It’s Difficult to be Gracious in Defeat when it’s the Cubs

cardinals-cubs-rivalryIt’s rarely easy to be a passionate sports fan. Your team will lose, no matter how successful they are, far more often than they will emerge victorious. My beloved St. Louis Cardinals have not won the World Series since 2006 despite making the playoffs five times in the ensuing nine years. That’s five years of losing the last game of the season and being eliminated from the playoffs.

This year we lost to our long downtrodden rival the Chicago Cubs. Circumstances were not in our favor this year as the Cubs were playing arguably the best baseball in the league near the end of the season while injuries slowed down my Redbirds. Hopes were raised briefly by a Game 1 win but the Cubs went on to defeat us in the next three hard-fought but losing efforts.

There is that moment when the final out is made and disappointment can bubble into rage at the victors and I cannot imagine anyone who has not felt as much over the years.

That being said I think it is becoming more important than ever to be gracious in defeat because as our political climate becomes more infantile in its paroxysm of fear and hate; sports fans, players, coaches, management, and ownership groups are becoming better and truer role-models for how to act in life.

Does not a Cubs fan love baseball as do I? Does not a Cubs fan understand defeat and disappointment and perhaps far better than I? Does a Cubs fan not revel in the joy of victory as do I? Are we not but twins caste to different islands by the circumstance of our birth? Do we not have far more in common than in differences?

By nodding my head and putting out my hand in congratulations to their hard-earned and deserved victory do I not make the world a better place? Do I not set an example for my fellow Cardinals fans and also those who bleed Cubbie blue?

It hurts, that I do not deny. I steel my jaw knowing that next season awaits and the Cardinals shall soon fly again.

Well done Cubbies but we’ll get you next year, just you wait and see.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

Cardinals v. Dodgers Game 3 Strike Zone

Kemp v Dale argumentAnyone who reads my blog on a regular basis knows I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan. It’s a good day to be such again but that’s not really my topic now. I want to talk about reality versus perception. On Monday night I was at Game Three of the Divisional Championship Series against the Dodgers and there was a great deal of controversy over the strike zone by umpire Dale Scott.

The Dodgers were particular upset by the variance in the strike zone and both player Matt Kemp and manager Don Mattingly made their annoyance public. The former after he struck out in the ninth and the latter after the game. There was an undercurrent that the Cardinals benefited from fewer bad calls than the Dodgers.

In the stands it was clear Scott was calling pitches high and to the right side of the plate strikes for most of the night. My perception, from the upper deck but fairly close to behind home plate, was that from the first inning on pitches in that area that were being called strikes. The other side of the plate seemed to be significantly less loose. Overall, pitches that looked like they might be balls were called as strikes and in general it was a loose strike zone. A pitcher’s strike zone.

As the game went on there wasn’t much scoring as is often the case when the umpire is calling a wide strike zone. It seemed to me, from my obviously biased perspective, that the umpire was generally consistent although there were some balls getting called as strikes on the left side of the plate that were balls other times. But that the right side of the plate was consistently a strike, particularly high in the strike zone.

I’m much further away from the plate than the players. The players obviously have a bias as well as us fans.

Reading comments on the stories it seems the general thread was that the umpire was bad but it sort of depended on if you were a Cardinals fan or a Dodgers fan if you thought the calls were lopsided for one team or the other. Most Cardinals fans seemed to think it was pretty even while Dodger fans agreed that the Cardinals were given an advantage.

That’s the bias. The perception of the viewer interfering with reality. The only way to avoid such bias is to seek out factual evidence. Happily enough, in today’s modern world, there is a tracking system which monitors every pitch and spits out statistics. Here is the analysis of Game Three.

In the chart anything red is a called strike and anything green is a called ball. The squares represent Cardinals at bats and the triangles represent Dodgers at bats.

  1. The left side of the plate was called very well and, if anything, the Cardinals got the worst of it.
  2. The right side of the plate was called very broadly but largely consistently for both teams. Again, if anything, the Cardinals got the worst of it.

These two facts lined up with what I thought I saw during the game.

On the particular call that Kemp argued about in the ninth inning he was called out on a pitch that earlier in the count was called a ball. It was in the zone that Umpire Scott had been calling a strike for most of the night. It can be argued that the first pitch, called a ball, was against the umpire’s trend on that side of the plate and when the second came and Kemp simply watched it go by he was tempting fate. Still, he has a point. The pitches were virtually identical.

What I find interesting is the ability to dispel general perception with factual evidence. No longer is perception reality. We can get the reality quickly and easily. It’s not surprising that fans and players end up thinking that they were treated unfairly when the reality is somewhat different. What I really love is this age in which we live. Where arguments like this can be settled with factual evidence instead of endless hours of arguing and no real resolution. That’s cool.

And, of course, Go Cards!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Edge
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
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It’s Cardinal Nation … Win or Lose

Cardinal NationI was at the St. Louis Cardinal game on Friday night and we were defeated by the last place Cubs 7 – 2 in a game where we scored a couple of runs in the first inning and then stranded nine runners and looked pretty awful. During the game we had a “fan” behind us who seemed to only find enjoyment when the Cubs scored runs so he could tell us how awful our manager is and how awful our pitching is. I had a fellow next to me tell me there was no way we could make the playoffs with pitching like that.

On the other hand there were plenty of Cardinal fans cheering their team and upset with the loss. They talked about what was going wrong and what could possibly be done to make it better.

The next day they lost 5 – 1 to the Cubs punctuating what has been a frustrating season. Before the season started the Cardinals were the favorites to win the National League Central Division after having lost in the World Series the year before. Our starting pitching was solid and our young relievers looked good. There was some concern about our hitting but generally we were the favorites.

As the season has gone along we’ve had a number of injuries and the Milwaukee Brewers have played much better than expected. They’ve been leading the division almost since the first week of the season.

Expectations often drive our emotions when it comes to life. If the pundits predicted the Cardinals would finish in last place many people would have been happy to be just 1.5 games out of first place on August 30. But that was not the reality. We were supposed to win so expectations were high.

The players and coaching staff have talked about how tough this year has been and I would imagine expectations weigh as heavily, or even more so, upon them than they do on the fans. The miserable performances on Friday and Saturday afternoon led a lot of people to think the Cardinals were finished for the season. Perhaps they are. Maybe they won’t make it to the playoffs. Maybe if they make it to the playoffs they won’t win the World Series.

It doesn’t matter to me. I’m a member of Cardinal Nation win or lose.

There’s an interesting phenomenon in professional sports where some franchises seem to do well year after year. There is Packer Nation, Red Wing Nation, Laker Nation. I’m fortunate enough to have been a Cardinal fan since I can remember. Many of my best memories are from Cardinal victories and I’m not going to let a tough season make me forget those memories.

I love going to the games. I love rooting for my teams. I get mad when they lose. I’m willing to lay some blame. But I’m not willing to be happy when the team I love loses because it vindicates my prediction about a player or manager.

I’m of the opinion that a higher percentage of positive attitudes among fans helps build a Nation. Fans that root for their team, win or lose, that believe in them, that give them their support even in the tough times. With fans like that owners, managers, and players just want to win more than the other owners, managers, and players. And when you want to win more than the other guy, well, often times you do. Certainly not always, or even most of the time.

When it comes to my Rams I’m envious of the Packers, Steelers, and 49ers. When it comes to the Missouri Tigers I look with envy at the tradition and power of Alabama and Nebraska. When it come to the Blues I may hate the Red Wings but I get it. Their fans are proud and rightly so.

But, by golly, it’s nice to be a part of Cardinal Nation.

Oh, by the way, the Cards took the second game of that double-header and fought back from a 5 – 0 deficit to win today 9 – 6. We’re tied for first in the Central.

Here we go, Cardinals, here we go!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Edge
Purchase The Broken Throne today!
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The Best Fans in Baseball – or Not?

Best Fans in BaseballIt’s a good time to be a St. Louis Cardinal fan as we head back to the World Series for the fourth time in ten years. We have a bevy of strong young pitchers and a good mix of veteran players that would seem to bode well for our future.

The Cardinals just emerged from a tough series with the Los Angeles Dodgers and there’s a lot of talk about Mickey Mouse, disrespect, and the Best Fans in Baseball.

For those of you who are new to baseball, there is a theory that St. Louis is home to the “best fans in baseball”. Best seems to mean that we treat other teams with respect, we understand the game from a fundamental level, and turn out to support our Cardinals in astounding numbers despite the relatively small size of our metropolitan area.

This moniker is a source of pride to many Cardinal fans and a red flag of outrageous hubris to those who do not like the Cardinals or their fans.

I’ve been a Cardinal fan at least forty-four years and possibly longer than that although my memories before my fifth birthday are fairly non-existent. I can say without hesitation that the people of St. Louis love the Cardinals. That they turn out by the millions to cheer on their team, that many fans are knowledgeable about the game, and often applaud opponents who make astounding plays.

I can also say without reservation that there are plenty of idiot fans who yelled at Hanley Ramirez for being a cry-baby after Joe Kelly broke his ribs with a fastball. I know that San Francisco Giant fans filled their park to a higher capacity than did the Cardinals despite finishing in last place. I saw Chicago Cubs fans standing in respectful silence after the death Darryl Kile.

I’ve been to Philadelphia and seen their great fans firsthand. While attending Cardinal games over the years I’ve spoken with respectful and knowledgeable fans from probably every team in the National League .

As a Cardinal fan I pose a simple question: Would the Best Fans in Baseball feel compelled to call themselves the “Best Fans in Baseball” with nauseating regularity?

I say no. I find the whole thing bothersome, an ego stroking exercise in stupidity. Stop flashing it on the video screen, stop writing it in every comment, and stop believing it to be actually true.

St. Louis has had tremendous success in baseball thanks to ownership, management, the fans, and mostly the great players that take the field and win the games.

As a proud Cardinal fan I suggest that we stop telling people we are the best fans in baseball and instead show them.

Cheer the team in victory, support them in defeat, and respect our opponents. Should we lose the game or the series act dignified in defeat. If we are fortunate enough to win, be magnanimous in victory.

When we respect each other we make the world a better place.

There are great fans in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and everywhere else teams play baseball.

Fans are a collective. I alone cannot make the fans of the Cardinals the best fans in baseball. No one can. I can only be the best fan I can be. So should we all.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for a full length novel)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt (Out very soon!)

Mike Trout vs Albert Pujols – Salary Wars

Albert Pujols Mike TroutThere is an interesting story occurring in Major League Baseball in regards to the Los Angeles Angels baseball team. The reason I find it fascinating is because it parallels quite nicely with a situation we had here in St. Louis with my beloved Cardinals. I think it is instructive from a human resources point of view.

Essentially the story is that the Angels have a player by the name of Mike Trout who had a spectacular rookie season and won the Rookie of the Year award. Because of the way baseball salaries are structured, players with less than a certain number of years of major league experience have very little power to bargain over their pay. After they reach a certain point these restrictions are removed and the players are free to seek a rate of pay their play deserves.

I’m not here to argue  the benefits and drawbacks of such a system but merely to compare how the St. Louis Cardinals handled a very similar situation with Albert Pujols after his own astounding rookie campaign.

In the year 2000 the rookie minimum wage was $200,000 and Pujols was given this salary. He had an astounding season hitting .329 with 37 home runs, 130 RBI, a slugging percentage of .606 and an OPS of 1.013. You don’t really need to be a statistical guru to understand that he had a spectacular year. One of the most useful modern statistics is something called Wins Above Replacement which shows how many games the Cardinals won because Pujols was better than the average player at his position. His WAR in 2000 was 6.3

In the year 2012 the rookie minimum wage was $480,000 and Mike Trout was paid $490,000. He also had an astounding season hitting .326 with 30 home runs, 83 RBI, a slugging percentage of .567, OPS of .963, and a WAR of 10.7. Trout missed the first few weeks of the season before being called up so played about twenty fewer games than Pujols and is better than him in most defensive comparisons although they play different positions.

Major league teams are not obligated to give second year players any particular percent raise for their second season. The Angels agreed to give Trout a $20,000 pay raise so that he will make $510,00 this season. The Cardinals voluntarily gave Pujols a $400,000 raise to give him a second year salary of $600,000.

That’s what I find interesting. This was not just a one time thing. The Cardinals gave Adam Wainwright an $80,000 raise in his second year and a further $260,000 raise for his third when they were under no obligation to do so.

From a human resources perspective the question becomes what is it worth to make a valued employee happy. If you are under no legal obligation to give a larger raise then why would any company do so? I’d love to hear from HR people out there on the topic!

Personally, I’m of the opinion the Cardinals did the correct thing although Pujols eventually did leave to join the Angels. He played for eleven seasons in St. Louis when the reality is that after his sixth season he could have simply taken a much larger contract from a wealthier team like the Yankees. Instead he stayed in St. Louis and the Cardinals won the 2006 and 2011 World Series and made the playoffs almost every year.

Now, it’s entirely possible Trout will remain with the Angels for many years. They are a large market team with a great deal of money although much of that is tied up in the lucrative contract they gave Pujols to entice him away from St. Louis. The future is unpredictable. Still, I think that spending a smaller amount to make a key employee happy is almost always a good idea. Good employees, be they baseball players or computer software programmers, are not easy to find.

I think most people enjoy a good working environment where they are valued. Certainly for a talented individual there will be offers of more money and at some point they cannot be refused. But, a little proactive generosity can go a long way.

In any case, I’m glad the Cardinals were generous with Pujols in the early years because I got to see him play and lead us to two World Series victories. It’s impossible to say what would have happened if we hadn’t given him those early pay raises but I stand by my opinion that it was not only a nice thing to do, but the right thing to do. What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (it’s really good, I promise!)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Home Team Blackouts

BlackoutIt was a happy day for me when my Uverse was finally installed after much bickering with AT&T. I gave up my television years ago and streaming sports on ESPN3 was choppy and Hulu television troublesome on my old DSL connection.

My beloved World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals are in Spring Training as I write this and I haven’t been able to watch most of their games for the last couple of years. I certainly got my high-speed connection for a number of reasons and watching the Birds on the Bat was one of those.

Major League Baseball offers an internet package where, for $124.99, you can watch every game of every team streaming on your computer, tablet, phone or other device. Imagine my joy. I get to watch my World Series Champion Cardinals play every game! Then I clicked on the little blackout link and read this:

All live games on MLB.TV and available through MLB.com At Bat are subject to local blackouts. Such live games will be blacked out in each applicable Club’s home television territory, regardless of whether that Club is playing at home or away.

It goes on to mention the blackout applies even if the game isn’t televised. Home or away? Televised or not? Sold-out or not? I can’t watch the Cardinals!?

I’ve got $124.99 burning a hole in pocket to watch the 11 time World Series Champion Cardinals. Take my money, please?

Ok, wait, catching breath, bulging eyes recessing, fist pounding abating, let’s look at this rational, from a critical perspective. Perhaps MLB is justified in this policy. Think, Tom, don’t scream and rant like a radio talk-show host who would sell his mother into slavery to get a ratings point.

First stop, MLB Blackout policy page of Wikipedia. Have I mentioned my love of Wikipedia? Calmly reading. Keep blood pressure under wraps. Learn rational reasons behind policy. Keep calm … calm … soft music … calming waves … soothing … EXCLUSIVE TERRITORIAL RIGHTS! What? What? What?

Do we live in Communist Russia? Wait, stop , be rational, Russia isn’t communist any more … Do we live in Communist China? Socialism? Media control? Freedom Revoked?

Ok, breath slowly, long breaths, I mean, technically, television broadcast in St. Louis city could somehow be seen to be owned by the local team … the ENTIRE STATE OF IOWA blacked out for Cardinals, Cubs, Twins, Royals, White Sox and Brewers. HEAD EXPLODING!

Freedom being taken away, grab rifle, oh wait unarmed, maybe good thing, calm, calm, soothing sounds, ocean, babbling brook.

I know, let’s look at the easy to understand map of blackouts … ARGHHH … BUNNIES MUST DIE … DIE … DIE!!

Wipe frothing away from mouth, think happy thoughts, don’t kick cat, it’s going to be all right. There has to be a rational explanation, doesn’t there?

What is the idea? Ok, here we go, a broadcaster pays for the right to exclusively show the games on their channel. That’s capitalism, NBC shows, CBS shows, FOX shows. But, wait, don’t they stream on Hulu? I mean, the idea is get as much revenue as possible, isn’t it? Isn’t my $124.99 lost revenue? There are plenty of World Series Champion Cardinals fans all over from the great states of Iowa, Arkansas, Tennesse, Kentucky, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Southern Illinois, isn’t that a lot of $124.99s? Wouldn’t it be easy for MLB to distribute a percentage of that money to the broadcasters? I mean, that’s a lot of lost revenue.

If you think I’m a diehard Cardinals fan you haven’t been to Germantown, Illinois! You haven’t been to Busch Stadium after a Cardinals win to see a family of four, kids decked out in Cardinal gear, taking pictures for their once a year trip to St. Louis from Lawton, Oklahoma to see the Birds on the Bat.

This policy is denying all those fans the opportunity to watch the Cardinals. It is denying the children of die-hard Cardinals fans from all over the midwest the chance to learn, like their parents, to love the best team in baseball (Shut yer yaps, yuse Yankee bums). It is killing marketing, it is throwing money away! Do you not want more fans?

Why are the Cardinals so beloved all over the midwest and beyond? Because KMOX radio was a clear channel signal that broadcast the games to all those areas, that’s why. Now, we live in the television era and you want to LIMIT BROADCASTING of games only to areas nowhere near the actual team? Where does that make any sense? MLB, broadcasters, work out a deal, there is money on the table. There are millions of fans waiting to be made. This is capitalism! This is marketing. This is America! Isn’t it?

Why does Fox Sports Midwest care where anyone watches the game? My tv, my computer, my phone, my tablet? It doesn’t make any sense! You want more audience, do you hear me, MORE AUDIENCE! Not less. More. Do you see? Hands shaking … must calm down.

Shower, must have cold shower, brain exploding, stupid, morons, idiots, more audience, spasm-spasm, more audience, more revenue, spasm-spasm, can’t understand, does not compute, spasm-twitch-spasm-twitch-twitch-spasm … more audience … more revenue … twitch-spasm-spasm.

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist