Saturday, May 26, 2007

Different Characters, Same Result

The Orioles lost again last night, this time losing to the Oakland A's. The O's tried to rally late in the game after a Kevin Millar solo home-run in the 8th inning cut the lead to 3-2. Nick Markakis started the Orioles attack in the 9th by reaching base on a lead-off walk, but the Orioles failed to tie the game. With runners on 1st and 2nd with one out, Ramon Hernandez flied out, and Jay Gibbons struck out to end the threat and the game.

Although the result was a similar one for the Orioles so far this season, a few issues surrounded some decisions in the game. Evident in this article in the Baltimore Sun, a late game decision by Sam Perlozzo became a questionable topic. With Melvin Mora sitting on the bench after not getting the start, Gibbons stepped to the plate against the left-handed Embree. Perlozzo's thinking was that since Gibbons had been relatively successful against Embree in his career, batting 4-12 off of him, he would leave Gibbons in the game instead of letting Mora, who's right-handed, face Embree with the game on the line.

First of all, my gut reaction was that I wanted Perlozzo to pinch-hit Mora for Gibbons. The match-up seemed better, and I just thought it would make more sense to send Mora out there instead.

After breaking down the numbers, Perlozzo may have been right after all. Gibbons is currently hitting .227, and Mora is hitting .247. But over the last three years, from 2004-2006, Gibbons is batting .254 vs left-handed pitching, while Mora is hitting only six points higher at a .260 clip. Also over his career, Mora has only faced Embree twice, going 0-2, and as I mentioned before, Gibbons had been 4-12 against Embree. Mora is only a slightly better hitter vs. left-handed pitching, and he has not seen Embree nearly as many times as Gibbons has. Either way, I believe I still would have gone with Mora because of Gibbons's recent struggles.

I'm not surprised the Orioles lost, and they seem to lose these games all the time. As the Sun article mentions, so far this season the Orioles are 5-11 in one-run games. Not only is that terrible, but it also reflects both poor situational play and coaching. The Orioles seem to fail to make that one play late in baseball games that often determines winning vs. losing. On the other hand, they always seem to make a costly error or base-running mistake that leaves the door wide open for their opponent to take the lead and win.

In the game yesterday, the best play of that 9th inning, by far, was Freddie Bynum's hard slide into 2nd base to break up the double play as Hernandez was still running towards first. Without the hard slide by Bynum, the game would have been over. After seeing his hustle and determination, I was sure the Orioles would find some way to pick him up for such an important and selfless play. Very rarely have I ever seen plays like that for the Orioles of the last 10 or so years. That was the one bright spot before Gibbons, looking extremely overmatched, struck out to end the game.

But my issue was less with Perlozzo's decision to bring in Mora than with some off the field issues the Orioles have been dealing with lately. I like that Perlozzo sticks by his moves and that he defends his players, but Perlozzo really needs to address the apparent whining by some players that goes on to the media. A few weeks ago, Gibbons complained that he wasn't getting enough playing time, yet he was still batting around the Mendoza line. And just yesterday, Mora complained that he was confused and disappointed that Perlozzo had not let him known 24 hours in advance to the game vs. the A's last night that he would not be in the starting lineup.

Mora said, "I'm not upset that I'm not in there. I'm upset that they don't communicate with me. I could've worked out or come here and worked early. I'm not the kind of guy that wants to work early and play the game, because I don't want to be tired. ... He's the boss and he can do anything he wants with the lineup. I don't mind that. He can give me a day off. But we're veteran players here, and we need to know what's happening the next day."

The whole matter can be summed up in two words -- who cares? This isn't Little League Baseball. The Orioles have had a losing record for almost 10 straight years now. It's understandable for a coach to want his players to be happy and to want to give all of them playing time; however, I don't hear players like Chris Gomez or Paul Bako going public with their demands for more playing time. They have an important role on the team, and they step up whenever they're called upon. Nothing more, nothing less.

I've been skeptical of Perlozzo for a while now, but his job is to win games, not to make his players happy all the time. I could care less if the Orioles locker room is happy if they're a winning ballclub. The goal isn't to win your players over by being nice and friendly and fair all the time. The goal is to win games and get the fans back to caring about the Orioles again. If Mora and Gibbons aren't happy and the Orioles are winning, then so be it. Someone needs to take control over the team and be consistent -- whether that person is Sam Perlozzo or not.

It's a shame that Mora and Gibbons have to complain to the media so much. And it's not like they are setting the world on fire -- neither of them is hitting over .250 right now. Tejada did the same thing last season as well with his "trade demands" or whatever he referred to them as. I'm sure, though, that everyone on the team wants to win. If the Orioles are ever going to compete again, especially in the difficult and demanding AL East, they're going to need to combine smart personnel decisions, signing free agents and drafting players, with a strong manager who can get the most out of the team. I felt that most of the signings were pretty good ones, although the Baez signing doesn't look so great at this moment.

Either way, the Orioles' front office has been feeding the fans the same BS for the last few years now. The team's either in a youth movement, or they're rebuilding, or their next signings will help push the team over the top -- wherever exactly that is. They try to make everyone believe that the team is on the cusp of winning again, and they really aren't.

The current attitude and atmosphere surrounding the team can be reflected in yesterday's game. Perlozzo may have made the right move in keeping Gibbons at the plate, or he could have made the wrong move. No matter which move was correct, the Orioles lost another very winnable game. That has been the result for a decade now -- the Orioles just simply lose. And it doesn't seem to matter why. Winning games should be what matters, not who's unhappy with their salary or role on the team.

Unfortunately, the Orioles have kept up with their on-the-field problems with just as many off-the-field problems. And that's never a good thing. But as far as firing Perlozzo goes -- does it even matter who the coach is right now? That's a question for another day.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Parent violence in youth sports

For my last assignment for my Creative Nonfiction class I wrote about the topic above. Since it's about sports, and I actually enjoyed writing it, I figured I'd post it on here. So, I haven't been completely wasting my time after all... here it is:

In July of 2000, Thomas Junta watched his 10-year-old son participate in a hockey pick-up game at an ice rink located in Reading, Massachusetts. During the game, Mr. Junta grew increasingly infuriated with the rough level of play on the ice, and he yelled for the man monitoring play, Michael Costin, to make the kids tone it down a little. Mr. Costin, who also had a son participating in the game, was confronted by Mr. Junta on the ice before Junta was ordered to leave.

Later on that same day, Mr. Junta returned to the facility, found Mr. Costin, and slammed him down on the concrete floor next to a soda machine. If the severity of that blow was not enough, Mr. Junta then proceeded to wedge Mr. Costin to the floor using his knee and repeatedly punch him in the head. Mr. Costin died soon after the fight ended.
Since the incident, Mr. Junta was tried and convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six to ten years in prison.

While this tragic event may seem like an isolated act of violence, it highlights a disturbing growth in the number of incidents of parental abuse and violence in youth sports. Fred Engh, the head of the National Alliance for Youth Sports, mentions that “[f]rom road rage to airplane rage to cell phone rage, children in sports aren’t immune to all of this. Now we have sideline rage.”

Sporting Kids Magazine recently conducted a survey of 3,300 parents, coaches, and youth where 84 percent admitted to having “witnessed parents acting violently (shouting, berating, using abusive language.)” If those numbers aren’t shocking enough, according to the National Alliance, parent violence in youth sports has “quadrupled between 2000 and 2005,” and the group has seen reports that “documented 100 incidents of parents or fans physically assaulting youth sports coaches or officials in 2005” alone. Bob Still, a spokesman for the National Association of Sporting Officials (NASO), also noted that his organization receives “two or three reports of this kind of behavior a week.” A trend has definitely formed, and the problem is increasing.

Parents are not just verbally expressing their anger at coaches or sporting officials anymore; they are actually exhibiting violence as a way to show their displeasure. One such incident involved an adult man striking a referee in a soccer match involving 11-year-old girls. The referee happened to be the town’s mayor, and the man was sentenced to one year in jail. Another incident occurred when a former police officer offered a Little League baseball pitcher two dollars to hit an opposing player with a pitch. The officer was charged with soliciting assault. Yet another confrontation took place when a baseball coach of 11 and 12-year-olds followed a 62-year-old volunteer umpire into an equipment room and repeatedly punched the umpire in the face. The coach had simply been upset over an apparent non-call during the game.

Thousands of incidents of parent violence such as these have been reported over the last several years. As more reports of parent violence continue to flow in from all over the world, the question of why this problem persists arises. Parents and coaches seem to be more aware of the issue, yet many still feel the need to react violently during youth sporting events.

Several justifications are available that would at least partially explain why these occurrences keep happening. One reason is pride or hope, and some parents believe their child may turn into the next superstar athlete that achieves immense fame and wealth. A father in San Fernando, California, assaulted his 11-year-old son’s baseball coach for removing the boy in the middle of the game. “How dare you make my son a three-inning player,” the father yelled at the coach. Maybe he figured his son would become the next Derek Jeter.

Another issue is jealousy – some parents feel the need to push their child into sports because they were never talented enough themselves to go very far. Because realizing their previous shortcomings in sports is very difficult for some parents, they may treat every moment for their child on the court or field as a win-or-else experience. Some parents even constantly and visibly criticize their own child athletes for apparent failure or mistakes. Sometimes “it’s not the kid at bat,” said Mr. Engh, “it’s the parent.”

Violent parents also may be reflecting the nature of sports themselves, which are inherently violent to a certain extent. Big hits, rough plays, and destructive athletic behaviors are glorified on TV shows such as ESPN’s SportsCenter and websites containing updated videos such as Parents may get the idea that their child can be just as aggressive and, therefore, just as successful. And if their child isn’t, they blame everyone else involved in what transpires during certain events.

No matter how many other explanations remain, the issue of declining sportsmanship, especially by parents, runs constant. Obviously, not all parents have issues controlling themselves at youth sporting events. Many parents understand how to express their desire for kids to have fun while hoping their child succeeds as well. At the same time, though, youth sports have been littered with too many overbearing parental figures that care for winning at all costs instead of hoping that kids make friends, learn important lessons in teamwork, and have an enjoyable time competing. These violent, abusive parents are ruining youth sports for children, and many parents still confusingly wonder why willing volunteers, coaches, and officials continue to decline annually.

“It’s not worth risking your life [to umpire] for $50 a game,” added Mr. Still.

Adults and parents should be able to control themselves while their child competes. They should not need supervision just so they don't go over the edge or feel the need to physically attack a coach or referee. Exactly when will violent parents stop ruining youth sports for everyone else involved?

That day may never come, and William Pollack, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, noted that these recent violent episodes may just be “the tip of [the] iceberg.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

NBA Discussion

I recently responded to some of the issues brought up in a thread on a Redskins general message board here. I thought the whole topic was pretty interesting, and it's still ongoing. My response was as follows:

The NBA is pretty strict about players leaving the bench during an altercation. Ever since the crazy event involving Ben Wallace and Ron Artest in Detroit, they've tried to cut down on the fighting and other things as much as possible.

I agree that it doesn't seem like a big deal for what Stoudemire and Diaw did, and using common sense would mean to just let them play because they didn't really do anything. But you know what? That's just the way it goes sometimes -- if you leave the bench, you leave yourself open to punishment.

I would love to see them allowed to play because the series has been great so far. The teams are very evenly matched, and now it seems like the series is in favor of the Spurs, but you just never know. If the Suns won somehow, I wouldn't be completely shocked. It's been a rough series so far, and game 5 will be huge.

Why are you disgusted with Greg Popovich though? What do you expect him to say, that he completely agrees with the punishment? He's standing up for his player, and Horry still loses 2 games for what he did, whether that's 1 more game than what's really needed. If you watched the Jazz-Warriors game, Mehmet Okur got absolutely slammed on the floor after going up for a layup, and no one was suspended for any games in that series. I'm actually glad to see a return of hard fouls unlike the last few years when it looked like a lot of players were afraid to hit someone too hard. Basketball is most definitely a contact sport, and it takes a lot of strength and determination to succeed in it. One of the more successful teams in NBA History was the Pistons teams known as the "Bad Boys." They weren't looking to win respect from opposing fans or coaches. They were looking to win games at all costs, and I think a lot of people have lost that mindset, whether it can be viewed as "good or bad."

I'd also like to comment on the seemingly endless ads for NBA Cares. I know they've been showing a lot of them, and sure a lot of it is PR crap. But the NFL does a ton of that stuff during the season, so it's really not that much different. With all of the negativity in the media for ALL sports, the leagues feel that the positives should also be viewed. I respect that no matter how it really looks.

Just to briefly comment on the whole players flopping and whining issue, I have to agree to a certain extent. I watch a ton of basketball, and there has definitely been an increase in the amount of players both "flopping" and complaining about calls. Officials are now more apt to call many charging calls, which weren't really that prevelant, say, 10-15 years ago. People have argued that players are bigger and faster now then they were then, and also that the game is quicker. That may be true. But some players these days are taught that it's easier to take a charge then go up to block a shot when they may just get called for a foul anyway. It's probably easier to take a charge then be a great shot blocker.

If you think about it, how many great shot blockers are left in the NBA now? Not really that many if you go through the league.

As far as complaining, that seems to be a trend that has increased in all sports, not just the NBA. It may seem more obvious in basketball because the calls, especially blocks vs. charges, aren't so cut and dried. Referees in the NBA really influence the game, and many players are just trying to get their point across to maybe get a call later in the game that can help their team win. It's pretty annoying, though, to see so many players who believe they've never actually committed a foul before. Even the widely respected Tim Duncan has his patented move of just staring at refs with his eyes wide open and occassinally just holding his arms out in disgust.

Either way, the playoffs have been great so far, and it would take a lot more than constant complaining from players to ruin the rest of the games.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Thoughts on the Wiz

OK, so the Wizards didn't win any games in their first round matchup with LeBron and the Cavs. Big surprise, right? But that doesn't mean there aren't a few things that the team and front office can take away from those four games.

1) Even though the Wizards failed to win any games in the playoffs this year, they still played hard. Three of the four games came down to important clutch plays in the 4th quarter, even though it was mainly the Cavs who made them. Antawn Jamison, Darius Songalia, and Antonio Daniels gave everything they had every game and were all part of the Wizards keeping the games close and keeping the Wizards in the game. I was also impressed by Jamison's ability to almost turn into the incredible hulk in game three after he kept hitting shot after shot. He kept staring at his hands like he was being possessed; it was great. Also, there were flashes of good play by Jarvis Hayes, Donell Taylor, Andray Blatche.

2) Unfortunately, the Wizards got very little from their big men. Etan Thomas always plays hard, as do Ruffin and Booth when they get minutes, but they just aren't good enough to stop other great post players on defense. Ilgauskus absolutely fried the Wizards during the series and grabbed a ton of rebounds. Booth and Ruffin are definitely good players to have on the bench to provide some hustle plays and help out with rebounding, so the Wizards should look to keep them on the bench. It's hard to place a limit on the numer of good bench/role players.

3) DeShawn Stevenson played hard as well, but there was no other player on the court for either team who seemed more out of rhythm than Stevenson did. Basically, he was exposed without the ability of Arenas and Butler to open up the court for him. Stevenson is definitely a good player, but he's not a player who's the best at creating his own shot. However, with a full Wizards team, he provides a few key defensive plays and can knock down shots when he's not one of the primary offensive weapons. He becomes a free agent now, but it would be smart for the Wizards to bring him back if the price isn't too high. After being frustrated during the series with the Cavs, he probably realizes how he fits into the team and hopefully will want to return.

4) The most disappointing situation for the Wizards has to be the current issue with Brendan Haywood. And to be honest, I'm frustrated with the problem as well because I've never seen a team get so upset about a slightly above average player who just happens to be 7 feet tall. I never like to criticize players to a point where I root for them to leave my favorite team, but Haywood has to go. There's no way that Eddie Jordan doesn't return next season, and Jordan and Haywood just don't see eye to eye. And quite frankly, why should they? Haywood pouts just about every other game. All anyone has to do is read the great feedback from the Washington Post online from Ivan Carter. Carter always has some information about what's going on with Haywood, and it never seems like good news.

I have definitely wanted Haywood to play better over the last few seasons, but he hasn't earned more minutes. Haywood has been upset with splitting time with Etan Thomas, but neither deserves the bulk of the minutes over the other. And after Haywood's recent action, leaving the court before the Wiz's fourth playoff game was over, it might be best for the Wizards to try and trade him. Ernie Grunfeld really likes Haywood, though, so the whole dilemma definitely isn't over with yet. It'll be interesting to see how it all plays out.

After considering some of these points, the Wizards have some important personnel decisions to make that may directly effect the team for the next few seasons. Here's a few of those as well:

-- Should they re-sign Stevenson or not? I say they should if the price is right. He fits in well with a fully healthy team.

-- Should they re-sign Hayes? This may be the toughest question out of all of them. Hayes provides a lot of versatility for the lineup because he can play the 2, yet he can guard bigger players because he's almost always in the post. If he can improve his jump shot, since that's mostly all he takes anyway, then he could really add something to this team. If not, they might be better off letting him walk.

-- Obviously, Blatche needs to be re-signed. But his situation is different because he's a restricted free agent, meaning the Wizards can match any offer he receives from another team. A ton of people like this guy and believe he can develop into something special. Given the Wizards recent ability to judge talent, it would be worth it to hold onto Blatche for a little while longer and see how he handles the full potential he possesses.

-- How should they handle Oleksiy Pecherov and Juan Carlos Navarro? I've seen very little of these guys playing, but I've heard great things of both of them. Ivan Carter belives that Pecherov will be on the Wizards' roster next season, but the Navarro situation is very confusing. Hopefully Pecherov turns into a solid player who can help bolster the front court. And maybe one day Navarro will come to the U.S. to play for the Wizards as well. The way in which the Wiz handle these two guys could be pretty important for the future of the team.

There may be other little issues, but none are as significant as getting a healthy Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas back. But fans know what they'll get from these two and Jamison, but the role players that surround them will either help push them over the top or keep them from ever being a real power in the NBA. Depending on how free agency and the next NBA Draft pan out for the Wizards during the offseason, things could either be looking up for the Wizards or remaining the same.

Hopefully Eddie Jordan and Ernie Grunfeld know what they're doing. So far, they have.


Also, I'd just like to give a special thanks note to the Orioles. Thank you for giving the annual season meltdown to us fans in May this year instead of August. Maybe that's a good sign, meaning they'll play better at the end of the season. OK, maybe not.