All Ball Sports: Sports naughty list, starting with greed and stats
by Paul Teetor
All Ball has been making a list and checking it twice to see who sold out for a price.
Turns out, almost everyone who could sell out did.
That’s life in the big city.
Before we open our presents – aka gripes — let’s get one thing straight right now: Sports are a wonderful thing for you, for me and for everyone involved with them in any way – player, fan, executive, parent, coach, media, whatever.
They are the connective tissue that unites a sprawling city of enclaves and outposts like Los Angeles, a city that features great wealth and great poverty, often side by side.
Mike the Manhattan Beach multi-Millionaire and Manny the minimum wage factory worker from Vernon can join forces to root for LeBron, and Clayton, and Justin without regard to their differing cultural backgrounds and economic circumstances. When the Dodgers win, when the Lakers win, when the Chargers win differences don’t matter. What matters is that we are all cheering for the same team at the same time.
If you don’t believe that sports are the glue that ties a fragmented society together, go sit in SoFi Stadium, and watch a Rams or a Chargers game. You’ll see strangers high-fiving each other, spilling beer on each other, and acting like long-lost friends at a high school reunion.
The same thing happens – perhaps less so, but it still happens – at Dodgers Stadium and the downtown arena formerly known as Staples Center. (Dedicated All Ball Readers know that we refuse to use the arena’s ridiculous new name. Call us Crypto deniers — Sam Bankman-Fried in reverse.)
This unifying factor that sports provides has been more important than ever over the last three, pandemic years. It’s no coincidence that sporting events were one of the first “normal” things to return when the initial lockdowns began, ever so slowly, to be lifted last year.
Of course, the pandemic is far from over, and just over the horizon we can clearly see that the fourth year of masks and lockdowns, and vaccines and all the tedious-but-necessary rest of it will begin in March, only this time with RSV – whatever that is — and a much-worse flu season added into the toxic viral mix.
So the pandemic’s pain, and frustration, and enforced isolation will go on, but sports – whether high school, college or the pros, will continue to be a source of joy and inspiration, and will provide a common language for strangers. There is nothing else – certainly not politics or the arts, both classical high culture and low pop culture – that unites us in quite the same way.
Having said all that, it is also fair to point out that sports at the end of 2022 have continued some troubling trends that threaten to get even worse in the New Year.
From a macro perspective, it is true that almost all these terrible trends are driven by greed. As always, the quest for more – more money, more fame, more glory, more clicks, more eyeballs, more, more, more everything – manifests itself in ever more odious ways.
So here, offered in the Christmas spirit of we-can-do-better-next-year, are several areas that had All Ball fuming even as we celebrated LA’s many sporting successes and triumphs. Successes like the Dodgers 111-win regular season, the Rams Super Bowl victory – it was only 11 months ago but feels like 11 years ago – and Caleb Williams winning the Heisman Trophy just last week.
First and foremost on this list, the stocking stuffer at the top of the money mantle that everyone worships, is the bone-headed decision to have USC and UCLA join the Big Ten (really the Big 16 — they’ve kept the original name for branding purposes.)
Equally baffling and maddening is the decision by the UC Regents last week to allow UCLA to make this move. USC, after all, is a private institution and if they want to do something really stupid and self-destructive to their so-called student-athletes, well, that’s their choice and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s a pure money grab, plain and simple, and no one is even bothering to dress it up as anything else. And for the UC Regents to sign off on it was a disgrace.
And if Trojan fans and Bruins fans think every fall weekend is going to feature them playing at Michigan or Ohio State they need to think again. They are just as likely to end up playing at West Lafayette, Indiana or Piscataway, New Jersey or Iowa City, Iowa. But by the time the realization sinks in that their beloved university has sold its athletic heritage and the geographic rivalries built up over a century or more for a few million dollars more a year, it will be too late to turn back.
Moving right along: one of the more memorable sights in a year full of them was watching Mira Costa star running back Matt Kraskouskas score four touchdowns in leading the Mustangs to a rout over their archrival Redondo Seahawks at Redondo.
All night long, the Mira Costa side of the stadium was chanting “Matty, Matty, Matty.” The Redondo side was chanting a subtle variation: “Matty sucks, Matty sucks, Matty sucks.”
If ever a kid would have been justified in letting the adrenaline flowing through his veins dictate a little dance after each of his four touchdowns, this was the night. Maybe even a slam-dunk over the goal-post crossbar.
But instead Kraskouskas simply handed the ball to the nearest ref and walked to the sideline.
Which brings me to one of my pet peeves about modern sports: the look-at-me, it’s-all-about-me celebratory dances that so many athletes – primarily in college and pro sports, but it’s seeping down into the high schools and even to the club teams – feel compelled to perform after the most routine of plays.
The solution is simple: just act like you’ve been there before. Act like you expected to score that touchdown, to hit that home run or to connect on that game-winning three pointer.
Show some class, don’t disrespect your opponent, and remember that winning is always a team effort. No one succeeds alone, even tennis players and golfers have coaches, trainers, and physios in their corner.
On a different front, the ever-growing dominance of data analysis and sabermetrics has been creeping into sports for the last few decades. Hollywood even made a film glorifying it, called “Moneyball.”
But the idea that computers and tech guys in the front office know better than the managers and coaches on the field reached new heights of absurdity this year when the Dodgers pulled Clayton Kershaw in the seventh inning of a perfect game.
Not just a no-hitter, mind you – but a perfect game. There have only been 12 of those in the long and distinguished history of major league baseball, but Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts saw fit to deny the great Kershaw – surely one of the top 10 Dodgers of all time – a chance to join that elite club.
His “pitch count,” Roberts said, was getting too high and they couldn’t afford to risk his arm on two more innings. No, he insisted, they couldn’t even take a hitter-by-hitter approach for the last six outs. In other words, let him keep going unless, and until someone gets a hit.
It was absolute madness, number crunching run amok.
Kershaw was diplomatic enough not to blast Roberts, and the local media took it easy on him too, for one reason and one reason only: everyone knew and understood that this was not a decision that Roberts made on his own. This was a decision made by President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedmanand his geek squad of data analysts.
Shame on all of them for what they did to Kershaw, and for what they are doing to the game of baseball in general. You want to know why the once-glorious game has become so hard to watch, a 9-inning slog of mostly strikeouts broken up by a few home runs here and there: because that’s the style of game that the numbers crunchers are dictating to the front office which, in turn, dictates it to the players and managers on the field.
College football is home to another really annoying trend: players who decline to play in their team’s bowl game because they don’t want to get hurt and ruin their chances of getting drafted.
Exhibit 1A: Dorian Thompson-Robinson, the UCLA quarterback who spent five years in Westwood but now says he’s not sure if he’s going to play with the Bruins in the Sun Bowl against Pittsburgh on Dec. 30.
“I think it’s still being determined,” DTR said at practice Saturday. “I just love being out here with my guys, love playing football, so just taking every opportunity as they come.”
Then DTR got real.
“As of right now, it’s leaning more towards playing,” he said, adding that he still has to consult with his coaches, his parents and his agents to make an informed choice with his NFL draft hopes in the balance.
But his teammate, senior linebacker Bo Calvert, who also has NFL dreams, didn’t equivocate.
“I’ve never played in a bowl game, so I figured now is a good time to start,” he said. “Some guys choose not to but that’s not me. If you’re a competitor then no matter what game you’re going to go into, you want to win that game.”
That’s old-school thinking. A little more of that old-school approach and a little less raw greed could solve most of the trending problems All Ball has just identified.
Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Season, whatever your sport is.
Contact: email@example.com. Follow: @paulteetor. ER