For 30: Doc & Darryl

ESPN continued its phenomenal 30 for 30 series the other night with “Doc & Darryl” directed by Judd Apatow.On paper, you’d think this was made for me. In execution? Eh…kinda.

When this was first announced, I was obviously interested, but skeptical at the same time. It’s one of those stories that – as a Met fan – you know all too well. You’ve heard all the scenarios, the fables, the what-ifs. I imagined that this was it was like for a hardcore comic book fan to see a new interpretation of a Spider-Man movie.

My biggest fear was put to rest in the first minute when Apatow states during his introduction of the film that, “This is not a story about 1986.” That genuinely worried me. I say it way too much, but the Mets are a franchise with very little in terms of great players and history so it becomes tiring to keep going back to 1986. Especially this year when we’ve been besieged with the 30th anniversary of that last Mets championship team. I’m kind of 86’d out.

Which, by proxy, means I’m kind of Doc and Darryl’d out too. So yes, this wasn’t a story about 1986, but it was still a tragic tale that was all too familiar to those of us who lived through the rise and fall of two of the most talented players the Mets have ever had.

Even though I saw pretty early on that I probably wouldn’t get any new information out of it, I still enjoyed it for what it was and think people with only a casual knowledge of the subjects would like it even more.

I do have a major problem, however. It has nothing to do with the movie, really, but the ease of making a “what-if” story about two young, black kids in the 80s who lost what could have been legendary careers when alcohol and cocaine ran rampant throughout all of not just the major leagues, but society in the 80s.

Yes, it’s sad that Doc blew the chance for a few more Cy Youngs and 300 wins up his nose. It’s sad that Darryl drank away 500 homers and the chance to be as revered in Queens as Reggie Jackson in the Bronx. But it’s equally as sad to see someone like Steve Howe (the 1980 NL Rookie of the Year) be suspended 7 times and die at 48 with meth in his system. Or Darrell Porter, a first round pick and multiple time All Star who was one of the first players to be open about his use die at 50 from what an autopsy revealed was “toxic effects of cocaine”.

The focus on Doc and Darryl is because it further pushes the narrative of the black community immersed in drug culture. Sure, it serves as a cautionary tale for those learning their stories, but it also scapegoats them as the posterboys for an epidemic which isn’t fair.

The movie is good enough. I’m sure there will be stories and factoids that people will be surprised to learn, but if you’re a big Mets fan or of either of these two players, there’s probably not much in here that you haven’t heard before.

I do hope that finally we can let these two be, though. Dragging them out every few years to write a new book or TV piece where they have to come up with some new scandalous story to keep things fresh is kind of tired.

If you haven’t yet caught this, “Doc & Darryl” can be caught streaming on the WatchESPN app.

Contact on Twitter: @MaximusSexPower or e-mail: ShoesOnSports@gmail.com

The Octopus! Eight Ways to Fix Baseball!

With the talk of reducing the current 162 game regular season schedule gaining some steam among insiders, it’s time to take a look at other possible changes and improvements. I know you definitely won’t agree with most if any of them, but I believe in them and, hopefully, you’ll at least see the reasoning behind it. So, without further ado, I give you the inaugural ShoesOnSports OCTOPUS! Eight ways to fix something that is more profitable than ever!

1. Reduce the schedule to 154 game

The most obvious. The World Series ends far too late in the year. I think everybody would agree with that. This is also not a game meant to be played while wearing four layers of clothes and a mesh mask to protect from frostbite. In a perfect world, I’d actually reduce this a bit further, but we know what a ruckus this will cause over the income being given up by the owners by reducing the amount of event dates. Cutting just over a week off the schedule makes games more meaningful, helps players better manage their personal wear and tear and ends the season sooner in the calendar year. This should happen.

2. Abolish interleague play!

It came, it was fun for a while and now it’s redundant for no reason. A lot of teams don’t have “natural” rivals and so much of this is forced beyond the fact that it takes away from the appeal of the World Series and All-Star Game. Those events had an extra layer of intrigue to them in the past because we hadn’t seen these teams or players go at it during the year. That’s lost now and it’s time to fix it. Plus, as a Mets fan who couldn’t care less about the Yankees, those games have zero extra meaning to me beyond being a game I could make money on by re-selling my tickets. Besides if we’re going to cut games off the schedule, we need to reallocate those matchups because we’re about to…

3. Abolish divisions!

Right now, we have three division leaders and two Wild Card teams that qualify for some form of postseason play in each league. We also have unbalanced schedules within divisions and interleague play which leads to an unequal strength of schedule between the teams all competing for the same playoff positions. By eliminating both interleague play and the heaviness of a predominant inter-divisional schedule, we turn to playing all teams within the NL equally with the top 5 qualifying and playing under the same postseason format. If we want the regular season to matter, we can’t continue to have teams from stronger divisions (i.e. the 2015 Pirates) get punished while division winners in weak divisions (i.e. the 2015 Mets) get a guaranteed series of play because of quirk. The best teams should be in the best positions.

5. Force hitters and pitchers to hurry up

I was watching a Mets classic game recently and was taken aback with how quick the game moved from pitch to pitch. Ron Darling was on the mound for the Mets and as soon as he received the ball back from the catcher, he was back on the rubber ready to throw his next pitch. The hitter never left the box and was prepared for it and the game moved at a brisk pace. This is important. Games take too long. I love baseball and I think games have an incredible tendency to get boring and slow. What does that say about casual fans? Where’s the incentive for them to sit and watch or attend a game? I’m constantly disheartened by how many people at games nowadays couldn’t care less about the game. They’re there for the clubs or perks or whatever else the stadium offers that means they don’t have to sit in their seat and watch the game. You’re not building newer, younger fans with a three and a half hour trudge through molasses.

6. Call the high strike

We say it all the time: the strike zone is from the knees to the letters, but hardly ever is anything above the belt called a strike. Start calling it. Make these players swing the bats and keep the game moving. We all get strategy and the benefits and taking pitches and trying to get the starter out of the game, but we’ve got other stuff to do and while we want to watch the game, we also want to get to bed at a decent time. Offense drives interest. Make players swing the bats. This isn’t even a new rule. Just call it the way it’s written.

7. Ban “God Bless America”

Keep your politics out of my baseball. This is not the national anthem and I do not have to stand and remove my hat for this. I don’t and I never will. We honor America at the beginning of each game by playing the real national anthem. That’s sufficient.

8. Day games on weekends: No excuses

No more ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. No more FOX game of the week at 7 PM on Saturdays. Give both networks an NFL-like 1Pm east coast and 4PM west coast game and that’s it. While I understand that people work weekends now more than ever, you’re not doing yourselves any favors by continually making kids leave games early because they take forever and Dad wants to beat the traffic. This also serves another purpose by making MLB destination afternoon viewing during months without other sports competition and opens fans up to seeing players and teams they’re not accustomed to. The game has become so regionalized that this would help in the marketing and exposure of superstar players. Sure, you know Mike Trout is great, but how many of you that don’t have MLB At-Bat and don’t work nights actually get to see him play. He’s just a name in a box score to most people. That has to change. This is a good way to help that along.

There you have it. Eight ways to improve the presentation and nature of the baseball season. Comments, complaints and verbal jousting welcome and expected.

Twitter: @MaximusSexPower, E-Mail: ShoesOnSports@gmail.com