Monday, January 21, 2008

Super Damned if you Do, Super Damned if you Don't

Can you boycott the Super Bowl and still call yourself a man?

This is the situation I suddenly find myself in after yesterday’s conference championship outcomes. Given that I’m from Philly, all I can do these days is treasure moments that are chock full of schadenfreude. Hell, if I can’t watch my team win, the next best thing is to watch someone pull a chokejob of epic proportions. So, when the Eagles bit the dust this season, I set myself up for a glorious post-season of rooting for New England fans to endure a level of choke artistry that I’ve grown so accustomed to during my years of Philly fandom.

It doesn’t need to be said, but a Patriots loss in the Super Bowl would be the greatest choke/collapse/dropping of the soap of all time. And while that may not be as satisfying as a championship for my city, it comes as close as I can get these days. Misery loves company, and I’m pretty fucking miserable.

Then, in one fell, Brett Favrian swoop, it all came crashing down. This is not the Super Bowl match up I had in mind. On the one side sit the New York Fucking Giants, playing David to the Goliath that is New Fucking England and their perfect Patriots.

Disaster. Is there some sort of obscure David and Goliath story that involves both characters mutually destroying each other? No? There should be, dammit.

So what the hell do I do now? Where do I place my loyalties? Can I actually boycott the Super Bowl? Because I’m pretty sure me rooting for the Patriots to go 19-0 in a Super Bowl is the equivalent of rooting for Oedipus to sleep with his mother… there’s no fun in cheering for a stomach churning inevitability. But, as an Eagles fan, me rooting for the Giants to win the Super Bowl is like rooting for Oedipus to sleep with my mother instead.

Hooray, I’m screwed!

So it’s in times like these that a man seeks comfort in the wise words of friends. And damn it all if Erik didn’t say it best when asked about the team to root for:

“We root for beer. And lots of it.”

Amen to that.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

How dare McNabb speak his mind when asked questions?

Given how frustrated I am by the Eagles these last few weeks, the last thing I want to do is spend my insane-anger-bitter-with-rage-phase talking about them more than is absolutely necessary – every mention of the team makes me tense up with the sweet cocktail of hopelessness, apprehension, and despair that only a true Philly fan understands. Let's just call it a championship-size case of blue balls and move on. So, naturally, I instead find myself in the midst of Donovan McNabb's latest media orgy, this time concerning his supposedly controversial comments concerning black quarterbacks in the NFL. Fantastic. This is exactly what I wanted on my plate as a fan following two hard to swallow losses… more lunacy surrounding my team!

Fine, I bite. What's all the fuss about? Why the hubbub? Did he call Andy Reid a white devil? Did he threaten to kill whitey? Express his support for a racially themed ultimate fighting league for babies?

Um, no. He, when prompted, mentioned that he felt like black quarterbacks were more scrutinized than white ones.

The unbelievable bastard. How dare he!?

Reading some of outraged vitriol spewing forth from bloggers and columnists alike, you’d think that McNabb himself called a press conference to announce his feelings on how black quarterbacks were treated and to proclaim all disagreeing naysayers thoroughgoing racists.

Fact is, he did NOT bring up the issue. He was asked a question, and he provided an answer based on how he felt. So how is this worth rehashing as a major story? Most critics of Donovan’s comments include a rant along the lines of “RABBLE RABBLE RABBLE, ALL quarterbacks get criticized, that’s the nature of the position!”

For example:

“McNabb then went on to spit his drivel about how black quarterbacks have it so much tougher than white quarterbacks, though when asked, he offered no empirical evidence. Maybe Donovan hasn't been paying attention to the treatment of Rex Grossman, or Jets fans cheering when Chad Pennington got injured, or the criticism leveled at Eli Manning on a weekly basis.”

Did McNabb say that white quarterbacks aren’t criticized? Not to my knowledge. It’s clear, particularly after his press-conference on the matter, that he believes all QBs are scrutinized.... he just thinks there’s some more scrutiny to the play of black quarterbacks.

You’ll note that McNabb never came out and cried racism concerning the discussion of African-American quarterbacks, he simply answered that he believes that they’re held to a different set of standards – in McNabb's case, he’s seen critics, white and black alike, play the race card in their critiques of his play. You want empirical evidence? If anyone can comment on dealing with racially tinged criticism, it’s McNabb. I’m pretty sure we don’t need to rehash the ludicrous Rush Limbaugh debacle of 2003 (side note: it was damn near impossible to find a video clip of this), not to mention the widely publicized article by Philly NCAAP head J. Whyatt Mondesire.

So why the brouhaha? The man was asked how he felt on a certain subject, answered based on his own experiences with the media, and then is somehow labeled a moronic crybaby making much ado about nothing. This is obviously a logical chain of events.

Fact is, McNabb has seen his fair share of race-based criticism. And, since I’m having trouble finding a note to end on, I’ll just quote MJD’s particularly well-phrased take on the matter:

“The bigger story is our need to immediately shout him down and insist that he couldn't possibly be right, despite the fact that he's in a better position to judge than just about anyone on earth.”

Couldn’t have said it better.


Some more sane discussion at The 700 Level

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

One If By Land, Two If By Rusty QB

I’m an Eagles fan.

Obviously, I’m not taking this loss to the Redskins particularly well right now.

Obviously, I’m having conniptions about the Birds’ 0-2 start.

Obviously, I’m on a dangerous path to spontaneous combustion watching this ESPN post-game coverage.

Honestly, I feel like mauling the entire assembly of anchors and reporting staff.

Stuart Scott: Stop talking. You and your wannabe hip-speak are like the waving red flag to my charging bull. Everyone knows we booed Santa. Yes, there are cheesesteaks in Philly. Now, settle down before I scoop out your scary eye with a spoon and force feed it to you. Or, in Stu Scott speak: Sizzle your bizzle before I scizzle your izzle and force fizzle you that ish. Understizzle?

Scratch that, we have a new target for my scorn - Sal Paolantonio just uttered the phrase “Ghost of Jeff Garcia” to refer to Philly fans and their QB concerns. Suck yourself, Sal. Yes, what we need in this city is a 37 year-old leading an increasingly decrepit team. This is quite obviously the solution to all the Eagles woes. Hell, let’s dial up Jeff George while we’re in the market for ancient QBs.

Ugh. And here we go with the “Eagles are 1-6 in McNabb’s last 7 starts” idiocy. I can’t stress enough that this is a matter of play calling. Really, I can’t. What happened when McNabb went down last year and Jeff Garcia stepped in? Why, the Eagles actually had a normal run/pass ratio! And do you know what happened when Andy Reid stopped channeling Mike Martz? They won games! Odd how it took a season ending injury to McNabb for the coach to sober up and design a game plan not designed by aerially obsessive assclowns. I’d delve into this more, but I already did in January. And it was just as maddening then.

Let’s get down to the matter at hand: McNabb looks uncomfortable. And why shouldn’t he? It’s fairly well known that it takes over a year to truly recover from an ACL injury… and, making use of this knowledge, Andy Reid has decided to have Donovan shake off the rust by reverting back to an awe-inspiring 2 pass/1 run ratio. Which makes about as much sense as wearing a bacon suit to PETA convention.

If your quarterback is struggling, why would you continue to force a round peg into a square hole? Would you keep throwing rock if your opponent kept throwing paper? Wouldn’t it make sense to, say, mix it up a bit and throw in some scissors (AKA Brian Westbrook and his 5+ yards per carry) every here and there? Maybe run the ball more than 17 times? Nah. Good ol’ Rock. Nothing beats rock!

This is going to be a long season. Commence the rage blackout.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Biased Towards Bias 2: The Umpires Strike Back

As much as I wanted to name this post “Referee Bias 2: Electric Boogaloo,” I thought I’d go for the incredibly obvious wordplay instead. Substance and parody over randomness, I guess. Let’s move on.

A few months ago, the New York Times featured a “juicy” study concerning the racial biases of NBA referees. Naturally, everyone went apeshit over the idea. I mean, how could they not? After all, the halo of authenticity provided by academic study gives you a free pass to run with the sexiest of all headlines:


Obviously, I exaggerate. Still, it’s hard to deny that talking heads love the idea of research backing up stories on topics as volatile as race. University! Academia! STATISTICS! It’s all just so sexy… a columnist’s wet dream. Problem is, people rush to conclusions without really getting to the bottom of what the research says.

Still, you might be wondering why I’m talking about the NBA Ref study in August. Well, history tends to repeat itself: It’s baseball’s turn to share the headlines.

And here we are again. Another study, another claim concerning inter-racial call biases. Unfortunately, it’s probably going to prove to be another example of exaggerated columnist fodder.

So, like I did last time, I will throw out the following disclaimer: I am not an expert. I am not a statistician. I’m a former research assistant in psychology who decided to jump ship to the much more exciting world of trading. This qualifies me for…well, dick. And man did that sentence sound better in my head. Point is, I’m just a guy with some basic stats background. Do with this information what you will.

Anyway, unlike the NYT article (which provided a link to the actual NBA ref study), I had to do a little digging to find Hamermesh’s study/results. The study’s design is actually pretty interesting, and I found their comparison of QuesTec to non-QuesTec umpire calls fascinating – I like the idea of comparing ump decision making with and without scrutiny. Regardless, I spent most of my time going over their data and conclusions. Here’s a quick recap:

“The analysis of individual pitches and game outcomes suggests that baseball umpires express racial/ethnic preferences in their decisions about players’ performances. Pitches are more likely to be called strikes when the umpire shares the race/ethnicity of the starting pitcher, an effect that becomes significantly stronger when umpire behavior is less well monitored. The evidence also suggests that this bias is strong enough to affect measured performance and games’ outcomes. As in many other fields, racial/ethnic preferences work in all directions—most people give preference to members of their own group. The difference in MLB, as in so many other fields of endeavor, is that power belongs disproportionately to members of the majority—White—group (Hamermesh, 19).”

In studies with claims like these, I try to immediately look for the common test – the comparison across comparable conditions that truly shows me a difference BETWEEN groups. This is an important point if you’re going to claim bias; showing me that white umps call more strikes for white pitchers is only bias if, say, black umps AREN’T doing the same. If both seem to call more strikes for white players, there are questions to be asked, but they aren’t questions of racial bias. Table 2 (Page 26 of the PDF) has the basic percentages of pitches called for strikes by ump/pitcher ethnicity.

Just looking at the percentages, there’s some variability between umpires by race… but then you notice the number of total pitches analyzed by each umpire ethnicity. Holy mother of discrepancy! Here’s a simplified table from page 26, including only called pitch data and some simple sums:

Um. This looks like a data problem. A quick review of the study’s first table (which I should have spent some more time on initially) reveals that our umpire sample size is 93, and a whopping 85 of the 93 umps tracked are white. 5 are black, and 3 are Hispanic. And right here, at least in my mind, you can throw out the study’s results, regardless of how elegant the rest of the paper may seem.

You cannot make sweeping statements of race and racial bias with subject groups this small. There is nothing to infer. Sure, you might have enough total pitches viewed by umps of all ethnicities to generate a statistical comparison that looks legitimate… but, at the end of the day, you’re making key assumptions about racial attitudes based on the work of 3-5 people. An experiment/study’s conditions need to be comparable in number. You wouldn’t compare the averaged IQ tests of 85 students to the average of 5 other students and expect to gain any kind of brilliant insight. It’s the same deal here.

Here’s a nice FAQ about the study as composed by the authors. They address a lot of issues, including the point that their study does NOT make any assumptions concerning the consciousness of the ump’s bias. It’s worth a read, but it doesn’t address my point concerning their umpire sample sizes. In fact, they assert the opposite:

The basic idea behind these tests is that, because randomness is completely unpredictable, its average effect will diminish as the size of the sample increases. An effect that persists despite a very large sample, as ours is, almost certainly is not random. All our results used standard methodology to account explicitly for the possible role of randomness (Hamermesh FAQ, 1).

The problem is that, while the sample of pitches is quite large, the umpire sample is not. 3 umpires can’t possibly make for a full comparison group. It’s that simple.

Look, I’m not here to try and deny that racism (or racial disparity) exists in the world of sports. If anything, the study’s presented ethnic breakdown of umpires and players emphasizes the discrepancy in baseball’s racial composition. That, however, does not mean we need to jump to conclusions about racism and its effect on the game – a study does not a reality make.

But hey, if Sportscenter needs a headline, I’ll just generate a few to make for good controversial conversation and general screaming:

Tour de France Riders: Terrorists?

NFL Refs: Baby-rapists?

NASCAR Drivers: Necrophiliac-Cult Leaders?

Talk amongst yourselves.

Are baseball Umpires Racist?

Strike Three: Umpires’ Demand for Discrimination

FAQs: Strike Three

Biased Towards Bias: What’s With Those NBA Refs?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Everybody Loves Barry

Wow, a super-powers drug you can just rub into your skin? You’d think it’d be something you have to freebase!

–Phillip J. Fry

As Barry Bonds continues his march (read: agonizing crawl) towards the hallowed number of 755, I know I’m in the minority when I say that I can’t wait for Bonds to knock one out of the park. I should clarify: I’m not a fan, sympathizer, or illegitimate offspring of Barry Bonds. I despise the man. I think he’s an abrasive douchebag with a colossal cranium and inversely proportionate cajones. Unfortunately, I’m not naive enough to spend my time wishing and hoping that cheating jerk-offs won’t break records. Shit happens. Cheaters prosper. We move on.

Having accepted this inevitability, I just want this pursuit to be over with… I’d like to tear that god-forsaken homerun band-aid off as soon as humanly possible. Problem is, until that moment comes, the circus surrounding the record becomes increasingly more unbearable. Will Selig follow Bonds from city to city? Will Hank Aaron be present? What the balls do I care?! Unless there’s breaking news about Aaron challenging Bonds to roshambo for the title of “Homerun King,” I’m really not interested in the circumstances surrounding the record being set. You know, minus that whole steroids dealie. That still seems somewhat important. In any case, if I have to watch one more Sportscenter featuring analysts go ‘round and ‘round in another game of “Will He – Won’t He?”, I may be forced to Eternal Sunshine my memory of the words “Barry” and “Bonds,” my love of Barry White and US Treasury Bonds be damned.

Anyway, there does seem to be one potential silver lining to Bonds’ soon-breaking of the record: if and when another player challenges his mark, we’ll all be thrilled to the point liquid explosion. It would be glorious, regardless of who breaks his record… even if they happen to prefer muscular, she-man types. That is, it will be glorious until the next generation of steroid rumors emerge. I guess silver lining is probably a stretch… more than anything, we’ll probably start pining for days when players used performance enhancers instead of being evil genetically engineered supermutant half-giant half-ogre abominations of modern science. So we have that to look forward to.

But I digress. I’ll just let Jimmy Valmer conclude my ramblings:

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Beware of Vick

I’d write something about the whole Mike Vick business, but irony speaks louder than words. Irony in the form of delicious pictures:

Let this be a lesson to you illiterate dogs out there.

Ironic: Vick holding "Beware of Vick" Sign [NCAA BBS]

Late Cite: Epic Carnival, who apparently beat me to the punch on this one.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Monday, July 16, 2007

At a loss for 10,000 words...

It's now officially official (which is to say, for real for real) – those fightin' Philadelphia Phillies are the first sports franchise ever to reach the much maligned milestone that is 10,000 losses. Milestone may not even be the right word for this dubious honor, as it seems a bit odd to refer to a historic level of sports-futility with a word associated with, well, actual achievements. I'm going with anti-milestone, but only because "anal-leakage-stone" is a smidgen too clumsy to be used consistently.

Anyway, anti-milestone or not, 10,000 losses is a fairly useless statistic. More than anything, it's proof that the franchise has existed for 125 seasons. Did the team really become worse historically when it went from loss 9,999 to 10,000? No. Does the fact that they've made the playoffs only nine times in their 125 years of existence speak more to their general awfulness? Probably. But I'm not writing this to do an umpteenth recap of how awful the Phillies have been throughout their history; it's a story that's gotten plenty of coverage by individuals more dedicated to researching baseball ineptitude than myself. To me, #10,000 is just another in a long line of psychological batterings I’ve witnessed in my 24 years as a Philadelphia fan.

It’s obviously just one game in the middle of this regular season, and it’s obviously a statistical plateau I’ve seen coming for a few years now. Still, when Ryan Howard struck out to close the books on loss 10K, my mind could only focus on a number of other Philly losses. It’s a five-digit reminder of a lifetime of almosts, wait-til-next-years, and what-could-have-beens. It’s Joe fucking Carter, a Stanley Cup finals sweep, Shaq and Kobe, and 3 NFC Championships with a vomitful Super Bowl. 24 years, 4 sports, 0 titles. These are the numbers that come to my mind after loss 10,000. Maybe now you’ll understand why a Philly fan would boo his own mother on an off day.

So while this season is far from over, and despite loss number 10,000 being about as meaningless as the one that preceded it, I can’t help but get ahead of myself with the what-ifs. In my world, tomorrow is a day where Donovan McNabb’s leg could fall off, where Chase Utely’s hands could spontaneously combust, and where Billy King might decide to rock a starting five comprised entirely of guys named “Shavlik.” Nevertheless, when all is said and done, I’ll keep plugging along with the hope that, tomorrow, our fair city will sport a team that doesn’t ultimately drop the soap. Such is life for a Philadelphia fanatic – rabid paranoia and delusions of grandeur.

And now, rather than continue this senseless rambling, I head to bed… where visions of Mitch Williams dance in my head.