All posts by michaelbrianwalker

Currently: math/economics teacher at Ramsey High School, commissioner of both a fantasy baseball league and a fantasy football league Past: Graduate of Midland Park High School Class of 2000 and Colgate University Class of 2004, pricing/yield analyst at AvisBudget from 2004 through 2007, member of MPHS baseball and cross-country teams Fan of: Mets, Devils, Giants Achievements: Named "World's Slowest Eater" by everyone who knows me, played on the 2003-4 Colgate intramural-championship ice-hockey team, two-time IceHouse Adult League Champion, have twice been hit by deer while driving, coached the league-tourney-champion 2008-9 Ramsey Rams JV ice-hockey team (universally regarded by me as the greatest JV hockey team of all time), once ran 6 miles listening to nothing but Lonely Island's "Jack Sparrow" on repeat, picked Gonzaga 10 times to win the championship (yes, I was that guy before it was fashionable to be that guy), stayed for all 17 innings of a 2000 Newark Bears/Somerset Patriots game (and caught my only career foul ball at a pro game during the 16th inning), and have not eaten breakfast regularly since 1996

Celebrating My Favorite Professional Athlete of All Time, Martin Brodeur

On Monday; Martin Brodeur, my favorite athlete of all time, will enter the Hockey Hall of Fame.  Although I tend to spend less time thinking about the Football Hall of Fame and Hockey Hall of Fame than I do about the Baseball Hall of Fame, this is the most excited I have been about someone’s induction into any of the three.  If you watch any of the induction coverage, you will hear about Brodeur’s many, many records and his incredible statistics.  You will hear some people say that he is the greatest goalie of all time.  I happen to echo that sentiment, as he was dominant from 1993 to 2007 and very good from 2007 to 2010 (those endpoints and adjectives are, of course, subjective).  Patrick Roy was great, but he did not have a run of dominance nor consistency that lasted as long as Brodeur’s.  That said, my excitement for Brodeur’s induction stems mainly from the great moments of my life that he created.

To a non-sports fan, it is silly to hear that some of a person’s greatest moments in life involved watching athletes the person has never met.  I do not care.  Watching sports has given me many wonderful moments, and I want to touch on those involving Brodeur. 

*In 1993-4, the Devils had their best regular season to that point, and they won their first two playoff series of my fandom before falling to the Rangers in the best series I have ever watched.  The loss to the Rangers and “Matteau!  Matteau!” was devastating, but the joy in watching the Devils reel off 11 playoff wins before that loss was wonderful.  Though Martin Brodeur split time that regular season with Chris Terreri, Brodeur won the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year and started all but three of the playoff games.  That playoff run was my “coming of age” as a hockey fan, and Brodeur was a big part of the run.

*On June 24, 1995; I sat with my family in then-Brendan Byrne Arena as the Devils hoisted the Stanley Cup, representing the first championship for a true New Jersey team.  I was also present at the Meadowlands for a thrilling 1-0 overtime win over Boston in Round 1 (Randy McKay with the GWG), the Conference-clinching win against the rival Flyers, and the Devils’ Game 3 win over the Red Wings in the Finals.  Of course, the Devils ultimately swept the Red Wings in four.  Although I had been a casual Devils fan from Kindergarten (1987-8) through fifth grade (1992-3), it always seemed to me that the Cup was reserved for teams from Canada and the Penguins.  When the hated Rangers beat the Devils in 1994 en route to the Cup, I was upset but had hope that the Devils could someday win the Cup.  That “someday” came the very next season, and Martin Brodeur dominated for four rounds.  Thank you, Marty, for those nine glorious weeks of hockey.

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Image via SI.com

*On August 8, 1996; Martin Brodeur came to the grand opening of Garden State Plaza’s Lord & Taylor (only a few years after I had learned that the store chain was not actually owned by Lawrence Taylor).  My mom brought my brother, two friends, and me to the opening and to get Brodeur’s autographs.  My brother ended up with a picture in the newspaper with Brodeur.  We were all a bit jealous of him, but it was a great moment nonetheless!

*On April 17, 1997; I was sitting at then-Continental Airlines Arena (nee Brendan Byrne Arena), as the Devils nursed a 4-2 lead in Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs against the Canadiens.  My friend Scott said, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if Brodeur scored a goal here?”  Sure enough, he did.  We jumped up and down a whole lot; it was pure elation.  I have watched this highlight a million times, and I get chills every time.

*On June 10, 2000; less than two weeks before my high-school graduation, I sat in my living room with my family and some good friends.  We watched Devils/Stars Game 6 extend into double overtime, when Jason Arnott’s goal clinched the Devils their second Cup.  Pure elation yet again.  As was the case in 1995, Brodeur backstopped the Devils the whole way through the playoffs.  The playoffs were a very busy time for me, as I had many exciting moments involving my pending HS graduation; but the Cup run was every bit as exciting as the high-school stuff.

*On June 9, 2003; my family was in Continental Airlines Arena again, as Martin Brodeur pitched a 3-0 shutout in Game 7 vs. the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.  This was Brodeur’s third shutout of the Finals and seventh of the playoffs and gave the Devils their third Stanley Cup.  At this point, I had finished my junior year of college, and Brodeur was one of only five Devils remaining continuously from the team’s first Stanley Cup.  It was the 10th year in a row in which Brodeur dominated and the 10th year in a row in which the Devils looked like a Cup contender for many parts of the season.  I enjoyed the first half of the playoff run at Colgate, as I wrapped up my junior year.  Then, I enjoyed the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals back at home in Midland Park (NJ) with many of my high-school friends.

*On April 29, 2006; Brodeur earned the victory as the Devils finished off a four-game sweep of the Rangers in Round 1 of the playoffs.  While the Devils had already tripled the Rangers’ number of Cups in my lifetime, it was nevertheless a huge thrill to beat the Rangers in a playoff series for the first time.  While athletes sometimes have less passion than fans do, we Devils fans always loved that Brodeur hated the Rangers as much as we did.  That series win was big for all of us.  This win happened nearly two years into my working career (at the parent company of AvisBudget) but provided me with great revenge for the Rangers’ series win from when I was in sixth grade (1994).

*On March 17, 2009; Brodeur earned his 552nd win, to break Patrick Roy’s record.  While there was initially an asterisk here, due to Brodeur’s having opportunities at shootout wins; Brodeur would ultimately surpass Roy’s total by a greater amount than Brodeur’s number of shootout wins.  Thus, the euphoria I felt standing in the last row of The Rock (Prudential Center) was not phony.  I stood there with my brother and three friends as Brodeur cut the netting off the net to keep as a souvenir.  This was the first big moment at The Rock, and The Rock probably never would have even been built if it were not for all of Brodeur’s success at Continental Airlines Arena.  (The Rock opened in 2007.)  At this point, I was two years into my teaching career at Ramsey High School, and it was awesome to reflect on the 552 wins.  I thought of how many “great goalies” had come and gone from the NHL over Brodeur’s 15-17-year career (depending upon whether or not you acknowledge the few games he played at the end of 1991-2), yet Brodeur was the one constant great goalie over that whole time. 

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Image via Toronto Star

*On May 25, 2012; nearly two decades after Brodeur’s rookie season (and more than twenty years after his NHL debut), the legend managed to be involved in what I consider the greatest non-Cup moment in Devils history.  It was Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals – Devils vs. Rangers.  The Devils were up 3 games to 2, as the Devils had won earned their first two series wins in the era of The Rock.  I was in the 100-level of The Rock that night with my former roommate.  Less than two minutes into the overtime, “Henrique, it’s over!!!” happened.  Pure elation on the level of the Jason Arnott Cup-winning goal from 12 years prior.  In fact, this felt every bit like the Devils winning the Cup.  More than 18,000 fans, myself included, had out-of-body experiences of joy as the greatest goal song of all time (“The ‘Hey’ Song”) blared over the Prudential Center speakers. To knock off the Rangers in overtime in the Conference Finals was incredible.  Brodeur again rejoiced to a level befitting of knocking off the hated rivals in the Conference Finals.  He looked as happy as he would have if the Devils had beaten the Rangers in Game 7 in 1994, and the same could be said for me.  While the Devils would ultimately lose to the Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals, the 2012 playoff run remains a wonderfully positive experience for Devils fans. 

*After 2012, Brodeur would play two additional seasons for the Devils.  In the latter, he split time with current Devils goalie Cory Schneider.  By the end of the 2013-4 season, Brodeur had comfortably set the records for wins, shutouts, games played, and many more.  For me though, it was most amazing to think of the amount of time I had this guy in my life.  He debuted with a few games when I was in 4th grade (1992).  He was a rookie when I was in 6th grade, and he was the Devils’ primary goalie from that year through middle school, high school, college, three years working at AvisBudget, and seven years teaching at Ramsey High School.  Fittingly, his last Devils season was my first school year teaching the legendary editors, Robert Sartori and Nick Costanzo, of this blog.  Thus, over 22 of my first 32 years of life, Brodeur left a mark. 

I should add that his on-ice success is not the limit of the mark he left.  He has also been the best interview of any player for whom I have ever rooted.  He has always been very personable, yet he has always managed to say things of substance.  So many NHL players speak solely in clichés, but this has not been true of Brodeur.  Additionally, as a Devils fan, it was a delight that an all-time great chose time and again to stay in New Jersey.  If the greatest goalie of all time had played in New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, or any Canadian city, he would have been a mega-celebrity; but Brodeur was content to stay in New Jersey.  In New Jersey, he was celebrated, but he was never revered on the level of Derek Jeter or the other big stars of the NYC area. 

The only negative on his playing career is that somehow, the wonderful “Mar-TAN” chant from Continental Airlines Arena evolved into a “Mar-TEE” chant at The Rock.  You would think that, as he aged, the chant would move to the more dignified name, not to the less dignified name.  Plus, “Mar-TAN” accents the correct syllable, while “Mar-TEE” does not.  This turn of events has never made sense to me, but I do not blame Brodeur for that.  I am hear to applaud the man, the myth, the legend, that is Martin Brodeur.

Congratulations, Martin Brodeur, on your induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and thank you for being involved with so many great moments of my life!

To the Remaining Eli Supporters, I Ask, “What Would It Take…?”

Hello, all.  It has been nearly two full months since I last wrote a post, and I know there has been a huge void in your lives.  TMZ has been all over me, trying to find scandalous reasons why I have not been posting.  No, nobody punted my dog Rex off a bridge.  The truth is much less exciting than that.  My wife and I moved into a house at the end of August, and it turns out that moving into a house while starting the school year (as a teacher) means that I have not had too much spare time.

Now that we have put that item to bed, I figured what better way to return to this blog than with my favorite topic: “Eli Manning”?  If you recall, I wrote two Eli posts last year – one in which I suggested that his time was running out and one in which I discussed what I considered to be the negative overreaction to his benching.  Of course, I was tempted to write a third about how I thought it was unfair that the Giants ultimately threw Ben McAdoo under the bus for the matter (although I generally did not like McAdoo’s coaching for other reasons).  I ultimately decided not to write the third post, as I would have come across as crazy writing three “Eli” posts during one season.  However, if I write a post this season, I would be sitting at 1.5 “Eli” posts per season over last year and this year.  That does not make me crazy, right?

Allow me to proceed…As we sit here today, the Giants sport a 1-7 record.  Given that I strongly wanted the Giants to draft a quarterback this past April; if you had told April-me that the Giants would pass on drafting a QB and would be 1-7 halfway through the 2018 NFL season, April-me would have assumed that November-me would be livid.  Fortunately, that is not the case.  Granted, it stinks being 1-7, but at least I was able to practice this situation last year.  (Not to mention, the 2012-2014 seasons gave me pretty good practice as well, even if those seasons were not quite “1-7 start”-level bad”)

No, the surprise to April-me would be that I am not mad that the Giants did not draft a quarterback.  Saquon Barkley is clearly one of the best running backs in the game, and none of the quarterbacks drafted are setting the world on fire.  Do not get me wrong – It is likely that at least one of the quarterbacks will develop into a great quarterback, but that has not happened yet.  If Sam Darnold were playing like rookie-year Andrew Luck, I would be beside myself on a daily basis….but he is not doing that.

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Image via USA Today

Therefore, the Giants now have the chance to set things right. They can either draft a quarterback with their high 2019 draft pick, or they can use the pick to build their core (hopefully using the pick on an offensive lineman) while picking up a veteran quarterback for next season.  I thought that the Giants should have signed Teddy Bridgewater last offseason.  He would have been a low-risk, high-reward player who would have pushed Eli.  However, the Giants astoundingly decided that, because they had benched Eli in December, it made sense to provide him with the least competition of any of the 32 starting NFL quarterbacks.  (Alex Tanney, Kyle Lauletta, and the since-released Davis Webb comprised Eli’s “competition”.)  Well, the Giants can right that wrong this coming offseason, whether with Bridgewater or someone else of that level.

The nice thing for me to see is that, after a second-straight deplorable season (OK, half-season in this case), many more fans are coming around on the idea that it is time from Eli.  That is comforting.  At the same time though, there are still fans out there who think Eli is not a problem.  The majority of these fans blame everything on the Giants’ offensive line, and that leads me to the main idea of this post.  To these fans, I ask, “What would it take for you to think that Eli is done?”

Honestly, what would it take?  Sure, the Giants’ offensive line is bad, but Eli supporters make it seem like Eli’s offensive line is a million times worse than any other offensive line in the league.  Eli’s supporters say that, because Eli is an immobile quarterback, it is imperative that the Giants drastically improve their line.  Well, the line this year is slightly better than it was last year.  Nate Solder has disappointed, and Will Hernandez is a work in progress, but the line is a little better than last year than when Ereck Flowers was prominently involved.  How much improvement does the offensive line need, in order for Eli to become even a mediocre quarterback, at this point?

When Eli’s supporters argue about him being an immobile quarterback, they have the argument backwards.  Every quarterback in the league other than Tom Brady is more mobile than Eli.  Therefore, it is Eli’s lack of mobility that is the big problem to address.  While the venerable Rob Sartori would know more about the Seahawks’ O-Line than I do, I am pretty sure that the group is nothing amazing.  At the same time, Russell Wilson’s mobility makes it such that the line is less of a detriment than it would be with Eli behind it.  Russell Wilson is generally considered a mobile quarterback.  However, even quarterbacks who we do not think of as mobile – Ryan Fitzpatrick, Philip Rivers, Big Ben (in his advanced age), to name a few – still show a bit more mobility than Eli does.  At a minimum, those QBs can take the necessary step or two after the snap to dance out of pressure.  That is all a quarterback needs to be able to do to keep the offensive line from being a complete liability.

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Image via NY Post

Unfortunately, Eli cannot do that.  For every legitimate case of Eli being sacked immediately after the snap (thus of no fault of his own), there is also a case of Eli either stepping into a circle of defenders (and being sacked) or holding the ball for too long while he gets sacked deep behind the line of scrimmage.  Eli’s defenders say that these last two scenarios are not his fault because Eli is so shell-shocked at this point.  Well, whether it is his fault or not, the fact that remains that Eli is one of the two least-mobile quarterbacks (with Tom Brady) in the league, and he is the most shell-shocked.  Therefore, if you were to take the backup quarterback on any non-Giants team in the league and have him start on the Giants, one would likely see a more mobile and less shell-shocked QB.  Thus, one would likely see a more productive Giants QB.

It seems a heck of a lot easier to replace the Giants’ quarterback than it is to replace the entire infrastructure around Eli.  Saying that the line is the problem and that Eli is not is akin to saying that the problem with having a flip phone is that there are not computers with Internet capability 10 feet apart across the whole planet.  “If only there were computers everywhere, my lack of a smart phone would not be a problem anymore!”  That is the logic I hear from Eli’s supporters.  In a league in which every quarterback drafted nowadays has at least a modicum of mobility, maybe it is a bad idea that the Giants hold on to such an immobile quarterback.

Additionally, I hear people say that, when Eli has time to throw a good ball, he can still throw as well as anyone.  Stop it.  Even in Eli’s prime, he was never the most accurate passer.  Yes, he threw the most clutch/accurate pass in NFL history when he threw the bomb to Mario Manningham in Super Bowl XLVI, but most of his career has seen plenty of wounded ducks and plenty of passes behind big receivers like Plaxico Burress and Hakeem Nicks that the receivers were able to reel in.

I also hear people talk about Eli’s great game against Philly last December, his strong game in Houston in September, and his great finish in Carolina this October.  Some use these games as proof that he can still be great, but I see this as the ultimate case of confirmation bias.  Any quarterback this side of Nathan Peterman can have a few great games in the modern NFL; the league is set up for QBs to dominate.  Therefore, a quarterback is judged on how few bad games he has, more so than on how many good games he has.  Josh McCown had probably 5 or 6 very good games last year, and he has been on the bench this whole season.  Ryan Fitzpatrick has a few very good games seemingly every year but can never hold a starting job.  Those two career backups are held down because we have seen too many bad games out of them, yet Eli’s supporters refuse to hold the same standard to Eli.

Thus I ask again to our Eli supporters, “What would it take for you to say it’s over?”  Do you need to see three-consecutive seasons of three or fewer wins?  Do you need to see Eli be sacked 100 times in a season?  Do the Giants need to trade for Andrew Luck?  Do you need to see the Giants put nine players on the offensive line to block, so that Eli finally has enough time?  What would it take?

Lastly, for copyright purposes, I should come clean that I first heard this “What would it take?” premise when used by conservative commentator Ben Shapiro.  He is a Republican who was using this question to criticize Republicans who refused to condemn then-presidential-candidate Donald Trump for anything.  Thus, since I am citing a Republican who is criticizing other Republicans, hopefully those two components cancel each other out…and you – Republican or Democrat – are ok with me using the line.

For the First Time Ever, I am Excited About David Wright

David Wright has technically been a New York Met since 2004, but he has not played in a Major League game since May of 2016.  For many years, Wright was one of the better third basemen in Major League Baseball, but, ironically, I am currently the most excited I have ever been about David Wright.

On most days since April of 2015, I have assumed that David Wright’s MLB career was finished.  Wright found himself on the DL eight days into the Mets’ 2015 season.  During that DL stint, we learned that Wright had been diagnosed with spinal stenosis.  As the Mets acquired Yoenis Cespedes on July 31 and went on a tear in August, David Wright had become an afterthought…albeit an afterthought of “His career might be over.”  Then, lo and behold, Wright returned in late August and was the Mets’ regular third baseman en route to the World Series. 

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Image via Sporting News

However, after David hit .185 (10 for 54) in the 2015 postseason, I hoped he would retire.  I figured that he had a signature moment – a homerun in the first World Series game ever played at Citi Field – but that his body would not allow him to play Major League Baseball at a high level any longer.  Spinal stenosis is a debilitating condition, and I considered his on-field time from late August through November 1 of 2015 should be his swan song.  Had he retired after the 2015 season, the Mets would have ensured that there would be no awkward situation in which the Mets would have to decide between playing a broken-down David Wright or a better player at third base.  I did not want to see Wright end up in a position where he guts out 40 games per season at a .200 batting average, as fans clamor to see a journeyman .260 hitter start over him.  That would have been awkward for all of us, and I wanted no part of it.

Well, interestingly enough, Wright did not retire after 2015….but my fear did not play out either.  In 2016, Wright was hitting .226 with 7 homers when he went on the DL over Memorial Day Weekend.  Since then, he has never been on the active Mets roster.  As he has battled major neck and shoulder problems (on top of the spinal-stenosis back problems), he has become the ultimate afterthought in terms of the present-day Mets.  Until the past week or two, most of us have thought of David Wright’s Mets career in past tense.  Sure, in 2017, Jose Reyes (who served as the Mets’ primary third baseman for much of the season) said all the right things (no pun intended) about keeping the seat warm for Wright.  Those two have such a strong friendship, dating back to 2003-4, and any good friend believes the best in his or her friends.  However, in the case of Wright being the Mets’ everyday third baseman, it was wishful thinking on Reyes’s part….and every Mets fan knew it.

Fast forward to 2018 when the Mets signed Todd Frazier to the Mets’ third baseman, and nobody was worrying that the Mets had given away Wright’s position.  Wright was done.  His career was in the past.  We would occasionally hear about him having light workouts or having catches with people.  Woop-dee-doo.  I do not care about that stuff for guys on the 10-day DL; I did not care with Wright either.  That said, all of a sudden, a few weeks ago, Wright actually began playing in rehab games in Port St. Lucie.  I do not generally care about that stuff either, but, given Wright’s situation, I was interested.  Honestly, I had never thought he would make it back this far.

Now, as I sit here on September 13, I see a player who has not played in more than 2.5 seasons but has worked through incredibly painful and debilitating injuries to try to get back on the field.  How often do we see players, especially those in their mid-30s, return after that much time off?   I know that Wright is coming back for only one or a few games before retiring, but it remains quite a feat. It would have been very easy at any time since early 2015 for Wright to retire.  Sure, the money he is making is a good motivator to try to play again, but I do not care.  Especially since Wright went down “for good” in May 2016, he has to have known that; if he were ever to return to the Majors, he would be a shell of what he once was.  He has to have known that he has had very few MLB games left in him….but that does not matter to him.  Many players would not have fought back for more than 2.5 years like Wright has.  Wright just wants to play on an MLB field one more time, and he will have that opportunity on the Mets. That is a great story.

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Image via Newsday

The funny thing is that, until now, David Wright never truly excited me as a Met.  When Wright had his best seasons from 2005 through 2008, I was always more excited by Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and Carlos Delgado.  Wright was a great player, but I felt that those three were the true stars.  Unfortunately, as those players left, Wright stepped down from “Great” to “Very Good”.  During those “very good” years of 2009 through 2014, the Mets were not very good.  By 2015, when the Mets finally made it to a World Series with Wright, the stars had become the pitchers and Cespedes.  Therefore, for one reason or another, David Wright had never excited me….until now. 

Yes, David Wright is one of the best people in baseball.  He is a good-looking guy, and he has been a great face for the Mets’ franchise.  He is one of the few pro athletes who can legitimately be a role model for kids.  However, his dedication to work his way back to the majors makes him more of a role model than ever.  For the first time in David Wright’s career, I am excited to watch him play.  He might end up playing only three games or two games or one game.  That does not matter to me.  It will be very emotional to see him return to the Mets’ lineup, and I am excited to see #5 play third base for the Mets at least one more time.

You Have Probably Read a Million NFL Previews, so Here Is Another!

It is a glorious time of year, as the NFL season is upon us.  For me, the NFL is the only sports league in which I can watch and enjoy a regular-season game between any pairing of teams.  It was like that when I was a kid, as I knew that, with a 16-game regular season, every game was of monumental importance.  As much as I love MLB and the NHL, a May Athletics/Tigers game or a November Flames/Blues game has never exactly glued me to the TV.  Of course, as time and my life have progressed, my love for the NFL has increased with fantasy football and the many pools in which I take part.

Anyway, with the NFL season’s arrival, I am providing a preview.  I am not going to preview all 32 teams’ strengths and weaknesses.  I am merely going to make a few predictions about which I feel strongly.  Let us begin.

  • The Vikings’ Kirk Cousins signing will prove to be a mistake. Last year, Case Keenum stepped in for an injured Sam Bradford and led the Vikings to a 12-2 regular-season record a miraculous playoff win over the Saints.  Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins has been 26-30-1 as a starter and lost his only playoff game.  Of course, it is easy to argue that Keenum was pretty much awful before last year and pulled a shamrock-encrusted rabbit’s foot out of his butt to win last year’s playoff game, but that does not refute my point.  I would say that Case Keenum and Kirk Cousins would give the Vikings an equal chance for success this season, so it would have been more logical to re-sign Keenum for much less money than the amount for which Cousins signed.
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Image via ClutchPoints
  • The Giants will finish 9-7 and earn a Wild Card berth. Obviously, I hope that the Giants win the Super Bowl.  I hope that Eli Manning dominates from September through February en route to a third Super Bowl championship and makes me eat a giant plate of crow.  Realistically though, I see the Eagles winning the division at 10-6.  Even though the Giants have won two Super Bowls after playing on Wild Card Weekend, I am not ready to make that prediction when (to paraphrase Rick Pitino) Justin Tuck isn’t walking through that door.  Michael Strahan isn’t walking through that door.  Jason Pierre-Paul isn’t walking through that door.  Osi Umenyiora isn’t walking through that door.  OK, I will stop before I end up putting Jay Alford on the list.  That said; with a revamped offensive line, a healthy Odell, and a debuting Saquon; this offense should put up enough points to put the team in the playoffs.  If the offense does not dominate and people continue to say that Eli deserves to be the starter for as long as he wants, then I do not know what to tell those people.
  • The Jets will finish 7-9 in a season reminiscent of Geno Smith’s 2013 season. No, I am not making this comparison just to backhandedly remind people that I was actually rational in supporting the Giants’ move to start in Geno in Oakland.  I say this because Geno’s talent brought the Jets some exciting wins in 2013.  I was eliminated from my Survivor pool when Geno won Week 5 on MNF in Atlanta that year.  Devastating stuff for me, but wins like that and their win over the Pats (with some help from the officials) gave Jets fans major hope for the future at the time.  Of course, Geno proved to have discipline and dedication issues that kept him from taking that next step.  In 2018, I expect that Sam Darnold will similarly lead the Jets to a few exciting wins (as Geno did in 2013), but he remains a rookie taking over the reins of a 5-11 team.  7-9 would be a solid year for him, and Jets fans should feel good about that.  Unlike with Geno, I would expect that Darnold would build on this season in 2019 with a best-case scenario being Darnold mimicking Carson Wentz’s second season.  (Thus, the Jets should be ready to sign Nick Foles next season.)
  • For the same reasons; the Raiders and Islanders will be similar train wrecks this coming season and the coming seasons. Let us examine the traits:
  1. The game has passed by the team’s stubborn leader: Mike Francesa always says the biggest reason why NFL coaches do not succeed after long layoffs is that, after three years away from the game, it is difficult to assemble a coaching staff. After all, most of a coach’s former assistants have been gobbled up by the time the third year rolls around.  Moreover, the game changes radically over a few years.  Jon Gruden last coached in 2008.  Back then, it was still somewhat OK to try to decapitate opposing players on the field.  Now, there is a 3-inch-by-3-inch square in a quarterback’s midsection that opposing players are allowed to touch.  Anything else is a penalty.  Plus, I do not know that Gruden can be as harsh now as he was 10 years ago. Similarly, Lou Lamoriello is now the Islanders’ general manager, and I have a feeling that he will return to his usual Lou mantras: signing defensive defenseman, placing a large emphasis on veteran leadership, and avoiding star players with any egos.  All of those premises served Lamoriello well when he was (in my opinion) the best general manager in the NHL for 20+ seasons with the Devils.  However, his ways did not serve the Devils well at the end of his tenure in New Jersey, and I feel that Brendan Shanahan (Leafs’ general manager) was calling all the shots when Lou and Shanahan were in Toronto.  I do not feel good about Lamoriello being in full control of the Isles’ personnel.
  2. Both teams have lost their top players. The Isles were unable to re-sign John Tavares, who ironically moved to Toronto, Lamoriello’s former home.  Meanwhile, Khalil Mack has been traded from the Raiders to the Bears.  Both moves are obviously bad for the players’ former teams.  Plus, if Gruden had anything to do with pushing Mack away, some of his players might grow resentment toward Gruden.  That is a bad thing.
  3. Lastly, both teams are in geographic limbo. The Isles are spending part of the next few seasons at Nassau Coliseum and part of it in Brooklyn.  Having two different homes does not exactly seem like a recipe for success.  Similarly, the Raiders are finishing out their time in Oakland, as a future home in Vegas looms on the horizon.  Neither of these scenarios bode well for fan support or thus for the teams’ potential success.
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Image via The Mercury News
  • Anyway, let us wrap this up with my playoff predictions. Note that I made these before the season-opening games.

Playoff Seeds:

AFC:

1 New England

2 Jacksonville

3 Pittsburgh

4 Kansas City

5 Houston

6 Los Angeles Chargers

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Image via Roster Resource

NFC:

1 Atlanta

2 Green Bay

3 San Francisco

4 Philadelphia

5 Los Angeles Rams

6 New York Giants

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Image via Washington Post

Wild-Card Round:

Pittsburgh over Los Angeles, Houston over Kansas City, San Francisco over New York Giants, Los Angeles Rams over Philadelphia

Divisional Round:

New England over Houston, Jacksonville over Pittsburgh, Atlanta over Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay over San Francisco

Conference Championships:

Jacksonville over New England, Green Bay over Atlanta

Super Bowl:

Green Bay over Jacksonville

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Enjoy the season, everyone!

The Benefits of Tanking: How deGrom and the Mets Should Learn from the Sixers, Angelina, and Octomom

As you likely know, Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom is in the midst of an epic season in which he has a .97 WHIP, 1.85 ERA, and 173 strikeouts in 22 starts (one of which he left after one inning, due to rain/injury).  This has put him in a tight race with the Nationals’ Max Scherzer for the National League Cy Young Award.  Of course, I should also mention that deGrom has all of 5 wins (5-7 record) this season.  Thus, he is on pace to earn a total of 7 or 8 wins.  Even if one looks at the Mets’ team record in deGrom’s starts (which leads into my view on how MLB should change its wins stat), one will see a sub-.500 record for deGrom and the Mets.

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Via CBSSports.com

As a result of all this, what course of events over the next eight weeks would be most optimal for both deGrom’s Cy Young candidacy and his legacy?  I believe the best result for him would be to endure more of the same stuff that has happened for the first four-plus months of this season: more and more outings in which deGrom earns a loss while pitching 7 or 8 innings of 1-run ball.  While that would be bad for the Mets overall, it would be the best thing that could happen to deGrom.  Hear me out here…

Max Scherzer has 15 wins this season and is a safe bet to reach 20.  If deGrom maintains his own current pace toward 7 or 8 wins, Scherzer will destroy deGrom in the “Wins” department.  This occurrence would prop up the vitality of the “Poor poor Jacob deGrom” storyline.  Cy Young voters would likely ignore the “Wins” totals altogether.  The stat is already of waning importance to voters, and voters would use the 12-13-win gap between Scherzer and deGrom to a) provide the ultimate proof that the “Wins” stat is silly and b) stamp deGrom’s 2018 season as the ultimate “dominant season on a terrible team”.  As long as deGrom maintains his strong ERA edge and beats or comes close to Scherzer in strikeouts, Jake should earn the Cy Young Award with the help of the two aforementioned thoughts of voters.

What happens though if the Mets somehow bring deGrom 8 wins between now and the end of the season?  I know that a team regularly starting Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, and Wilmer Flores is unlikely to win 8 games period the rest of the season, but let us play “What if?” anyway.  In this hypothetical situation, deGrom would end the season with 13 wins.  That sounds good at first thought, but deGrom would now have a win total that is closer to representative of his 2018 performance.  In actuality, he likely will have pitched well enough to have earned 20 wins with 26 of the 29 other offense/bullpen combinations in baseball.  That said, the deGrom pity party would nevertheless be much smaller if he has 13 wins, compared to if he has 7 or 8 wins.  The gap between 13 wins and Scherzer’s 20 wins is small enough to make the “Wins” mark a legitimate factor in the Cy Young voting.  At the same time, Scherzer will have earned 7 more than deGrom.  All of a sudden, many of deGrom’s pity votes will change to Scherzer votes as the “Wins” debate is ironically legitimized.

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Via BeyondtheBoxScore

Meanwhile, if deGrom ends this season with 7 or 8 wins, baseball fans and writers will remember his season forever.  Someday, when deGrom’s name appears on the Hall of Fame ballot, voters will be quick to add 12 wins to his career “Wins” total on the grounds of “He should have won 20 games in that legendary 2018 season”.  This would be true even though many modern-day starters have great seasons that result in only 13 to 16 wins, due to lack of bullpen/offensive support.  This is why, if deGrom actually makes it to 13 wins this year, future Hall of Fame voters will not “tack on any wins” when analyzing his career.  Therefore, deGrom would lose out on “7 wins” in the minds of many voters, who would likely be overly generous in pretending an 8-win season is a 20-win season.

Anyway, this way of thinking might seem crazy to you, but it demonstrates one of the basic principles of life in the 21st Century.  You are better off having extreme misery than minor inconvenience.  Extreme misery sells, while nobody cares about minor inconveniences.

For example, would you rather give birth to triplets or octuplets?  Well, first off, I give major props to the woman birthing either.  That said, it is a lot of money and work to raise triplets.  It should cost an exorbitant amount of money and work to raise octuplets, but you are also 90% likely to get your own TV show if you have octuplets.  That TV show will give you a whole lot of money which will allow you can make ends meet.  If you have 3 kids, nobody is giving you a TV show…or money.  You have to take care of those three kids on your own.  Therefore, it might indirectly become easier to raise octuplets than triplets.

Actually, this “extreme misery sells” concept is the whole premise of reality TV.  As another example, Angelina showed up on Jersey Shore: Family Reunion this season looking like a complete mess.  Not a big deal.  Not super-memorable.  However, she then had a “period-sh!t” on TV, and, all of a sudden, we were blessed with the most memorable moment of the season.  Being a garden-variety complete mess was a minor inconvenience for Angelina, but I would like to think that having the entire world remember her as being “period-sh!t girl” is extreme misery….except for the fact that she has stayed much more relevant, famous, and (therefore) rich because of it.  Extreme misery pays off.

Basically, this extreme misery is just “life tanking”.  For years, the 76ers knew that they were not good enough to compete for NBA Championships, so Philly was better off losing to earn better draft picks.  Now, the team is good and ready to compete for championships.  Was Angelina really that different from the Sixers?  Had Angelina been merely “normal-level trashy”, it would have been like having “only” triplets”, deGrom winning 13 games this year, or the Sixers churning out a few #8-seeds and non-lottery draft picks.  Instead, Angelina showed that she could “trust the process” by doing the “period sh!t”, something that 99% of women would not want to do in front of even one other human, much less the whole country.  The action was memorably disgusting but led her back to fame and money.  Angelina was not going to use success to earn fame or fortune, so she tanked her way to fame and fortune.

Therefore, if the Mets want to earn deGrom a Cy Young Award and augment his Hall of Fame credentials, they should put the worst-possible lineups on the field every time deGrom makes a start.  In other words, the Mets can continue doing EXACTLY what they have been doing for deGrom for four months, and deGrom will achieve his “extreme misery” and his Sixers/Angelina/Octomom payoff in the form of a Cy Young Award.  Keep trusting the process, Jake and the Mets.

Mickey Callaway is Going to Be One-and-Done

Like Michael Kay, I too do not like talking about whether or not people should be fired.  It is tough for someone to lose his/her livelihood, and I do not like to go there.  At the same time, I am OK discussing whether or not I think somebody WILL be fired. That brings us now to a discussion of the New York Mets’ manager.  At this time, I would be completely shocked if Mickey Callaway returns to manage the Mets in 2019.  I know that it seems harsh to fire a manager after only one year on the job, but there are three major reasons why I expect Callaway to be let go.

1)     He is not a good manager: Let us start with the most obvious reason.  The job of baseball manager has two main components – strategy and leadership.  It would appear that Callaway struggles with both.  In terms of strategy, there have been far too many times when Callaway has made indefensible decisions.  I am not talking about leaving a starting pitcher in for one batter too many or one batter too few; I am also not talking about using his closer when he should not or using a non-closer when he should use his closer.  We criticize all managers about these decisions any time said decisions do not work.

No, I am talking about the obvious mistakes.  For example, in June, the Mets faced the Pirates at Citi Field.  In the Top of the 9th with 2 outs; first base was open, and the Pirates’ closer Felipe Vazquez was on deck.  It should have been a no-brainer to intentionally walk the batter, so that Vazquez would have to hit.  The Pirates had a lead, and it was a given that they would leave Vazquez (who had entered in the 8th) in the game.  Most of the time, there are fair arguments on both sides in baseball, but there was no valid case to be made against the intentional walk here.  Unfortunately, Callaway chose not to walk the guy.  That was bad.

Throw in times when Callaway has botched double-switches and the time when the Mets batted out of order, and one can make a strong case that Callaway is bad with strategy.  (I will admit that the “batting out of order” thing is a bit of a Rorschach test.  Had a good manager like Joe Maddon or Bruce Bochy overseen this gaffe, we would have laughed but not blamed the manager.  However, because it happened to Callaway, we assume that it was Callaway’s fault.)

Image result for mets bat out of order

As for leadership, I think Callaway is in worse standing there than he is with strategy.  It is conceivable that Callaway can improve from a strategic standpoint.  After all, he was previously a pitching coach in the American League; thus, the bulk of National League strategy was irrelevant to him in years’ past.  Unfortunately, leadership is a more difficult ability to change – typically you are either a good leader, or you are not.

Let us be clear.  I very very rarely criticize a manager’s (coach’s) leadership in any sport.  I think it is laughable when fans say things like, “The manager/coach has clearly lost the clubhouse/locker room”….as if we have any idea what is going on in those rooms.  These critics are the people who see a physical error and blame the manager.  Seriously, when the Yankees were 5-5 in April, I heard a guy call WFAN and claim that Aaron Boone was a bad manager because someone on the Yankees (I think it was Gregorious, but I am not certain) had made an error.  If I ever get to the point where I blame individual physical errors on the manager, please euthanize me.

However, it is reasonable both to blame managers for players’ mental errors and to believe a players-turned-announcer’s analysis that a manager has “lost the team”.  This is where Callaway finds himself in deep trouble.  I have never heard the Mets’ TV announcers – Gary, Keith, and Ron – show the same amount of disdain for a manager that they do for Mickey Callaway.  The disdain is never directly stated, but it is obvious.  A textbook example came during Wednesday’s 5-3 Mets loss in D.C.  Jose Bautista swung and missed for Strike Three, and the ball bounced to the backstop.  Bautista did not run and was called out.  Gary Cohen voiced his displeasure for Bautista’s stationary response, and Darling responded by saying that he was not surprised.  Darling explained that the Mets have not run out dropped third strikes all year long.  During Cohen’s and Darling’s dialogue, the disdain was obvious by the tones of their voices.

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Similarly, a few weeks ago, Keith Hernandez appeared on Mike Francesa’s show.  Francesa asked Keith if he thought Callaway was a good manager, and, in standard Francesa form, the question was long-winded and insinuated Francesa’s thoughts that Callaway was overmatched (either leadership-wise or strategically).  Keith responded with only “I expect Mickey to be the Mets’ manager next year.”  It was the ultimate case of “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  A damning comment from Keith….and yes, one that runs contrary to the basic premise of this article.

Anyway, the Mets have made many mental errors this year, such as Wilmer Flores not throwing home in Wednesday’s eighth inning.  Unlike with physical errors, a mental mistake is at least partially the manager’s fault.  A manager should do his best to ensure that all players know what to do in all situations.  Of course, players can make mental errors even if the manager has adequately prepared them to do the right thing.  Unfortunately, there have been too many mental errors for this year’s Mets for one not to wonder if the manager is partially to blame.  There have also been too many times when the Mets do not hustle.  Again, for that, it is fair to look toward the manager.

Does this mean that Callaway has lost the clubhouse?  On my own, I cannot say that.  However, there have been enough allusions from Gary, Keith, Ron, and even Nelson Figueroa (SNY Studio) that Callaway has no control over the team.  3 of those 4 were Major Leaguers, and the other has been around Mets teams for 30 years.  When they say that Callaway has “lost the team”, I believe them.

2)     The Mets need a scapegoat for this awful season.  If a team has an unexpectedly terrible season, there usually needs to be a scapegoat.  As the old adage goes, you cannot fire the whole team, but you can fire the manager.  Note that I wrote “unexpectedly” in the first sentence of this part.  The Mets lost 92 games last year, which is terrible.  When a team has a terrible season, it is usually reasonable to expect the next season to be terrible as well.  Fairly or not, though, most people viewed the 2018 Mets differently.

While people were not readily predicting the 2018 Mets to be a playoff team, most people assumed that 2017 would prove to be an aberration because Yoenis Cespedes and the Mets’ starting-pitching staff minus Jacob deGrom spent most of 2017 on the disabled list.  Therefore, it seemed reasonable that the 2018 Mets would be at least a .500 team and would be in the running for the second Wild Card.  Unfortunately for Callaway, Cespedes will end up spending most of 2018 on the DL as well, and the stats since the start of 2015 show that the Mets are much much better with Cespedes than without him.  At the same time, deGrom, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler have essentially been healthy all year to this point.  Noah Syndergaard has been healthy for 2 of the 4 months.  Seth Lugo has been healthy as well, and he made a few starts early in the season before moving effectively to the bullpen.

In a way, Callaway has actually been hurt by the fact that the starting pitching has done well this year.  We all hoped that the Mets’ pitchers would be better and healthier this year than last year, and that has been the case.  Therefore, the fact that this pitching success has led the Mets to a 44-61 record ends up making it worse on Callaway than if the pitchers had all been terrible.  Had the pitchers been terrible and/or hurt, we would likely be blaming the pitchers (who were terrible and/or hurt last year, pre-Callaway).

Many modern “Moneyball” people say that a manager does not matter.  I am a moderate in this debate.  When a team is 44-61 as the Mets are, not even Gil Hodges nor Tony LaRussa would not have made the team a playoff team.  The Mets are terrible primarily because they have bad players – especially position players.  That said, I think that the difference between a good manager and a bad manager is somewhere between 6 and 10 wins over a full season.  While any manager can and should rely primarily on all available statistics to guide his decisions, a good manager is also able to take advantage of knowledge like: which reliever says he has “good stuff” today, which batter had great batting practice today, which normally-good player is in a funk today because of a fight with his girlfriend, which player is feeling sick today, etc.  A good manager rarely loses games because his players make mental errors or do not hustle.  A good manager’s tough decisions end up correct more often than not.

It would seem that none of the previous paragraph applies to Callaway.  Thus, given that we are 2/3 of the way through the season, maybe the Mets would have 6 more wins with a better manager.  That would mean a 50-55 record, which is actually a world of difference from 44-61.  It would give the Mets a chance to finish over .500.  More importantly, it would make the Mets feel that they are on the way back after the disastrous 70-92 2017 season.

I would love for the Mets to sign Manny Machado next year, but I know it is not happening.  The Wilpons can try to sign several players who will make the Mets much better in 2018, or they can bring in a new manager.  If the Wilpons do the latter, they can preach a change of culture, accountability, etc.  Which option is better?  I would absolutely prefer better players, because that can make more than 6 to 10 wins worth of difference.  However, which is cheaper?  Bringing in a new manager.  That is the biggest reason why I expect a new manager in 2018.

3)     The Mets wreck their managers by not letting them appear on WFAN or ESPN Radio.  This needs to be said.  Most Mets fans think of Mickey Callaway as a buffoon, partially because we never get to hear our trusted sports-radio hosts – Francesa, Kay, LaGreca, Evan Roberts, Boomer, etc. – interview the guy.  The Mets do not let their personnel speak on radio stations other than 710 WOR, and, in so doing, they set up their managers for failure.  If we were able to hear Callaway be interviewed on a weekly basis, we would hear his answers to some of our questions.  Oftentimes, we think people are misguided until we hear them provide their actual rationales.  Unfortunately, we do not get this air time with Callaway.  All we get is plenty of hosts deservedly ridiculing him for saying, “We are going to love our players…”.  This is why Callaway could truly benefit from first-hand WFAN/ESPN Radio time.

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OK, maybe Callaway would not give us much more in hypothetical WFAN/ESPN interviews than he gives us in his postgame press conferences, but there is a multiplier effect in play.  Radio hosts are nicer when discussing people who are guests on the show than when discussing people who are not.  It is human nature.  This does not mean that the radio hosts have not spoken ill of Joe Girardi nor Aaron Boone at times.  However, hosts will give those guys the benefit of the doubt, because they have working relationships that lead the hosts to assume the best from the managers.  When have you heard any sports-radio personality give Callaway the benefit of the doubt?  It never happens, because the hosts do not have relationships with the guy.  This hurts Callaway.  There is never any positivity about Mickey Callaway when it comes to sports radio, and that influences fans’ perceptions.  The Mets ensure that their managers receive primarily negative radio coverage.  Not only is this bad for Callaway, but it will also hurt his replacement as Mets manager in 2019.

I know that Keith expects Callaway to be back next year, but I think this post is way too long for that to be the case.

The Most Miserable Person in the World

This year’s MLB All-Star Game was a rather ho-hum affair.  We are less than a week removed from the game, and most MLB fans could not today recite a single memorable occurrence from that game.  Meanwhile, the most newsworthy All-Star Game occurrence was the revelation that Milwaukee Brewers reliever Josh Hader had tweeted misogynistic and homophobic things while he was in high school.

First off, obviously it is extremely inappropriate for a person to make such tweets.  That said, who is the person who dug up these tweets on the day of the All-Star Game?  There are only two possibilities, one commendable and one deplorable:

Possibility #1) A vindictive ex-girlfriend or ex-friend was “getting back” at Hader.  I really hope this was the case.  Maybe there was a time where Hader cheated on a girl, and she decided to get her revenge when he was on the biggest stage of his life.  Maybe Hader “stole” a girl from a friend, and the friend similarly decided to get revenge during the All-Star Game.  Either way, if the aggrieved party was aware that a) these tweets existed and b) Hader has/had a promising baseball career, said party might want to wait until the perfect time to unveil those tweets to the world.  This way, the party could maximize the damage to Hader’s career.  The perfect time was, of course, during the All-Star Game.  Very few people outside Milwaukee knew much about Josh Hader before Tuesday.  However, to reveal that an All-Star had once made those inappropriate tweets would be a big story, even if the name “Josh Hader” was not exactly a household name.  Therefore, the All-Star Game was the perfect time to release the tweets and thus to give Hader the most notoriety.

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Photo via Sporting News

Possibility #2) One of the most miserable people in the world dug up this tweet from the past and released it on Tuesday for the sole purpose of making Hader miserable.  Again, the tweets are inexcusable, but, as a high-school teacher, I also know that high-schoolers say, do, and tweet dumb things from time to time.  The whole point of going to school is to learn – not only academically, but also socially – so that one can live a responsible adult life.  I have taught many students who matured greatly over their high-school careers, and the last thing I would want to see is to have their careers tarnished by stupid things the students tweeted while they were in high school.

At the same time, I am sure there are miserable people out there who pore over the social-media accounts of every person who suddenly gains even a modicum of fame.  This way, these scavengers can try to wreck the person’s fame, even if the person is a good person.  By all accounts, Josh Hader has been an upstanding adult who tweeted inappropriate things as a high-schooler.  Why try to wreck the guy now, unless you are a miserable, miserable person?

If “Possibility #2” is the correct answer, then the person who uncovered these tweets surely drives in the left lane of the highway at 50 miles per hour and uses a urinal next to the only other occupied urinal when there is a line of open urinals.  What a miserable, miserable person.