NPF: MAYBE THEY WON'T NOTICE

We're in unanimous agreement that the NFL replacement refs just about ruined the game for a few weeks. If you think nothing could make the games more painful to watch, you're betraying your age (or lack thereof). You clearly don't remember 25 years ago when the NFL owners decided that they would continue playing games during a players' strike using replacement players.

The year was 1987. Nine year-old Ed had only recently discovered football and was thoroughly convinced that it was the greatest thing ever. No comic books or anything like that for me. Just sixteen football Sundays per year. I remember quite clearly turning on the first game after the players went on strike (a concept I understood only vaguely) and seeing the Chicago Bears play the Philadelphia Eagles. In those pre-satellite days I didn't have the option of watching the Cardinals, but I was still plenty excited. The recent Super Bowl champs! Walter Payton! Jim McMahon! Samurai Mike Singletary! All of the superstars would be there!

Imagine my shock when I saw not The Punky QB throwing to Sweetness but some asshat named Mike Hohensee throwing to the legendary Lakei Heimuli (and I am deeply ashamed to admit that I didn't have to look either of those up. I remember this shit.) The Eagles human highlight reel Randall Cunningham was gone, and their QB was named, I am not even shitting you, Guido Merkens. It turned out that the NFL owners thought we wouldn't notice if they took the familiar jerseys and helmets and slapped them on a bunch of…random dudes, essentially. Even at nine years old I noticed that all of the defensive linemen looked like guys who drove beer trucks, which was true because most of them were guys who drove beer trucks.

If you're too young to remember this, let me summarize: it sucked. In hindsight it was pretty hilarious – guys off the street playing in empty stadiums, often looking like they just met (which they had) and running high school or college type offenses. In a nationally televised game between the 49ers and Giants, Niners coach Bill Walsh had his team run the Wishbone while he and Giants coach Bill Parcells stood at midfield, shrugged, and laughed like two guys who know they're doing something really embarrassing.

The real players were back after 3 "replacement" games that, yes, counted in the standings. It was a crushing win for the players, who won the right to free agency (although full unrestricted free agency didn't arrive until the Federal courts mandated it in 1993) and the 25 year salary explosion that followed. And all the scab players just…disappeared. Never heard from again.* Never to play another game.

If you peruse the NFL records you'll find the curious phenomenon of guys who accomplished statistical feats despite playing only three games in the league. For example, Redskins fans might assume that the team's single-game receiving record is held by Hall of Famers Art Monk, Bobby Mitchell, Paul Warfield, or Charley Taylor. Nope. Turns out it's some gas-pumper named Anthony Allen, who developed magical chemistry with a human being named Ed Rubbert (!) who happened to be playing QB for the team that would go on to win the Super Bowl that year. Allen caught 255 yards worth of passes from (giggle) Rubbert against the then-St. Louis Cardinals, one of the top 20 performances in NFL history. His name is alongside guys like Jerry Rice and Steve Largent. Allen, in fact, was one of the few scrub players who actually stuck around past the strike. For one year, anyway.

In short, the players' strike was one of the last gasps of the old-school owners who had purchased or inherited their teams in the olden days and thought so little of the players (and fans) that they thought we'd swallow the shit sandwich and smile. It turned out they were quite wrong. We only put up with real players officiated by scrubs for three weeks; in hindsight it's stunning that the experiment with fake players lasted that long. Needless to say neither the fans nor the media were willing to take the fake players seriously, and the strike and its players quickly became a mere footnote. I wonder how I would have reacted to it had I been an adult at the time…but when the games are so bad that even a nine year old won't watch them, we can safely assume that it really was that bad.

And then they made Gene Hackman's worst movie about it to add insult to injury.

*(The Bears QBs that day, Hohensee and Sean Payton, each played only those 3 scrub games but had 20 year coaching careers. Hohensee has been a fixture in the Arena League since it was founded and Payton is a Super Bowl winning – and suspended – coach of the Saints. So I guess they weren't all losers. They were just awful, awful players.)

NPF: MANTLE & MAYS REDUX

Sometimes fate conspires to create natural rivalries between athletes. When two players begin their careers simultaneously (i.e., Eli Manning and Philip Rivers) and share similar roles it is obvious that their careers will be measured against one another. Perhaps the most famous example comes from the 1951 baseball season when two brilliant rookies – 20 year old Willie Mays and 19 year old Mickey Mantle – began their careers within weeks of one another. Over the next two decades they were inextricably linked as they smashed records, won awards, and on two occasions (1951, 1962) squared off in the World Series. Mantle enjoyed more success, winning an astounding seven World Series titles to Mays' one, while Mays racked up better numbers and was arguably the more complete player.

Obviously I was not alive in 1951, but most accounts of their rookie season indicate that the career path of both players was apparent the moment they reached the majors. That is, everyone knew as soon as they laid eyes on these guys that they would be superstars (although note that Mays' first great season didn't come until age 23, after a year of military service. Anyone else surprised to see that he missed a year for Korea? I certainly never knew that.) They both passed the eyeball test. Now certainly there is a hindsight bias in effect here; it is easy to look back on a superstar and say "Ah, I knew it all along!" Nonetheless, the near-immediate success of both players – Mantle led the league in OPS in his second season – suggests that it did not take a ton of prescience to recognize that these guys were both going to be incredible.

I feel like baseball fans are experiencing the same thing this season, a rare opportunity to see two young players who are quite obviously generational talents entering the league together. I'm referring to 19 year old Bryce Harper and 20 year old Mike Trout. Simply put, I've never seen two players enter the league at such a young age with such obviously elite talent (with the possible exception of Alex Rodriguez, who was similarly impressive at 20). Everyone knows about Harper, a #1 overall draft pick who has made headlines since he was 14, but if not for a baseball obsessed friend mentioning some of his mind-boggling minor league numbers I would not have been familiar with Trout before this season. Lots of young baseball players show the potential to be great, but not many of them are already great. Especially with Trout, it is so obvious to even the most casual fan that he has an astonishing level of talent that it would be more surprising if he wasn't a Hall of Fame caliber player 15-20 years from now.

Harper is playing a good CF – a position, mind you, that he never played in his life twelve months ago – and has more natural power than anyone this side of Josh Hamilton. His speed is above average but not elite, but he is likely to put up .300-35-100 seasons for the next dozen-plus years with the potential for 40-50 homer seasons. Trout, conversely, might top out power-wise at ~25 HR but he has ~.350 plate discipline and is probably the fastest player in the majors right now. There are some batting titles and 50+ SB seasons in his future, and probably a lot of them. More importantly, his talent looks completely effortless, whether he's leading the league in steals, winning the batting title by 20 points, or making over-the-wall catches he has no business making in center. He missed the first 20 games of the season languishing in the minors and yet he leads the league in three counting stats – runs, steals, and WAR – while putting up a ridiculous .356/.414/.606 at the moment. If he doesn't falter, he's likely to be just the third player to win RoY and MVP awards in the same season.

To make the comparisons more compelling, Harper and Trout have personality differences similar to Mays and Mantle. Mays was flashy, a big talker, and an anomaly in an era when black athletes were expected to Know Their Place. Harper is similarly brash – the words "arrogant" and "asshole" have been bandied about over the years – reflecting his healthy ego. Mantle, on the other hand, was seen as the quieter, all-American (read: white) boy with almost unbelievable five-tool talent, similar to Trout. Let's hope Trout doesn't turn out to be a surly closet alcoholic too.

There are only two previous times that I saw a player and immediately thought, "This guy is going to be in Cooperstown if he doesn't get hurt" – A-Rod and Frank Thomas, the latter of whom clearly lacked the all-around skill sets of guys like Trout and Harper. Even Ken Griffey Jr. didn't strike me as great immediately, and the numbers reflect that it took him several years to build up to superstar-level numbers. No one can predict the future, of course, and Harper/Trout might blow out a knee tomorrow and never be the same player again. It's also possible, albeit unlikely, that this is just a fluke and they will revert to being average players soon enough. Caveats aside, if I had to bet my life savings ($57) on one or both of these guys modeling for a bust in Cooperstown 25 years from now, I would do it with confidence.

NPF: CRUEL, RANDOM PERFECTION

Ever have one of those days where you feel like everything you do is right? Like you're in the zone and nothing can stop you? Yeah, me neither. But apparently it happens to even the lowliest among us sometimes.

I'm on record as an admirer of the perfect game, a feat so rare that despite an anomalous burst of four in four years, there are still fewer people who have done 27 up, 27 down in the Major Leagues (19) than have orbited the moon (24). Baseball fans are unsurprised that the list includes legends and Hall of Famers like Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Catfish Hunter, Jim Bunning,* and Roy Halladay, or solid All Star players like David Cone, David Wells, Mark Buehrle, Kenny Rogers, and Dennis "El Presidente" Martinez. We might expect that in a large sample of pitchers of that caliber, a few of them would accomplish a statistically improbable feat over time. What is more surprising, and I think more interesting, is the presence of pitchers like Don Larsen (Career record: 81-91, ERA+ 99), Len Barker (74-76, ERA+ 93), Dallas Braden (26-36, 4.19 career ERA), and, as of Saturday…Philip Humber?? Philip Humber, he of 12 career wins, zero complete games, and, on Thursday night, nine runs surrendered in his follow-up start? How does that happen?

This, I think, is one of the more intriguing aspects of baseball in particular and sports in general – the potential that on any given day, some slob can stroll out on the field/court/etc and enter a zone of complete perfection. We expect to see Michael Jordan or Arnold Palmer or Roger Federer approach perfection. They do it all the time. We never expect to see the guys we've never heard of come out and accomplish things that even the legends of the game rarely approach.

In 2001, I was watching so much baseball that it was probably detrimental to both my health and my personal life. Yet on September 3, 2001, just a few days before sports became the last thing on our minds, a gentleman by the name of Bud Smith, allegedly of the St. Louis Cardinals, threw a no-hitter. It's not quite on par with the perfect game, but it is a rare and difficult feat in its own right. And I looked at the TV and said aloud to no one, "Who in the hell is Bud Smith?" Bud threw the no-hitter in his 13th career start, aged 21. He was not considered a hot prospect. He would start less than a dozen more games in the majors after that day. He was out of baseball by 23. Career record: 7-9. ERA: 4.95. Bud Smith, ladies and gentlemen.

The sheer randomness of such feats from a player who either has no talent or is clearly unable to harness his talent even semi-consistently is fascinating to me. I suppose it comes down to the law of large numbers, of the million monkeys with a million typewriters who, given the time, will eventually produce the works of Shakespeare. Psychologically it must be very challenging to try to re-create that level of perfection throughout one's career only to face the cold, hard reality of regressing to the mean – that is, returning to mediocrity. What did I do on that day that made me perfect, and why can't I do it again? I don't expect that Philip Humber will be out of baseball in a year like Bud Smith, nor will he become a dominant player. We often write off failures to randomness and bad luck – Don't worry about it, it just wasn't your day! – but are less eager to do the same for successes. "Luck" is not the right word here, but the fact remains that people like Humber can simply have a day where everything goes their way. Every stoplight on the way to the stadium is green, the wind is blowing in the right direction on every pitch, and the players on the other team are all in slumps. If and when such a day ever comes for me I hope I'm able to recognize it while it's happening and enjoy it, knowing well that it's unlikely to happen again.

*Yes, it's common knowledge that Bunning is only in the Hall because he was a powerful Senator at the time of his election. There are politics involved.

NPF: THE GINANDTACOS GUIDE TO BOWL SEASON

I'm not the world's biggest college football fan. Not only does the NCAA steadfastly refuse to institute a simple playoff system, but they even managed to butcher the nonsensical Bowl game system that they use in its place. The Bowls all used to be on New Years Eve or New Years Day, which made them an annual tradition for hungover Americans. Now they're scattered all the hell over the place between Thanksgiving and January 10, with hardly any games of significance held on the traditional date. This scheduling change is due in part to the fact that there are now dozens of Bowls – 35, to be exact, meaning that a whopping 70 of the 119 FBS (I-A) teams go to a Bowl. How else will the nation be treated to epic tilts like 6-6 Illinois vs. 6-7 UCLA? How else will the timeless rivalry between San Diego State and Louisiana-Lafayette be resolved?

Colleges love going to Bowl games; it's a nice payday. Big time, major games like the Rose or Orange Bowls have payouts well into eight figures. It's also a mark of prestige for the program. In theory. I mean, it's pretty cool to describe your team with the phrase "Sugar Bowl champions." Unfortunately some of the "bowls" to which we are now subjected make that difficult. It's pretty hard to get excited about going to, or even winning, a game with a ridiculous name. Here's a quick breakdown of the least-bragworthy Bowl games of this year and years past:

1. Bowls named after depressing geographic locations: Admit it, you were all jazzed to see Temple clash with Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl, right? How about the Mobile Alabama Bowl, the Fort Worth Bowl, the St. Petersburg Bowl, or the ever-popular Seattle Bowl?

2. Bowls named after bizarre, obscure corporate sponsors: This category brings us classics like the BBVA Compass Bowl (formerly the equally lame Birmingham Bowl), the Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl, the galleryfurniture.com Bowl, the TicketCity Bowl (new for 2011!), the EagleBank Bowl, or the Insight.com Bowl.

3. Bowls with just plain stupid names: There exists a game called the "Beef O'Brady's Bowl St. Petersburg." This not only fails the most basic naming convention – ending in "Bowl" – but it names the game after a seriously disgusting regional fast food chain that is unknown to most of the country. Is the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (formerly the MPC Computers Bowl) a real thing? Honorable mention: the defunct "Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl Presented by Bridgestone."

4. Established Bowls we still laugh at: Even though it has a long history, does anyone say San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl without laughing? The Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas (formerly the EV1.net Houston Bowl) seems like it has been around for a while, only if one confuses it with the former Meineke Car Care Bowl, which is now the Belk Bowl (after the Southern department store where old people pass the time waiting to die). Does a team even accept the trophy from something called the "Meineke Car Care Bowl" or is it best to forget the whole thing happened? What university wouldn't be proud to say it won the GoDaddy.com Bowl (formerly the housing crisis-inducing "GMAC Bowl")?

5. Honorable Mention, Wussy-Sounding Names Division: It's hard to tell if the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl or the Roady's Truck Stops Humanitarian Bowl are charity events, 5k fun-runs, or football games. And just wait until you see the shitstorm of pink that will be the forthcoming (2012-13) Susan G. Komen For the Cure Bowl, hopefully featuring a halftime show by a Cure cover band made up of breast cancer survivors. Let's not forget the defunct Charity Bowl, Bluebonnet Bowl, Mercy Bowl, and the eminently fragile Glass Bowl.

Seriously, NCAA: enough. Knock it off. An eight team playoff will take all of three weeks. For the love of the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, stop all of this insanity.

NPF: JETERMANIA II

The over-the-top sycophancy with which ESPN covered Derek Jeter's quest for 3000 hits almost irritated baseball fans enough (check out Jeter Filter, the Chrome app that removes Derek Jeter from your internet) to obscure what a remarkable feat #2 accomplished. While in practical terms the milestone represents an arbitrary act repeated an arbitrary number of times, from a baseball perspective the 3K Hit Club is among the more difficult to join. It almost inevitably requires a player to break into the majors full-time at an early age (preferably no later than 23), play more than 18 seasons without losing any significant time to injury, and remain productive into ages (40+) at which most men injure themselves getting out of bed.

Put it this way: 200 hits is considered a remarkable season, a feat managed by only a handful of players annually. If a player played 15 seasons, say from ages 23 to 38, he would need to average 200 hits per season to total 3000. For reference, only two players (Ichiro and Pete Rose) have ever gotten 200 hits ten times in a career. So yes, we saw something rare when Jeter crossed 3000.**

The question is, when might we see it again? A brief overview of the active leaderboard suggests that we may be waiting for some time. Some players who appear close have reached the dead end of their careers, while the number of promising young players is small.

Before we take a look, I consider 2000 hits by age 35 to be a useful cutoff point. If a player has not reached that, his odds of reaching 3000 are essentially nil unless he A) can rack up an improbable 200 hits per year from 36-40 or B) plays productively to 42-45. It's not impossible, but the odds are very long.

The closest active players are Ivan Rodriguez (2842, Age 39) and Omar Vizquel (2835, 44). I-Rod has tried valiantly to be the first catcher to join the club, but he is now hitting a feeble .210 in part-time duty with the Nationals. His next stop is the glue factory. Vizquel is already well beyond a reasonable playing age and is riding the bench for the White Sox. He has 36 hits this season, so he would probably need to play four more years, i.e. to 48 or 49, at his current rate to reach 3000. Nope.

The next two players are more likely, Alex Rodriguez (2762, 35) and Johnny Damon (2678, 37). A-Rod's challenge is to stay healthy at this point. He's declining but still productive. 250 hits in 3 or 4 more seasons should be a snap, but he's also regularly missing months at a time with various ailments. Odds of success: 80%. Damon, conversely, is healthy but no longer the player he once was. He has averaged over 150 hits annually since 2006, so his challenge will be to find a team that will let him play full time for two more seasons – while hitting about .270 without power, defense, or speed. His odds are about 50/50.

Vladimir Guerrero (2526, 36) seemed like a good candidate for most of his career, but he is the kind of player who ages terribly. And he has. With his body falling apart and his swing-at-everything approach suffering at the hands of Father Time, I don't see a team offering him full-time DH duty for 3 or 4 more seasons while OPSing .720. 20% chance. Chipper Jones (2567, 39) has better odds of impregnating another Hooter's waitress.

No other active players have 2500 hits. In the 2000-2500 club, most contenders are too old and/or clearly shot. Miguel Tejada (2357, 37) is embarrassing himself at this point, OPSing .600 as a utility man. Bobby Abreu (2353, 37) and Todd Helton (2338, 37) are still decent hitters but too far away for their age. Magglio Ordonez (2127, 37) is broken down and even farther away. Jim Thome (2255, 40) is on his last legs. Edgar Renteria (2297, 34) started strong, playing full time at age 20 and reaching 2000 hits before 30, but just fell apart when he turned 30. No way. Carlos Lee, Orlando Cabrera, and Scott Rolen (all < 2100 and Age 36) are all in serious decline; only Lee is a full time player anymore. So if A-Rod and Damon fail, who will be next? The odds are in favor of the youngest members of the 2000 hit club: Albert Pujols (2005, 31) and Adrian Beltre (1996, 32). Pujols seems like a lock, but we will need to see where he is in 3-4 years to get a better idea of how his production changes as age takes hold. 80% chance. Beltre is in the Guerrero class – swings at everything, never takes a walk, and won't age well. I'd put his odds lower, around 20%. Juan Pierre (1959, 33) seemed like a good bet throughout his 20s (four 200 hit seasons!) but now is such a liability in the field and at the plate that he won't be a full time player for much longer.

Of players still in their twenties, the current hit leaders are: Carl Crawford (1559, 29), Miguel Cabrera (1521, 28), Jose Reyes (1261, 28), David Wright (1202, 28), and Robinson Cano (1201, 28). Crawford is on a good pace, but is he having a fluke bad year or is 2011 a sign of bad things to come? Of this group, who are all too far away to project, the best odds would seem to belong to Crawford and Cano, who is entering his prime and shows durability. Cabrera may make it if alcohol and weight don't do a number on his body.

The short answer, then, appears to be that if A-Rod or Damon do not make it in the next 2 or 3 seasons, we will probably be waiting a decade or more to see another player reach 3000 hits. That Jeter fellow may be overrated and overexposed (not to mention the worst defensive player in baseball) but what he has accomplished at the plate is indeed historic.

**The same could be said for Craig Biggio, but I don't recall ESPN caring much about that one.

NPF: CAMEO SHOTS

This doesn't look right, does it?

To a football fan the faces are immediately familiar, yet the urge to adjust the monitor or simply ask "What in the hell are they wearing?" is strong. Your eyes do not deceive you and this is not a photoshop job. This is a rare two-for-one shot of one of my favorite obscure sports phenomena – the cameo appearance by famous players in uniforms that no one remembers them wearing. Often players who have long careers with a single team (or small number thereof) become so strongly identified with one uniform that, to the delight of trivia game hosts everywhere, no one can remember that Jerry Rice played a grand total of 9 games as a Seattle Seahawk (pictured here with Emmit Smith, closing out his career with an equally forgettable two season stint in Arizona). Even rarer is a glimpse of Rice in a Denver Broncos uniform during his brief training camp washout in the Mile High City.

Try these on for size:

No, that's not Idi Amin in a Supersonics jersey – that's Patrick Ewing, who played one embarrassing season in Seattle (and one in Orlando!) Below him are Johnny Unitas in his ill-advised final season cameo in San Diego and Pete Rose's half-season pit stop with the Montreal Expos. None of that looks right. None of it. Even Unitas's hair is wrong.

The most common explanation for the cameo appearance is when everyone knows an aged player is finished except for the player himself. So the team on which we remember him bids him adieu and he tries to hang on somewhere else. This is not always necessarily "obscure". Everyone remembers that Hank Aaron finished up with two seasons on the Milwaukee Brewers, Joe Montana wore a KC Chiefs uniform for a bit, and the Boston Bruins graciously traded 40 year-old Ray Bourque to the Colorado Avalanche so he might lift a Cup before retiring. But do you remember Joe Namath's ill-advised farewell in a Rams uniform? That NFL legend Reggie White came out of retirement to play a few games with the Carolina Panthers? Reggie Jackson's single season as a Baltimore Oriole? Wayne Gretzky's brief visit to St. Louis? Dennis Rodman's 10 games as a Dallas Maverick? Bobby Orr playing 23 games with a bone-on-bone knee and a Blackhawks jersey?


No. Also, drunk.

Cameos aren't just for washed up old guys though. Often a player will start with one team before being traded to achieve fame elsewhere. You know Lou Brock was briefly a Cub, but how about Ozzie Smith the Padre? Ryne Sandberg the Phillie? Phil Esposito (or Dominik Hasek!) on the Blackhawks? Brett Favre the Falcon?


What the fuck.

Multiple trades in a single season can also result in (un)memorable cameos. Mike Piazza played 1912 games in the Major Leagues…exactly five of them with the Florida Marlins (he also double-cameoed by ending his career with 83 ill-advised appearances in an Oakland A's uni). And what about Rasheed Wallace's single game for the Atlanta Hawks before being traded for the second time in two days? If only all trade deadline deals worked out as well as Randy Johnson's 11 games as a Houston Astro: 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA with 116 Ks in 84 innings. Holy shit.

Some players are multi-cameo stars. Paul Coffey is known as perhaps the best pure offensive backliner in NHL history, but he's not known as a Blackhawk (10 games), Hartford Whaler (20 games) or Boston Bruin (18 games). Rickey Henderson played on every damn team in baseball at the tail end of his career: you know he played 1/4 of a season on Toronto as a trade deadline acquisition, but raise your hand if you remember him on the Angels, Dodgers, Red Sox, or Padres. He looks about 65 in that Boston jersey. Jari Kurri won four Cups in Edmonton at Wayne Gretzky's side but played out the string elsewhere, including 14 games in New York and a single season in Anaheim (??) and Colorado. In 10 years who will remember Manny Ramirez's 17 at-bats as a Tampa Bay Ray, let alone his two-dozen games with the White Sox?

Oh, crap. I'm having way too much fun to stop. Running backs are a cameo gold mine, as they break down quickly but always think they have more left. "Name the famous RB's final team" would be a great trivia game on its own. You know Emmit Smith finished up in Arizona, but what about: Tony Dorsett (Broncos), Edgerrin James (Seahawks!), Franco Harris (also Seahawks!), OJ Simpson (49ers), Eddie George (Cowboys…and god was it sad to watch), Chuck Foreman (Patriots – I swear), Shaun Alexander (Redskins), Jim Taylor (Saints), Thurman Thomas (Dolphins?), Earl Campbell (Saints), Roger Craig (Vikings), and Eric Dickerson (Falcons). Good lord, can't any of you just retire?

Oh, and starting pitchers…don't get me started on old pitchers. We could be here all night. I might just have to another cameo post to accommodate all of the awesomeness. This is so much more fun than I thought it would be.

Who'd I miss? Other than Willie Mays in blue and orange, that is.

BACK TO THE ROOTS OF FJM

FJM is derived from the now-dormant website FireJoeMorgan.com, the focus of which was baseball, not politics. If you think regular journalism is bad, you ought to see the cabbages that make a living writing about sports. Since the original authors of Fire Joe Morgan covered baseball so thoroughly, I borrowed their concept and applied it to opinion writing outside of the world of sports. I've never actually applied the technique to baseball as the original website did so well. Today that changes. It changes because I have seen something so stupid that I can't help myself. It changes because someone gave this asshead a column in which to regularly share the fruits of his intellect with the world:

His name is Tom Jones. I will strain mightily to avoid making any "What's New, Pussycat?" type jokes, but no promises. Folks, what you are about to see Mr. Jones drool onto his keyboard is so stupid that you will not even need a passing interest in baseball to appreciate it. In short, he is incredulous that Felix Hernandez of the Mariners was awarded the Cy Young Award on Thursday, the award given annually to the league's best pitcher as voted by sportswriters. Real ones, not Tom. Don't get me wrong, most of them are morons too. But after you read the following, Woody Paige will seem like Wordsworth in comparison. Are you read to learn why "Cy Young voters got it wrong"? Let me put it this way: if this guy is qualified to write about baseball, there's a rugby commentator job out there waiting for me.

FJM, this is for you.

Sorry, but I don't see how a pitcher who goes 13-12 can win the Cy Young Award as Seattle's Felix Hernandez did Thursday.

Here is a quick primer on how to tell if someone's opinions about baseball (and presumably anything else they'd want to talk about) are worth listening to: if they think Wins and Losses are the way to identify good pitchers, they are operating on about a 3rd grade level. If you show them two cars, they will insist that whichever one is larger or shinier is better.

Wins, to be blunt, are for stupids. To be credited with a win, a pitcher must throw at least five innings and leave the game with a lead. Great pitchers on horrible teams don't win many games. Bad pitchers on great teams often win a lot. Rick Fucking Helling won 20 games. So did Matt Morris. And Russ Ortiz. And Esteban Loaiza. Jose Lima. Bill Gullickson. Jamie Moyer (twice!). Winning 20 games means a guy can stay healthy enough to make every start, pitch league-average, and play on a team that scores a lot of runs. Some pitchers who win 20 are great, but they are not great because they win 20.

Tom Jones, you are a stupid person.

It means, essentially, that win-loss record is no factor.

That is exactly what it means, because Wins are for stupid people who don't understand how baseball works.

A 13-12 record is so mediocre that it could not have been considered at all by those who chose Fernandez. So does that mean he still would have won the award if his record was 12-13 and all of his other numbers were the same? The answer would have to be yes. What if he went 9-15?

Well the 13-12 record clearly wasn't "considered" by the voters, at least not in any manner that Tom Jones would like, but if King Felix managed to go 9-15 with the kind of stats he put up this year…yes, he'd probably get the award anyway.

Again, it would have to be yes because 13-12 was apparently eliminated from consideration.

What?

It's true that Hernanez is a heck of a pitcher. It's also true he pitched on a lousy team that lost 101 games. He shouldn't be penalized for that.

Well, it's "Hernandez". And that's mighty big of you to point out that this guy's team went 61-101. And Hernandez won 13 of those 61 games, which someone who thinks Wins matter should probably note.

But he can't be rewarded for it either.

It's not a "reward" to note that FIVE of his 12 losses were in starts in which he gave up two or fewer earned runs. Like when he pitched 8 innings on Sept. 23, surrendered one run, and lost 1-0 because Seattle couldn't score one goddamn run on Toronto.

No one can think or assume he would have posted a better record on a good team. You can't speculate or estimate that he would have gone, say, 20-10 if he had played for the Yankees or Rays or Rangers.

Can we assume that he might have gone 20-10 if he played on any team other than the one that scored ONE HUNDRED FEWER GODDAMN RUNS THAN ANY OTHER TEAM IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE. 513 runs in 162 games, and the next worst offense scored 613. The Yankees (more on them in a minute) scored 859. The Mariners were dead last in the AL in hits, runs, home runs, on-base, and every other statistic you could possibly use to prove offensive ineptitude.

And I still contend that it's much easier to pitch when your team is 25 games out first place in September with no hope of a playoff spot than it is when you're pitching must-win games in the heat of the pennant race. You could argue that after the first few weeks of the season, Hernandez didn't pitch in a game that truly meant anything. Meantime, Tampa Bay's David Price and the Yankees' CC Sabathia pitched in critically meaningful games all season long.

Ah, yes, King Felix wasn't Gritty and Grindy and Clutchy enough because his team sucked. He must have been too busy trying to scratch out a few wins with THE WORST RUN SUPPORT OF ANY PITCHER IN BASEBALL. In Felix's 34 starts, the Mariners deigned to score a mighty 3.75 runs per game, absolute dead last in all of the majors. That he managed to win 13 is like the miracle of loaves and fishes.

It's one thing if there were no viable candidates besides Hernandez (13-12, 2.27 ERA), but certainly Price (19-6, 2.72) and Sabathia (21-7, 3.18) had worthy Cy Young numbers.

Ah, yes. Sabathia (Look at his magical 20+ wins), for whom the Yankees scored a ridiculous 7.31 runs per start. Almost exactly TWICE Hernandez's run support. Boy, I bet it's easier to win games when your teammates are swinging Wonderbat to the tune of almost 7.5 runs every time you take the mound. Price: 7.03 runs per start. Both pitchers run support was in the top 20 of all starters in baseball. Which is considerably higher than Hernandez, who was DEAD LAST.

What this proves is that the stat geeks — those who consider Moneyball to be the bible of baseball and sabermetics to be their gospel — have taken over the baseball world.

No, this proves that Tom Jones is a mouthbreathing jackass who has absolutely no concept of how dumb Wins are as a measure of a pitcher's ability. It proves that some sportswriters, neanderthals as they are, are slowly starting to realize that Wins are a measure of how many runs one's team scores.

It's all about WHIP and OPS and a bunch of other abbreviations that no one knows how to figure out.

If you can't "figure those out", you probably need help dressing yourself. Anyone beyond the most casual fan can explain basic statistics like this. WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched) is a measure of baserunners allowed. OPS is On-Base plus Slugging. It means you add the two fucking numbers together. Tom, did you not feel somewhat like an asshole typing out this sentence? "Guhhhh. Snort. What the hell does "RBI" stand for? You eggheads and your statistical mumbo-jumbo."

It's not about baseball, where games and awards are won on the field with bats and gloves. It's about fantasy baseball, where games and awards are won on paper with a calculator and slide rule.

No, it's about the fact that Hernandez was a better pitcher and the games are won on the field with bats and gloves, and it is not Felix Hernandez's fault that the Mariners can't field or score any goddamn runs. Is it Hernandez's fault that Chone Figgins toed the Mendoza Line for 4 months? That Russell Branyan couldn't hit an off-speed pitch if he was given 15 strikes to work with per at-bat? That the Mariners routinely started lineups in which 7 of 9 players hit below .240? That Jose Lopez last took a walk in 1962?

Sabathia and Price, on the other hand, had to shield their eyes from the horror of their teammates beating the hell out of the opposing pitcher to the tune of SEVEN RUNS per start.

Things such as ERA and opponent's batting average and strikeouts and walks per nine innings, of course, should be considered when picking a Cy Young, but shouldn't a pitcher’s record count, too?

Yes, it should count. So let's total up the stats in which each pitcher prevailed:

Hernandez: strikeouts, walks, WHIP, innings pitched, opponent batting average, opponent OBP, opponent slugging pct., K/9 IP, BB/9 IP, K/BB, hits/9 IP, ERA, IP per start, average Game Score, P/PA, P/IP, Tough Losses (8), Cheap Wins (0), Quality Starts, Complete Games, Shutouts

Sabathia: Wins, body fat

Well, I'm sold.

In fact, shouldn't victories count as much or more than most numbers?

Sure, let's count it equally. To any of the 20 other stats in which Hernandez was far and away the better pitcher.

The issue I have is victories apparently were not counted at all.

No, you blathering jackass. The issue you have is a lack of basic reading comprehension skills and knowledge of baseball. Are wins supposed to be more important than every other stat, all of which prove that Felix was by far the best pitcher in the AL this year?

How else can you explain a starting pitcher with the fewest victories in a full season and a pitcher who was one game over .500 winning the Cy Young Award?

JESUS TAP-DANCING CHRIST, TOM. HOW SONOFABITCHING HARD IS THIS TO UNDERSTAND? IT IS EXPLAINED BY THE FACT THAT WINS ARE ONE STAT – AND A CRAPPY STAT, BUT WE'LL IGNORE THAT FOR A SECOND – COMPARED TO THE MOUNTAIN OF STATISTICAL EVIDENCE SHOWING HERNANDEZ TO BE THE SUPERIOR PITCHER. I FEEL LIKE I AM HAVING THIS CONVERSATION WITH A GARAGE DOOR.

It's a new day in baseball. A sad day.

I am sad about how stupid you are, and I can see why the original FJM guys got sick of dealing with this nonsense after three years.

Tom, please, I mean this sincerely: you need to find a new line of work. This is the dumbest argument I have ever seen, and I grade the work of 18 year old Georgia public high school graduates for a living.

NPF: CRIME DOG vs. NUMBER WORSHIP

All but the most casual baseball fans know that Eddie Murray is a legend – first ballot Hall of Famer and a rare member of the exclusive 500 home run, 3000 hit club. There is nothing to be gained by debating something as obviously true as Murray's status as one of the greats. Similarly, serious fans understand that, despite having the most staggeringly awesome nickname in baseball history, Fred "Crime Dog" McGriff is not going to make it into Cooperstown. He probably won't even be on the ballot anymore after a few years.

We know Crime Dog's problem because we have all heard the argument: good but never great, no MVP awards, no singular defining moments in big games, and only six All-Star selections in 19 seasons. He is the classic "accumulator", a guy who approached big milestones simply by playing forever at an above-average level. Never a true star. If there was a Hall of the Very Good, McGriff would be in it. But not the Hall of Fame.

So it would be pretty silly to compare Crime Dog to Steady Eddie Murray, right? Of course it would, inasmuch as they were the exact same player. No, I take that back; McGriff was better.


PLUS, TOM EMANSKI COMMERCIALS. TAKE THAT, MURRAY.

McGriff retired with 493 HR and 2490 hits, both short of the magical 500/3000 markers. Murray posted 504 and 3255 hits, easily clearing the hurdle on hits but just squeaking by on HR. If McGriff had hit a paltry 7 more HR over 19 years, he would get into the HOF. Why? Because everyone with 500 HR gets in. Because it's 500! Which is a magical number! McGriff with 493 = good not great. McGriff with 501 = Hall of Famer.

Crime Dog matches up favorably with Murray in almost every category. 6 All-Star appearances in 19 season (8/21 for Murray). No MVP awards for either. One World Series ring each. A slash line of .284/.377/.509 (.287/.359/.476 for Murray). OPS+ of 134, five points above Murray's 129. Both played first base, and defense is one area in which Murray clearly outdoes Freddie (3 Gold Gloves, 6.5 career defensive Wins against Replacement). But let's not kid ourselves, nobody voted for Murray because of his D and no one will vote against McGriff on that basis either.

Here's the best part: McGriff's failure to hit the 500/3000 marks was nothing but a stroke of bad luck. Consider the following:

  • In 1994, McGriff fell victim to the players strike/lockout. That year he averaged 1 HR every 14 plate appearances. He played 113 games. Assume a normal season in which he plays 150 games at 4 PA per game. He lost 37 games, or 148 PA. At his HR rate, that means he lost 10 HR. So without the strike, McGriff ends his career with 503 HR. Murray hit 504.
  • McGriff's first season as a full-time player was age 23. Murray started at age 21. So on a per season basis, McGriff averaged 131 hits and 26 HR. Murray averaged 155 hits and 24 HR per season. Murray crossed 500 HR just by playing a little longer – he was an Accumulator.
  • Murray hung on until the dog-ass end of his career to reach 500 HR. McGriff tried but couldn't find a team to give him the at-bats. McGriff's last season, age 40, lasted only 27 games and a 53 OPS+. Murray's, age 41, was 55 games at the same terrible OPS+ (55). The big difference was that at age 40, Murray managed to convince the Orioles to bring him back for a sentimental homecoming…and 152 games/637 plate appearances of playing time. They put him out on the field that much even though he was horrible (87 OPS+). So basically Murray should have hung it up at age 40. But he didn't. He found a team to let him play a full season and tapped out 22 HR, including his 500th.

    In short, Murray was the classic Accumulator. He was never a true superstar and he crossed the 500/3000 because he played forever and never got hurt. None of his career statistics differ significantly from McGriff's (not to mention other Accumulators like Paul Konerko, Rafael Palmeiro, or Dave "I'll play until I'm 43 to get 3000 hits" Winfield). He was a better defensive player than the Crime Dog but that is about it.

    So the question is why Murray is a first ballot Hall of Famer and McGriff is not HOF-level. It boils down to the worship of arbitrary statistical milestones, namely the 500 HR barrier. In the most important stats like OPS+ or OBP, McGriff was actually better than Murray (and Winfield). A player's career does not become more impressive – certainly not in any meaningful way – when he moves from 499 to 500. Usually sportswriters and HOF voters fall back on the "no championships" argument, but Murray and McGriff each own a ring and the same number of WS appearances. Instead, they have to rely on dumb statistics like wins, total hits, and career HR totals to include or exclude players who never played in New York or Boston failed to meet the nebulous standards of true "stardom."

    (PS: If I really wanted to be mean we could have used Andre Dawson, Jim Rice, or Winfield as a comparison instead of Murray. WTF on Dawson. Nice 119 OPS+ and .323 OBP, loser.)

  • NPF: ED SAVES CANADA

    Among other failings I happen to be a huge hockey fan. The aughts were a rough decade for Lord Stanley's game, especially when labor disputes (fueled largely by an uncapped, wildly inflated salary system that nearly bankrupted a handful of teams) canceled the 2004-2005 season. The game came back strong after the lockout thanks to a group of young superstars worthy of the Gretzky era. A Pittsburgh team that was nearly folded by the league has won the Cup and Chicago has risen from the Bill Wirtz-era dead. But the league is still in trouble, paying dearly for bad business decisions made in the 1990s.

    Unlike the other three "major" sports in North America, hockey has no TV revenue to speak of. The economics of the game are attendance-driven. But in 1990 the league had a national TV contract, albeit not a huge one, and throughout the decade that fact drove expansion and relocation. In short, the league and its existing owners felt that it was in their interest to put teams in large, rapidly-growing American TV markets without hockey. Bigger TV markets meant more revenue from the national contracts. And of course just about all of those cities were in the south. You know, big hockey towns.

    Thus the Minnesota North Stars were split in two, half of the team founding the San Jose Sharks and the other half moving to Dallas. Expansion happened in Tampa, Anaheim, Denver, Miami, Nashville, Atlanta, and Columbus. The Winnipeg Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes. Hartford became Carolina. Quebec moved to Denver. While the league made some decent expansion decisions – putting a team back in Minneapolis and a new one in Ottawa – overall this has not been a rousing success.

    The TV contract disappeared with the lockout (it was never worth much to begin with) and suddenly the league found itself with a bunch of teams in places with no hockey history playing to 1/3 capacity. Look at the bottom 10 teams in attendance in a 30-team league. Note that these figures represent tickets sold and not actual butts in seats, which for all of these teams is far less.

    Notice anything? And these teams aren't even bad. Phoenix, a zombie franchise basically being run by the league after its baffling refusal to allow a Canadian billionaire to move it to Hamilton, is going to make the playoffs. Tampa, Colorado, Anaheim, and Carolina have all won Stanley Cups in the last 10 years. Atlanta, last seen auctioning off Ilya Kovalchuk (the latest superstar to get sick of playing in front of 1800 people, a la Marian Hossa and Marc Savard in Hotlanta and Jay Bouwmeester in Miami), is one win out of a playoff spot. Nashville and Columbus made the playoffs last year. The explanation here is pretty simple. The economy is terrible and the teams don't have deep enough roots in these cities to weather the downtimes.

    The league's strategy for drawing fans in these places centered on A) retirees and B) a fast-growing young population. They assumed the retirees in Phoenix and Florida would come out a few times per year to see their Boston Bruins or Detroit Red Wings visit and they thought the hip, young dot-com generation would adopt the home team. Unfortunately the retirees didn't follow through and the young people have no money. Hence a bunch of moribund franchises regularly playing in front of nobody. If the league is going to be financially viable as a whole these teams badly need to be returned to "hockey markets." At least the small, no-TV-revenue Canadian teams managed to fill the stadiums before they were boxed up and shipped to the Sun Belt.

    So here's what we're going to do.

    First, let's not overreact. Tampa led the league in attendance for the first half of the decade. Colorado has a strong fan base. Carolina's draw is decent but they're terrible this year. Anaheim is strong but they'll miss the playoffs and we know how messed up things are in Southern Cal. These teams are probably viable in the long run.

    This brings us to the zombie franchises. Let's start with Phoenix. I hope the league is happy with its pig-headed decision to protect the old-money Toronto Maple Leafs block the move to Hamilton, Ontario. After the team filed bankruptcy last summer, the NHL found to its great embarrassment that it had no bidders willing to accept the condition of keeping the team in Phoenix. So the NHL bid on its own team. Now it's holding it until a Phoenix-friendly buyer is found. Good luck with that. The league is having the Coyotes play five "home games" in Saskatoon next year. Problem solved. Sell those games out, find a Canadian owner, and move this sinking ship to Regina/Saskatoon.

    Atlanta is done in Atlanta. Now that Kovalchuk has been auctioned off to the New Jersey Devils whatever minimal interest in the team exists in ATL will disappear. The team has actually been in Federal court for five years trying to determine who actually owns the damn thing. That has to be a first. Meanwhile, the criminally inept Don Waddell has been running the team in aimless circles in front of "crowds" that could fit in my car. Let's right a historical wrong and bring back the Winnipeg Whiteout. It's a small market but at least they'll give a crap about the team.

    The Florida Panthers haven't drawn flies in South Florida since making it to the Cup finals in 1996 despite spending on stars like Pavel Bure. Nobody cares about the team and the players can't wait to leave. Meanwhile, Quebec City is still missing its Nordiques. They're a stadium away from getting another team. Make it happen.

    That leaves us with Columbus and Nashville but no viable Canadian cities left. Kansas City has been trying hard to land a team for years but I can't imagine that would turn out much differently than a place like Atlanta – the KC Scouts didn't last two years there. New England is already saturated and a return to Hartford seems like a poor idea. Baltimore is Washington Capitals country. Milwaukee is too close to Chicago. Ditto Seattle and Vancouver. In Canada, the only other option is Halifax – which simply lacks the facilities. So what happens with these teams?

    Gary Bettman is stubborn and hasn't quite learned his lesson about shoehorning teams into markets that do not give the slightest shit about hockey, so Columbus will end up in Las Vegas. It'll last for about five years and we'll end up right back where we started. We have to think outside of the box for a market for Nashville. Here's an idea: Anchorage. The metro area has a mere 350,000 people but Alaskans like hockey and they'd be the only game in town. Maybe play a few home games per year in Fairbanks. Could it be any worse than the crowds in the south?

    To recap: Florida becomes Quebec City. Atlanta becomes Winnipeg. Phoenix becomes Saskatchewan. Columbus ends up in Vegas. Nashville either sticks it out in Tennessee (they're the least awful of the zombie teams) or moves to Anchorage. Fewer teams play in empty arenas and the solvent teams have to direct less revenue-sharing money toward their southern cousins. More teams play in cities in which someone cares. More players get to trade warm weather and indifference for hard winters with hardcore hockey fans.

    I will not even charge the NHL a consulting fee for having saved it. Canada, on the other hand, owes me big time. You're welcome.