Wednesday, January 19, 2011

too dumb to play with themselves part two

0. "piece of shit. walk away."
a lesson Chris Collision can not--will not--learn

If you had access to my email, you'd see that I write a lot of emails to ESPN, emails haranguing and begging in equal measure, special pleas for them to just hire a goddamned proofreader already. Today's brilliant moment was:

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun look at two teams -- the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings -- that are

While I do applaud ESPN's vault into the existentialist zen mode of sports writing, I do have to insist that that sentence actually feature some ending punctuation.

A little later, LeBrun spews the following:

I spoke with someone this week who figured Gaborik has never been the same player since his hip surgery; or maybe it's just going to take longer to get it all back?
Okay. You talked to a guy. Cool.

But his hip surgery was the one he had in January of 2009. Which, last I checked, was before October of 2009, when the 2009-10 NHL season began...a season when Gaborik tied his career high for goals, and beat his career highs for assists and points (42-44-86).

Again we see LeBrun abdicating even the most basic elements of journalism in favor of blurting out whatever some moron inexplicably in a privileged position happens to spout platitudiously on the fucking phone. Your job--your actual, literal job--is explicitly to say:

"I talked to someone today who figured [absurd idiotic claim goes here], but that claim is false and here is why."

Has Gaborik been good this year? No. But it can't be because he's recovering from a surgery that preceded the best year he ever had in the NHL.

And then, on a different page, LeBrun continues to fondle his drum.

GM Doug Wilson told me point-blank this past weekend that McLellan isn't going anywhere, which is the right decision. This is not a coaching issue; this is about players underperforming.
GUH? Still waiting for that explanation about what exactly coaches do, if not get players to perform...

Collison, rehabbing

1. Who's reading this shit, anyway?

Monday, January 17, 2011

too dumb to play with themselves

0. Ten Seconds to Hell

I don't spend a ton of time on ESPN. I like hockey, and I dislike strained attempts at meme generation, which leaves me pretty solidly outside the target demographic of the Disney conglomerate.

That said, they've got the resources to cover whatever they want, however they want, and I do have to admit that I'm still pretty enthusiastic about listening to Barry Melrose. So I do still check in now and again. And this last time I did so, I found two things that drove me absolutely up the goddamned wall.

1. The Gargoyle Conspiracy

The first thing was a brief meditation that went a little something like

  1. People have begun to ask whether San Jose would consider a coaching change.
  2. I spoke with Sharks GM Doug Wilson on Saturday and he said no way, that Todd McLellan and his staff were not the issue.
  3. The players have underperformed and the team has had key injuries, the latest being to Ryane Clowe.1
  4. McLellan is one of the best coaches in the NHL and I can't imagine how a change there would do any good.
  5. This is about the core of this team waking up and playing up to its potential.

Now, I'm just a fan. I'm not an analyst, nor a duly appointed Industry Professional--increasingly weighted in & by the part of our culture that judges business (but oddly not politics)--but...well...if players are underperforming (3) and asleep (5) and not playing to their potential (5), how is that not an indictment of the coaching staff?

To come from another angle, what exactly do coaches do, if not bring players to peak or near-peak performance, wake them up, and facilitate their ultimate reaching-of-potential-reaching?

LeBrun's no dummy, and I think he's actually probably basically right: the Sharks' problems are with players with no guts whatsoever spattering the roster--wait. I hate that fucking guy, pontificating that way. Jock asshole with nothing to offer but date rape and AIDS jokes. Let me rephrase. The Sharks' problems come mainly from slightly substandard team speed, major holes defensively, and a coaching staff that repeatedly trots out the goalie who's playing like shit instead of riding the hot hand--rather than with coaching.

Well. The goalie thing has to do with coaching. And the team is a classic bully squad, playing nervous whenever they're not ahead, and not all that good at holding on when they are ahead. Both of these would seem to lie within the purview of coaching. But mainly & really the Sharks need a Dman to munch minutes in all the zones, like even end-stage Rob (nee Rod) Blake could (21 MPG last 2 seasons), and a half-decent replacement for faceoff machine and stalwart hard-to-play-against-guy Manny Malhotra; they don't need a coaching change, a priest or a shrink.

But LeBrun's not saying any of that shit. Neither is he using his access or insight to say things worth saying. He's standing at the podium, reading a GM's incoherent, prima facie absurd press release and throwing the weight of America's Biggest Media Concern behind what can only be willful self-delusion, a crass attempt at spin, or just plain, old-fashioned ignorant incompetence on the part of some Important Decision Makers.

I know I'm not supposed to get angry when that happens in the sporting press. But fuck. When what's at stake isn't that important, why can't we have some Actual Standards?

2. The Dirty Duck

The second bit that made me angry enough to bite a goddamned hammer, shattering my teeth on tool steel spalled and displaying patination from long focused use, was the insane--and common--phrase:

future Hall of Famer Rob Blake
I've seen this pop up all over the place, and it drives me from zero to baffled+hostile faster than anything in this man's world other than internet comment sections.

Let me establish from the beginning that I like, respect, and esteem Rob Blake. He was a massive contributor to my beloved Avs, stout, as I spouted above, in all three zones, a Dman with big hits in his end, a solid and reliable first pass out, and a beast of a slapshot on the power play and whenever else he got one notch too much room.

But since when is one--one--major award (the Norris) and one--one--championship (in two cracks at it) enough to get a guy in the Hall? One Olympic gold medal probably isn't supposed to count, nor are his 1994 & 1997 World Championships golds, though being a member of the Triple Crown Club might make some hay. Six seasons as a captain, with more probably his portion if he hadn't had four seasons with the Avs, where nobody was gonna fill that slot except Joe Sakic, count for something. Six All-Star games--one first and three seconds--certainly they don't not matter.

So his Hall of Fame case depends nigh-entirely on his numbers. And it's not clear that his numbers are there.

His 240 goals is outstanding for a Dman, particularly one who played most of his career in the trap-heavy dead puck era, but his 537 assists (and 777 points [1270 games]) don't seem to me to rate.

.612 PPG is very good for a Dman, but his playoff rate is only exactly half a point per game (26-47-73 in 146). And even that is padded heavily by 19 points in 23 games in 01; outside that season, he posted a more pedestrian .46 PPG.

And culturally, he never really bestrode the narrow earth. Even as a giant Avs fanboy, I couldn't tell you he should have his number retired. Basically the man was who you got when you couldn't score Scott Stevens (196-712-908 in 1635 [.555 PPG], 26-92-118 in 233 [!] playoff games, 13 ASG, [3 2nds, 2 1sts], Conn Smythe, involved in the 3 cups the Devils will ever, ever win and +393 on his career) and Blake not only didn't have the numbers Stevens did, he didn't have the cultural cachet Stevens had. Which is to say, when Blake left his feet or got his elbows well up to deliver a hit, he actually sometimes got called for a penalty.

Does Blake have a case for the Hall? Sure. He stands decently enough in relation to the cats who're already there.2 Of course, he was a minus-four on his career. I personally think his numbers are both inadequate and artifactual--he played a long time, and had 20-season longevity earlier skaters couldn't've dreamed of--but I'm willing to entertain the arguments.

So why is nobody actually arguing? Exactly when did Rob Blake get a free pass to the HoF? Nobody--nobody--ever watched him play and said "that's the game of a Hall of Fame player". Sticking around a long time is great; sticking around a long time doesn't make you great. ESPN pisses me off.

-Collision, taking a bad penalty b/c he got stuck on the ice too long

1This is actually a factual error. The most recent important injury was to Logan "Fake-Ass Rookie" Couture, yet another example of ESPN's thoroughgoing refusal to employ any editorial staff of any kind whatsoever.
2If all you do is look at the offensive numbers, I grant, Blake looks like a half-decent candidate: 3rd all time Dman in PPG, 11th all-time in goals,
18th in points. If all you do is look at those numbers, Blake smells a lot like a HoF-caliber player; but looking at the names above him, he's not better than a single one, and some of those guys--above him and below--don't feel Hall-worthy.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

the enemies are all too familiar

1. Collision on Roth on Reilly on Cutler
Today We Mourn a Stooge
(Not a Porno)

The Rick Reilly hit piece on Jay Cutler has been bugging me for a couple days now. And now that David Roth, who I'll read anything by, has given his blessing, I want to vent a little bit about how and why I'm bugged.

I mean, Roth's right: the column's a decent read. Reilly may be a hack--in fact, I'm fairly sure that he is--but he's been putting together facile musings for a living longer than I've been alive1 and he knows his way around a one-liner for the sure.

It's a tie as to which he enjoys more -- smirking or shrugging.

(Rick Reilly, shown here, mind aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention.)

But I think Roth's wrong when he claims Jay Cutler is "this ripe for a ripping", or at least wrong that this article demonstrates that ripeness. Reilly's entire piece is just the visible chunk of a media-veteran's iceberg of entitlement, the tantrum-stench product of being repeatedly stiff-armed by a guy who comes off like a petulant toad whose right arm is his sole redeeming characteristic. Reilly has been wronged, he has been given the high hat, and this is not a spurning he has to take, at least not anymore, because Reilly no longer has to cover him.

(Rick Reilly talking about Jay Cutler on PTI.)

Cutler gives shitty interviews, is surly with strangers, and has an affect+in-game habits best summed up by Matt Taibbi as

I can't wait for the inevitable @jaycutler tweet tossed off on the way to taking the snap in the fourth quarter of a tight game: "Sup everyone about to throw back-breaking pick into triple coverage LOL."2

All of which are, fine, whatever, fair game for a sports writer to wax agonizedly over. And like I said, Reilly's rage over being spurned by Cutler results in some fair scorn-prose. Stuff like this is fun to read, once.

"He's an arrogant little punk," former Broncos radio color man, Scott Hastings, once said on a national show. "He's a little bitch."

But, even leaving aside the gutless I-didn't-say-that-but-nodded-approvingly-while-my-attack-dog-did horseshit Fox News move of quoting Hastings, and ignoring for the moment the moral acuity employed by Pundit of the Suburbs Reilly--"little bitch"? really?--we need to think about the contortions Reilly has to do to make Cutler look like a prick. In Reilly's moral universe, Cutler is shown to be a complete bastard by:

  • a guy giving unrequested advice, being ignored, and slapping Cutler's phone out of his hands, breaking it
  • getting thrown into a swimming pool by Duly Anointed Payton Manning--and two of his linemen
  • ignoring "always polite" John Elway at a lunch and on other occasions
  • many trespasses against the fourth estate, including inadequte gaze-meeting

Cutler's probably not a lovely man, diabetes and charity work aside. He doesn't get to get pitied for being surrounded by insane bullies, out of their minds on eight kinds of testosterone and four of amphetamine--I didn't tell the fucker to move to Chicago--but if your character assassination rests on personal judgments like "doughy face", "won't look me in the eyes", "makes my job as a reporter harder" and anecdotes about sociopaths committing misdemeanor assault? You might want to aim your sights non-violently reach for fruit that's hanging just a little bit lower next time.

(Metaphor shown killing people with guns.)

2. Collision on history, with constant reference to Roth

I blush to confess that I loathe football as a game, and that I can't often bring myself to inflict it on myself, even to bring myself up to speed on the way our civilization is currently hurling itself toward annihilation (and bringing as many darkies as possible along with). Football's metaphoric power is a little too obvious: territory and agonistes, money and math, ponderous beaurocracies organized solely to commit efficient atrocities, heirarchy, aggression, banal corruption, and a peculiarly defensive kind of monomaniacal capitalism, in which at some point in the last decade or so it became literally against the rules for coaches to wear anything other than the specific brands of team-emblazoned casual wear endorsed by the league.3

One does not need to be a Gibbon to communicate the nuances: this is a nationally addicting spectacle in which one of the primary rivalies is, in a gloriously geography-annihilating headscratcher, between the "Redskins" and the "Cowboys" and the Cowboys are America's team! This stuff is really just not subtle at all. I get it, and I don't need to watch much of it any more than I need to watch NASCAR to know that the nation has a desperate need to consume and a productive impulse that's mostly canalized into the transformation of dead dinosaurs into ear-shattering decibel levels.

That said, the past couple months I've been reading as much of Roth on football as he'll provide. His latest joint dovetails interestingly with the historical thinking I've been doing lately and I want to think out loud for a minute about history.

The piece under consideration is too good to excerpt well, but its money observation is the golden-era assumptions sports fans bring to their fandom, what he calls "fictive nostalgia". The NFL in particular

was smaller and marginally and quaintly more disreputable
once, and (thus and maybe to that extent) easier to like. I think so too, but--and this is supposed to be the punchline, but is actually the spinal assumption of what's to come--I think we're probably wrong.

Sure, there was probably something less inherently inhuman(e) and repellent about NFL owners who weren't always and only corporate entities, but even if 70s team owners were just middling-rich by our seriously-on-the-precipice standards, they were still the same kind of robber baron, patronizing-on-every-level, plantation-mentality fuckers we've always known, always suffered.5

And I think a lot of my affection for the era derives from my past enjoyment of North Dallas Forty and Semi-Tough--with more than a few particles of The Longest Yard blended in. Seriously: I think when I--and I'm explicitly claiming we--think about the NFL of the 70s, I'm imagining Burt Reynolds, Nick Nolte, the young Brian Dennehy, all engaging in basically light-R hijinx while learning a little bit about life, love, and the relative value of (destroying bodies & lives for) sport. Which isn't a shock: my access to things that happened pre-my-life is (necessarily) exclusively through media imaginings of one or another sort.

To let this imagining determine my interpretation, though, I think is corrosive to accuracy. As Roth limns it

And if players were reckless, egomaniacal goofs...well, they were. And I think it's the recklessness that I'm saddest of all to have missed.
That's, I think, a reading too suffused with Dennehy and his inexorable likeability as just-clownin'-around fart machine T.J. Lambert. More likely, whoever Lambert was based on was less family-sized fun purveyor than garden-variety petty tyrant who'd like to remind you that power, real power, comes from the end of a savagely cracked towel. Which is to say that T.J. Lambert=Bill Romanowski, who tragically attained both fame and fortune while missing his true calling as a rape-happy prison guard somewhere in Texas. Lambert comes off better because he's getting shoved through a writerly membrane, not on the radio calling modern players faggots for balking at the owning class' demands for an 18-game season.

Even that soft-focus likeability doesn't suffuse everything for me--a recent bookstore browse through Semi-Tough left me with not much more than my usual unease about people who like high school sports and a genuine dislike for the spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to address the fact the word "nigger" appears in every paragraph not devoted to sex. It's not offset by the genuine pleasure I take in the phrase "young Scotch".

None of this is news: I get that. It takes a very strange kind of socialization to create a human who can survive in the peculiar institution that is organized football. (And late capitalism is a motherfucker too.)

Times now are probably worse than times then. Sure, it is at least heartening that novelists and sportswriters don't wallow in "nigger" in print and do get yelled at on the Internet when they assume out loud that women are primarily providers of cleavage shots and receivers of semen, the working principles of Jenkins' oeuvre.6

However, we seem to have lost the ability to ask whether maybe capitalism should have any fetters whatsoever, our society has embraced a perverse, humorless misunderstanding of "efficiency" as that great good which walks hand in glove with profit, and violence isn't even an eyebrow raiser anymore. I guess it's no wonder we look back and slather heartening half-truths on our social metaphors. Just a bunch of big, fun-loving boys, before fucking on coke turned into daterape and horrifying consequences for poor Colombians, when gunplay only killed mailboxes, before limping and punchdrunk guys getting cortisone shots turned into brain trauma and 23-year-old-men shooting themselves in the head before being completely forgotten by everyone 120 days later.

It's pretty to think so. I guess.

-Collision, bumming himself the fuck out4

1Note: I didn't check this. I'm 36.
2Silver-medal Taibbi Cutler dis:

The Jay Cutler experiment in Chicago goes full mushroom cloud when he grows a mustache and throws four 110-mph interceptions into triple coverage, completing long-fated Jeff George metamorphosis.
3One of my kneejerk conservative tendencies is a certain craving for authority figures to dress the fucking part, already, probably due to overexposure to Dan Reeves' sub-Landry button-down routine during my formative years.
4Where once we had dustups and donnybrooks, now we have wife-beating and 'roid rage. Drunk drivers used to just drive into ditches, I could go on All Day.
5Roth's piece on the Redskins does all this much, much better than I do or can.
6Ahem. And I can't not cite these.
middle-aged sportswriter Jack Brannon is sick of writing about Tiger Woods and the boring testosterone-charged PGA tour. So the swaggering Texan decides to check out the ladies of the LPGA, specifically hot teen sensation and fellow Texan, Ginger Clayton. She's a fiery eighteen-year-old blonde
When even your reviews read like second-rate Penthouse Letters? Sheesh. The next review includes "rollicking broadside" and "politically incorrect", the bog-standard term of art for "complete asshole".