Thursday Three Pointer
Point #1 – The Burden of Being Buck
As we list the multitude of reasons to be excited about the potential of the Orioles 2011 campaign, the most interesting (and possibly troubling) for me has been the apparent acceptance by the fans at large that Buck Showalter is some kind of magical savior who’s poised to show these young O’s the way to contention and professionalism. Although I too would love to simply believe that, I’m having a hard time fathoming it. The question I have is how many games can a MLB manager win or lose for his team in the course of a season?
Baseballreference.com lists last years WAR leaders as Evan Longoria (7.7) among hitters and Ubaldo Jiminez (7.1) among pitchers, essentially saying that the most impactful players in baseball last season effectively delivered their teams less than 8 wins (4.9% of the total season) more than an average AAA replacement player. So how much more or less impact can we say that a manager has on the outcomes of games over the course of a season, as opposed to an average, credible replacement?
Take nothing away from what Showalter did for the O’s last season, but be careful to keep in mind too, that historically over the course of a 162-game baseball season, while statistical anomalies arise from time to time, things generally have a way of eventually evening out, and falling in line with historical expectations. In short, as bad as the Orioles were last season, there were few who’d look at the roster and count them amongst the handful of the worst teams in the history of Major League Baseball. Clearly the O’s were bad, but not all-time bad; for the better part of the first 2/3 of last season though, that’s the tune they were playing to.
You can certainly argue, and I would, that the O’s were due a market correction at some point, and that to some degree Showalter was the beneficiary of that. Combine that with the returns of a few key players, the maturation of a couple of others, and confidence begins to build. What’s more, the players were provided an excuse, if not a pair of scapegoats to explain away their early season struggles, and to their credit they responded.
The only thing it seems that any fans have taken exception to Showalter with so far was his decision not to live here full-time and ingratiate himself to the community a little more this winter. Hindsight might show that decision to have been Buck’s loss, as he’ll likely never enjoy a higher level of esteem and confidence from the masses than he did this winter. Can he now possibly live up to the expectations that have cast him as a pseudo miracle worker? Could anyone?
Fans are expecting him to walk on water…he’d better at least be able to swim.
Point #2 – Save the Hornets
If we haven’t gotten used to this yet, in a few weeks time we’ll be seeing through silly statement like the NBA’s consideration of contracting a franchise (possibly the New Orleans Hornets). This, like the multitude of issues that we’ve gotten from both the NFL and it’s players union should be taken with a grain of salt, as the NBA like the NFL is headed to the collective bargaining table at season’s end. What the NBA, and all of the major professional leagues need to do is not to consider contraction, but to vow at least to stop expanding until the talent pool has caught back up.
With that said, expansion in all of the major sports was fun, and novel when I was a kid, but in the process of blowing out their leagues, there’s no doubt that the respective talent pools have suffered. As it relates to the NBA, I’ve often said (Jordan hater that I am) that part of the Jordan legacy was perpetuated by the expansion of the NBA. The league after all went from 23-29 teams during the Jordan era (now 30). And pretty quickly with the addition of 90 or so new jobs, the depth of championship caliber teams went thin. NBA Champions went from teams like the Lakers, Celtics and Pistons of the late 80’s with 7 or 8 players who contributed and whose names and games you can easily remember, to the Bulls who were built around 2 stars and a workhorse in each of their 3-peat campaigns, or the Rockets who won their first behind Hakeem Olajuwon and a cast of role players, with no other real stars.
In looking at today’s NBA though, it’s not hard to argue these days that the overall talent level is much higher now than it was in the 80’s; parity however is something else. I’ll blame the NBA’s lack of parity on the uber-athletes pervading the basketball landscape that were simply non-existent a couple of decades ago. The gateway to Europe and the progress of the European game have more than filled the talent gap in the league they’ve expanded it; what’s more, they brought with them a new European mentality that allows for 7 footers to go out and stroke 3-pointers with regularity.
While NBA teams may have appeared deeper back then, the parity in athleticism overall may have been more to blame than anything else. There simply were no Dwight Howards or Shaqs or Blake Griffins or LeBrons in the 80’s. Heck there weren’t even many JaVale McGees or DeAndre Jordans back then. And there sure weren’t any Dirk Nowitzkis or Kevin Durants back in the day. While those two represent the best of the best, how may teams now have guys who are 6’10” or better and who also have the green light from downtown? They simply didn’t make guys like that pre-Arvydas Sabonis.
In the NBA, I’d say, behind the ever increasing standards of athleticism and the wave of uber-athletes the league is more talented than ever but still out of competitive balance, retracting a single 15-man roster won’t change that much though. The NBA hands out more than 15 of it’s infamous 10-day contracts annually, so retracting 1 team keeps a few of those guys out of the league, there’s no tangible impact there. What they, and the rest of the leagues need to do is simply hold the line and wait for the talent to catch up. It’s gaining at an exponential pace already.
Point #3 – Is DeMaurice Smith in a No Win Situation?
Speaking of labor turmoil, maybe one day we’ll thank both the NBA and NFL for an education in American Labor law, as both are likely to give us countless lessons going forward. As it relates to NFLPA Union boss DeMaurice Smith, and his impending battle with the league you have to ask if there’s any possible way he can come out of this a winner.
A number of people have already begun speculating about where Smith’s future plans may lead him, but if he’s looking to build his resume off of this negotiation, it’s a hopeful proposition at best.
We’ve already talked at length about the simple mathematics involved in pitting millionaires against billionaires, as well as the NFL’s track record in the fields of marketing and PR. As if that weren’t enough to deter Smith however; how could he not consider that his predecessor the late Gene Upshaw was cast as a loser by vocal members of the union itself as well and many in the media after the last round of collective bargaining? That “loss” for Upshaw ultimately produced the agreement from which the owners just opted out because they found it to be oppressive in the players’ favor. It stands to reason that whatever Smith walks away from the table with, it will be less than Upshaw got. How can that be considered anything but a loss?