Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Quick Takes - Battlebots thoughts

Prince Fielder hitting a homerun off C.J. Wilson?

The offseason is my favorite part of sports. I enjoy the offseason far more than the actual season, which maybe tells me that I don't really like sports, I just like the construction of sports teams. I've never thought about it in those terms before. I mean, I certainly enjoy watching sports and have since I was a little kid, and I love going to games and reading about games, but the games were just a byproduct of the transactions and decisions of the front office and the strategies and implementation of the coaching system. Each player is an essential component of a robot, and the game is just the Battlebots arena (awesome show, remember?!) where you finally get to see if that circular saw was a better choice than the BFH: The last word is hammer, I'll let you guess what the first two are. Right now, Major League Baseball is in the thick of the offseason, and I'm so freaking excited about possible transactions that it almost doesn't even register to me that the players actually have to play games next year. If the team makes the right transactions, can't we just pump the players' attributes into a computer and simulate the season? That way we can get to another offseason for more trades and free agent signings!

I think that type of thinking comes from the video game generation. And I'm not one to throw that "video game generation" nonsense out there lightly. I'm a part of that over-stereotyped and under-appreciated group. But we've had the luxury of playing games that let us simulate seasons so we could focus entirely on the offseason. Developers even made games (like Football Manager) that take the actual day-to-day gameplay out entirely and, instead, give you control over every aspect of a franchise, down to the janitors' salaries to the color paint you want the stadium to be. And now, sports games even let you simulate through the parts of the game that you don't want to play, so you can just play offense with your favorite NFL franchise and let the computer simulate the defense. You can just hit with the Seattle Mariners (they need the help), and you never have to bother laboring through boring pitching mechanics. We expect immediate results and responses from our sports now, and that translates a bit into how we consume them as fans.

That isn't to say I like the offseason more than the regular season because I'm a drone whose decisions are completely out of my own hands. I like the offseason because it aligns with what I enjoy the most about sports (the strategics before the battle), not because I'm a pre-programmed robot who's been taught to consume offseasons. But that doesn't mean I don't have a video game hangover either. I expect my teams' GMs to be pulling strings left and right to make my teams better. Imagine that. What's the wait?! Just go ... DO SOMETHING! That's how I feel, and it's completely absurd and unfair at times to expect, but real GMs are playing with completely different money than I am. Their jobs, their legacies, their careers are at stake, as well as the happiness of fans and the financial sustainability of the franchise, and when I'm at home playing armchair GM, my kittens' happiness is at stake if I can't sign that wunderkind striker from a tiny Tippeligaen team to join the Arsenal. The risk is null for me, and it's massive for them. But risk avoidance can be a crippling factor for a professional sports team; it's often the crippling factor that takes a successful franchise and turns it into a "rebuilding" joke. People become afraid to spend money or take chances on players, and so you end up with a constant recycling of the same mediocre talent through the league-wide system because it's safe and predictable.

That's the draw of the offseason though. It's finding players who can make your team better. Not just better, but playoffs-better. Finding players who are risky -- whether financially or schematically -- and watching the story unfold. In video games, we just simulate through that story because the immediate response from the system is there to tell us if our decisions are right. But in the real world, we have to watch each game, measure each season, and determine after multiple years whether or not our teams made the right decisions. It sounds more like politics than sports, but that's what makes the offseason so intriguing, it's that decisions are so volatile, but can also take so much time to seed, that impatience takes over for logic and reason.

  • The Kansas City Chiefs fired head coach Todd Haley with three games to go in the season, less than one year after Haley led the Chiefs to a division title (the Dolphins also fired their coach, Tony Sparano, after trying to hire someone else while he was still under contract last year, missing out on replacing him, and rewarding him with a "sorry" contract extension that they will now have to pay him as severance). A letter to NFL teams constantly shuffling in and out new coaches: Stop it. It doesn't work. Coaching, really anything, is about consistency. Coaches and players need time to learn and grow within a system built for their success. If you don't have that system, then sure, go in a different direction, but the persistent impatience doesn't help anyone be successful. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski wasn't all that successful when he first started coaching basketball at the D1 level, now he's the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history. It takes time, people. I think coaching is really about two things 1) the right system, and 2) the right players. That's it. The first one is much easier to attain; NFL coaches are all at the level they're at because they understand the game and know how to win, while the second one is a completely random clusterfuck of chance, good luck, bad luck, and players' personal decisions and commitments to being great. If the team is failing, it can definitely be a systematic issue where the coach needs to be replaced, but I think losing (and winning) is based far more on personnel than coaching.
  • The NBA and David Stern have bollocksed a second Chris Paul trade from their league-owned New Orleans Hornets, this time with the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers offered up a boatload of players, prospects, and picks for Paul (too ... many ... Ps), but the league wanted more, and the Clippers backed out. David Stern will apparently have his cake and eat it too. And then eat your cake. And the cake of that little crying orphan over there. And that baby celebrating its first birthday? That cake's just going in the trash. Perfectly edible. Stern's just really full and doesn't want anyone else to get to taste cake.
  • I think NBA fans should file a class action lawsuit against David Stern for emotional damages.
  • After the Denver Broncos won in overtime against the Chicago Bears on a 51-yard field goal by Matt Prater (who also hit a 59-yarder to send the game to OT), cameras zoomed to find Tim Tebow, who let out a war cry and then yelled, "Thank you, lord!" How about, "Thank you, Matt Prater"?!?!
  • The New York Mets were granted a $40 million bank loan from Bank of America to continue operations until minority shares in the team can be sold. The team also took a $25 million loan from the league last year, which it has still yet to repay. Call me crazy, but don't you think you should have to pay off your first loan before taking out a second loan twice as large? Did the New York Mets consider filling out a FAFSA?
  • Albert Pujols' wife is pissed and telling everyone about it. After her husband accepted a $250 million deal to join the Angels, people in St. Louis gave Pujols guff about abandoning them and the city that gave so much to him. But Mrs. Pujols said the Cardinals lowballed them (for five yrs./$130 million ...), and that, "When [the fan backlash] came down, I was mad. I was mad at God because I felt like all the signs that had been played out through the baseball field, our foundation, our restaurant, the Down Syndrome Center, my relationships, my home, my family close. I mean, we had no reason, not one reason, to want to leave. People were deceived by the numbers." She's mad at god! Holy shit! We have a breakthrough! A religious person is actually blaming god for something (even though she's blaming him for ... her husband only being offered $130 million instead of $250 million ... or something ...), instead of falling on her sword and saying that moving away from everything they've known and loved for a better paycheck is all part of god's plan. This moment should be studied!
  • Amidst all the Aaron Rodgers zealotry, Drew Brees is putting together his own impressive season. Brees has 4,368 yards thus far, which puts him on pace to break Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage record. Plus, Brees is going to be on Sesame Street this Thursday! Top that, Aaron Rodgers!
  • Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher is taking an extended break from football because of a battle with ulcerative colitis. While it's always great to see Manchester United go down a man, especially the obnoxious Scotsman Fletcher, I'm really going to miss uncontrollably repeating "Fletchahhh" in an obnoxious British accent every time an announcer says his name.

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