Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Value of a Win

Over the last 10 years or so, ever since the word "sabermetrics" entered baseball vocabulary, people have been trying to devalue the win.  The argument is that there are so many factors other than how well the pitcher actually pitched that the "win" isn't really indicative of his performance.  He could pitch well and get no run support in a loss or no decision or, conversely, get a win despite not pitching that great because he made it through five innings with a ton of run support.

Well, if the win is so insignificant, why does it still mean so much to the pitchers themselves?  Twice last week, Yankees manager Joe Girardi took his starting pitcher out in the fifth inning of a game the Yankees were leading, making them ineligible for the win.  Both pitchers--CC Sabathia and Jaime Garcia--were visibly upset.  Girardi didn't care, and he shouldn't.  His priority was the team win (the Yankees did win both games).  But, even in this sabermetric era, getting the win is still pretty important to the pitcher.

Yes, I'm stating the obvious here.  Pitchers want the win.  It's important to them.  Sure, owners and GMs might look at ERAs and strikeouts and WHIPs and fastball velocity when scouting pitchers and considering which free agents to sign.  But what's the only thing listed on every box score?  The winner, the loser, and who got the save (if there was one).  And, whatever their other stats might be, it's the pitchers who win that make the most money when the time comes to get paid.

Think of some of the best pitchers in baseball.  Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale.  They all pitch deep into games and, as a result, get decisions.  No one, not even the sabermetrics crowd, can question the validity of their records, which, for the most part, are the same as their teams' record in their starts (which is actually one of my favorite stats to look up).

This all came to a head a few years ago when the AL Cy Young went to Felix Hernandez, who went 13-12 for the last-place Mariners, instead of 21-game winner David Price, whose Rays won the AL East.  I, personally, thought Price deserved to win over Hernandez, but that's besides the point.  What that Cy Young race showed us is the changing view of writers about traditional statistics.

Except here's the problem: many of those same writers are Hall of Fame voters.  And what do Hall of Fame voters look at?  Strikeouts and ERA, yes, but also wins and winning percentage.  So, if wins aren't important anymore, why do they still matter when it comes time to vote for the Hall of Fame?  You can't have it both ways.  It either matters or it doesn't.  

Maybe that's why going five innings and getting the win was so important to CC Sabathia.  Yes, it's one game over the span of a 17-year career.  CC Sabathia was already a borderline Hall of Famer, and whether he ends his career with 290 wins or 289 (or whatever number) isn't going to determine whether or not he gets a plaque in Cooperstown.  (For the record, I think the Big Guy will get in eventually.)

There's also talk that CC could be the last guy to get to 300 wins, which has always been the magic number.  It's another sign of the times.  Every team has a deep bullpen, so they don't need their starters to go as deep into games.  And you have teams limiting innings and skipping starts, further limiting their opportunities.  That's why the 20-win season, long the indicator of pitching success, has also become a thing of the past (four pitchers are tied for the Major League lead with 17 wins, so we likely won't have one this season).

But, even if no one else does, starting pitchers still see the value in the win.  They only pitch once every five days.  They can only make an impact 35 times a season.  They want to make the most of it.  And the best way for a starting pitcher to help his team win is to pitch well enough to earn one himself.  And, if you think about it, in order for a pitcher to get a win, his team first has to win.  And the teams that win the most are the ones that end up in the playoffs.

One last point about starting pitchers and wins.  What's the first category listed under pitching leaders (and the first one that people look up)?  What's the stat that appears next to a pitcher's name on the day he pitches?  What's the stat most frequently tied to bonus thresholds in contracts (which agents are quick to point out)?  What's the one pitching category every fantasy baseball league, even the most basic ones, assigns the most weight to?

So, who gets the win might not matter to sabermetricians or managers.  But it matters a great deal to the men actually going out there and standing on the hill.  Try telling them that the winning pitcher is irrelevant.

Who gets the win is important.  Just like it always has been.  Just like it always will be.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Football Picks, Week 2

Well folks, Week 1 gave us its share of surprises, didn't it?  The Bills, Jaguars and Rams are all in sole possession of first place in their divisions, while we also saw something we thought we might not see all season--a Patriots loss.  What's in store for Week 2?  Well, we've already seen Cincinnati fire its offensive coordinator after failing to score a touchdown on Thursday night, but I'm sure there's much more to come.

Cardinals (0-1) at Colts (0-1): Arizona-Arizona wasn't dealt an easy hand to start the season.  Back-to-back trips to the Midwest for 1:00 kickoffs.  Last week, they got outclassed in Detroit, but they'll likely have a far better result in Indianapolis.  The Colts went out to LA last week and the game looked like a USC vs. Idaho guarantee game.  They aren't that good with Andrew Luck.  Without him, they're just bad.

Eagles (1-0) at Chiefs (1-0): Kansas City-Thank you Chiefs for making us not have to listen to "Can the Patriots go undefeated?" talk this year.  Anyway, we all knew Kansas City was good.  All they did on Thursday night was give us further evidence of that fact.  Now they take on Andy Reid's former team in their home opener.  Nice win by the Eagles last week, but the Redskins are not the Chiefs.  Kansas City wins.

Patriots (0-1) at Saints (0-1): New England-Sound the panic alarm!  The Patriots lost at home in their opener!  Remember the last time they lost big to Kansas City?  They didn't lose again that season and won the Super Bowl.  Belichick's had an extra three days to figure out what went wrong last week and how to fix it.  And, more importantly, they're playing the Saints instead of the Chiefs this week.  The last-place Patriots' stay at the bottom of the AFC East standings will likely be a short one.

Vikings (1-0) at Steelers (1-0): Pittsburgh-On paper, this might be the best matchup of Week 2.  Minnesota really controlled play pretty much all night against New Orleans, while Pittsburgh had some surprisingly tense moments in Cleveland.  Their result was the same, though, and one of them will be 2-0 after this week.  While they looked good last week, I'm not completely sold on the Vikings.  Let's see how they do in their first road game of the year, which is, obviously, a very tough test.  I'm taking the Steelers.

Bears (0-1) at Buccaneers (0-0): Tampa Bay-They're playing in Tampa less than a week after Irma, as the Bucs welcome their former quarterback Mike Glennon for their opener.  Playing 16 straight weeks could definitely have a bearing on this potential playoff team down the stretch (especially since their Thursday night game is early).  But the extra rest should help them this week.  They didn't need extra time to prepare for the Bears, but they got it.  The Bucs win this one for Tampa (now if the Rays could just do some winning for Tampa against the Red Sox).

Bills (1-0) at Panthers (1-0): Carolina-Ladies and gentlemen, the Buffalo Bills are in sole possession of first place in the AFC East.  It's not going to last long, so I just wanted to make sure I got it out there.  Both of these teams beat an opponent that's pretty bad last week, so this week will provide a much tougher challenge.  The Panthers are a better team than the Bills and they're playing at home.  That's enough for me.

Titans (0-1) at Jaguars (1-0): Tennessee-Raise your had if you thought Jacksonville was going to beat Houston last week.  Anybody?  Didn't think so.  Not only that, the Jaguars smacked the Texans.  Definitely one of the surprises of Week 1.  Now they play another division game against the Titans, who lost at home to Oakland last week.  I'm still going to say Tennessee should win this game, but the Jaguars pulled it off last week, and I think the Texans are better than the Titans, so first-place Jacksonville getting to 2-0 suddenly doesn't seem like much of a stretch, either.

Browns (0-1) at Ravens (1-0): Baltimore-Cleveland kept it surprisingly close against Pittsburgh last week, but, in true Browns fashion, they found a way to lose.  Maybe it's because the Indians were winning enough for all three Cleveland teams.  Well, the Indians finally stopped winning, so maybe they'll share some with Cleveland's "football" team.  Then again, maybe not.  Do you really see them beating the Ravens, a team that shut out the Bengals in Cincinnati, in Baltimore?  I don't.

Jets (0-1) at Raiders (1-0): Oakland-Two teams play their home games at MetLife Stadium.  So why in God's name did it sit empty for the first two Sundays of the season?!  Anyway, the Jets take their traveling circus cross country for a matchup with the Raiders.  This would be one game you could count on Oakland to win when both teams were bad.  Now that the Raiders are good, it's not going to be pretty.  Fortunately I'll be able to watch the Cowboys-Broncos game instead.

Dolphins (0-0) at Chargers (0-1): Miami-The Dolphins have spent the week in Southern California getting ready for their delayed opener.  The Chargers, meanwhile, have a short week after playing the second Monday night game (and giving it away with that missed field goal on the final play).  It's their first game in their temporary home, but they're evidently having trouble selling tickets even in a 30,000-seat soccer stadium (mainly because no one, including the Chargers, wants them in LA).  It'll be very interesting to see how many people actually show up to see the Dolphins win.

Cowboys (1-0) at Broncos (1-0): Dallas-As long as Ezekiel Elliott is allowed to play (which I think will be the entire season), Dallas should be favored in most, if not all of their games.  The last time Denver played Dallas, Peyton Manning was at the helm for the Broncos.  Now it's Trevor Siemian, which isn't quite the same thing.  Denver barely beat the Chargers on Monday night, while the Cowboys pretty thoroughly handled the Giants.  The Broncos' defense may be the strength of the team, but the Cowboys have enough offense that they'll score just enough points to get it done.

Redskins (0-1) at Rams (1-0): Rams-OK, here's what I've got to say about the woeful attendance at the Rams-Colts game (a crowd that rivaled the one at Trump's inauguration)...the LA Coliseum made it look much worse than it actually was.  I'm not saying all those empty seats were a good thing.  But the LA Coliseum seats 90,000 people.  It also looked empty for Super Bowl I.  If you had 50,000 people sitting in a 65,000-seat stadium, it wouldn't have looked nearly as bad.  The LA Coliseum, of course, won't be empty for the track & field events at the 2028 Olympics.  IOC President Thomas Bach is coming to this game to celebrate LA's being awarded those Games.  Unfortunately, he won't see a very good football game.  I'll take the Rams because, why not?  (Also, why are both LA teams home this week?  You're gonna complain about the attendance for both of them anyway, so maybe making fans choose between the games wasn't the brightest idea.)

49ers (0-1) at Seahawks (0-1): Seattle-Both of these teams lost last week.  One lost on the road against one of the favorites in the NFC.  The other got smacked around at home.  See where I'm going with this?  The Seahawks don't lose at home period.  They certainly won't against a 49ers team that they're far superior to.

Packers (1-0) at Falcons (1-0): Green Bay-Atlanta opens its new stadium on Sunday Night Football with a rematch of the NFC Championship Game.  This is the Falcons' first real test of the season after opening against the Bears.  The Packers, meanwhile, get their second straight playoff team to open 2017.  You know that after losing the final game at the Georgia Dome, Aaron Rodgers and Co. would like nothing more than to spoil the opening of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.  I think they will, too.

Lions (1-0) at Giants (0-1): Giants-Detroit was impressive in its Week 1 win over Arizona.  The Giants were not in their Week 1 loss at Dallas.  In fact, they made it abundantly clear that they're not the same team without Odell Beckham, Jr., and that overall lack of offense going back to last season is definitely troubling.  So why am I picking the Giants?  Because I don't see that defense having two bad games in a row, and Detroit's offense should give them far fewer problems than Dallas did.

Thursday Night: Houston (Win)

This Week: 1-0
Last Week: 11-4
Season: 12-4

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Best Commissioner In Sports

The NBA has the best commissioner in sports.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  Everyone except the owners knows Roger Baddell is terrible (and I think even some of the owners know, too).  Gary Bettman doesn't give a crap about the players or fans and has guaranteed himself Lockout 3.0.  And Rob Manfred is preoccupied with "fixing" problems that don't exist.

Then there's Adam Silver.  He knows that the NBA has some serious issues.  He knows something has to be done about them.  So, instead of pushing them under the rug, that's exactly what he's doing.  Silver is making tough decisions that he knows are the best for the league...and he's making the owners see that, too.  As a result, he's gonna get things done.

One of the biggest issues that's been plaguing the NBA for the last couple seasons has been that ridiculous "DNP-Rest" you see over and over again in box scores.  We all know the story with this one.  The Cavs, Warriors and Spurs (among others) are the biggest culprits here.  They've made it a habit to sit healthy star players for nationally-televised games.

Each team has offered their different reasons for sitting out their best players, but each of those explanations rings pretty hollow.  Fans aren't buying tickets to see LeBron or Steph Curry sit on the bench.  Especially if it's their only visit to that particular city.  People also aren't going to tune in to watch what's essentially a preseason game between the Cavs and Celtics, either.  That effects the ratings for TNT/ABC/ESPN.  And if the ratings go down, there goes the advertising revenue.

That's how Silver was able to sell the owners on the fact that this was a change that needed to happen.  As an economic issue.  And we all know how loudly the almighty dollar speaks.  (This is, after all, the league that agreed to jersey sponsorships beginning this season.)  When you threaten the amount of money that the owners are able to make, they suddenly care very strongly about an issue.

Another issue that's been plaguing the NBA for even longer than the "DNP-Rest" is the tanking issue.  This truly came to light after the 76ers infamously tanked their way thru the 2013-14 season, knowing that their reward would be no worse than the No. 4 pick in the draft.  Silver wanted to do something about it then, but, as a new commissioner, didn't have the support among the owners.  Four years later, he does.  Which is why draft reform is definitely going to happen.

Under the current system, the worst team in the NBA has a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery and can draft no lower than fourth.  The new plan evens out those odds to 14 percent for each of the three worst teams, with the odds only dropping by a point or two for the other lottery teams (previously, just missing the playoffs meant you had virtually no shot at winning the lottery).  And now the worst team is guaranteed only a top-five (instead of top-four) pick.

I like the idea of evening out the odds a little, but I'd take it one step further.  You can't win the lottery in back-to-back years.  If you get the No. 1 pick one year and end up back in the lottery the next, you can pick no higher than second.  I'm not sure exactly how they'd be able to put that stipulation in place, but it would definitely give teams more of an incentive to put a competitive team out there.

Adam Silver has tackled both of these issues head-on, and he'll make it a point to see them enacted.  There are other issues he's going to address, too.  The All*Star Game is a joke, which everyone acknowledges.  That's also on his agenda.  But the draft and the resting of healthy players were much more pressing.  Which is why Silver felt the need to deal with those problems first.

And, let's be clear about one last point.  Adam Silver is going to get his way on both of these issues.  He wouldn't be discussing them publicly if he wasn't.  These were problems that the commissioner found a solution for.  And he found solutions that work for everybody.  Once again proving that he's the best commissioner among the four major sports.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Win-Win-Win

Are you ready for the end of the most anticlimactic Olympic bid race in recent memory (perhaps ever)?  On Wednesday afternoon, what we've all known for months will finally be made official.  The 2024 Olympics will be awarded to Paris, and the 2028 Games will go to Los Angeles.  And with that, both cities will join London as three-time hosts.

Ordinarily, this would be the day that bidding cities spend years leading up to...only for most of them to see all that time and money go for naught.  But not this time.  They don't even have "vote" written anywhere on the agenda for the IOC Session.  It's simply presentations by both cities, followed by ratification of the three-way agreement and the signing of the host city contracts.

At a normal IOC election, this would be the day with all the fanfare.  You'd have heads of state flying in and famous athletes from each country describing how wonderful the experience of their Olympic Games would be.  Each bid would be given 45 minutes, complete with videos and speeches, in their final chance to impress the voters (for many of whom this is the main perk of IOC membership) before those voters decide where the Olympics will be in seven years.

Things are going to be very, very different this time, though.  The IOC told both cities not to go overboard in their presentations.  Each organizing committee will only be given 25 minutes.  Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron will not attend.  There will be no vote.  And there will be no loser.  Both Paris and Los Angeles will come away with their ultimate goal of hosting the Olympics.

This is, of course, a unique, one-time occurrence.  And it's one that really only came about after Budapest withdrew its bid, dropping this race from three cities to two.  People had been hinting at the dual-awarding even while Budapest was still in the running, but it wasn't going to happen unless it was just the two of them.  So, in a way, Budapest did the IOC a favor.  It gave them this unique opportunity that they were smart to take advantage of.

But, you also can't help but wonder how much this day would be different had Budapest not dropped out and this was still a competition between three cities.  Budapest wasn't going to win.  But these would've been the final presentations we're used to.  All of the usual bells and whistles present at these final IOC Session would've come out.

And we likely would've seen Paris win.  They'd been the favorites for 2024 the entire time, and nothing would've changed heading into the vote.  (Of course, we said that about their 2005 bid for the 2012 Games that ultimately went to London, but Paris wasn't going to be passed over again.)  So, for Paris, and, really, for France as a whole, the only difference is they know going in that the 2024 Olympics will definitely be in Paris instead of just hoping they will be.

The biggest difference is that instead of LA and the USOC left feeling defeated and licking their wounds over another Olympic loss, everyone will walk out winners.  Sure, LA's 11-year wait will be the longest in Olympic history.  But had it been a straight up head-to-head competition won by Paris, the likelihood of LA (or any other American city) bidding for 2028 would've been slim to none.  And, for the certainty of knowing that the LA Olympics are definitely going to happen, the extra four years seems well worth it.

Now the attention will turn to the 2026 Winter Games, which the IOC desperately hopes will turn the tide after all the withdrawals that have plagued the last two bid cycles.  Denver and Salt Lake City have both expressed an interest in those Winter Olympics, but they'd be advised to hold off.  Not only are the 2026 Olympics likely headed to Europe, the 2026 World Cup is going to be in the U.S., and with LA 2028 becoming official, you'd have to think they won't put back-to-back Olympics in the same country.

That's a discussion for another day, though.  Instead we get to celebrate the end of another bid cycle.  One of the most unique in Olympic history.  Paris gets exactly what they set out for.  LA gets a consolation prize that really doesn't seem like one.

Meanwhile, the much-maligned IOC comes out as perhaps the biggest winner.  Because for all the problems they've had in recent years, they're locking two Olympic Games into first-rate cities in countries that are important to the Olympic Movement while also buying themselves plenty of time to get things right.  Whether or not they can is a different question.

Monday, September 11, 2017

NFL Justice

Ezekiel Elliott played in the Cowboys' season-opening win over the Giants on Sunday night and could very well end up playing the entire season.  This despite being suspended by the league for six games.  And with that, Elliott became the most recent example of a player defeating the NFL in court.

We all know that the NFL's system of player discipline is incredibly flawed.  Roger Baddell has way too much power in the current system.  It's an issue that will be discussed heavily during the next round of collective bargaining, and it's one of the main reasons there will be a work stoppage when the current CBA expires.  (I'm not being grim, I'm simply reiterating a declaration the NFLPA made when Baddell's contract was extended.)

Although, as stupid as it may be that Baddell gets to play judge, jury and executioner, the players have found the one forum where they actually have a chance--actual courts of law.  Elliott is allowed to play because a federal judge blocked his suspension.  The NFL has appealed, but he'll likely remain eligible until that appeal is heard.  Which is why it's likely he won't serve a suspension until 2018, if at all.

Elliott isn't the first player to take the NFL to court over a suspension, and he almost certainly won't be the last.  And why shouldn't he?  Because time and again, legal challenges to NFL suspensions have proven to be the players' most viable recourse against a deck that really is stacked against them.  Even the "neutral" arbitrators, who are appointed and paid by the league, simply serve to validate whatever punishment the commissioner decides to levy.  There's nothing neutral about it.

It makes sense that you'd want a person who's actually impartial to hear the case.  And as we've seen, the federal courts are much more favorable to the players' cases than anyone involved with the league, where Baddell has an iron-clad grip.  Even if they don't get their suspensions reduced or thrown out, going through the federal courts proves a point.  The current system doesn't work and is badly in need of improvement.

This isn't groundbreaking news.  We all know that the NFL's system of player discipline is incredibly flawed.  That's why it will, and should, be a significant point of emphasis during the CBA negotiations.  Especially considering how arbitrary it is.  Frankly, it doesn't make the NFL come off looking too good, either.  Baddell usually comes out of these things looking like a fool.

Consider: Deflategate--Brady drags it on for more than a year...Bountygate--all of the suspensions are thrown out...Adrian Peterson--challenged, although the NFL ultimately won on appeal.  Now another high-profile suspension where the player succeeds, even temporarily, in court.

The fact that this is the fourth NFL disciplinary case that has gone to the federal courts in the last several years is proof enough that the system is badly broken.  An appeal to a higher court should be a last resort.  Instead, we're surprised when an NFL player doesn't appeal a suspension for a violation of the extremely ambiguous personal conduct policy (which is part of the problem).

Now, I'm not saying these players didn't deserve to be suspended.  Quite the contrary.  I think all of these suspensions were completely warranted.  But ever since he badly bungled the Ray Rice situation, Baddell has definitely been a little overzealous when it comes to violations of the personal conduct policy.  And that's the problem.

There's plenty of blame to go around here.  The league and commissioner have put themselves into this situation, where they have to spend millions on legal fees, because they refuse to admit they need to fix the system.  The players, meanwhile, are just as responsible, since they granted Baddell that authority in the first place.  Frankly, the only people who don't have an issue with things the way they are would probably be the lawyers.

Is there a solution to be found?  Without a doubt.  Baddell needs to realize that he has to give a little and yield some of his authoritarian power if he doesn't want every suspension he issues to be challenged in court.  It shouldn't just be him.  It should be a panel.  There also needs to be a set of guidelines put in place so that the players have some general idea of what their punishment might be, rather than just the commissioner's whim.  Lastly, the arbitration process needs to truly be neutral.  The players need a chance to present their case to someone who'll actually be objective.

Otherwise, we're destined to continue with the ridiculously flawed system that's currently in place.  A long, drawn-out process that we can all agree needs to be replaced.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick

The man most responsible for the Yankees Dynasty in the late 90s wasn't Derek Jeter.  It wasn't Joe Torre or Brian Cashman either.  It wasn't even George Steinbrenner.  It was the architect of those teams, Gene "Stick" Michael.

Stick passed away on Thursday, and his loss was felt throughout the Yankees organization.  He served the team in every capacity imaginable, from player to manager to scout to GM to team executive.  And his impact on the organization is nearly as vast.  Which is why his death affected so many so strongly.  From former players to current Yankees to longtime team staffers, everyone will feel his loss.

In recent years, he was perhaps better known as a regular at Old Timer's Day.  He never missed one.  In fact, he had a very important job.  Stick served as manager of both teams.  Now, Yankees Old Timer's Day sometimes seems like a bit of a free-for-all.  But there was Gene Michael trying to organize the chaos.  Someone had to make out the lineups, after all.  But he was so much more than that.  If it weren't for Gene Michael, the Yankees' run from 1996-2000 probably never happens.

Michael deserves most, if not all of the credit, for how those Yankees teams that won four World Series in five years were constructed.  Remember, prior to that run were some down years for the Yankees.  They went 15 years without a World Series appearance from 1981-96.  Then, George Steinbrenner was suspended in the early 90s and Michael was given free reign to run the organization's baseball operations.  And it was during that time a dynasty was built.

It was Gene Michael who made the trade for Paul O'Neill.  He sent Roberto Kelly, an All-Star, to Cincinnati for O'Neill in the winter of 1993 because he liked the way O'Neill played.  And Paul O'Neill became one of the most important parts of that championship nucleus.  Another player who helped spark the Yankees' resurgence was Jimmy Key, who signed as a free agent prior to the 1993 season.  Prior to Key, the Yankees had been having trouble attracting free agents.  Who's the GM that changed that perception?  Gene Michael.

He also drafted Bernie Williams and Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter.  And, more importantly, he held on to them.  The Core Four and Bernie were all able to develop in the Yankees system, and they all got to the Majors at roughly the same time.  Once they did, there was no stopping the Yankees.  Brian Cashman had taken over as GM by then, but all of those championship pieces were put in place by his mentor, Gene Michael.

Perhaps just as importantly, Stick resisted the urge to trade them.  The Yankees went through some very lean years in the early 90s, but instead of making the impulsive moves to get better right away, Michael remained committed to his plan.  He knew these guys were going to be stars.  And he wanted them to be stars as Yankees.

Boy, was he right.  He had a chance to trade Mariano Rivera.  He didn't do it.  In an oft-told story, the Yankees were unsure about Jeter prior to the 1996 season and were seriously considering dealing Rivera for Cleveland's Felix Fermin.  We all know the rest of the story.

Now, just imagine for a second that they do make that deal.  The entire narrative of the last 20 years is completely changed.  There's no four World Championships.  Jeter and Rivera don't become Yankees legends.  They still might've been headed to Cooperstown, but they wouldn't be beloved figures with their numbers on the wall in Monument Park.  (Felix Fermin, by the way, played his last Major League game in 1998.)

Speaking of Monument Park, there's room left for one plaque against the back wall.  I know the perfect person to occupy that space.  Frankly, it's crazy he doesn't have one already.  Because no one is more deserving than Gene Michael.  He's had such a deep impact on the organization for so long (in so many different ways) that there's no tribute more fitting to a man who proudly wore the Pinstripes for nearly half his life.

Gene Michael will be missed, but his legacy will live on.  For a long time.  And he will most definitely be remembered.  Fondly.  By all Yankees fans, players and front office personnel alike.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Football Picks, Week 1

Well, ladies and gentlemen, we've reached another football season.  And with that, the return of my weekly football picks.  For those of you who are new to this, I always lock in my picks prior to the Thursday night game, but I usually don't post them until Saturday night or early Sunday.  The exceptions are Week 1 and Thanksgiving.

And I don't care what the spread is.  The spread has nothing to do with the actual outcome of the game.  If a team covers the spread and loses, they still lost.  You don't make the playoffs because you covered the spread the most.  You make the playoffs because you won the most.  Which is why my picks are who I think will win the game, not whether or not I think the favorite will cover.

Before I get to the picks, that was 100 percent the right move to postpone the Dolphins-Bucs game.  Yes, it sucks that they'll have to play 16 weeks in a row (they'll become just the sixth and seventh teams since byes were created in 1990 not to have one).  But public safety is more important than a football game.  Just ask the Saints how devastating a Category 5 hurricane can be.

Chiefs at Patriots: New England-I'm aware of the fact this game has already started.  Doesn't matter.  I'd be picking the Patriots regardless.  Do you really think there's any chance the defending champs will lose that Thursday night opener with the banner going up?  Because I sure don't.  Especially since New England is probably better this year than they were last season.

Jets at Bills: Buffalo-Last year, the Jets actually won both games against the Bills, and one of them will be tied for first place after Week 1 (assuming they don't tie).  The Bills have a new head coach and a whole new system, but I'm not sure that makes them much better.  The Jets, however, we all know are going to stink.  This might be one of the few chances for each to win.  I'm going with the home team.

Falcons at Bears: Atlanta-This is Atlanta's first game since that Super Bowl debacle.  I'm very curious to see how that impacts their season (remember how badly the Panthers started last year?).  We could get an indication against the Bears.  Because the Falcons are a better team than Chicago and should easily win this game regardless.

Ravens at Bengals: Baltimore-The first of the two AFC North matchups is an interesting one.  They're both probably considered outside wild card contenders, which increases the importance on a Week 1 division game.  The Bengals actually requested a Week 1 home game because they usually end up starting on the road.  I don't know why I find that so fascinating, but I do.  Anyway, I think Cincinnati's time has passed.  Baltimore, however, could be on the way back, which is why I'm picking the Ravens.

Steelers at Browns: Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh's probably the best team in the AFC not based in New England.  Cleveland's probably the worst team in the NFL based anywhere.  If the Steelers do find a way to lose this one, they might as well all start looking for new teams to join on Monday.

Cardinals at Lions: Detroit-Does Arizona have one last playoff run in them during the Carson Palmer/Larry Fitzgerald Era?  Are the Lions capable of returning to the postseason?  This is one of the more intriguing Week 1 matchups, and that's primarily the reason why.  And once again, a Week 1 result could end up having a bearing on who's playing in January.  Detroit finally ditched all that ridiculous extraneous black on its uniform, and I like that, so I'm throwing the Lions a pick.

Raiders at Titans: Oakland-Derek Carr is back.  The Raiders are obviously a much better team with him under center.  One that can beat pretty much anybody.  A lot of people are high on the Titans, and even more will jump on that bandwagon if Tennessee wins the opener.  Oakland will also gain a lot of believers if they go into Nashville and win.  Which I think they will.

Eagles at Redskins: Washington-It's always a battle when the NFC East teams play each other, especially in Week 1.  Of course, the other two NFC East teams will probably be the ones fighting for the division title, but the Redskins and Eagles love to play spoilers.  As it is, one of them will probably have their own season spoiled right off the bat.  I think the Redskins are better than the Eagles, so I'm going with Washington.

Jaguars at Texans: Houston-When Harvey was pelting Houston, there were some questions about whether or not this game would be played.  Since it's a division game, moving it to Jacksonville was considered an option.  It's a good thing (for a number of reasons) that it didn't come to that.  The Texans are obviously the pick, but how about J.J. Watt and all the money he raised for the hurricane victims in the Houston area?  Incredible.  You might as well hand him the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award right now.

Colts at Rams: Rams-A significant player on each side will be sitting out in this tussle at the LA Coliseum.  The Colts are without the oft-injured Andrew Luck, who won't get a chance to relive those Stanford vs. USC games.  The Rams, meanwhile, don't have their best defensive player, as Aaron Donald continues to hold out (maybe he thinks those white ram horns on the helmet are as ugly as I do?).  Anyway, that loss is easier for the Rams to absorb than it will be for Indy to adjust to Scott Tolzein at quarterback.

Seahawks at Packers: Green Bay-These two meet at Lambeau for the third consecutive season and FOX wisely made it the national late game.  The home team has actually won the last six games in this series, which makes sense, seeing how good they both are at home.  Green Bay's got a Super Bowl in its sights, and they can't afford a home loss to the Seahawks, especially since they'll likely both be in the playoff mix and that would give Seattle the tiebreaker.  Another example of the long-term importance of Week 1.  Mike McCarthy knows how important this one is.  And he won't let his team forget it.

Panthers at 49ers: Carolina-Yeah, I don't really have much to say about this one.  Now that they rid themselves of Colin Kaepernick (I forgot who it was that said it, but it was a player, and he was spot on.  Kaepernick's not good enough to be this annoying.  That's why teams don't want to sign him), the 49ers are simply just an irrelevant bad team.  One that Cam and Co. should have no issues with.

Giants at Cowboys: Giants-If there's one team that has Dallas' number, it's the New York Football Giants.  The Cowboys lost three regular season games last year...two of them to the Giants.  So, as these two get ready for their annual Week 1 Sunday night tilt in Dallas (third year in a row, fourth time in five years), you can't be blamed for thinking it'll be more of the same.  Although, we already know Ezekiel Elliott is going to play.  What we don't know is whether or not Odell Beckham, Jr., will.  If he doesn't, that definitely favors the Cowboys.

Saints at Vikings: Minnesota-Our first Monday night game is the Adrian Peterson Bowl, as the Saints' new running back returns to face the team he accumulated so many rushing yards for.  I'm actually curious to see what a Peterson-less Vikings will look like.  They've been so run-heavy for so long.  Peterson, meanwhile, went to a pass-heavy team that likes to score a lot of points.  Where has it gotten them in recent years, though?  I think Minnesota's defense will stop them enough to get the win.

Chargers at Broncos: Denver-Finally, we have the first game for the LOS ANGELES Chargers (God, that still looks weird) since their inaugural season, as they visit Brock Osweiler and the Denver Broncos.  Denver's better than last year's team that missed the playoffs.  No, they're not the Super Bowl-winning Broncos of two years ago.  But that defense is still awesome.  I predict three sacks for Von Miller in a Denver victory.