For Once, Let’s Applaud Gary Bettman

One of the great pastimes for the modern sports fan is criticizing NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.  This activity is actually one of the few things that both hockey lovers and hockey haters can enjoy.  I too have heaped plenty of criticism on the man, especially during the 2004-5 lockout.  In fact, that was when Bettman’s commissionership was at its lowest.  In the summer of 2005, he found himself presiding over a league that had lost an entire season, that had switched its broadcasting rights from ESPN to the Outdoor Life Network (OLN), that was in the midst of a brutal 5-year stretch of Finals matchups, and that had decided to become the first major American sports league to end games with a marketing gimmick (That, of course, was the shootout.  Loyal BTB readers know how much I loathe those.).

Yes, 2005 was a rough time for Bettman and the NHL.  In fact, by the spring of 2005, I had been discussing the NHL in past tense.  I figured that, if a league was in such horrible financial shape that both the owners and players could essentially get behind the idea of missing the entire season, the league was not primed to survive financially in the long run.  During the lockout, I would watch classic Devils games and figure that this was the only way I would ever be able to watch the Devils again.  This is why, when the NHL resumed play in October of 2005, I was ecstatic.  I was one of the few to feel this way.  As a big-time Devils fan, it was brutal for me to go a full season with no hockey, but many hockey fans did not come back after the season-long lockout.  Also, since we are talking about hockey, many people had never been fans in the first place.

This is where the TV deal comes into play.  At the time, I blasted Bettman for allowing the NHL to leave ESPN, regardless of how little ESPN was willing to pay for broadcasting rights.  I figured that the NHL needed ESPN at any price because all sports fans lived on ESPN back then.  We fans watched Sportscenter in the morning, Sportscenter at night, Baseball Tonight every night in the summer, NFL PrimeTime on fall Sunday nights, and NHL 2Nite when it appeared on ESPN2.  At night, if there was no appointment TV, many of us would turn on ESPN and watch whatever game the Worldwide Leader was showing.

Therefore, for the NHL to sell its broadcasting rights to OLN, a network that nobody knew existed and that many people (myself included) did not even have in our cable packages was a disaster!  I listened to many playoff games that year on Yahoo! radio, because I did not have OLN.  Yes, NBC did broadcast some of the weekend playoff games and Games 3 through 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, but Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals were not available in my home.  These games were on OLN.  One occasionally hears tales of how the NBA nearly collapsed in the late 1970s, a time when the NBA Finals was televised on tape delay.  That was 40 years ago.  In the NHL, a mere 12 years ago, many people like myself had hundreds of channels at our fingertips but could not watch some Stanley Cup Finals games and many other Stanley Cup Playoffs games on TV.  That is rough.

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Anyway, some people were upset that they could not watch the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals in their living rooms, but many people were actually OK with missing the Carolina/Edmonton matchup.  No, this was not the Gretzky Oilers, the Messier Oilers, or even the McDavid Oilers.  This was a #8-seed Oilers team that would have comfortably missed the playoffs if not for having a ridiculous number of shootout wins.  In fact, this Oilers team remains one of the all-time leaders in terms of “points gained because shootout wins are counted as real wins”.  (See my previous link about “shootouts”.)  Therefore, this Oilers team was neither a great team nor a big ratings draw.  However, because there was so much NHL-roster turnover after missing a full season, it did not feel like Edmonton was on a Cinderella run either.  Meanwhile, Carolina was a stellar team that full season, but they have never exactly been a ratings bonanza.

Therefore, the NHL had a run of finals that went like this: 2003 New Jersey/Anaheim, 2004 Tampa Bay/Calgary, 2005 Lockout, 2006 Carolina/Edmonton, 2007 Ottawa/Anaheim.  I enjoyed every one of those series, especially the 2003 edition, but that was a brutal run for the NHL and its ratings.  The events of this era made the NHL and Bettman very easy to ridicule.

However, it is time to give Bettman credit where credit is due.  Since that 2003-7 stretch, things have really turned up for Bettman and the league.  First off, the 22 Stanley Cup Finalists from 2008 through 2018 have been:

Pittsburgh (four times)

Chicago (three times)

Boston (twice)

Detroit (twice)

Los Angeles (twice)

Nashville (once)

New Jersey (once)

NY Rangers (once)

Philadelphia (once)

San Jose (once)

Tampa Bay (once)

Vancouver (once)

Vegas (once)

Washington (once)

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While I do believe that Bettman has overexpanded (I would prefer to have 28 teams – get rid of Florida, Arizona, and one other), the list above shows that he has ended up with great Finals matchups for most of the past 11 years.  On the list above, New Jersey, San Jose, and Tampa Bay are the only ones who are not really great for ratings.  For a long time, people would have assumed the same about Nashville or Vegas, but Nashville – with all its country-music stars – last year and Vegas – as an expansion team – this year have been great stories.  In fact, from 1995 through 2004, only two Finals saw an average of at least 4-million TV viewers per game – 2000 and 2001.  Those matchups were Devils/Stars and Devils/Avalanche.  (Therefore, it must have been the Mighty Ducks, not the Devils, that dragged down the 2003-Finals rating!)  Meanwhile, since 2008, only one Finals matchup has failed to reach that 4-million mark.  That was the 2012 matchup, when the Kings took a 3-0 series lead before the opposing team won Games 4 and 5.  I will leave the opponent nameless on that one, but the fact remains that people tend to tune out Games 4 and 5 when one team wins the first three games.

Anyway, many of you are probably thinking, “Why credit Bettman for Finals matchups?  He has nothing to do with that.”  Well, here is where he does get credit.  For the 2006-7 season, OLN became “Versus”, and more cable providers began picking up this channel.  Therefore, once we made it to the 2008 and 2009 Penguins/Red Wings finals, most people could now access these national-cable games at home.  Then, in 2012, Versus became “NBC Sports Network”, which is now a household name for any sports fan.

Of course, the biggest two things that happened from 2008 through 2018 were that ESPN went to crap and that people no longer turn to their favorite channels to watch whatever happens to be airing.  Could Bettman have predicted in 2005 than ESPN in 2018 would spend 50% of the time covering national-anthem protests and 50% of the time covering NBA-player Tweets?  Of course not.  However, Bettman could have reasonably expected that TV audiences would eventually become spread across more outlets.  He could have predicted that channel brand recognition would ultimately become a non-factor in the sports world, and that is exactly what has happened.

The NHL has a good thing with NBC and the playoffs.  NBC utilizes NBC, NBC Sports, Golf Network, and occasionally CNBC for playoff (and Olympic) hockey games.  In 2005’s ESPN world, it would have been a problem to have the games on so many different channels.   Fortunately, this is not a problem in 2018.  People do not turn on ESPN, NBC Sports, MTV, or any other channel to watch whatever happens to be on the network.  Life is now about watching shows “On Demand” or watching sports live (or occasionally on DVR) on any channel or medium necessary.  NHL fans know when games take place and turn to the correct channels to find those games.

Thus, the NHL is in a good place right now.  Also, while ESPN is a complete non-factor with the NHL, we hockey fans can easily find highlights on NHL Network…or in a million different places on the Internet.  Therefore, all teams actually have a lot more national coverage than they had in 2006.  San Jose, Nashville, and Vegas – the three most recent Cup Finalists from the West – probably would have been considered bad ratings draws in the mid-‘00s, but times have changed.  All teams, including those three, are much more marketable in the modern media landscape.  In fact, if we were to have Carolina/Edmonton or Tampa Bay/Calgary as a Finals matchup now, I do not think it would be terrible for ratings.  Most hockey fans are finally back after the 2004-5 lockout, and there are no casual hockey fans.

True hockey fans will find their hockey games (especially playoff games) on TV, and the league has made its games and highlights very accessible.  Bettman took a short-term hit in the ‘00s by leaving ESPN, but he is getting the last laugh.  He found the NHL a great TV home with NBC; the NHL does well in the modern media climate; and he avoided paying ESPN’s sinking ship a large sum of money  to be a second-class citizen.

Mr. Bettman, I have disagreed with many things you have done over the years, but I commend you for a job well-done on navigating the television world.

Mickey Callaway Cannot Fix a Flawed Team

During Spring Training, Mets manager Mickey Callaway earned great praise for the positive energy he had brought to Spring Training.  I also read of players complimenting the fact that all of the Spring Training drills had purposes, as if Terry Collins had always been orchestrating a bunch of useless drills in his Spring Training workouts.  That seemed like a bogus claim to me, but it was not the silliest thing that I heard this spring.  To the contrary, the silliest thing I heard was when Callaway mentioned that he wanted Steven Matz, Matt Harvey, and Zack Wheeler to pitch 4 innings per start.  At the time, Callaway also discussed having relievers be able to pitch multiple innings to make up for those short starts. While the idea of having relievers pitch multiple innings was and is a good one, the idea that a bullpen could collectively handle such a massive workload was and is not.  Nevertheless, in the spring; reporters, players, and some Mets fans thought that all of Callaway’s ideas were wonderful.  I was not one of these people; I thought Callaway’s idea to use starting pitchers for so few innings was a recipe for disaster.

In fact, when I heard all of the premature praise for Mickey Callaway, it reminded me of the scene in Step Brothers in which Seth Rogen’s character compliments Dale and Brennan for showing up for a physical-education job interview in tuxedos.   “It’s ironic.  I get it.”  Anyway, why did the Callaway situation remind me of this scene?  First off, most things in life remind me of Step Brothers.  Secondly, I knew that there was no way that the bullpen strategy could work over a 162-game season.  Thus, applauding the strategy in March was like Rogen applauding the tuxedos.  I figured that, when the strategy ultimately blows up, and Callaway’s over-the-top positivity for a bad team quickly runs stale; all of his one-time sycophants would say, “OK, now the 4-inning starts (aka the “tuxes”) seem kinda f$%#ed up”.  If this analogy has gone over your head, please go watch Step Brothers immediately.  Then it will all make sense, and the movie is one of the funniest movies of all time.  You are welcome.

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Anyway, enough with the analogy.  I do give Mickey Callaway credit for the idea of pitching relievers for multiple innings.  I have been preaching this idea since 1998 when I first wrote to The Record, stating that, if Turk Wendell has pitched a good 8th inning, he should be allowed to pitch the 9th.  That part of Callaway’s logic makes perfect sense.  We know that Callaway rightfully includes warm-up pitches in his consideration for how much work a pitcher has received.  We know that he hates “dry humping”, and, by that logic, it is more efficient to have a pitcher throw 70 innings in 35 appearances than 70 innings in 70 appearances.  The latter means 35 more games in which the pitcher has to throw several warm-up pitches in the bullpen.  I agree with Callaway on all fronts here.  Furthermore, some days a pitcher “has it”.  Some days a pitcher does not.  Therefore, I have never liked taking out a pitcher who clearly “has it”.  If you go through 6 or 7 pitchers in a game, the law of averages says that at least one (and likely more) of those pitchers will not “have it” that day.  Therefore, you might as well stick with the guy who has been effective in that game.

That all said, the benefits of this strategy go out the window when you have three pitchers who rarely make it past four innings.  I should add that some of the unwarranted preseason praise for Callaway intimated that Callaway would be able to fix Matt Harvey.  That clearly proved not to be the case.  Meanwhile, I am not going to blame Jason Vargas’s horrific performances on Callaway, but the fact remains that we are stuck with three Mets pitchers who routinely exit after 4 or maybe 5 innings.  That was Callaway’s plan anyway, and it does not work.  You cannot sustain a bullpen under those circumstances.

It does not matter if you are using relievers for an inning apiece or multiple innings apiece; if you need five innings of relief three out of every five nights, you will destroy your bullpen.  If we assume that Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard give a combined 13 innings per rotation, the Mets need 20 bullpen innings per rotation, and that equates to roughly 650 bullpen innings per season.  Keep in mind that a dependable workhorse reliever is good for 80 innings per season.  The standard modern workhorse, in that case, would make 80 appearances and average one inning per appearance.  Fortunately, Callaway has allowed pitchers to make multiple-inning appearances.  However, if a pitcher like Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman pitches 2 or 3 innings in a relief effort, he should not be pitching in the next two games or really the next three games.  THAT is how you maximize the effectiveness of a relief pitcher.  It is not only the longer outings but it is also the longer rest.  Ideally, a team should be able to use two relievers per game.  This would keep all relievers fresh, as they would regularly get two or three days off in a row.

The problem is that this idea would only work well in an era in which starting pitchers routinely pitch seven innings.  Such an era would require only 320 relief innings per season.  If a team has 4 good relievers, the team can satisfy the bulk of those 320 innings with only those four relievers.  Plus, if those relievers could make 2-inning appearances with some regularity, these relievers would receive enough rest to stay effective.

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On the other hand, the Mets need the afore-mentioned 650 bullpen innings.  Yikes!  Is the Mets’ bullpen terrible?  No.  It has four dependable relievers – Jeurys Familia, Lugo, Gsellman, and the injured Anthony Swarzak.  How many teams have more than four dependable relievers?  2?  3?  Many teams would be happy to have four dependable relievers.  However, when your team’s strategy is to have 650 bullpen innings (as I have projected for the Mets), and you have only four dependable relievers (who we will generously say are good for 80 innings apiece); you are stuck with the unenviable choice either a) coaxing 330 innings from the other relief pitchers, who are generally terrible, b) completely overworking the good relievers to the point where they are injured or no longer dependable, or c) both.  Actually, who am I kidding?  The only answer is “c”.  This is the sole logical result, given that teams do try to use the bad relievers; the bad relievers get bombed; and the teams must then use the good relievers.

Case in point: Seth Lugo on Memorial Day.  This guy has dominated all year, but he has been overused.  Callaway wanted Lugo to get a 2-inning save in the first game of a doubleheader, so that he could save Familia for the nightcap.  I do not think it is bad strategy, but it would have been much better strategy if Lugo had not pitched so many innings already.  Lugo has pitched 32.2 innings, and Gsellman has pitched 33.3.  Lugo’s 20 appearances are not bad for a 51-game stretch, but he, like Gsellman (25 appearances), is on pace to pitch more than 100 innings, an untenable total for a reliever.  (I would still love to swap Lugo and Wheeler; given that Lugo has been an effective starter and that Wheeler has an innings’ limit.)  Unfortunately, the Mets are burning out their best relief pitchers.

The funny thing is: this same exact issue happened for the Mets last year.  In fact, I wrote an article about how the Mets’ starting pitching was atrocious and responsible for the bad bullpen performance.  The Mets’ bullpen performed well at the beginning of last season too, but those relievers became overtaxed and lost effectiveness.

The truth is that there are only two ways for a team to be successful while having as many 4-5-inning starts as the Mets do:

  • The team must have at least 6 good relief pitchers.
  • The team must have fantastic position players.

 

It is great to have six good relief pitchers, because that would cover 480 of the 630 relief innings.  That is a workable ratio.  However, let’s be honest.  How many teams have 6 good relief pitchers?  The Yankees did last year, and so did the 2006 Mets (Billy Wagner, Duaner Sanchez, Aaron Heilman, Pedro Feliciano, Chad Bradford, Darren Oliver); but it is a huge rarity.  No, the only way to expect success with such undependable starting pitching is to have a dynamite offense, and the Mets do not have that.   The Mets have a bunch of old guys who would be on the benches of most other teams, some younger guys who are currently no better than #7 or #8 hitters, and one phenomenal hitter who can never stay healthy.  Mickey Callaway cannot fix any of these problems, but he cannot fix the pitching problems any better than Terry Collins could.  That is why the preseason praise for Callaway seems as f$#@ed up as the tuxes.  I do not think he is a bad manager, but he does not have the ability to fix the major problems with the Mets’ roster.

LeBron vs MJ: One Point Nobody is Making

The argument that everybody seems to hate, but still can’t stop talking about…Is LeBron James better than Michael Jordan? The truth is, there’s no way to determine who has had a better career until LeBron closes up shop for good. LeBron still has three to four solid years left, and maybe five to six total. A lot can happen in that time. Randy Johnson won four straight Cy Youngs from ages 35-38, Barry Bonds won four MVPs from 36-39, and Kobe Bryant scored 60 points at 37. Sometimes, players get better with age (in Barry’s case it was just a lot of steroids, but I think that hurts my point more than it helps, so we can ignore that).

People argue that just because LeBron takes 12U town recreation teams to the Finals every year that he needs to be crowned the best. Others say that although MJ didn’t make it to the Promised Land every year, he was 6-0 when he did make it, and should be deemed the GOAT. Who knows where Jordan would have been without Pippen? But, LeBron has lost five times in the Finals. Great debate. Both sides have some legs to stand on. Lots of potential and ammo for a light-hearted, casual sports conversation at your local BBQ to get unnecessarily out of hand as both sides get way too passionate and end up fighting each other in the grass while their wives and kids watch. LeBron could be better than MJ, or vice versa, but neither beat a pointless sports argument that diminishes the respect your loved ones have for you. That’s what Memorial Day is all about.

With all that said and done, there’s one one argument that I never hear, and I just can’t figure out why. The argument is the whole Michael Jordan playing baseball thing. Do people just like, not remember that? If you want to compare careers, how can you forget the whole “stopped playing in his prime” aspect? It seems wildly important, for both sides involved.

LeBron left the Cavs to play for the Heat and fans almost imploded from hatred. Imagine if he left the entire NBA to go pursue that football career he’s been teasing us with for ten years? I think Skip Bayless would actually be speechless for the first time in his life. Regardless, you’d have to agree that the decision alone would need to have an impact on his legacy.

Michael Jordan ACTUALLY did that. He QUIT BASKETBALL. Here’s proof:

I don’t want this to sound entirely negative to MJ, because there are pros and cons to the whole situation:

FOR MICHAEL JORDAN

For all things considered, MJ had a decent 1994 season:

.202 BA, 3 HR, 51 RBI, 17 2B, 1 3B, 30 SB, 23% strikeout rate.

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He pretty much came raw into a sport that has been recognized as one of the more difficult to master and put up average to slightly below average numbers. He wasn’t a slouch by any means, and was rather effective on the basepaths with 30 stolen bases.

After trying to follow his passion, which is something I give him credit for, he returned back to the NBA and dominated once more. As a two-year, two-sport athlete in high school, I can safely back MJ up by saying that it’s not easy to perfect your game when you want to focus on so many specific parts in both sports. The fact that he was able to leave and come back without losing a stride is impressive.

Also, Space Jam was an amazing movie and if he never quit basketball, we might have never gotten that gem. LeBron can’t top that.

AGAINST MICHAEL JORDAN

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I know I said he wasn’t a terrible minor leaguer, but let’s not take that too far. He wasn’t good. You saw him in Space Jam. He was a liability at the plate day-in and day-out, and it’s sad he left his famed career to be below-average. It just sort of ruins your perception of him as an athlete. At least with LeBron, we can leave it up to the imagination what he would be like in the NFL (probably unreal).

He also left his team, and then came back with the expectation that everything would be the same. If your girlfriend dumped you for somebody she liked more, then she dated that person for a year, then that other dude basically told them her she sucked, and your ex-girlfriend came crawling back to you immediately after, you’re telling me you’d be pumped? You’d tell her to kick rocks 10/10. MJ is a user, and was spoiled by his era. LeBron has had to deal with a lot more hate than this…

 

Bottom line, the “Michael Jordan quitting basketball” is an argument that needs to be considered in future MJ vs LeBron discussions, and I cannot fathom how people don’t bring it up more.

#Cavsin7

Wrapping Up April

During my many months at “Below the Belt Sports”, I have managed to write long posts about the NHL points system, reasons why MLB should have an earlier trade deadline, and my dislike for preseason football.  Based on this, you are probably shocked that I have managed to experience these past three weeks without writing several long posts.  Nope, I have actually written nothing in three weeks.  Granted, if these three weeks were in late February/early March or in August, you could understand my inactivity.  However, these past three weeks have seen an NFL Draft in which both locals picked in the Top 3, Mike Francesa coming out of retirement, Matt Harvey being demoted to the bullpen, and the Devils playing and losing their first playoff series in six years.  (That is not to mention anything about the Yankees or NBA Playoffs, but I do not often touch upon those subjects.).  As for the four main topics that I missed, you are probably sick and tired of hearing of three of the four.  That said, you are loyal readers of my posts, and the five of you deserve to know what I think about these matters.  Therefore, here are my quick thoughts on each of the afore-mentioned topics.  You are welcome, Mom.

  • Mike Francesa’s return is as big a “d-bag” move as I have ever seen in the sports world, but I will listen to him anyway. Callers and guests spent a year and a half feting him for retirement, only for him to return four months after retirement.

Mike Francesa’s return has bumped “CMB” from 2-6:30 to 1-3.  That is a big step back for Carlin, Maggie, and Bart; and it is rather cruel to demote a show that has had a mere four months to grow.  Granted, I agree wholeheartedly with Chris Russo when he says that a) you should not have a new show with three hosts (Note: the successful three-host shows in the area evolved into having three hosts; they did not begin this way.), and b) you cannot have a sports talk-radio show in this area with someone who does not know baseball.  The latter describes Bart Scott.  Scott is great with football, but he does not know baseball….and WFAN’s shows talk Mets and Yankees from February to October and for plenty of the other three months too.

I actually love Maggie Gray.  I think she is fantastic.  She is an ideal Mets fan – she is very knowledgeable and falls perfectly on the Mets-fan spectrum between the annoying “sky is always falling” Mets fan and the less-often-seen “everyone on the Mets is awesome” Mets fan.  Plus, she is a Bills fan, which is a cool and unique dimension to add to football discussion.  Lastly, her voice is incredible.  I would actually watch golf if she were announcing it.

Meanwhile, Carlin too often interrupts callers before they have a chance to speak, and I do not like that he gives people silly nicknames when he answers calls.  That said, he is a Jersey guy who knows his sports.  He has done plenty of time on WFAN, and he is a good fit for New York sports radio.  He has plenty of the Francesa arrogance, but fortunately without the complete misery Francesa sometimes shows…

…but Francesa’s back.  As I have said, it is a total d-bag move.  However, I get why he did it.  He has a huge ego, and I think he assumed that people would be lining up to give him a lucrative contract.  He was wrong.  Apparently, there is not a large national market for a guy who hangs up angrily on 75% of his callers and who knows little about sports beyond the Mets, Yankees, NFL, horse racing, and college-basketball teams coached by his friends.  Thus, he is coming back to WFAN with his tail between his legs.

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It is going to be incredibly awkward in the beginning, and it is a d-bag move by WFAN to bring him back.  However, money talks.  I am going to listen to Francesa.  So will everyone else who has ever listened to him.  The awkwardness at the station will eventually fade away.  In fact, things will likely return to how they were in December.  Many people at WFAN could not stand him then; many people at WFAN will not be able to stand him now.

The truth is that I actually think his show will be better this time than it once was.  Francesa is the only person with a regularly scheduled solo talk show on WFAN or ESPN Radio New York. (Can you imagine anyone, post-Mad Dog, wanting to partner with such an egomaniac?)   Moreover, he hosted the longest show (5.5 hours) of any show on the two stations.  That is ridiculous.  Nobody should ever have a 5.5-hour show by himself.  That is insane!  It makes me understand Francesa’s crankiness a bit.  If I had to spend 5.5 hours in a row (OK, 3 hours minus commercials) answering the same questions about Matt Harvey over and over and over again, I might too lose my mind.  Therefore, having Francesa for only 3.5 hours as he is now scheduled should make him better.

Plus, he has realized where his bread is buttered – New York sports radio.  That is what he knows.  Even though he can be downright irascible on many occasions, he is the one person who can best sift through the bs with big topics. For years, he has been right about the big ideas with the Yankees, Mets, and NFL.  Additionally, he is the one person who can speak eloquently about controversial topics.

It is like he has an “a-hole switch” that he turns off when talking about touchy things.  In the months leading up to the 2016 election, he actually made some of the most cogent, non-extreme commentary on now-President Trump.  Similarly, Francesa is the only sports person I know who touched the Kaepernick issue, said the most important point of the saga, and generally avoided blowback: Protesting is fine, but you do not automatically have the right to do it when representing a large organization that signs your paycheck.  Had the NFL acknowledged Francesa’s logic early on, I think it could have better handled the whole issue, but I digress…

Francesa made a d-bag move.  He is taking a pay cut, but he is still going to make plenty of money off his d-bag move, and we are going to listen.  There are still times when he can be the voice of reason, even though he is often a jerk.  Meanwhile, Carlin has made no bones about his disdain for his former boss, and I applaud Carlin for admitting his disdain.  His reaction is human, and I think people appreciate his genuine emotion.  Maggie and Bart, who have much less history with WFAN, have taken the high road, and I commend them for that as well.  Maggie is delightful.  Have I mentioned that?  Hopefully, “CMB” become sympathetic figures, and hopefully this issue helps propel them to great radio futures.  As for Francesa, he made a d-bag move, but we are going to listen to him.  Moving on…

  • The NFL Draft happened. I am sure you heard about it.  Likewise, I am sure you know that I think it is time for the Giants to think about Eli’s replacement.  Actually, I am sure you are aware I thought we reached that time a few years ago.  That said, I have full faith in Dave Gettleman.  As I have advanced in age and now sit at the ripe old age of 36, I have grown to have a lesser appreciation for people who substitute clichés for reason and a greater appreciation for people who see through those clichés.  Well, after the draft, Jets GM Mike Maccagnan talked about how he likes all his draft picks, while Gettleman joked about the fact that every GM loves his own picks immediately after the draft.  Yes, it stinks to be a Jets fan.  I already loved Gettleman from his commentary on being offered hot dogs and bagels for the #2 pick but nothing more.  Now, his joking about “We love our draft” cliches put me over the top.  This guy gets it.  I would follow this guy over a cliff.  If Dave Gettleman believes that neither Darnold, Allen, nor Rosen is a franchise quarterback; I believe him.  It is time for Saquon to deliver Eli one more championship, and I greatly look forward to the Kyle Lauletta era from 2020 through 2039.

Image result for saquon and eli

One more draft thought.  It is annoying that people are mad at Josh Rosen for saying nine teams made a mistake by passing on him.  Rosen should absolutely feel that way.  Do you know who else is motivated by teams passing on them in the draft?  Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.  How have things worked out for them?  People worry about Rosen being a rich kid who does not “need” football success.  First off, to me, that is silly logic.  If you really need the money, hate football, and are great at football; you are going to try to make it to the NFL.  However, if you do not need the money and are great at football, you will only try to make the NFL if you love football.  That said, if you cannot follow that logic, you should at least like seeing a guy motivated to dominate and stick it in the faces of the teams who did not draft him.  Great quarterbacks are always super-competitive.  Rosen seems to have this trait.

The people who have a problem with Rosen’s comments are likely the same people who lost their minds over Jay Feely’s prom tweet.  It is a joke, people.  I hate guns, and I will never be a gun owner….but funny is funny.

  • Matt Harvey is in the pen, and I love it! In fact, I wrote in the offseason that the Mets’ best path to success was to move Harvey and Wheeler to the pen and to sign someone like Jason Vargas.  I could not have been more correct.  The only things I messed up were that Wheeler is still in the rotation and has been decent, that Harvey has not yet done anything great as a reliever, and that Vargas’ Mets ERA is 22.09.  Everything else though has been spot-on.  Pardon me while I pat myself on the back.  Seriously though, I still think that Harvey has a chance to embrace the bullpen role, and I can envision him being a successful closer as the Mets make a 2018 World Series run.  I can see it happening!

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  • I am not going to write a post documenting the ins and outs of the Devils/Lightning playoff series. The better team (Lightning) won in 5 games, but it was delightful to attend two playoff games for the first time since 2012.  Hopefully, the Devils can build off this year’s playoff appearance to make a legitimate playoff run in 2019.

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Mt. Rushmore Mondays: Miscellaneous

Here we are. Week 5. The last Monday (and day) of April. It’s been a helluva journey and I’m glad to have shared it with you guys, our BelowTheBelt readers.

With this fifth and final Monday brings our fifth and final Mt. Rushmore MondayWe started off with Sports, then Movies, then TV, then Music, and now, instead of another specific aspect of U.S. culture, we will be looking at absolutely anything. In fact, as I’m writing this, don’t even have a plan for what the fuck I’m gonna write. I’m totally winging it. Whatever comes to mind will find its way on this blog post.

If you’d like to recap the prior weeks before this Mt. Rushmore finale, here you go…

Week 1: Sports

Week 2: Movies

Week 3: Television

Week 4: Music

And now… without further ado… Mt. Rushmore Monday Week 5: Miscellaneous…

Mt. Rushmore of Drinking Games

Beer Pong

Pong is an absolute lock on this list. It’s probably the first drinking game you played when you snuck a rack into your basement freshman year of high school. It’s a timeless game that will always be fun and bring out the competitiveness between close friends.

Flip Cup

This game is always great for a crowd of people. Chug. Flip. Move on. Very simple. Very fun. If you volunteer to go last, make sure you back it up, because if you get caught having to flip the cup on multiple attempts, you’ll never hear the end of it from your teammates.

Power Hour

This isn’t really a game like the others, in the sense there is a winner and a loser. It is more of just a fun way to get drunk and listen to music with your squad for 60 minutes. Nonetheless, I’ll let the lack of competitive nature slide considering a Power Hour is classic pregame strategy.

Never Have I Ever

This game can get real dirty, real fast. It’s always fun finding more out about your friends just by the subtle sip of their drinks, until someone says, “Never have I ever paid for and had sex with a stripper,” and you have to take a sip of your drink in front of a bunch of girls. Don’t worry. I’m not talking about myself. But you know who you are.

Honorable Mentions: Kings, Quarters, Edward 40-Hands

 

Mt. Rushmore of Holidays

Christmas

Xmas is basically the quintessential holiday. It’s just magical. Waking up early morning December 25th to a tree surrounded by presents was always the best feeling. With the star-studded lineup of Jesus Christ, Santa Claus, and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Christmas is just tough to top.

Hanukkah

Don’t worry my fellow Jews (yes, I play both sides of the coin), instead of one day of presents we’ve got eight crazy nights.

New Years Eve/Day

The entire world celebrates this holiday, regardless of beliefs. That should say enough. We all count down. We all stay up late.

Halloween

October 31st is the one day of the year every kid had an excuse to chow down on candy. And this holiday isn’t just for kids, if you’re in college you’ll be participating by dressing as either a basketball player if you’re a guy or Harley Quinn if you’re a girl.

Honorable Mentions: Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day

 

Mt. Rushmore of Fast Food

McDonald’s

McDicks is a total lock. It’s been the most popular fast food joint for decades, and the Big Mac is one of the most famous burgers in the world. Wendy’s and Burger King are great too, but nothing touches the house that Ronald built..

Chipotle Mexican Grill

Over the last several years, this Mexican restaurant has become an American staple. Potle is a go-to spot that everyone has their own signature meal at (mine is white rice, no beans, chicken, mild and hot, sour cream, guac, cheese and lettuce… just in case you wanted to know). The only thing left up to question is if you are a burrito or bowl guy.

Chick-fil-A

No fast food joint makes chicken like Chick-fil-A does. It’s got the best chicken sandwiches and the best chicken nuggets and it’s not even close. The reason for that is because they are closed on Sundays so they can bless their chickens.

Subway

The age-long battle between Subway and Blimpie is more one-sided than you’d think. While I think they mostly taste the same, Subway is consistently the more successful of the two, which firmly gives Subway the spot on this Mt. Rushmore reserved for fast food sub shops.

Honorable Mentions: Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco Bell

 

Mt. Rushmore of U.S. Cities

New York City, New York

It’s the greatest city in the world. The Big Apple. The city that never sleeps. The concrete jungle where dreams are made of. End of discussion.

Los Angeles, California

Hollywood. The City of Angels. L.A. is basically the N.Y.C. of the West coast, except with a lot nicer people and much more beautiful scenery.

Las Vegas, Nevada

What happens in Vegas, amirite? Sin City is the gambling capital of the world. If you’re looking for a place to bankrupt yourself while also misplace your future brother-in-law before his wedding, look no further.

Washington, D.C.

It’s our nation’s capital for cryin out loud. No matter who resides in the Oval Office, the White House and the rest of D.C. is the face of our country.

Honorable Mentions: Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago

 

Mt. Rushmore of Artwork

Mt. Rushmore

Remember last week when I said if there was a Mt. Rushmore of Art there would be four Mt. Rushmores on it? Well… yea.

Mt. Rushmore

If you think otherwise, come talk to me when the Mona Lisa is made of granite and stands 60 feet tall.

Mt. Rushmore

Nothing has changed.

Mt. Rushmore

Did I mention each head is 60 feet tall?

Honorable Mentions: Mt. Rushmore

So that’s that. 5 weeks. 5 Mt. Rushmore Mondays. It’s been a blast of a month. I hope you enjoyed this amateur installment on BelowTheBelt Sports, because I sure did (except the last few weeks because I ran out of stuff to write about + it’s finals week so I somehow was able to find time to write this but whatever… #noragrets).

 

Figuring Out the Browns Draft Strategy

Maybe it’s the star power and surplus of potential franchise quarterbacks headlining this season, but this year’s draft has everybody locked in. People are itching to see what teams like the Browns, Giants, and Jets do with their top picks. Everybody wants to know where Barkley is going to end up. Is Josh Allen really that good? Is Baker the next Johnny Manziel? Well, we have our first hint of news…

To be honest, I never thought this was going to happen. I figured it would be Chubb, Barkley, Allen, or Darnold. Mayfield wasn’t even a thought, based on what I heard in the past. But Adam Schefter tells no lies. If this is the general consensus, then there is a high probability that Baker Mayfield is the first selected player in the 2018 draft.

So with that being the premise of this conversation, how will the rest of the first few picks play out, and how are the Browns planning to maximize their two top-five picks.

Here are my thoughts:

  • The Browns added Tyrod Taylor as a transition quarterback to give their new quarterback an opportunity to learn, grow, and mature. If they knew this was going to be Baker, this is a tremendous move. Tyrod is one of the smarter quarterbacks in the league, and plays relatively similar to Mayfield. I think Mayfield has a higher “big play” ability, but they both are pass first, run second, yet are able to make significant plays with their legs (I know that’s not that unusual in modern football, but knowing when to run and when not to is not exactly something all players have perfected). On top of this, Tyrod is a grown-up in life in general. A stand-up guy. Baker needs to know how to be a franchise quarterback OFF the field. Good move by the Browns.
  • With the selection of Mayfield, the Giants and Jets are next in line. The Browns have to be assuming that they will both look to take quarterbacks for one reason: Saquon Barkley. The Browns have set themselves up very nicely in any scenario though. Here’s why:                                                                                                                                    —-If the Giants/Jets take a quarterback, then Barkley is available at pick #4, and now the Browns have the quarterback who they believe is the best available (Mayfield) AND the best running back in the draft (Barkley).                                            —-If the Giants/Jets take Barkley, then the Browns have themselves secured at the running back position with the signing of RB Carlos Hyde in the offseason and holding onto RB Duke Johnson, Jr too. This leaves them feeling comfortable about their offense and the option to take stud DE Bradley Chubb and line themselves up with the best, young defensive front in football.
  • By selecting Mayfield with the first pick over Barkley or Chubb, they are ensuring they don’t swing and miss on this year’s draft by missing out on their franchise quarterback by having to take the third best option (in their opinion). On top of that, their other options are ground-breaking players that can alter their franchise.

It seems like GM John Dorsey finally has a plan in place for the Cleveland Browns, and a really good one at that. Now, I could be entirely wrong, Schefter could be reporting on BS, and the Browns could trade all their picks to the Patriots for Tom Brady. Who knows, it’s Draft Day.

Go Hawks.

The Top Five Hardest Positions in Sports

Obviously, anyone who is an athlete is going to have an argument that their position is the hardest. And they might have a few points here and there, as really no sport is “easy”. But if you’re going to tell me with a straight face that being a professional bowler is harder than trying to outrun 225 pound linebackers, then your opinion is invalid and you probably punt in Madden. You have to consider the likelihood of success, the necessary athleticism, the work that goes into being out there every day, and who your opponents are. With that said, here are the five hardest positions in sports.

5. Soccer Goalie

The thing about being a soccer goalie, which I can tell you from my four years of experience as a stud rec soccer goalie on an undefeated team, is that there is a lot of instincts involved. You have to know when to come out, when to stay, and even if you make the right decision, you can get a ball coming at your skull with the intention of taking you along with it into the goal. You also have a massive amount of space to defend (24 feet wide, 8 feet tall) when forwards and wings can be infinitely close to you. I mean, you’re telling me you, or anyone else, plans on stopping this?

Image result for really close goals soccer gif

4. Baseball Pitcher

As some of you may know, I myself am a pitcher for Ramapo College baseball. And let me tell you, there are times when it’s physically impossible. Mechanics need to be perfect in order to have the ball go where you want to go, and even if you do everything perfect, the ball could still get absolutely creamed on by hitters. The reason why I don’t consider this to be higher on the list is some guys can pick up a baseball and throw 100 MPH with no problem, and they never have to put in the extreme amount of work other positions may have to. But, when your average guy is on the mound, the gif below describes perfectly what we, as pitchers, think is going to happen.

Image result for strike zone gif

3. Hockey Forward

The whole ice thing to me is just insane. Maybe it’s just because I don’t play hockey and can’t skate for more than seven seconds at a time without falling, but the fact that people can compete against each other at a high level on that terrain is unfathomable to me. Now you have to add in the ability to be able to stick handle, pass, and score on a goal that probably doesn’t have more than a foot (if you added up all the space) of open space to shoot at. I’ll get to goalies later…

2. Quarterback Football

Easily the position in all of sports with the most pressure, I don’t care what anyone says. Despite ability, if you are the quarterback for a team, you are automatically one of the faces of the franchise. You’ll never know the name of every back-up offensive lineman in football, but if I asked you who Brandon Weeden is, most of you would have a clue. Added to this pressure, you now have to guess where receivers will be down the field while dodging immensely large defensive ends and linebackers who wants to hurt you in every way known to man. Oh, and you have to know EVERY play in a playbook of 100+ plays, and tell everyone their assignment for 50+ times a game.

Related image

1. Hockey Goalie

There was simply no doubt in my mind about this one. Let’s not forget that in addition to trying to stop 100+ MPH slap shots while another human, sometimes your own teammates, are entirely blocking your vision and have less than a second to react, they are also on ICE. ON ICE. LIKE DISNEY. Most people look like this on ice:

Image result for guy slipping on ice gif

But, now you have to stop guys, who train night in and night out for their whole life, from scoring on YOUR goal! You have to make sure nobody slips a 1-inch puck through your 5-hole. There is absolutely no harder position in all of sports than a goalie.

 

Maybe I left a few out, but these are the hardest in my humble, amateur opinion. Let me know what you think in the comments below.