Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Figures Lie and Liars Figure

The conventional wisdom is that you can manipulate statistics to bolster any argument. So the fact that Team Clemens claims their latest testimonial -- an endless accumulation of numbers, graphs and exposition -- explains away Clemens' remarkable longevity is no surprise.'s Tom Verducci does a great job cutting through the clutter and coming to the conclusion that you can use 18,000 words and still have nothing to say.

But I think Verducci lets Clemens off the hook. In fact, using the very statistics that Verducci provides, one can argue the case against Clemens grows even stronger. Let's take a look at the numbers from Clemens' first season in Toronto, both before and after the time that Brian McNamee claims to have first injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone:

1998 GS W-L ERA K/9 OPS
Before 13 6-6 3.27 9.18 .592
After 20 14-0 2.29 11.11 .561

Combine his slow start in Toronto with four sub-par seasons in Boston -- twice under .500, no more than 11 wins, twice with an ERA over 4 -- and this is the portrait of a pitcher approaching the downside of his career. Then, like flipping a switch, Clemens becomes virtually unbeatable. But instead of the obvious, Clemens' camp instead serves up this implausible explanation:
By the mid 1990's, he had mastered the split-finger fastball, and the combination of Clemens' experience, his overpowering fastball, and his improved split-finger fastball led to two consecutive Cy Young Awards in what the record shows to be the best pitching of his career. -- Clemens Report
Really? In the 14th year of his major league career, after four-plus years on the decline, Roger Clemens had the best seasons of his life because he picked up the splitter? Really? Did I mention that was his 14th season?

But let's assume for the moment that we'll consider this ridiculous assertion, and that Clemens resurgence was due to his craftiness on the mound, rather than a slavish devotion to performance-enhancing drugs. What, then, do we make of Brian McNamee and his claims? Are we expected to believe that McNamee was so prescient that he'd broken down Clemens' exploits himself? Otherwise, how is it that he provided dates and doses that corresponded nearly exactly with the ups and downs of Clemens' post-Boston career? And that he was able to provide that information on demand, under oath, with a possible Federal indictment hanging over his head?

Clemens himself noted how hard it is "to prove a negative". It becomes even harder when your angry denials, backed by little more than an indignant attitude, stand in direct opposition to common sense. But hey, you can't blame Pete Rose... er, I mean, Roger Clemens, for trying.

Political Football

Okay, so this is kind of a stretch, having very little to do with sports, but it still irked me. And anything irksome is ripe for the 'Crank.

Now that Rudy Giuliani is on his way out the presidential campaign, the race between the remaining Republican candidates, John McCain and Mitt Romney, is heating up. And as is the case with any political campaign, the meaningless, empty quotations are spilling forth, as well. Check out this gem from Romney in today's New York Times:
Appearing on television Wednesday morning, Mr. Romney expressed confidence that he could close the gap with Mr. McCain in a narrowed field. Speaking on CNN, Mr. Romney said “In a two-person race, with myself and Senator McCain, I like my chances.”

Wow, Mitt, way to go out on a limb. In a competition with one other guy, you think you can win. That's quite a grasp of the obvious you've got there.

Now if Missouri Valley State tells me "We've got a shot in the Tourney" then I'm thinking, "OK. A 64-team draw. That's confidence." But this is like the Giants saying they've got a shot to win the Super Bowl. Well, by virtue of the fact that they're playing in the Super Bowl, I'd give them a shot at winning. Certainly more so than say, the Packers, who aren't actually playing in the game.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Canadian Philosophical Question

If an NHL All-Star game falls in the forest but nobody watches it, does it make a sound?

Though I am not, nor have I ever claimed to be, an "NHL fanatic", I've seen my fair share of games. Sure, I more or less stopped watching after Messier left, Gretzky retired, and the Rangers franchise slid into an unwatchable funk. But over the past few years, the NHL has made the occasional blip on my radar screen.

So while I'm not NHL Fan #1, it was with some surprise that I learned last evening that the NHL was, in fact, holding their annual All-Star game. (Don't ask me where -- I never got that far.) It was about 8:00 when I clicked on and read the headline, "East Leads West 5-3". My first reaction was, "East who?" so I clicked on the link for the story.

Though I'm sure there were those who did know, the fact that a casual fan like me didn't know the game was this weekend speaks volumes about the problems the current NHL faces. Worse yet, was what happened next.

Eager to watch the third period of action in what was a close game, I turned on TV and tuned into NBC. I figured since NBC had partnered with the NHL on the New Year's Day game, they would be the logical outlet for the All-Star game. Nope. Okay, how about ABC? I recall they carried hockey at some point. Wrong again. What about FOX? Not since the glowing puck, apparently. No EPSN or ESPN2, and now I'm at a total loss. Buzz the program guide.

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally located the game: on Versus, channel 146 on my cable system. And to sprinkle in a little more bad luck, it was smack dab in the middle of intermission, so instead of slap shots and glove saves, I was treated to the R&B stylings of Ne-Yo at center ice. (Because when you think hockey, you think Ne-Yo, don't yo'?) This, unfortunately, held zero interest for me so I turned the channel and never returned.

This whole situation perplexed me. How can a league so desperate for publicity, so desperate to recruit new fans to the game, leave the casual fan in the dark that an All-Star game was taking place? And at the same time compound the problem by relegating their most fan-friendly event to a second-tier outpost on the edge of space?

Yes, I know, the NHL has to practically pay to get its product on the air. So why not? NBC got great ratings (relatively speaking) for the Outdoor Classic on New Year's Day so the onus was on the NHL to make their case. The timing was perfect, with the NFL's off-weekend and continuing Writer's Strike rendering the broadcast landscape wide-open. Joe-Fan, looking for something to satiate his sporting appetite and bored with another Tiger runaway or a meaningless January NBA exercise, might stumble upon the most skilled players in the hockey world, plying their craft in an end-to-end, no-restrictions shoot-out, showcasing much of what the NHL has to offer in an easy-to-digest package. Instead, anyone lucky enough to find out about the game is reduced to a remote-controlled scavenger hunt.

Down the stretch, I'm sure I'll catch a few periods of Rangers' hockey as they make their push for the playoffs. And should they qualify, I'll probably tune in to see if they advance. But I just can't help but wonder how many other people like myself might be seeking out an NHL fix had they gotten a taste of what the NHL has to offer.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Defying the Odds... and Logic... and the Natural Order

There's an old saying that goes, "The cream always rises to the top." The theory being that over time, through agitation and tribulation, the best will set itself apart, be distilled by adversity, and ascend above all others. That although counted out or overlooked, in the end greatness will emerge and prevail. Picture the exact opposite and you have the 2007-08 Giants.

Whether through smoke and mirrors or the evil machinations of some meddlesome deity, the New York Giants have somehow stumbled their way into the Super Bowl. Don't ask me how or why: that a team so rarely tested in the regular season and that failed to beat even the most remotely competitive opponent, that came up short against each and every winning team it faced, and then barely survived battles against the league's weakest sisters, is now playing for a championship.

This blog is named "Sports Crank", and let me tell you, the crank is turned up 100% today. Not only has my otherwise unremarkable Monday morning been ruined, but for the next two weeks I'm going to have to shield myself from the unrelenting, unavoidable, mind-numbing hype machine that is the run up to the Super Bowl for a New York team. (Okay, for a Giants team, since the Jets haven't been to a Super Bowl since before it was the Super Bowl.) It's enough to make you want to move out of state. Or at the very least, curl up into a ball and hibernate until President's Day.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me state that I hate those f***ing bastards in blue. The asshole coach. The soulless rube QB. The miscreant tight end. The defensive line, the running backs, the wide receivers, the linebackers, the trainers, the locker room attendants, the announcers, those ugly uniforms and especially those obnoxious, delusional, fairyland-dwelling fans who kept thinking this team was a contender in spite of all the obvious reasons to believe otherwise.

I'm not going to go into why the Cowboys, a superior team, played like some Juco squad all afternoon (and still should have won the game), or how the Packers managed to squander not only a devastating home field advantage but any good will Brett Favre had earned in his latest farewell tour. (If I may digress: Brett, hang it up. You'll never have a better situation than you had on Sunday yet you played like it was 2006 again when everyone was begging for you to retire. It's that time again.) But seriously, who was calling those plays yesterday? Did anyone see Rich Kotite on the Green Bay sidelines? Is this all some awful conspiracy to cause me misery?

Were it not for the fact that my beloved Patriots are playing, too, I'd simply avoid the Super Bowl altogether. Perhaps if nothing else, the Giants' immortalization at the losing end of NFL history will ultimately ease the pain. Then again, nothing about this post-season has made sense yet. Remind me not to hold my breath.