Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Halftime Adjustments: Why Don't Sports Sitcoms Work?

A few days ago, I found myself watching an old episode of Coach on TV. At first, I was quite excited about this: I remembered enjoying some episodes when I was younger.

However, as I watched the storyline unfold, I found myself cynically (and successfully) guessing all the major plot twists. I ended up switching the channel halfway through. Another childhood favorite show, destroyed by reality. This is why I won't watch Hang Time today (incidentally, refresh your memory via HangTimeCentral on Youtube).

So what is it about sports that makes it such a bad target for sitcoms? Think about it--the Jason Alexander as Tony Kornheiser failure, Arli$$, My Boys, Playmakers...I'm really having a tough time thinking of a truly successful sitcom that was about sports. Kenny Powers? The people who love Kenny Powers are dedicated, but I don't think your average sports fan knows about the show.

So what chance does the Colin Cowherd-inspired sitcom have? We all know that TV would dearly love to capture the 18-35 sports-loving male demographic without having to shell out hundreds of millions in broadcast fees. So why haven't they figured it out yet? What will it take? Or is it impossible to re-create the live, anything can happen excitement of sports in the highly structured sitcom format?

EDIT: JB reminded me (1) FNL is not a sitcom per se. (2) Sports Night was fairly popular. I suppose I'm saying, why aren't any sports sitcoms hits? It's true, sports sitcoms last a while--but I feel more like that's because of their tremendous upside potential rather than true talent.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The MCBias Cold Cuts Club: Now Accepting New Members

The inspiration for this satire (for those of you who need the definition) is brought to you via this post. You may want to read it first or you won't get it. I couldn't resist a little follow-up to properly pay my respects to that gem.

Throughout Moderately Cerebral Bias' four-year (and counting) history, the bulk of our stories have come from various news items, the mistakes of other writers, and my own creativity. Unfortunately, I've been too rude and unreliable to gain many reader tips and sources, but that should change. My best, most reliable sources of blog shenanigans become members of what we like to call "The MCBias Cold Cuts Club!"

Right now, I count 2 active followers (and there may be more on RSS!) including popular bloggers, current and former sports blog commenters, that one guy on Twitter who hopelessly flirts with porn stars and thinks his observations about sports are original, and other movers and shakers of Web 2.0! In exchange for their throwing me a few links and pretending that my writing isn't pedantic mush, they become, in some ways, privileged figures in the MCBias universe (because a mere blogosphere is never enough!). And since the site is growing, it's time to extend the threat, err, opportunity to others.

Here's what MCBias Cold Cuts Club Members get:

* Any tips or gossip related to their sports blogging ineptitude (or their friends) will be shared with them first before they hit the site in any full-blown capacity. For example, if we receive a tip that a Cold Cuts Club member (or acquaintance) typed up a illogical post, or maybe hit on a female fan of their blog on twitter and DM'ed photos of their, um, writing utensil, or created a Youtubable moment at Blogging With Balls by explaining that most of their content is "borrowed" from Bleacher Report, or by their racist/homophobic blog perspective revealed their sheltered upbringing and the fact that the only minority they've ever talked to was the butler, he or she will be informed and will have the opportunity to respond, and in some cases the item will be dropped altogether. (Cases such as Frost Warnings in Hell and aerodynamic lighter-than-air swine come up fairly often! Trust me!). (Likewise, if a scurrilous item is picked up by another publication, Cold Cuts Club members will be granted a platform on our site to tell their side to tens, no HUNDREDS of readers). We would never blindside a source, as we follow the same code of conduct approved by the sports blogging leader.

You'd be amazed at how much peace of mind can be gained from knowing that some guy is going to trash your Technorati search responses before it shows up in your Google Alerts. SEO is Critical? SEO is Critical.

* On occasion, certain Cold Cuts Club members will be tipped off with information that could give them a jump-start on the competition. I offer links from a variety of obscure sources such as and USAToday, and I know you can use such hard-to-find information. I know how frustrating it is for bloggers to play catch-up on stories that they weren't spoon-fed by an eager tipster and how hard that "original reporting thing" can be when you're stuck blogging from a couch. I understand that you're no doubt stuck in some remote area where no news is happening, instead of, say, New York City. You get to make that choice. Now of course, you may wonder what information I could have to offer when I only have two followers and I'm openly begging for tips. I refer you to thescientific explanation: and ask you to get in at the top. You'll soon find that we can handle much more than tips and have the length and breadth to deal with all your stories, no matter how squalid or repugnant. What can I say? We have no reservations! All spaces are open! If you eject, we don't reject! We promise to never steal your tip without compensating you, once again following industry leader approved rules of conduct.

* For out-of-towners, we offer free coupons from Subway for a variety of cold cuts sandwiches, and also some Chucky Cheese toys and coupons left over from my 10th birthday party. I think they're still good. You may wonder why, if this program is aimed at sports blogging elite as the first point seemed to indicate, that I could sway such wealthy patrons with the promises of merely a free meal. Am I too lazy to split my three offers for three obviously very different categories into three separate posts, and come up with three different club names, or even one original club name? Do I think that "market segmentation" is something you do with a butterknife at a flea market? Wait, don't answer that.

My response is that anyone who would sign up for this program is obviously a cheap trick anyway, and DON'T HIT THAT BACK BUTTON BARRY, OR I SO WILL WRITE A 5000 WORD EXPOSE ABOUT THAT BAD JDATE OUTING LAST WEEK. I'M SOLICITING ANY AND ALL PEOPLE WHO MAY KNOW ANYTHING...err, sorry about that. Bad aftertaste from one of our Cold Cut sandwiches, got me upset. Just a preview from an upcoming column if certain people don't join. Totally voluntary!

All potential Cold Cuts Club applications should be submitted to me, MCBias, via Subject: I Still Believe in Santa Too

What's stopping you? "Be cold or get cut!" Act now.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Halftime Adjustments: Does October Baseball Favor Surprise or Experience?

Over the last few weeks, a minor debate has been ongoing about the wisdom of Joe Girardi not bringing in his most talented bullpen pitchers in to key games against the Tampa Bay Rays. When I first read the coverage, my response was to think that the reporters were missing a key element of play-off baseball. In a seven-game series against the Rays, Joe can't lean on the same talented pitchers seven times. He will have to go deeper into his bullpen than usual. What better way to prepare his less-talented and experienced pitchers for October pressure than to insert them into regular-season games against the Rays? This way he also knows which one of these pitchers he can rely on. So at first, I thought some bloggers might be giving Joe too little credit for managerial acumen. Also, I really like using the word acumen, it makes me sound edumacated.

However, there's a flaw in this theory. This assumes that players learn to play under pressure, rather than being born with the ability to remain calm. Is that truly the case? Isn't it quite clear rather early in life how a person reacts to stress?

Consider further that now, various members of the Rays have had experience against these lesser-known pitchers. Of course, there is plenty of film on each Yankees pitcher in action. However, there's a difference between trying to watch a pitcher on video and having actually seen his curve ball dip when you were in the batter's box. Might Manager Girardi's move rob his pitchers of the element of surprise against the Rays' hitters should the Yankees face the Rays in the playoffs?

I can't decide myself, so I leave the question open to you. Is using more pitchers than usual against the Rays in a regular-season game an excellent way to give those pitchers experience under pressure, or an unfortunate way of tipping the Rays off on how to best exploit those pitchers?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Halftime Adjustments: Will Rings Truly Fix Lebron's Reputation as a Pitchman and Player?

KOBE N LEBRON Pictures, Images and Photos

Lebron James has seen a sharp drop in his popularity since "The Decision" aired. He's gone from having one of the highest positive Q-ratings for any athlete to being disliked by 40% of the population (link). For a man so obsessed with money, Business Lebron has to be concerned about the effect on his endorsements. But surely a championship or two will restore him in the public eye? You would think...but let's compare him with Kobe Bryant.

Kobe is often cited as the example of rehabbing one's reputation via winning. He is now America's favorite sports star. But the comparison between the offenses Kobe and Lebron committed against sports fans do not hold up over time. Kobe's crimes were helping to push Shaq out the door (and time has shown that might have been the right decision) and sexual impropriety in Colorado (in which the case was settled out of court). Neither incident had an easily definable, televisable moment that can be replayed over and over again. Neither incident was watched by millions of sports fans live. And neither incident was a crime against an entire fanbase (or perhaps two, depending on how delusional Knicks fans are given Lebron's previous statements about NY). To compare Kobe's situation to Lebron's fails to recognize the differences between the two...but then again, what else is new when it comes to Kobe-Lebron comparisons?

Halftime Adjustments is a new type of blog I'm working on to sniff out bad comparisons, generalizations, and analogies in ongoing stories. Feel free to submit your own angles on developing stories in need of adjustment to me via my email or twitter (links on sidebar).

Friday, September 10, 2010

Poor Phil Davison, Literally

By now you've probably seen the Phil Davison speech on Youtube--I saw it on TheBigLead, among other places. It does seem funny, as an emotional, over-the-top political speech that doesn't resonate with anyone. Yet another out of context politician, right? But then I went over to TalkingPointsMemo for more information. Sandwiched inbetween the amusing revelation that Phil doesn't know what Youtube is and some random political fluff to justify the interview was this statement:

"Davison, 39, earns $260 per month for his part-time council position. He is in between employment and looking for work. His last job was as a bailiff at the county courthouse and he's paying the bills thanks to a savings account."

A jobless man, almost 40, making less than $4000 a year, trying to make something of himself. That might explain the tremble in the voice and awkward phrasing as well, right? My voice would crack too if I saw a job interview like this as my last chance to make something of myself and earn a livable wage. Ah context, there you go, ruining yet another viral video sensation.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Phil Jackson's Whipping Boys

The other day, I read an article over at Order of the Court that explained why Scottie Pippen was so angry when Toni Kukoc got the last shot in the infamous "1.8 seconds" game against the Knicks. It got me wondering about one of Phil Jackson's coaching strategies that I feel has escaped scrutiny. Phil is a strong believer in treating his stars differently depending on their talent level, whether they seem to truly deserve that treatment or not.

In The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith, I recall reading how Phil Jackson made Horace Grant his whipping boy while taking it easy with Jordan. This strategy resulted in Horace Grant breaking down in tears late in the 1991 season during a game and wanting to go after Jackson. Horace left the Bulls after the 1994 season and was a key reason why Orlando beat the Bulls in that 1995 series, scoring 20+ 3 times in the first five games. While Horace and Phil later reconciled, I wonder if the Bulls 3-peat had Horace truly imploded in that 1991 game and forced a trade.

While I can't find any material about Jackson mistreating Pippen, I wonder if Pippen was so insecure due to many years of being in the #2 role. It seems that once Jackson places you somewhere in the pecking order he desires (#1 star above criticism, #2 or #3 star heavily scrutinized), he's not able to change it very easily. Which brings us to Kobe....

It's pretty clear by now that Jackson sided with O'Neal in the Bryant-O'Neal wars. Phil went so far as to make the charge that Kobe threw games in high school, and the book he wrote was intensely one-sided against Kobe. How many of Shaq's coaches say the job of coaching the petulant big man was "an experience I will cherish forever?" Phil's decision to establish a pecking order and choose sides was a critical, understated part in the fall of the Lakers dynasty. When the coach is not neutral, how can a team stay neutral?

Finally, on the present-day Lakers, we see that Jackson has been hard on Pau Gasol. Google "Phil Jackson Pau Gasol criticism" and you'll see a steady stream of jabs at his #2 star, or scroll down on this ESPN story about Phil. I have to wonder about Phil's coaching strategy. Laker fans, given the past history that I've described, do you see a possibility that Pau will rebel, and that the surprisingly good Laker chemistry of last season (given Artest) will be damaged? Or is Phil's philosophy of establishing a clear-cut hierarchy a key reason behind the championship rings?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

More Kenny Hasbrouck, Less Eddie House? Why Miami Is Too Old

With the signing of Eddie House, Miami has completed most of its roster moves for the 2009-2010 season. After signing Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and Lebron James, the Heat had to figure out who else to sign with the limited money remaining. With the goal of championships in mind, the Heat went out and signed veteran contributors Mike Miller, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Eddie House, Juwan Howard, and Eddie House. They've been praised for picking up so many shrewd veterans. However, was this truly the best plan to win championships?

The legacy of signing veteran stars to would-be championship contenders is not particularly noteworthy. One can certainly point to the 2006 Miami Heat as a team that was victorious by signing veteran players around a bright young star. However, that team quickly tanked in the next two years, and had to be completely rebuilt. Similarly, the 2004 Los Angeles Lakers had to rebuild the point guard and power forward position after the departures of Karl Malone, Gary Payton, and Horace Grant. And ceremonial stars like Mitch Richmond and Glenn Robinson did nothing for their squads except generate frequent "He's still playing?" comments. Plus, older players may get worn down more easily deep in the season and let the team down. Look at how Rasheed Wallace struggled through Game 7 this year. I argue that Miami's signing plan was directly contradictory to their goal of winning multiple championships.

So what else could Miami have done besides signing these veteran players? If Miami was truly interested in contending for multiple championships, here's an interesting proposal. Why not follow more closely the path of the 2008 Celtics? They had Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, and Glen Davis on the roster when the Big Three signed. All three markedly improved over time; one might argue that the players would have improved regardless, but I doubt it. I believe that stars help younger players to develop. Miami could sign young players to cheap, long-term contracts, and develop them into complementary players to the Big Three. Players like Kenny Hasbrouck, should they pan out, also provide attractive trade pieces because they will be overrated due to playing with stars who mask their deficiencies.

Miami's organizational structure is also excellent for player development, due to a holistic system that even monitors the players' weight. Sure, some of the young players will not improve, but they can be easily jettisoned and replaced, or shuttled to the Development League as needed. And although you hear plenty of talk about how Miami has a recruiting advantage, let me ask you this. Since expansion in the late 80's/early 90's, what successful NBA team has been able to consistently lure high-quality veterans to its organization for less pay? The lessons from the recruitment of McGrady, Iverson, and Shaq this off-season should also show that veteran players can be much harder to deal with than young players.

I understand that after the draft, there are not that many talented rookie free agents out there. I'm not necessarily fond of signing complete rookies either; I would wish to sign players with a few years of professional experience. But the Heat could also sign some Developmental League players with experience, or sign younger European players instead. Players like Charlie Bell, Anthony Parker, Josh Childress, and others passed on some NBA opportunities because the pay was better in Europe. The Celtics' 2007 signing of Eddie House, who had only played for 7 seasons (compared to Mike Miller's 10) to play guard is another example. The ability to play for a top NBA team in a starting position and gain such exposure should be enough of a draw to bring a younger but experienced player back to the States.

It just surprises me that with so many stars in their prime, Miami is taking a "win-now" approach rather than taking a more long-term view. I definitely think this combination can win a championship. I just don't see it being easy to reload and replenish this squad in two years to create a true championship run. While young players in South Beach carry their own risk, the veterans of 2007 and 2008 didn't necessarily seem the most disciplined or energetic, either. In a league where quick, young guards become more important each year, the signings of two guards over 30 (Miller and House, although Miller can also play the 3) are particularly odd, and I believe these choices will come back to hurt the Heat. Thoughts?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mike Miller, NBA Superfriend

Yes, this guy:

Just the other day I was rereading the Free Darko book's excellent section on the 2000 Draft. I'm enough of a draft nerd that this may be my favorite section of the book (sad, I know). Anyway, it said that Mike Miller's friendship with Tracy McGrady was so close that the Magic were concerned about trading away Miller for needed talent because of the effect it would have on Tracy!

Today, I was reading about the Udonis Haslem signing. The article had this fascinating quote from Udonis, who called Miller

My boy from day one. That’s my college roommate. He’s like Dwyane is to me, just a different color.”

Then finally, I looked up Lebron's reaction to the Mike Miller acquisition:

Happy to have sharpshooter and good friend Mike Miller join us. Looking forward to this. Congrats Mike"

I understand that Mike Miller apparently is a pleasant fellow. (To be kinder to him after that first photo, here's a photo of him and his wife after giving $200,000 to a hospital).

But how in the world does a guy who was born in a South Dakota town of 13,000, who had no NBA stars as his relatives (unless you count the scoring records his uncle held at the mighty Dakota Wesleyan, of all places), who loves hunting and fishing, of all things, become such good friends with so many NBA stars? I'm beyond intrigued at this. Someone set up a 6 Degrees of Mike Miller game, or launch a special I-Team investigation. What's his secret? This guy seems to be the definition of who wouldn't fit in an NBA locker room, a small-town boy from nowhere, and he's adored by some of the greatest players. I'm honestly impressed. How does he do it? Guesses are welcome below.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Recap: The Shirley Witchhunt

There was so much news this week, it inspired even a lazy blogger like myself to type a few comments. Between Greg Oden's ill-advised naked photographs and Paul Shirley's ill-advised naked ramblings, it was an amusing week in sports.

First, Paul Shirley's column on Haiti caused a tornado of controversy. I was comment 53 or so...and at this point there are 1,689 comments on that post! Yes, I've sunk to the level of bragging about being "first" to comment, +/- 50 comments or so. Surprisingly to me, he was thoroughly gutted even on sports blogs who once published his work.

I find it both amusing and tragic to watch a blogger witch hunt. I've participated in a few in my time, and been on the receiving end a time or two. Blogging is a solitary experience. We write our columns and tweets in a vacuum. Right now I am sitting alone in a room with the door half-closed. I have no feedback except my own conscience and some feeble estimation of what the audience may or may not want. However, once this article escapes on the web, it is completely out of control, and strangers have no reservations about forcing themselves into my space. You are more than able to lift any sentence from this blog to make me seem like a complete fool (or, once in a blue moon, an idiot-savant who finally got something right).

To be honest, I intentionally avoid hot-button quotes in my posts most of the time, because I know how such things spin out of control on the web. This is how many blogging witch hunts work: over-moralizing web commenters find yet another target that they can feel superior to and try to beat him up in his own comment section. It's a brutal business, recalling the lynch mobs of a previous century. Often good people go down to satisfy the ego of strangers and the Internet hate machine. I usually only like to participate in blogger witch hunts if absolutely no one is criticizing someone worthy of criticism, which is why occasionally I'm so tough on Deadspin and other popular sports blogs.

So poor Paul Shirley, right? He unfortunately is being punished for daring to confront the bias of popular culture? Railroaded and forced to ride his own petard until it exploded and got him fired from ESPN? Nah. He's smart, handsome, and talented...and also not afraid to look down on those who aren't blessed in the same way. There was a smug "Well at least I don't listen to rap" feel to his recollection of his basketball career that I tried to ignore but which bothered me. Paul sounded like that frat guy you know who goes around proclaiming things like "Why doesn't everyone walk around naked?" that sound smart and oh so EDGY at first, until you grow out of college and get your god complex beaten out of you at your first job when you realize that special snowflakes melt like every other type of snowflake. Then of course you end up behind the white picket fence like everyone else with 3 kids and get horrified when you meet the 20-year-old version of yourself. Ayn Rand's philosophies work fine as long as you're 10 feet tall and bulletproof; but when the first bullet hits, Rand disciples cry for their mommy. Yawn. Paul gets to figure out if he really is bulletproof now. Good luck to him, and I'm slightly sad that ESPN fired him, but I can't muster up as much pity as I expected. Blogger witch hunts are fair game when a blogger makes other bloggers look bad, when they make a bad argument poorly, when he/she breaks basic principles of Internet community (ah, unwritten rules), or when I have nothing else to write about on a Friday and the alternative is work and...ok, maybe not the last one. But otherwise, Shirley was fair game.