How to save baseball

Forgive the melodramatic, clickbait-y headline. I don’t actually believe baseball is dying anytime soon, or even that it’s in significant decline. The powers-that-be, however, are clearly rethinking the game in an attempt to get more eyes on it more often. There’s discussion about improving pace of play and creating more offense, a mutually exclusive pair of goals that will probably just cancel each other out. Intentional walks are now just dumb signals from the manager instead of four wide ones. There’s evidence that the baseball has been juiced to create more dingers. Pitch clocks and some sort of adjustments to the extra innings rule are probably on the way (I’m pro home run derby, by the way, perhaps after playing a tenth inning to try to break the tie first).

Is any of that going to attract more casual fans? Fuck no. Are you gonna watch competitive chess just because it moves a little quicker? No way.

So how do we “save” the game? Let’s start by looking at what’s popular about the other major American sports. Football’s greatest assets are its short schedule and built-in violence, neither of which is going to fly with baseball. MLB’s postseason will never be the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs because playoff hockey is a unique gift from the gods that shall never be replicated. You’ll never steal all the weird European fans from soccer.

Which brings me to a league from which we can actually steal a helpful idea, and the entire inspiration for this post: the NBA. The association is always in the news. Shit, how many headlines has basketball stolen in the last week alone, without playing even a single game? News and rumors about player movement are the only stories outpacing reports about the big orange scumbag’s big orange scumbagginess. Why is that, and how can baseball replicate it?

Part of it’s the league’s unique player economy. A shortage of true superstars combined with a complex array of contract rules makes every deal important and nuanced. Unfortunately, we’ll probably never see anything similar in baseball without rules that seriously curb the spending of the bigger market teams.

There’s another facet to the NBA’s constant buzz, though, and it’s that the league is dripping with personality. The players, the coaches, the general managers, and the commentators are all extremely interesting, compelling characters. Yes, this is because most of them are giant assholes. But compare what you know about the Golden State Warriors with what you know about the Chicago Cubs. Steph and Clay are second generation superstars who shoot the lights out. Draymond’s a giant dick but the linchpin of the team. KD’s a generational talent who will forever be haunted by his decision to chase a ring. Anthony Rizzo…uh…plays first base and he’s good. I fucking love baseball and that’s all I can tell you about Anthony Rizzo.

When athletes have personalities and stories, everything they do becomes that much more compelling. I’d argue that baseball’s boring to so many people not just because of its slow pace and weird rules but primarily because its players are duller than your step mom’s Twitter account. All that crap about playing “the right way” by not being demonstrative after a big moment needs to fucking go. Encourage them to bedazzle their gloves, rock their hats backwards, and wear things that would give the NFL’s anti-fun police a coronary. Hand out cash prizes for the best home run celebration every month. Juice up the walk up music and give closers the sort of over-produced entrances that would make Bobby Roode jealous. Get everybody talking, and get them talking shit. Make the game compelling for people other than stat nerds and weird suburban housewives who fell in love with Dustin Pedroia.

And for the love of all that’s holy extend it into the god damn booth. Listen to Jeff Van Gundy do color for a basketball game and then try to listen to ESPN’s Aaron Boone. It’s like they’re not even the same species. Van Gundy’s brash, loud, and opinionated. Boone’s a tentative little fart in church. Watch Ernie, Shaq, Kenny, and Chuck do pregame, then compare their humor and enthusiasm to whatever gaggle of schmucks is sleepwalking through the lead-in to Orioles/Rays. You know why baseball puts people to sleep? Because the presentation’s got the tone of a bedtime story. Even when they’re presenting players who are actually compelling characters—guys like Bryce Harper or Madison Bumgarner—the walking Ambien overdoses running commentary just vomit up tropes like “oh, he’s a quirky character!”, unleash a polite chuckle, and ruin any chance they had of being remotely interesting.

You want to get more people watching and talking about baseball? Shove the pitch clock up your butt and focus on the people. It doesn’t matter how many dingers get hit or how fast the game goes if everyone involved comes off as some sort of focus group-approved robot.

Same old stupid NFL

I’ve got a confession to make: even though I’ve divorced the NFL, I still check up on it from time to time, mostly by reading about it. Yeah, I’m basically Facebook stalking my ex-wife. And appropriately, everything I’m seeing is a total reminder that I made the correct decision when I ditched that loser.

The NFL Draft was Thursday night. For the first time in years I didn’t watch a single pick. I kind of regret missing the annual Booing of the Commissioner. That shit always warms the cockles of my dead heart and it’s the closest real life thing we have to a Vince McMahon entrance, but I think I’ll live.

It’s no secret that I think quarterback is the most overrated position in professional sports and that the obnoxious focus on the QB is one of the main reasons I gave up on the NFL. Teams win championships, not quarterbacks. What’s Andrew Luck done with himself? How’s Drew Brees doing down in New Orleans? Fuck, if you’ve got a good football team a mouth-breathing scrub like Joe Flacco can complete a couple deep balls to a washed up bum like Anquan Boldin and steal a championship. You think Dak Prescott would’ve stolen Tony Romo’s job without a running game, an offensive line, and a defense? No fucking way. Matt Forte, Devin Hester, and a stout D dragged Jay Cutler’s useless ass to the playoffs how many times? Come on. Even the Patriots only win when Tom Brady’s got a defense and an offensive line.

Enter the draft. The Chicago Bears, after paying retread Mike Glennon a bazillion fucking dollars, gave up a first round pick next year plus a pile of lower selections to move up one spot and take a quarterback in a draft that’s been loudly panned as deficient when it comes to passers. Dumb. The Houston Texans also traded up to grab a project QB. Stupid. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns, the only club actively trying to build a team via the draft by stockpiling picks, is getting slammed for not wasting one of their three first rounders on a quarterback. If I still cared, the Browns would’ve become my new second favorite team…for an entire night. They later grabbed DeShone Kizer, who went 12-11 at Notre fucking Dame, in the second round.

Yup. Same old stupid fucking NFL. This is why the Patriots win so often. They’re only the best organization in the league because all the rest are so, so, so stupid.

An alternative to the NFL

The NFL sucks. We’ve been over this, but I need to reiterate for the sake of introduction. The games are boring, the presentation blows, the rules are stupid, and every team not named the Patriots appears to be working with some sort of mental handicap. I used to be a huge fan, but I’ve since divorced the league. After watching a few games over the holidays I’m more sure than ever that I made the right choice and I’m not missing anything.

I was discussing this suckitude with someone the other day and suggested that now would be a great time for a rival league to try to get rolling. I don’t hate the game of football, after all; I just hate the NFL. Maybe I’ve got the XFL on the brain because of that upcoming 30-for-30 documentary and one-day popup hall of fame. Whatever the reason…I’ve been thinking a lot about what that rival league might look like. I’m going to throw it all into a bulleted list.

I give you…the ScottFL.

  • It’s a spring/summer league. Competing head-to-head with the NFL, NBA, and NHL (ok, fine, really just those first two) would be kind of dumb. Providing an action-packed alternative to the dog days of summer baseball could be just the ticket.
  • It’s all about pace of play. Two twenty-minute halves, thirty-second play clock, two timeouts per half…and no fucking commercials. Seriously. The ScottFL will sell every inch of its teams’ uniforms, fields, and arenas to advertisers. No more sitting through the same six commercials seventeen thousand god damn mother fucking times every game.
  • No fucking kickers. Seriously. Kickers suck. They’re not even human. No field goals, no points after, and for the love of Christ no fucking punting. Get that shit all the way out of here. Situations that would otherwise involve a kickoff instead put the offensive team on their own two yard line.
  • Safeties—which are awesome and hilarious—are now worth three points.
  • The field is shorter. Fifty yards from goal line to goal line. Move it along, losers.
  • Penalties based on yardage and fresh downs are bullshit. We’re going NHL style. Holding? False start? Face mask? Get in the box for a couple minutes while your team plays a man down.
  • Breathing on a dude is no longer pass interference.
  • No former players on color commentary. They’re all insufferable dopes. I will end the ScottFL before I allow this particular rule to be broken.
  • A touchdown is still worth six.
  • A fat guy touchdown is worth seven.
  • The point after is replaced by a two-point conversion worth one point.
  • Fun and individuality will not be punished. Players can wear whatever they want on their shoes, gloves, and face masks. Cash prizes will be distributed weekly for best end zone dance, sack taunt, and coach tirade.
  • No Mannings. Ever.
  • All coaches must provide a high school diploma before hire and be able to pass randomly administered literacy tests.
  • Screw it. Fat guy touchdowns are worth ten points.

I’ve divorced the NFL

I got Sundays and my sanity back. It got to keep all the idiots, crappy rules, and fucking Mannings.

For most of my life I’ve been a diehard Patriots fan and a devotee of the National Football League in general. I watched several games a weekend and almost never missed a playoff game. This year, I watched a couple halves in week one and a few plays out of the corner of my eye while watching the NLCS in the bar the other day. Over the last few seasons the sport I used to love gradually morphed into something I despised. I got sick of it. Watching the NFL became a chore, an exercise in frustration that just wasn’t fun anymore. Turns out I’m not the only one who gave it up; I’ve noticed multiple headlines lately mentioning that viewership is in decline. I can’t speak for others who’ve abandoned the game, but I’ve got multiple reasons for dumping football.

  • The presentation blows. Score. Commercial. Kick. Commercial. Timeout. Commercial. Does that sound like fun to you? Now add in a bunch of talking heads who are basically living proof that a career in football royally fucks with your brain. No thanks. I would rather listen to Jerry Remy and special guest Charlie Moore talk about washing their cars for three innings straight than ever hear another single word from Troy Aikman, Ray Lewis, or Phil Simms.
  • The rules are getting ridiculous. Two guys dance and high five after making a big play. Flag. Fifteen yards and a first down, and if they dare to have anything resembling fun during a that game again they’re tossed. Take that bullshit and shove it all the way up your ass, NFL. I’m all for new rules to protect the players, but the penalties involved have too big of an influence on individual games. And pass interference is the biggest bullshit call in all of sports.
  • The focus on quarterbacks is stupid. The Denver Broncos just won the Superbowl with an all-world defense, a solid running game, and the statistically worst quarterback play in the league. Fuck, Jay fucking Cutler’s been to the god damn playoffs multiple times. Nobody blows bigger sweatier goat balls than Jay Cutler. Getting all excited because a scrub like Ryan Tannehill threw 4000 yards is absurd. 4000’s the new 2000, bro. Football’s a team game, perhaps more so than any of the other major American sports. Cut the shit.
  • Most teams are stupid. I’m convinced Bill Belichick isn’t actually a football genius; he’s just a guy of average intelligence surrounded by competition that usually can’t tie its own shoes. Sam freaking Bradford’s been traded for multiple high draft picks. Coaches routinely blow timeouts, fuck up challenges, and wuss out on fourth-and-short situations logic dictates they should absolutely go for. Teams repeatedly attempt to force players into their precious systems rather than adapting their game plans to maximize their players’ strengths, which is just dumb. It’s amazing—and incredibly frustrating.
  • The league is full of scumbags. For the record, I don’t think it’s the NFL’s job to punish its employees for off-field criminal activity; that’s why we have a justice system. However…holy shit, I really can’t deal with the ginormous collection of butt munches playing professional football. Where in the hell do all these cock rockets come from and why do they think it’s ok to be the way they are? Jesus Christ.
  • Commissioner Goodell’s a terd. Flat out.

So yeah. It’s over between me and the NFL, at least until some of the above changes. It probably won’t. I’ve got a new love in my life, however, at least while baseball’s on vacation: hockey. We’ve always been friends, but now romance is finally blossoming. Ah, the sweetness of new love!

How are the Red Sox going to blow it this time?

The Boston Red Sox have won 11 baseball games in a row and sit six games ahead of their closest competition for the AL East crown. They’ve clinched a playoff spot. They look good, they’re peaking at the right time, and they seem to have mostly gotten over that whole “our pitching sucks” problem they had earlier in the year. They’re a contender.

Except they’re the Red Sox, so they’re going to fuck it up. It’s what they do. They set high expectations and then vomit all over them in spectacular fashion. To those of you thinking I’m too much of a Negative Nellie, I ask you: have you looked at the god damn roster? It’s so combustible it started five separate wildfires in Cali last time they visited the Angels. Shit’s going down in October (or maybe November) and it’s going to be some Maury-level “Neither of you is the father!” drama. Let’s go over the most likely culprits behind this pending baseball arson.

The Price is wrong

The Red Sox gave David Price roughly a bazillion trillion and twelve dollars so all the locals would stop complaining about their lack of an ace. This is a guy with a 3.20 ERA in 251 Major League appearances. He’s at 3.95 this season, but his peripherals suggest he’s pitched better than that number and he’s had a little bit of bad luck. He’s a 5.12 in the postseason. He made four playoff starts for Toronto last year and gave up at least three runs in each. You can’t say he had a really ace-like postseason since that time the Rays made the World Series. Betting on Price to go kablooey on a cold fall evening in Fenway seems smart. Odds: 3-1.

Hanley being Hanley

Hanley Ramirez has been almost too well-behaved this year. He lost weight, learned to play a decent first base, and generally kept his act together despite his inability to find a god damn helmet that fits. Still. He’s kind of an adventure with pop flies. He’s never seen a borderline strike he agreed with and he likes to talk to the umpires about it. The Baseball Writers of America voted him Most Likely to Charge the Mound and Drop the Pitcher with a Shining Wizard. Fine, I made that last one up, but can’t you totally see it happening? Odds: 5-1

Big smelly Butthole

Sure, things would have to be going pretty badly for Clay Butthole to end up in a high leverage spot, but I couldn’t leave him out. Butthole’s been pitching better since he cut his stupid hair, but like the team in general, he’s setting us up. If Farrell turns to Suckholz in the thirteenth inning of a tie game in a close series I’m frickin’ going to bed. Odds: 4-1

David Ortiz can’t run

Ding ding ding, I think we have a winner! David Ortiz is a hell of a ballplayer. He’s forty years old and somehow OPS-ing 1.038 even though he really can’t run at all anymore. And that’s the problem. Balls down the line or in the gap that should be doubles end up as singles or outs at second because his myriad injuries have sapped what little speed he has. I can picture it now: Ortiz leads off the bottom of the ninth with the Sox down two and a man on second. He hits a frozen rope into the right field corner. The runner scores, but Papi either holds at first, the next batter hits a single, then the two after that strike out, or he tries too hard for second and gets thrown out by a mile. Watching one of the most beloved Red Sox players ever end his career in the middle of a “He cost us the series!” shit storm is the worst possible way this season could conclude, so that’s what’s most likely to go down. Odds: 2-1

Honorable mention: Eduardo Rodriguez making sure everyone in the stadium knows what he’s about to throw; Mookie Betts blowing out his ACL during an outfield victory dance; Robbie Ross; Craig Kimbrel discovering the last few molecules of that bacteria that wrecked Daniel Bard in the clubhouse shower.

2016 NFL quarterback crap rankings

I love football. I also kind of hate it. A big reason for that hatred is the narrative surrounding the quarterback position. If the various talking heads poisoning the league’s presentation are to be believed, every semi-competent quarterback in the league is some sort of golden god come down from on high to save his otherwise useless franchise from certain doom. And sure, a really, really good quarterback can carry his team for long stretches of a game, but here’s the thing: there’s only ever three or maybe four really, really good quarterbacks in the league. The rest are varying degrees of crappy.

How crappy? Let’s break it down using a tiered approach.

The Unknown Craps

Carson Wentz, Eagles
Jared Goff, Rams

It’s way too early to judge either guy, but I’ll tell you this: trading buttloads of picks to move up and take a quarterback in a supposedly quarterback-weak draft is dumb. Like, going to Wal-Mart to buy a luxury automobile dumb. The move makes a lot more sense for the Rams (who built a solid foundation using the picks acquired by trading Washington the pick used on Robert Griffin) than it does for the total waste of roster space in Philadelphia, but it’s still a bonehead move.

Giant Dog Craps That Are Somehow Still on the Sidewalk

32. Case Keenum
31. Sam Bradford
30. Blaine Gabbert
29. Josh McCown
28. Mark Sanchez

Holy balls. I’d call this part of the list a dumpster fire, but that would be an insult to actual dumpster fires. These guys are all somehow worse than flaming metal bins full of disgusting garbage. The worst part about these five: everybody knows they suck. Seriously. They suck. They’ve proven it over and over and over again. And yet, somewhere, some former player-turned talking head in a suit is rambling on about how this might finally be Sam Bradford’s year. Concussions are a terrible thing.

Who Crapped on the Floor? That’s Not How You’re Supposed to Do It!

27. Marcus Mariota
26. Brock Osweiler

Mariota found great success at Oregon in the spread offense, so of course Tennessee’s planning to put him under center in an old school ground-and-pound system. As for Osweiler…Houston’s where quarterbacks go to die.

Someone Forgot to Flush

25. Jay Cutler
24. Alex Smith
23. Ryan Tannehill
22. Andy Dalton

Sure, Tannehill and Dalton aren’t as old and hilarious as Cutler and Smith, but it feels like they’ve both been stinking up the league forever. Do you really want any of these guys leading your offense? I don’t think you do.

I Shouldn’t Have Trusted That Fart

21. Tony Romo
20. Teddy Bridgewater
19. Blake Bortles
18. Joe Flacco

Can you win with these guys? Yeah, but you’re just as likely to end up 6-10 and looking for a new coach. Bridgewater can’t throw deep. Flacco can only throw deep. Romo fractures his spleen if you look at him cross-eyed. Bortles is a Jaguar.

The Morning after Chipotle

17. Ryan Fitzpatrick

Totally inconsistent.

Hot Steamers

16. Jameis Winston
15. Derek Carr
14. Tyrod Taylor
13. Kirk Cousins

Each of these guys could be something someday, but one strong season isn’t enough to prove their value. Advanced metrics surprisingly love Tyrod Taylor, so I love him too.

Time for My 2:30

12. Matthew Stafford
11. Philip Rivers
10. Matt Ryan
9. Carson Palmer
8. Eli Manning

Just another day at the office. Ho-hum. Nothing to see here. Just gonna linger on the john for a few more minutes while I finish reading this thing on my phone. Whatever.

Just One Wipe

7. Ben Roethlisberger
6. Drew Brees
5. Cam Newton
4. Russell Wilson

Finally, some actual quality. Brees and Big Ben are old but they aren’t quite done yet. Wilson and Newton are knocking on the door of the next tier, but the remaining quarterbacks are all just that much better that I can’t justify it yet.

Actually Really, Really Good

3. Andrew Luck
2. Aaron Rodgers
1. Tom Brady

That’s right: there are only three quarterbacks in the league I completely trust to win games all on their own. The previous quartet can do it on occasion, but they’re just inconsistent enough that they can’t quite be included here. The sky’s the limit for Andrew Luck, but I worry that his huge new contract will keep Indy from being able to build an actual team around him. Rodgers is a stud, but he’s starting to show his age a little bit. Brady’s the best and if you disagree you’re a dink and you should go watch soccer.