The Phillies’ abyss of mediocrity

philadelphia_phillies_cap_1970_-_1991

PHILADELPHIA, PA – Every Phillies fan knew the club was tossing the 2016 season. The gaggle of anonymous talent they trotted out on opening day was disenchanting. In the middle of May, despite cellar dweller expectations, the Phillies had surprised even the most cynical fans with mediocre results. By June first, the Phillies were playing .500 baseball and a glimmer of hope set in. However, the haunting reality of a hodgepodge of players glued together by hope and a dream eroded that optimism. Aside from Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola, Jeremy Helickson and an exclusive coterie of other pitchers, everyone should be on the chopping block.

Odubal Herrara was an all-star this year for the sole fact that he was the best player on one of the worst teams. No one questions the energy El Torito injects into a lifeless lineup, but with a line of .286/15/49 he is struggling to be average. The corner outfield positions saw a rotating blend of anyone swinging a hot bat, and with several minor league players tabbed as elite, top 10 prospects in all of baseball, and a decent free agent outfield class, there’s no reason to hold on to below average outfielders.

Maikel Franco anchors the infield at third base and Freddy Galvis has been the post-Jimmy Rollins band aid for the past few years. Franco isn’t going anywhere. He has the skills to be an everyday, middle of the order type player and he still has time to develop. Although Glavis is shaping into a fan favorite and had a career year, .241/20/67 campaign, he is still a charity case rather than a lynchpin in the middle of the infield. I could see holding onto him as one of the longest tenured players on the team, but at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds it’s doubtful he’ll have another year like this one.

Ryan Howard bowed out after a hero’s ovation at the end of the season. It’s nice when a player with a cemented legacy in Phillies history steps away knowing he’s got nothing left to give – a classy move indeed. With Howard cleared from the roster and payroll, the front office could upgrade by signing Mitch Moreland. Outside of Moreland, the free agent infield class is limited, but infielders are one commodity the fightens have plenty of. JP Crawford is the number two prospect in all of baseball. He’s still young, but Ceaser Hernandez or Galvis can hold down the position until he’s ready. The place holders in the infield, Tommy Josef and Darrin Ruf can be traded. Ruf, whom has split time in the outfield and first base, won’t command much. Tommy Josef put together a decent season and as a former first-round pick of the Giants, might collect a fair return.

There are options behind the plate with AJ Ellis and Jorge Alfaro. Even though Cameron Rupp carried most of the responsibility this year, there isn’t much to write home about. The common philosophy with catchers is to trade offensive production for leadership skills. Rupp is short on both. AJ Ellis is a sufficient replacement with veteran qualities while Jorge Alfaro is the clear future franchise catcher. The Phillies should be able to re-sign Ellis and possibly grab another catcher on the free agent market since there is a wealth of catching talent available.

In 2016, the pitching staff was mercurial at best. There were times were Vinny Valasquez dazzled fans with an electric fastball and bulldog mentality, but the magic fizzled out and ended with an ERA north of 4 – Aaron Nola suffered similar results. Nola and Valasquez are still young, with Nola possessing the clear upside of the two. Further down in the rotation are Jeremy Helickson and Jerad Eickhoff whom turned in respectable seasons and have the potential to be strong middle of the rotation forces. Beyond those four arms there is a massive amount of calculus to be figured out. Hector Neris showed glimpses of greatness, but needs to be more consistent, while the rest of the staff posted a startlingly high ERA.

There are no more excuses for the Phillies to turn out an embarrassing product. The terms of the media deal they signed with Comcast Sports Net kicks in this year and they should have an arsenal of cash to spend. The farm system is replete with quality talent right at the cusp of breaking through to the big leagues, so there isn’t much to be given up by signing a few top-talent free agents to provide optimism for the fan-base while supplying some energy and veteran leadership in the clubhouse.

Advertisements

terry-francona-mlb-boston-red-sox-cleveland-indians-850x560

Congratulations, Cleveland. You just lost the World Series.

By Matt Enuco

PHILADELPHIA, PA – The Cleveland Indians just punched their ticket to the fall classic with a 3-0 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. After the Champagne bubbles have gone flat, there will be a long wait leading up to the World Series, and with the Tribe riding such an epic hot streak, this down time could spell disaster.

Let’s look at the last decade. Only the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies won the fall classic after having more rest than their opponent. Six teams with more rest before game one of the World Series lost. The remaining three were toss ups with both teams clinching on the same day, or in the same amount of games.

In 2006, the Detroit Tigers lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals after having run through the divisional and championship series. 2007 was a similar story for the Colorado Rockies. After sweeping the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Boston Red Sox returned the favor after nine days of rest. The same story played out in 2009 for the Phillies, 2012 for the Tigers, 2014 for the Royals and the Mets in 2015.

This kiss of death can be broken down even further. In each of these years the losing team averaged six days off before the World Series, with the longest break for the aforementioned Rockies. With the first game of the 2016 series slated for October 25, the Indians fall just shy of the six-day benchmark. Even more compelling is the fact that, besides the All-Star break, the Indians didn’t have more than one day off between games all season. Perhaps they can defy the odds, but with such a young team riding a wave of momentum, long period of rest spell disaster..

Common baseball wisdom is that rest is good for a pitching staff, but toxic for hitters. In 2012, Detroit bounded through the playoffs so quickly that they had to play simulated games to try and keep arms loose and bats fresh. But as many players have intimated in the past, there is no substitute for the adrenaline of playing in a real game.

Even though Terry Francona has a penchant for lifting hexes, I’m not sure his magic touch can undo the fate awaiting the Cleveland Indians.

The Revised American Dream

lead_960.jpg

Since the economic collapse of 2008, many people have struggled to recover. The Great Recession obliterated the job market for baby boomers and millennials. Even more alarming, by 2015 the employment rates for young people still hadn’t recovered to precession levels. In a post-recession universe, Americans may need to consider the possibility that the economy may never see that level of employment ever again. Up until 2008, a college degree was considered essential to increasing earning potential. However, with 1.2 trillion dollars in outstanding student loan debt, escalating college tuition, and a shrinking job market it is time to seriously reconsider a college degree.

In 1965, Lynden Bayens Johnson signed the Higher Education Act providing federal financial assistance to students whom couldn’t previously afford it. An estimated 20 million new college students had access to an affordable college degree, and the opportunity to improved their socioeconomic circumstances. Since 1980, the average tuition and fees of public institutions have tripled since 1975; an alarming rate even considering the time value of money. Even though the evidence indicates that people with college degrees earn more over their career than those without, the job pool for college educated adults has been drained by economic erosion from overgrown payrolls. American companies have shed millions of jobs since the recession, and there is no indication they will ever return. Even after we were promised that a college degree and hard work would open doors to socioeconomic mobility, it seems those doors have been slammed shut by crippling debt market meltdowns.

The idea and fantasy of college is so deeply engrained into our culture that more and more students are entering the gilded gates ignorant to what awaits them. And with federal student lending at a strong hum, universities are adjusting admission standards to allow more and more students onto their balance sheets. After all, you don’t make money by rejecting students. The reality after college is a dizzying and frustrating cycle of underemployment. A recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts indicated that besides the dim outlook for recent grads landing the high paying job they dreamed of, there is a subcategory of graduates that are underemployed. Surprising enough as this revelation is, a deeper analysis of social trends among millennials sheds light on where 20 somethings are finding work/life balance.

It isn’t that youngsters aren’t willing to work; more so that recent college graduates are increasingly recalibrating the risk/reward balance. A Newsweek article from 2014 points out how millennials accounted for 40% of the unemployed working population. However, millennials are exposing the risk/reward balance to new variables, taking charge of their destinies and starting new small businesses. Evidently, it appears that working in a post Great Recession world has inspired a new generation of small business owners intent on providing quality services and products. This is a paradigm shift from the common vocational arithmetic that includes college degree = good paying job opportunities. My view is that such shifts in thinking is due to a cyclical flow of wealth. Tech start-ups notwithstanding, the universe of new products reaching markets is shrinking, and rather than search for these elusive grains of fortune, millennials have focused on refining and improving simple products.

For example, Annheuser Bush, Miller Coors and SABMiller control 74.3% of market share for beer. Smaller brewing companies, commonly known as micro-brews, have popped up as quality alternatives to mass produced suds. Most of these shops have started in garages with five gallon buckets, obscure yeasts and esoteric hops that produce delicious beers in several styles. Ballast Point is one such story and had incredible success with their Sculpin IPA (India Pale Ale). Since 2007, Sculpin has received a host of awards capped off by a Beer Advocate rating of 97. After Ballast Point established itself as a quality brewery, a large corporation swooped in to swallow up the competition. Late in 2015, Constellation brands acquired Ballast Point brewery for a reported one billion dollars, illustrating the value in providing a better product on a small scale in hopes of being bought out. It is a common tale in the tech universe, and becoming a business model in other industries.

Besides the intent to sell your garage start-up for billions of dollars, the work/life balance controlled from answering only to yourself makes small business very attractive. Add the glamour of modest lifestyles in far-off locations and you have a recipe for success. The question isn’t one of success, it’s more about failure. How can you fail if you enjoy what you are doing while living within your means, and working under your own parameters? Millennial understand this well.

So, Is a college degree necessary to brew beer? Certainly not, although an understanding of chemistry would certainly enhance your ability to create something worth drinking. But balancing out the rising cost of higher education with the probability of landing a job that will pay enough to avoid defaulting on those loans is becoming more clear. With financial stability being pushed deeper into our professional lives, simply getting a degree just to have options seems an expensive option.

Additionally, consider how wealth continues to flow to highest one percent of earners, their positions within overgrown corporations and how those entities wield their capital to consume competition. In 1970, 29% of aggregate U.S. income went to the upper-income tier. By 2014, a staggering 49% of U.S. aggregate income went to the wealthiest households. With so much capital at the top, some of it has to trickle down in some form. The trick for millennials, and subsequent generations, is to anticipate how the wealthy spend their money, and capitalize on those opportunities. In a sense, it’s a return to the fundamental American dream.

So, the one industry that seems to be seeing extraordinary growth are the trade jobs. The bureau of Labor Statistics reports that pipe fitters will be one of the highest growth professions for the next eight years, with a growth rate of 12%. This figure dwarfs all other categories. Moreover, training takes place on the job through apprenticeships or minor tuition bills in technical school. Even more attractive is that the average salary is $50k with the latitude to freelance and acquire overtime. Pipe fitters are not the only vocation seeing this kind of grown; electricians and HVAC technicians are also benefiting from this type of trickle-down economics while lawn care professionals are doing a wonderful job of claiming their share of 78 billion dollar market.

In each American generation, immigrants ventured across oceans for opportunity. We are at pivotal moment as a nation. It seems we have reached the pinnacle of our strength, and we must adapt to a shrinking world. The U.S. still maintains 39% of the worlds wealth, but there are two edifying lessons we have learned from history. First, is that empires fall; and second, is that history repeats itself.

100% of the time, we make 50% of the people unhappy.

Image

March 5, 2014 – When I was a boy I loved to play baseball.  It didn’t matter whether I was playing a game, having a catch or swinging a bat; all of those activities sounded great to me.  I enjoyed the smell of my leather glove and the laces of the ball underneath my fingers.  In my impatient and energetic youth I wanted to play baseball, not watch it.

Before Major League Baseball instituted rate of play rules, the games used to trod along lulling most fans into a gentle slumber.  In an effort to make Major League Baseball palatable to new fans the commissioner’s office suggested batters stay in the box between pitches and pitchers deliver a pitch every twelve seconds.  As you might imagine, and if you’ve watched a game recently there haven’t been many delay of game calls.  The average length of game in June of 2013 was roughly two hours and fifty-five minutes according to a Boston Globe article.  With the new instant replay review rules instituted this year those rules will be undermined.

Interrupting the momentum of a game is nothing new to other sports.  NFL football games are made for TV events.  Attending one of these epic events is both tragic and comic.  The NBA is more akin to a rap concert than a sporting event.  There are five timeouts in each half and the last two minutes of the game take forty five minutes to play out.  In-between the intricate malaise of possession and timeouts the lights dim and a voice bellows from the rafters as a spotlight bounces around the arena to find an employee cuffing a microphone and chanting, “Yo, yo, yo we got Michael here about to shoot for his chance to win two free tickets to tomorrow nights’ game.  Make some nooiiissse!”

Baseball doesn’t have that; yet.  The acceptance and implementation of expanded replay on certain calls is Mephistopheles rapping on Faust’s door.

In 2008, the commissioner’s office approved the use of video replay for foul balls and homeruns.  In the past five years the system has worked fairly well.  Pauses have been innocuous and unnoticeable.  But, in 2014 managers will have the ability to challenge one play in the first six innings and three more in the final three innings.  If the manager successfully challenges a call in the first six innings he retains that challenge for the rest of the game.

Major League Baseball presumes the review process will only take one minute and fifteen seconds.  And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge I want to sell you.  Besides the cynical notion of cramming more advertising revenue into broadcasts, taking time to review calls will grind down the pace of the game; essentially nullifying any improvements to rate of play.  The commissioner’s office adopted the review policies in the name of 100% accuracy on all calls.  However, an adroit article written by Gil Imber of Bleacherreport.com points out that umpires get the call right 99.5% of the time without video review.

Money makes the world go’round. In 2012, Major League Baseball signed agreements with ESPN, Fox and TBS that kick in this season.  MLB stands to earn $12 billion over eight years, doubling their annual media rights revenue to $1.5 billion.  The deal expands coverage to Latin American countries and culls a wider fan base allowing networks to promote access to consumers.  Combine greater coverage with more available ad space and the MLB and media networks have significantly increased revenue margins.

For example, add five minutes and thirty seconds of commercial breaks at an average cost of $400,000 per 30 second ad (price paid in 2009 for World Series ad slots) and the networks rake in an extra $4.4 million per game.  Let’s assume the average ad sales revenue for each regular season game is a quarter of that sum; $1.1 million.  Multiply that by twelve to fifteen separate games a day, control for differences in market value and ad slots and then extrapolate even further for increased international broadcasts and the money is rolling in.  There’s no way to lose in this deal.  MLB promotes its product and is paid handsomely for it, while the networks gain access on the front and back ends with copyright deals and ad revenues.  A romantic view of baseball is a luxury fans have.  On the inside of the iron gates baseball is a business.

Increasing profit margins doesn’t bother me as much as the damage to the game this will have.  Changing the rules to accommodate perfection in a game where we admire imperfection runs contrary to baseball’s ethos.  Journalists, authors and arm chair philosophers like to highlight that only in baseball can you fail seven times out of ten and be a hall of famer.

In my opinion, the pressure to assimilate comes from other sports and the few game changing mistakes.  On June 2, 2010 Armando Galarraga threw a twenty-eight out perfect game.  Umpire, Jim Joyce botched a call on the twenty seventh out stripping Galarraga of a career moment.  Instead, Galarraga will be remembered in trivia handbooks for generations.  And later, he turned his misfortune into a book coauthored by the antagonist, Jim Joyce.  However, the lesson here isn’t about baseball.  What should be taken away from this historic blunder is the grace of humanity.  Baseball was only the backdrop to a greater narrative that night and serves to remind all of us of our fallibility.

Finally, there are specific tactical advantages to the review rules.  Most alarming among them is using challenges as a surrogate for mound visits.  Coaches are given two trips to the mound before they have to replace the pitcher.  On the second trip the skipper has to pull the pitcher.  If managers can offer a live arm some relief by occupying time with frivolous challenges the complexion of the game can change very quickly.  Often overlooked, momentum is an enormous factor in managerial decision making.  Sometimes, pitching coaches take mound visits just to break up the other team’s momentum.  By offering challenges late in the game MLB has essentially given managers the ability to break momentum three additional times.

Above all, Umpires are in the unenviable position of making 100% of the fans unhappy 50% of the time.  Some may offer that video review will ease the pressure from their shoulders, but what happens to an umpire if they are on the receiving end of a slew of tough calls and they get it wrong?  Overpaid athletes have bad seasons too; why do we hold umpires to higher standards?  In Imber’s article he points out that even in bad games umpires still get 99.1% of the calls right.

As I grew older and learned the subtle nuances of baseball I fell deeper in love with our national pastime.  My short time in professional baseball was an edifying experience and one I’ll never forget.  In my retirement I enjoy participating in the myriad reminiscences with former teammates, rehashing the “good ol days.”  Every year removed from playing offers a new lesson in the game and I am completely punch-drunk in love with baseball.  Every winter, I jones for a game.  In the spring I come home from practice and immediately search for a Cactus League game on TV.  Since I don’t have the youthful spring in my step anymore, watching the human narrative unfold on a baseball field is my own personal heaven.

Spring to Fall

20140210-145901.jpg

​”Hey, you could have a real job,” Alan Regier suggested from his pitcher’s mound pulpit. I sat in the crowd of minor leaguers at my first spring training with the Chicago White Sox. Regier’s lesson sounded hollow when I thought back to thirty games in thirty days in the previous season. By the end of last season I had lost fifteen pounds, played through a pulled quadriceps muscle and suffered typical bumps and bruises on a daily basis. I’m not talking about thirty show and go’s, or batting practice at 5 pm game at 7 pm. I had the dubious honor of playing with true rookies. This meant report at 11:30 am, extra hitting at 12:30, weights at 1:30, orientation and stretch at 3, team defense at 3:45, batting practice at 4:30, find time for dinner at 5:30, starters stretch at 6:30 and play at 7. Rinse and repeat for sixty-eight games in seventy-five days. Most of us did this in pursuit of a once in a lifetime dream and a slim chance of success. But, make no mistake; I earned every cent of that $1,050 dollar a month salary. I sat underneath a scorching Arizona sun at 6:30 in the morning and dismissed his pedantic words of wisdom.
​Ozzie Guillen popped out from behind a fence when Regier finished and offered his words of encouragement. The energy he showed was infectious. He bounced around to illustrate every concept he wanted to express. There wasn’t anything lost with Guillen. He was going to drill home the basic baseball mantra; play hard, respect the game, respect the organization and never put your pants underneath your cleats. His passion fueled a dimming flame in me to play baseball. I was reminded that it was a gift to be here and they could find a thousand guys working in cube farms that would mortgage their future for the opportunity in front of us. Even still, it felt like work.

​Two weeks later I was on a plane heading back to New Jersey.

​As spring training report dates roll out and the players migrate to Florida and Arizona for a month I’m reminded of how lucky I was to have been there. After I decided to end my baseball career I searched for a “real job”. It took me three years to land my second career as a teacher. The entire process was more emotionally grueling than any practice or game. And since being hired I have learned what it means to have a “job” and go to “work”.
​For many of the athletes I met on my journey to professional baseball the skills came easy. At each level, from college to summer leagues and then professionally the weaker athletes washed out. At the top rung of this ladder are the athletic phenoms. I met the eighteen year old slugger who deposits balls in the upper deck during batting practice, the million dollar arm with a two cent head, the first round pick from LSU and the twenty-nine year old career minor leaguer. Even though I was a thirty-sixth round draft pick, we could all share the experience of being exceptional. We were exceptional.
​In college I often wondered what it was like to be a regular student. My teammates and I never knew what it was like to have two or three classes for the day, hammer out some homework and then have complete freedom in front of us. I had to plan a gym session in-between class and prepare myself for a six hour practice later that night. I complained about it then, but I would sell my soul for another shot.
​The reality that we came to was that we were different from most people. The kind of person it takes to be a collegiate or professional athlete is different from your average Joe. We practice, tweak and train. We scrutinize each part of the game ad nauseam. If you ever find yourself at a social gathering with guys who played college ball against or with each other they’ll break down a 2-1 change-up to the six hitter in the fifth inning of a three-run ball game. It seems insignificant, but to those guys it could have been the turning point in a season.
​All of this cathartic drivel I’ve just given you is the sum of what I once was. I used to be exceptional, but now I’m just a regular guy. And that has been the hardest lesson for me to learn, and most importantly accept. I’m not used to accepting mediocrity. I assess, revise, train, practice and improve. For me, accepting mediocrity is the equivalent of accepting failure.
When the Seahawks won the Super Bowl the media storyline was Russell Wilson’s “Why not us?” speech. I used to believe that and in some ways I still do. But living inside the mundane teacup twirl of life is humbling. So, to my friends who are still playing, cherish every at bat and soak up every moment sitting in the dugout. Alan Regier was right; you could have a real job. Your exceptionality will run out and probably sooner than you’re ready to admit. Only the exceptions to the exceptional get to choose when it’s over. Most of us are told when the magic well has dried up.

Bronson Arroyo agreed to terms with the Arizona Diamondbacks on a two year, $23.5 million deal yesterday. The agreement includes a club option for a third year.

Will Burnett say yes to the Steel City?

Image

With a disappointing Super Bowl behind us most hot-stovers are anxiously looking forward to Thursday, when pitchers and catchers report to spring training for the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Each day following, a new club opens up spring workouts and in three weeks most of us will rush home from work to catch the tail end of a Grapefruit league debacle between the Phillies and Mets.  If nothing more than to satisfy our nine-inning itch nagging us since October, perhaps some of us will also turn up the thermostat, put on some shorts and a t-shirt to channel the tropical heat while the relentless snow falls outside.  I’m sure there are more than a few of you dying for a dirty-water-dog from your local ball park accompanied by a ten dollar brew.  On March first it’s the best money you’ve spent all winter.  But, aside from practicing steal breaks in my living room and boiling hot-dogs as my potpourri there are a few loose ends clubs and players need to tie up before spring training gets into full swing.

With Masahiro Tanaka signing a $153 million dollar deal with the Yankees the frenzy for pitching has tempered to a low sizzle.  A few quality arms still remain unsigned in the home stretch to spring training.  Ervin Santana turns thirty one this year and is looking for a long-term deal to take him into the sunset of his career.  It’s been reported by the Kansas City Star that Santana is pursuing a five year deal in the neighborhood of $112 million.  Coming off a career ERA year of 3.24 it’s unlikely he’ll remane unsigned for too much longer. Although, he’ll have to settle for a lot less money.  The common wisdom among the baseball literati see Santana landing a one or two year deal in the $12 to $15 million dollar range.  A fair price for a team in the market for a middle rotation or number two starter who fills the strike zone.  

Another big name still outside in the cold is Ubaldo Jimenez.  With a 3.30 ERA last season and a career high strikeout rate, Jimenez could be an asset for a club looking to improve their starting rotation.  In 2010, Jimenez had one of the best starts to a season in history.  He finished with a 2.88 ERA and a 19-8 win/loss record.  However, he also posted a career high in wild pitches with 16.  Since 2010 Jimenez has struggled with his command and most clubs in the mix to sign him will certainly take a long look at his mechanics.  It’s been reported that Cleveland tendered a $14.1 million dollar offer and Baltimore and the New York Yankees are courting the hurler, but people close to Jimenez seem to think Toronto has an edge over the other suiters.  The city of Toronto fits Jimenez’s “worldly” penchant and could remove him far enough away from the spotlight to allow him to refine his mechanics with pitching coach, Pete Walker.  

Perhaps the biggest two names unsigned are Bronson Arroyo and AJ Burnett.  Arroyo has bounced around the league, but found a comfortable spot in Cincinnati for the last eight years.  Even though he is thirty-seven years old, Arroyo has never been on the disabled list.  This fact should assuage fears of his age and risk of depreciating value.  Teams like the Phillies could find a soft spot for the reliable right-hander between Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in the rotation or place him as a dominant third starter.  The only factor holding most teams back must be the price tag.  At three years, $30 million dollars some teams scoff at these numbers.  But, this late in the off-season and the desperation expressed by Arroyo it could be a happy marriage with anyone willing to get a deal done in the $22-$28 million dollar range for three years.  Another option, take him for two years at $15-$18 million with an option for a third at $10-$12.  Whatever the case, Arroyo should find a home quickly.  He won’t last much longer on the market with the type of consistent numbers he has.  But, Arroyo should avoid the cautionary tale of Kyle Lohse throwing bullpens at a sandlot in Arizona holding out for more money until signing in mid-March (twice, 2004 and 2013).  

The final free agent pitcher on the market worth talking about is AJ Burnett.  AJ was a conundrum wrapped up in an enigma for three years with the Yankees.  Whenever he pitched he either got torched or threw a gem with little run support.  It was painful to watch.  He began a promising career with Florida, moved on to Toronto and then landed with the Yankees.  In 2009, Burnett won a world series with the Bronx Bombers, but fell from grace after a few dismal seasons.  For the past two years he’s found a renaissance with Pittsburgh.  Whether or not any other clubs are interested in signing him should be irrelevant in his decision.  He”s thirty-seven years old and has endeared himself in the heart of a city that matches his brand of baseball and asserted himself as a leader in a young and vibrant clubhouse.  I want to send two messages here.  To Aj; recognize what you have in Pittsburgh and help yourself by building a legacy with the Buccos.  To Pittsburgh; offer him market price for what he’s done (considering age, performance, etc.), reward him for breathing oxygen into a lifeless franchise and promote him as a mentor to your strong, young arms.   

I’d like to know what your feelings are on AJ Burnett.  Should he stay? Or should he go?

The Sherman Effect

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks

You Mad, Bro?

By now you all know about Richard Sherman’s outburst on Sunday night.  The past week has been a saga of half-hearted apologies and critiques of interview ethics.  However, while most people tossed this news aside with the Sunday paper something happened.  Reaction to Sherman’s behavior became so vitriolic that his words were silenced by hatred.  There are a lot of thoughts I have about Sherman, but most of what I’m going to say here addresses a social condition that is troubling to me and my future kids.

Hatred is a harsh word.  I remember using it once against my mother when I was twelve and I was swiftly put in my place.  My father taught me that night that hate is a four letter word.  By now, all of you have drawn your own conclusions about using the word hate in your own vocabularies.  I still subscribe to the four letter approach.  After Sherman’s angry comments about Michael Crabtree his twitter feed was hit with a deluge of outrage.  Among the choice words tweeters used were “Thug” and “Monkey”.  I assume the N word was used as well, but I hope most of the people who will read this agree with me that the N word is inexcusable in any context.  Therefore, I’ll confine my comments to “Thug” and “Monkey”.  But, the larger context of those words falls within the lens of racism, intolerance, polarization and arrogance.

“Monkey”.  I get it.  This word is loosely connected to racist epithets.  Let’s just agree that when you call someone a monkey it certainly sounds bad enough to receive a slug in the face.  On the other hand, “Thug” is less egregious.  In my opinion, “Thug” has been adopted by gangsters and twisted into a racial slur.  Let me be clear, it is not a racial slur.  Thug has been used to describe corrupt politicians more often than describe African-Americans.  Tu-Pac glamorized the term “Thug Life” to endear his music and lifestyle to the  American public.  In fact, he had it tattooed across his abdomen and drew copious amounts of attention to it in his music videos.

“Thug” is a double entendre.  Most of us learned that some words can have dual meanings  when we were in third grade.  I remember my father saying I was acting stupid.  Here, he addressed my behavior and instead me personally.  Of course, I tried to contort his words into an indictment of his parenting skills and love for me.  But that was a nine-year old talking.  Most well-adjusted adults, and Richard Sherman unequivocally pronounces himself to be, understand the distinction.  Unfortunately, Sherman’s pride has clouded his ability to recognize how he acted thuggish in that interview.  Or, maybe he’s just not as intelligent as he considers himself to be.  Alternative explanation, Stanford hands out 3.9 GPA’s like physicals.

The true Sherman Effect that I’ve witnessed is best illustrated through a string of Facebook comments I participated in.  I will leave out the names of people to protect anonymity.  Most of you are probably muttering doubts under your breath or sighing and shaking your head about a reference to Facebook.  Any of you who know me understand that I’m virtually absent on Facebook and tend to rebel against the sprawling digital culture.  However, the Facebook platform allowed many voices to chime in on a few thoughts.  So, here’s the story.

A friend of mine posted a link to the CNN press conference Sherman gave in the middle of last week.  Sherman addressed the firestorm of anger unleashed on him and almost apologized for being immature and betraying his intelligence.  My friend posted “Love it” above the article.

I couldn’t tell whether he was being snarky or whether he genuinely liked Sherman’s comments.  I posted the following:

This guy is so proud of Stanford. I wonder if Stanford is equally as proud of him[?]  And, I’d love to see if he graduated, what his degree is in and his GPA.

Before you all go running to the comment section and blast out a note condemning me to the snark penalty box, read it again.  Would Stanford or any institution of such high academic caliber be proud of the way Sherman portrayed himself?  Furthermore, would they welcome the free press Sherman gives them?  Sherman does an excellent job of reminding anyone who challenges him that he went to Stanford.  The rest of us should feel intellectually overmatched.  Evidence of this, watch his interview on First Take with Skip Bayless.  Even if you’re not a fan of Skip Bayless, just listen to Richard Sherman.  He personifies almost every stereotype of elite school students, except he’s not quite as eloquent.

And, the GPA question.  I admit, I could have easily done a Google search and found this information.  But, my good friend obliged my torpid tendency and answered that question for me.  Sherman is a member of the academic honor society, earned a 3.9 GPA and graduated with a degree in Communications (congratulations, but Andrew Luck graduated with an Architectural Engineering degree.  Even still, I’d respect your braggadocio a lot more if your degree was in Faulknarian Literature,  the Classics, Public Policy, Theatre, Education or even Underwater Basketweaving).  He even returned for a semester of master’s work.  Yet another notch on his academic belt.  But, I’d like to remind everyone of Myron Rolle, the Florida State Safety who delayed a massive pay-day and a professional  football career to accept a Rhodes Scholarship to study Medical Anthropology at Oxford.  Not Oxford, Mississippi.  Oxford University in England.  You know; Shakespeare, Oscar Wiled, John Locke and William Penn, Oxford.  I could go on about the Harvard graduates, Matt Birk and Ryan Fitzpatrick but I think I’ve made my point.  So, let’s not plan the ticker tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes for Stanford graduate, Richard Sherman yet.

Later, a post by a friend of a friend boiled my blood for three days and encapsulated the malice behind the Richard Sherman phenomenon.

He’ll always have to prove himself to guys like Matt, and that’s a shame.

He continued,

The kid is the total package.  We would all be proud to have our kids end up like him.  He made a mistake, he acknowledged it.  that people question his authenticity is nothing less than bigotry.  Move on.

In my anger, I fired back a response asking whether he would be proud of his kids if they acted the way Sherman did in the interview and poked holes in his “apology” defense.  But, after I took some time to think deeply about these comments I found the stinging hypocrisy in his first statement.  This guy was judging me based on one response and categorizing me into, I assume, his bigotry list.

I had to exercise severe restraint to shoot back another question asking him, “What kind of guy am I?”

I’ll never know for sure, but I guess he thinks I’m a racist and a bigot.  I don’t feel the need to defend myself here.  Anyone of you who know me understand the racial struggles I deal with on a daily basis as a teacher in a highly diverse school.  Although I will admit that I struggle with separating the actions of few from the masses, I am galaxies away from a racist, bigot or ethnocentrist.  It’s a daily struggle to deflect the venom from those who attack your integrity without distinguishing the action from the soul.  I guess I know what it feels like to be Richard Sherman.