Sports: Wild and Crazy

Well, I thought my next sports blog would be about the horrible officiating that is going on in sports today, and what are some of the solutions. However, it has been a wild and crazy week in sports, both on and off the field. In baseball, the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers have become major players in the free agent market, while the Yankees and Dodgers just sit on their hands. Two major college football programs had their football coaches leave within just a few days of each other. The college football playoffs came into focus this week with the committee possibly having a rough session this Sunday. Who cares what they say tonight? Pro football is showing what mediocrity is all about. Finally, at 12 midnight tonight baseball may have a lockout. A lot of head shaking things, going on right now, in the world of sports.

Let’s take a look at baseball first, since they may have the first work stoppage since 1994. The free agent market is in a frenzy, since it is very possible all signings and deals, will be frozen, if there is a lockout. The free agent activity is not surprising, but what is surprising, is who, and who is not participating. The Yankees and Dodgers, the two richest teams out there, are laying low at this point, and have not had any significant signings. They may be thinking, that a new agreement may be more harmful to them than other teams, so they are taking a wait see attitude, until the new agreement is made. It may not be made tonight, but it will be made. There is no sense going through all the issues, but it will be interesting to see how many changes there will really be. The possibilities include, expanded playoffs, lowering the luxury tax, establishing a minimal payroll, eligibility for free agency, universal DH, and where extra money is being distributed, among other things. Obviously, not all teams were thinking like the Dodgers and the Yankees. The Mets were heavy into free agent signings, but that was not surprising. However, the Texas Rangers signed Corey Seager and Marcus Semien for over 500 million dollars, and the Detroit Tigers signed Javier Baez for 6 years and 145 million. Wow! Wonder how that is going to turn out? Meanwhile, if there is a lockout, there are lots of free agents, that are going to have to wait for their big pay day. Even though I think there probably will be a lock out, I do not think it will be a long one. It should be over by the first of the year. Baseball is as financially sound as it has ever been, and it would be hard to believe that either side would take the risk of a long labor dispute. You never know though, each side has a general dislike of one another, and you don’t know how petty these men can be. A strike by millionaires is always interesting.

In the last few days both Oklahoma and Notre Dame fired their head coaches. That’s what Notre Dame and Oklahoma wish they could say. They have said that many times in the past. No, this time the head coaches left on their own. There is no question, Brian Kelly leaving Notre Dame for LSU is the bigger shocker of the two. Let’s face it, nobody leaves Notre Dame, unless they are quitting coaching. I am sure the real reason will never be known, but up to a point, it has to do something with the pressure of being the head coach of Notre Dame. Not that there is not pressure in any big-time college head coaching job, but Notre Dame is definitely unique. No matter how you slice it, even though Kelly is making more money, the LSU job is a less prestigious job. Lincoln Riley leaving Oklahoma is not quite as shocking, and you would say his move is at least unilateral. He is taking over a program with lots of problems, and not a great track record over the last 5 years. Maybe the move to the SEC has him thinking, that Oklahoma will not do all that well, but the move is not until 2025. For whatever reason, two major college football powers lost their head coaches, and they could do nothing about it. What’s even worse for Notre Dame, is they could make the College Football Playoffs without their current head coach. This Sunday the decision will be made by the buffoons of the committee to pick the final four teams for the College Football Playoff. This committee has always been fortunate in the past. When the 4th pick has been controversial, the 4th pick has gone on to win the National Title. The conference Championship games have usually gone as predicted. Wouldn’t it be nice to see total chaos this coming weekend, and to see the committee really have to make some hard decisions, to come up with the four teams. All I can say is, I will really be rooting for the underdog this weekend, and can’t wait for Sunday. This would be a great scenario. Georgia, Iowa, Utah, Houston, and Baylor all win. Do you think that would move up expanded playoffs? Who’s in?

Then there is the NFL. Could it be any worse? Let me count the ways. In the NFC there are only 6 teams above .500. In the AFC no team has won more than 8 games. This past weekend there were 15 games and in 5 of them no team scored more than 21 points. The king of parody Pete Rozelle must be smiling down from above on this NFL season. In this case, parody can be synonymous with mediocrity. The NFL has always been this way to some degree. There have been teams make the playoffs with below .500 records or just at .500. But this year the league is turning it into an art form. Every team can beat any other team every week with the exciting score of 17 to 15. Well almost every team, there is the Detroit Lions, who lost another yawner 16-14 on Thanksgiving Day. Pro football has deteriorated into a comedy of errors. False start and holding is the most used words on any Pro Football telecast. That’s the hard part of football, everybody has to be on the same page. It is truly a team sport. It seems to rarely happen in Pro ball any more. Players run one way, the quarterback thinks he is stopping. When a team scores it is because of blown coverage. Thank God, or nobody would be scoring at all. The funny thing is, I don’t see any solution to this problem of boring football. It seems like it is just too ingrained in the sport. The players are mediocre, the officials are mediocre, and the coaches are mediocre. The best thing the NFL could do is go on strike. The only good thing I see in this, the NFL could be a cure for insomnia. A draft, salary cap, and a schedule based on the previous season record, the perfect socialistic league, SFL. No wonder they are thinking of playing more games in Europe.

Meditation: Money

Money is defined as any item or verifiable record that is generally accepted as payment for goods and services and repayment of debts, such as taxes, in a particular country or socio-economic context. The main functions of money are distinguished as: a medium of exchange, a unit of account, a store of value and sometimes, a standard of deferred payment. Any item or verifiable record that fulfils these functions can be considered as money. That sounds so simple, but money and/or, the lack of money, seems to cause a lot of problems in the world. There are lots of sayings and cliches concerning money. The best things in live are free. Money or the love of money is the root of all evil. A fool and his money are soon parted. Can’t buy me love. Money, may not make you happy, but it helps you be miserable in comfort. Some of these sayings are truer than others, but money does seem to have a hold on our brains, and mental wellbeing. Some people seemed to have more money than they know what to do with, while others can never seem to make ends meet. Even if people somehow acquire a lot of money, through good fortune, they do not seem to be able to hold on to it. There are many stories of people who win the lottery, but seem to end up broke anyway in just a few years. They allow money to make them into a totally different person. In time, this new person, just blows right through all that money. On the other side of the coin, we have multibillionaires in the world today. The five richest men in the world have a net worth ranging from 174 to 97 billion dollars. It seems that money can create and solve a lot of problems at the same time.

For whatever reason, money does not seem to bring happiness, to those people who seem to have a lot of it. The rich and famous are well known for having many issues, that just seem to make their lives miserable. Maybe the key is being rich and not so famous. Of course, it’s hard to be one of the top 100 richest people in the world and not have some notoriety. We probably don’t hear that much about the happy millionaires. Misery loves company and the news media is well aware of this. It gives the middle-class comfort that the rich are just as unhappy as they are. Most people think the other guy is getting paid too much for he does. This is particularly true when professional athlete’s salaries come up. Money always seems to be an emotional subject. There are people that seemed to be obsessed with money and try to do anything to get more of it. The concept of using money to make money, which is the backbone of wall street, is looked at in some circles as immoral. The movie The Wolf of Wall Street did nothing to dissuade this type of thinking. Money is one of those inanimate objects that we must develop some kind of relationship with. It along, with food, alcohol and drugs, seem to be the main things that control are lives. Many of us blame other people for our problems, but in reality, most problems are related to one of those 4 things. Few of us think about having a “relationship” with something that is not alive. We only consider relationships we have with other people or how we look at ourselves. What is the best way to feel about money?

I have written this before, but never do anything strictly for money. If you can find something to do that you love and if it can make you enough money for the basics in life, plus some extra amenities, then you are well on your way to the happiness destination. You must not let money make you feel all the things that you should not feel, in the outside world. Things like envy, comparison, jealousy, bitterness, insecurity, and rage, can all be triggered by thoughts of money. Money is the object that tends to keep you from making the inward journey. If by acquiring a lot of money, you have ignored your inner self then the results and things that are made with this money will not make you understand yourself any better. This can fuel fear and anxiety in everyday life, rather than comfort and joy. You must be true to your inner self and journey. That should be the number one goal of every living human being. In the end, when your life is near its completion, all the money in the world is not going to help you. If being true to yourself and acquiring money can be one in the same, hallelujah, and go for it. Otherwise just be true to yourself and you will always have that good feeling right in the center of your gut.

Golf: More on Starting the Downswing.

The handicap season ended this past Sunday in Western Pennsylvania, with me adding two more rounds in the seventies, to end the season with a 5.2 index. I started the season at 4.9 but before I changed the way I started the downswing my index had climbed to 6.9. Of my last 20 rounds I now have only 2 rounds posted in the 80’s. This is by far the most consistent golf I have ever played. I have not shot any real good rounds but my 14 rounds have been between 74 and 79. As I discussed in my previous blog putting as had a lot to do with my sudden improved scoring, it always does. If you don’t putt, you do not score. Despite all the practice, swing changes, and obsessing we do about our golf swings, putting remains the most important part of the game. It is one of many reasons that this game is so goofy. I know that many of you like to think that greens in regulation is the most important stat, but if you can not finish the job, then the score will not reflect your better ball striking. Striking a golf ball, and controlling where you want it to go, can seem like a very hard skill to learn, while putting seems so simple and easy. Until you accept that putting is the most important part of the game, you will always be frustrated when it comes to golf. It doesn’t mean that you can hit the ball all over the place, and shoot par or better. It is important to find an efficient and easy way to make contact with ball. The first move to start the downswing has always been a little controversial, with many well know instructors advocating different ways, to do one of the most important fundamentals of the golf swing. Let’s look as to why this is, and what many believe is the proper way to do it.

One of the basic principals of the golf swing, has always been, the downswing starts before the backswing is fully completed. There is video proof of this, and I am not going to dispute it. However, when you try to do this in the golf swing, it usually leads to poor results. This is something that just happens naturally, and you do not have to really think about it. Here are some of the many recommendations on how to start the downswing, that you will see in many instructional articles or videos, by well know instructors. A slight forward movement of the hips, with the hips turning. Kicking in the right knee toward the ball. If you lift your heel on the backswing, then placing the heel back on the ground should initiate the downswing. Begin straightening the left knee. Shifting the weight to the left side with the lower body. Dropping of the right shoulder with the arms following. There are other suggestions but these are the ones that are seen most often. What they all leave out of course, is the hands. The one thing that actually connects you to the club. It is the one and only thing, that allows you to feel the clubhead. The great fear in golf, is that you will use your hands to soon in the swing, and lose your power. The solution to the problem, makes it seem that you should not use your hands at all, or try to throw them in at the last moment. The idea is that the body will control the hands. Allowing the hands to initiate the downswing, by pulling straight down from the top of the backswing, no matter where that top of the backswing is, let’s the hands control the body, and forces the shifting and turning of the hips. Doing this method, will get your hands where they are supposed to be, at the halfway point of the downswing, and you will begin to make much more solid contact with the ball. It is a most simplistic method. Hands pulling straight down and then firing away with no inhibitions. This method works for all shots, from short game shots, to chipping and bunker play. Once you activate the hands for the second half of the swing, you will see that the game is going to become much easier. This will stop you from throwing your hands at the ball, which causes the over the top action of slicing and pulling. It will also stop you from having a too shallow of an angle of attack, from the hands being to far inside during the downswing. It has improved my ball striking immensely and should do the same for you.

Golf will be sporadic from this point on until about the middle of March. Hopefully, I will be able to get out and continue to improve this downswing method. As I progress or digress, which ever it may be, I will continue to update via the blog. Have a great holiday and do eat a lot of turkey and enjoy!

Golf: New Putting Philosophy

Any time you have a period of good scoring, putting always has to be an integral part of it. I have done many putting methods, and have battled the putting yips. One of the most unusual methods I did, was allowing my body to move during the stroke, when one of the basic fundamentals of putting, is to keep your body, dead still. This method worked extremely well, and helped bring me out of a slump, that had been going on for over a year, in 2017. I eventually went back to a more conventional method, once the move the body method, seemed to be no longer giving me, the desired results. My putting philosophy has always been rooted in two principles. First, it is not the putter, it is the puttee. I rarely switch putters, and when I do, it is to a similar putter. I have a Ping Anser Dalehead putter, that was made in the late 1960’s. When I did switch, it was to a regular Ping Anser, made in the same time period. I was usually desperate, when I made the switch, after weeks of very poor putting. My second principle was to stick with a particular method of putting during the round. I have changed this philosophy based on an experience that I had about 6 weeks ago. I always liked wrist putting and decided to go to the wrist pop stroke one day and it worked beautifully on a day that I was playing in a group skins. However the next time I played, under a less pressure situation, I yipped miserably, and went back to the arm and shoulder method, around the 7th hole and putted much better the rest of the round. This all led to a new putting philosophy.

I now change putters often, when I consider my putting just mediocre. The second putter is a putter made by Tour Edge, which is similar to the Ping Dalehead but is a little bigger and slightly heavier. I go back and forth between the two putters. Over the last 12 rounds the longest I have putted with the same putter is 3 rounds. I am not saying that I would not putt longer, but I only putt with the same putter when I consider that I have had a good to excellent day putting. I also, can use two different putting methods during the round, based solely on results, and sometimes just a sense of what I should do. My one method is the modern arm and shoulder stroke, that is used by the vast majority of players today. I use a normal width square stance. My second method is a wristy pop stroke, with a slightly open narrow stance. It seems that this stroke works best on greens that are a bit faster and on downhill putts, but that is not in stone. I always start the round with the wrist pop stroke. I continue with this method until I feel I have made a really bad stroke or had a yip. Then I will go to the arm and shoulder stroke, possibly for the rest of the round but there can be exceptions. If I feel that I have yipped with that method or made a bad stroke I will go back to the wrist stroke. I could use the same method for the entire round if the results are good. To help explain this better, let me go through my round of last Sunday, where I shot a nice 75. I started with the wrist stroke and canned about a 25 foot putt for birdie on the very first hole. I continued with the wrist stroke for the entire front nine, making 2 nice par saves from about 6 to 8 feet. I yipped one putt in on the 7th hole from about 6 feet and was ready to change, but on the 8th hole, I had a very downhill 20 footer, for birdie. I like the wrist stroke on downhill putts, and almost made the putt. However on 9. I had a nice 12 foot birdie putt, and made a really bad stroke. On 10, I went to the arm and shoulder method, and even though I 3 putted the 10th hole, it was from about 70 feet. Both putts were good and the strokes were good, with a bad read on the second putt causing the miss. On 11 I missed a 10 footer for par, but it was also a good stroke. I then made 10 to 12 foot putts, on the next 2 holes to save par, with the arm and shoulder method. I used it on the next 3 holes, including making a 2 foot birdie putt on a par 3, that I did not yip. Then on 17, I had this 10 footer for par, with a slight left to right break, that was slightly downhill. I just had the feeling that I should use the wrist stroke. This isn’t a fairytale, so even though I hit a very good putt, it broke just a little more than I thought and burned the left edge. On the 18th hole I had about a 50 foot putt for birdie, and with the arm and shoulder method I canned that bugger to end a very good day on the greens.

Only time will tell if these things that I am doing will become a permanent part of my game. It has been a pretty good stretch of golf to say the least, and that always feels good. Pulling straight down, and I can not overemphasize the word straight here, has had a major impact on my over all ball striking, and short game. The fact that I have been using this method for the last 12 rounds, is remarkable, in and of itself. I should be back in the saddle, so to speak, this coming Wednesday, and will see if my game continues to thrive, with my new vision added in there, for good measure. I will continue to update as the year comes to an end.

Golf: Maybe Sam Snead Was Right After All.

Before I get to the subject of today’s blog, and the resurgence of my golf game, after a very frustrating season, I must take personal moment. This past Tuesday I had cataract surgery on my left eye. My left eye is my only good eye, with my right eye only seeing fuzzy images, that for some unknown reason, is not correctable. Needless to say, I was pretty uptight about the procedure, even though I have a great surgeon, and this is a pretty routine procedure. I am happy to report that 3 days post op, everything is fine, and my vision is better than its been in 3 to 4 years. I am cleared to play golf, this coming Wednesday, and can not wait to see, if I can see a ball land on the green. Before the surgery, I could not see the ball on the green from a 100 yards. I still have to take it easy for a few more days, but it seems that I am not going to have any complications. Complications from this surgery are rare, but there is no solace in 1000 to 1 odds, if you are that one. Now, on to the surprising turn around in my game.

I have broken 80 for 12 consecutive rounds. I have had two 79’s, three 78’s, one 77, four 75’s and two 74’s. There have been three things, that have been the key factors in my improved play. First, I have tried to get into a more balanced position at address. I like to feel that my weight is evenly distributed over my feet, and I make sure that there is no pressure on the balls of my feet. This is nothing new, you do not want to get your weight falling forward to your toes. I am just more aware of my feet at address. By doing this I am getting a little closer to the ball. The biggest factor is the new way, that I start the downswing. The traditional way of starting the downswing, is by making sure the lower body initiates the movement, with a turning of the left hip, and a distinct shift to the left foot. However, back in the fifties, Sam Snead and few other pros, wrote about initiating the downswing by pulling down with the left hand. In fact, Snead even went so far as to write, that you should pull down with the last two fingers of the left hand. This type of instruction was often ridiculed by other well known instructors of that era, and in the future. Tommy Armour in his book wrote, “Chick Evans, years ago, when he was an excellent player, described the feeling as that of pulling a bell cord. That’s the way Sam Snead describes it. Confidentially, I think that all the bell cords Chick and Sam pulled Sunday morning wouldn’t disturb many sleepers”. There were many others who criticized this advise over the years, because they felt that starting the downswing with the hands, would cause the average golfer to over use his hands, and bring the clubhead into the hitting position too fast for the body to catch up, resulting in many pulled or sliced shots. In fact, this criticism caused Snead to change his downswing advise to a turning of the hips, in some of his later instructional writings. Well Sam old boy, I am afraid you may have been right after all. Now, many times the way a swing feels, may not be what is actually happening. What was not emphasized enough, by the pros that advocated the pulling of the left hand in initiating the downswing, is that the feeling should be one of pulling straight down from the top. By pulling straight down, rather than feeling that the hands are moving toward the ball, will automatically push the hips forward, and start the turning and weight shifting process. I have utilized this straight down pulling action from the top for all of my shots, including, bunker shots, short pitches, and even chip shots. The easiest way I know how to describe it, is you get to the top of the swing, and pull the left hand straight down to the ground. Once I started doing this, many positive things started to happen.

My swing became more balanced, all the way to the end. My short game improved dramatically, and I had very few yipped chips, and short pitches. My bunker game slump came to an end. I began to work the ball much better, especially moving the ball from left to right, in a controlled manner. All of this resulted in improved ball striking, and better scores. Naturally, you are not going to see improvement in your scores unless you are making putts, and that is the final change I made. This will be the subject of tomorrow’s blog. I have made some philosophical changes in my putting and it does seem to be working. You will find out tomorrow, how I am now succeeding on the greens. I do not know how long any of this is going to last, but for right now it feels really good. Oh, and by the way, I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW.

Sports: The World Series

The World Series starts tomorrow in Houston, with the Astros taking on the Atlanta Braves. Thank God, the Braves were able to beat the L. A. Dodgers, or what a World Series that would have been. I was already to write about the series between the highest payroll team vs. the cheaters. Who would you want to win that one, like nobody. Even with the one feel good story, of Dusty Baker, having the chance to cap off a great managerial career, with his first World Series Championship, is not enough to keep one from hoping, that the Astros get destroyed. Atlanta is an easy team to root for, with all the things, that they have had to overcome, to get to the World Series. By playing the Astros, they will have a vast majority of baseball fans pulling for them. Houston will be favored, and has the home field advantage, but Atlanta definitely has what it takes, to pull off one more upset. What does Atlanta have to do in order to win the series. This is by far one of the easiest series to analyze.

The Houston Astros have played 10 post seasons games. There has been only one game, where they did not score at least 5 runs, and in that game they scored 3. There were 7 games that they got 10 or more hits. Contrast that with the Braves who in 10 games, only scored 5 or more runs 4 times with 3 of those games being 5 on the number. They only got double digit hits in 4 games. The Astro lineup has been hitting throughout the playoffs. The simple key to this World Series, will the Astros keep on hitting. As was proven in the post season, hitting can quickly come and go. This post season has been highlighted by teams crushing the ball for one or two games, and then seeing their bats go south, for the next game or two. The only consistent hitting team, up to this point, is those cheatin Houston Astros. The Atlanta bullpen has been superb, but will it run out of gas, the way Tampa Bays did, in last years World Series. The Braves hitting has been up and down all year, but should be able to have a good DH in Jorge Soler, who does seem to be hot right now. From a statistical point of view the matchup is very even except in one area. Defensive efficiency rating, The Astros were .713, the Braves .708, a dead heat. In OPS+ the Astros were 2nd in all of baseball with 113, while the Braves were 96 which placed them 15th, giving a big edge to the Astros. In ERA+ both teams are exactly the same at 114. It is those Astros bats at the basic statistical level, that make them the favorite to win it all. During the regular season, the Astros had one stretch of 7 games where they did not score more than 4 runs per game, and once they were shut out 2 games in a row. It will boil down to how long the Astros can keep on hitting, and whether or not Atlanta can stretch the series to go 6 to 7 games, which will increase the chances, of the Astros bats, cooling off. Let’s hope the Braves can do it, to make things right in the world again. Well, I don’t know if that will make everything right in the world, but I would like to see it happen, anyway.

Sports: Baseball, The Final Four

After a long season, we are down to the final four teams in baseball. Three of the four were there last year, after the biggest playoff, in baseball history. The new team to the party is the Boston Red Sox, who upset the Tampa Bay Rays in 4 games, to play the losers of last year’s championship final, the Houston Astro’s. The National League final will be a rematch, between the L. A. Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves, with only difference being, the Braves will have the home field for 4 of a possible 7 games. We all know what happened in the division series, with the 5th game of the Dodger-Giant series being marred by a horrible check swing call. The first base umpire wasn’t the only one to have a bad night, as the home plate umpire made some very bad balls and strikes calls, that probably affected the outcome of game. Umpiring over the last 5 years, has deteriorated to the point of being barely competent. If the umpires ever go on strike again, the scabs will be an improvement. Last nights home plate umpire, should be the poster child for the electronic strike zone. Enough about the past, let’s get to the future.

There is no doubt that the most hated team in all of sports, at the moment, is the Houston Astro’s. The fact that the fans cheer, when a Houston player gets hit by a pitch, leaves no doubt. Even getting Dusty Baker his first World Series Championship, to put a big exclamation point, on a long and illustrious managerial career, won’t be enough to quell the venom that every fan base feels against the Astro’s. Of course on the other side, you have Alex Cora, the manager of the Red Sox, the supposed brains of the sign stealing method that the Astro’s used. No matter who wins this series, the National League representative will have the overall fan base behind them, even if it is the Dodgers. There is no doubt, that at the moment Houston is swinging the bat better than any of the other 3 teams. If they can continue to do so, then I see no stopping them from getting into the World Series. But hitting can disappear faster than a magicians assistant and if by some pitching magic, the Red Sox can hold the Astro’s to 4 runs or under per game then they may have a fighting chance.

In the National League Championship Series unless the bats of both teams wake up, then runs are going to be hard to come by. All of these games should be close, hard fought games. The Dodgers will be the favorites, but what is interesting about the Braves is, that this is their 4th consecutive year in the playoffs, and they have improved their performance in each of the 3 previous years. The only way they can improve their performance this year, is by going to the World Series. There is no doubt that this is a playoff hardened team. To have gotten this far as been amazing, since they lost Ron Acuna Jr. to injury, and Marcell Orzuna to legal problems, for most of the season. As stated before, they will have the home field for this series, but will that be enough. This time it will depend on the Dodger bats. Will they remain asleep, or will the Dodger offense start to wake up, and score a slew of runs. Only time will tell. I am looking forward to a great week of baseball. Now, if we can only find some competent umpires.

Sports: Pirates, The Season is Over

The Pirate season came to a merciful end yesterday, with a 6-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates failed to get a series sweep the entire year, which marks the first time in baseball history, that a team went the season, failing to do so. We all know that this team was bad, despite what the shills in the broadcast booth say. Here are a few of things that the shills said in order to get you to believe, that there was something positive about the way the Pirates played baseball. The Pirates have improved their defense greatly. Well, if you improve from 30th, which is dead last, to 24th in the defensive efficiency stat, that is an improvement, but is that really significant. The Pirates are still in the bottom third, when it comes to fielding. They actually declined, from last years short season, when they were 15th. In the booth, they rave about Kevin Newman’s fielding. He is not that great a fielder. In all the comprehensive defensive stats, when it comes to shortstops, he is just in the middle of the pack. The idea, that the Pirates have major league players on their team, is another example of trying to hoodwink the fans. Let’s take a look at that claim from a statistical point of view, without the shill bias. There are statistics that give you an overview of a player’s value. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is an overall value stat of a player. It includes all facets of a players game, which includes, batting, fielding, and baserunning, and the volume of playing time. A major league player should have a WAR of 2.0 to be considered a big league player and a contributor to the team. The other two stats that tell you if you are an average major league player is is ERA+ for starting pitchers and OPS+ for batters. This rates the overall performance of a pitcher and a batter with 100 being an average major league player. Being an average major league player means you are pretty damn good. Just ask the Pirates, who have very few. So who are these elite Pirates?

Starting at the top of course, is Bryan Reynolds, with a WAR of 6.0 and an OPS+ of 146. These are all star quality numbers. He is a good fielding center fielder but not an elite fielder, that the shills would have you believe. However, he is a top 20 major league player. . Next is Jacob Stallings with a WAR of 3.0. He is one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, and is a solid contender for a gold glove. His OPS+ is 92 which is below league average, but his defense more than makes up for this. Some people feel, that he will be the next to go in the Pirate rebuild, but I hope that is not true. His value behind the plate will only magnify, by mentoring both the young pitching staff, and the young catchers that will be coming up. Next on the list, is Ke’Bryan Hayes with a WAR of 2.4. His defense at 3rd is second to none, and you have to hope that his hitting decline was due to the injured wrist, that never quite healed, which led to a very disappointing OPS+ of 89. Even with that defense, his hitting has to improve next year. The last major leaguer the Pirates have is relief pitcher David Bednar with a WAR of 2.1 and an ERA+ of 190. He was about as solid as a pitcher could be, coming out of the bullpen. His FIP was 2.69 and WHIP under 1. That is the end of the list. Now, as stated previously WAR is a volume stat, and there were some Pirates, who did perform at an above average major league level, but did not get enough playing time to get that high of a WAR number, or were just really bad in one area of the game, which caused them to have a WAR under 2. So who should, or could, be on the team next year and contribute to a successful season.

First, let’s get out of the way, the list, that if this regime is serious, should not be on the team next season, for various reasons: Cole Tucker, Kevin Newman, Colin Moran,(even if the NL goes to a DH), Michael Perez, Wilmer Difo, and Phillip Evans. I don’t know if anybody in the starting rotation, should be back, but somebody has to pitch. I suppose you have to give Mitch Keller, one more chance. The two late season acquisitions, Bryce Wilson and Dillon Peters, might be worth a second look. There is always hope, that J. T. Brubaker, might find his previous form. There were some young spot starters, that showed some potential, but everyone of them at some point, got rocked. In a nutshell, the starting rotation is just plain pathetic. In the bullpen, there were two, that did perform at an above average level, with a decent volume of work. Chris Stratton and Chasen Shreve each had ERA+ over the 100 mark at 116 and 132, respectively. Are there any other Pirates that deserve another look? Not many, but here is the list. Anthony Alford, because he did look better the second time around, compared to that awful way he started the season. He wound up with a .4 WAR and an OPS+ of 94. Compare that, with the shill’s favorite player, Kevin Newman’s WAR of .7 and an OPS+ of, are you ready, 56, ouch. Then there is Yoshi Tsutsugo, who as a Pirate had an OPS+ of 136, but he was a major liability in the field. If the NL goes to the DH, then he is a keeper. Even if they don’t, just put him at first base to replace the stoic Moran ,who is just horrible in the field. That just about rounds it out, so the Pirates have lots of places to fill.

I know, that most of what I am going to write in this paragraph is not going to happen, but some of it might, depending on what happens with the new collective bargaining agreement. I am not going into any details, but how rookies are perceived for their first year of service, and when free agent eligibility happens, could change the basic philosophy of major league teams. On opening day, the shortstop and second basemen for the Pirates should be named Cruz and Castro. Brian Reynolds should be flanked by at least one new outfielder, if not two. The starting rotation should have at least 2 new members and both should be 24 years or younger. Even if the results are not perfect, let’s hope we see an influx of new talent come up to the major league level, right at the start of the season. Let’s hope that this bodes well for the future, because it is essentially, here now. Hopefully, the Pirate fans will not have to endure another season like this, where the team plays just bad baseball, and never wins more than 3 games in a row. This great city deserves so much more.

Golf Stories: The 2000’s

The 2000’s saw my golf game go into a basic decline, that made me start the blog, so I would keep on playing golf. It is not to say that good things did not happen, in the first 10 years of the new century. I acquired holes in one number 4 and 5, and did play some good golf periodically, but for the most part, things did not go all that well when it came to my golf game. I did go down to Florida for one winter, and taught at a golf school, and have tried to find the answer to this goofy game, since around 2010. While I think I have learned a lot about the game, and myself during this time, I have not come close to finding the key, to this game called golf. I thought I had it a couple of times, and it is all documented in the blog, but I have really never been able to play, up to what I consider, to be my true potential. But enough of the present, and lets look at some of the things that happened in the early 2000’s.

My fourth hole in one took place at the Club of Nevellewood, on November 2, 2003. It was by far the best of the five. It was on the 17th hole, a 180 yard par 3, with a green that was wider than it was long. The pin was on the right side of the green, which was the toughest pin placement, because you had to carry the trap, in order to shoot at the pin. I was having a good back nine, after a mediocre front of 40. I came to the 17th hole one under on the back nine. I decided in my typical fashion, what the hell, to shoot at the pin. I hit a 6 iron perfectly, and it hit about 3 feet in front, and to the left of the pin. Even though I had played the course a few times, I was not that familiar with that part of the green. There was an upslope on that side of the green. My balled rolled to the very top of the slope, and started the slow trickle back to the pin. We could see from the tee box that the ball was still moving back to the pin. In what seemed like an eternity, it just kept moving slowly down the hill, until it disappeared into the cup. It was a very pleasant surprise, and quickly got me to 3 under on the back. Even with all the excitement of the hole in one, I managed to par the last hole, and shoot a very nice 33 on the back. My fifth, and final hole in one, came in June of 2005 at Castle Shannon golf course near Steubenville, Ohio. It was another hole in one I did not see go into the hole. The hole was playing 200 yards downhill and I again hit a 6 iron. With the sun glare, I could not see the ball hit the green and thought it was short. This was further confirmed in my eyes, when my playing partner Pete hit a beautiful fade, that hit just short of the green, and bounced up about 15 feet short of the pin, which we saw all the way. Driving down to the hole, we could not see a ball short of the green, but when we got closer, there was a ball mark about 8 feet short of the hole. I took one look at Pete and said, “That SOB is in the hole”, and sure enough I was right. The back tees on the hole list the hole being 245 yards and when they put the notice in the paper, they listed hole 245, and it said I had hit a 6 iron. I got some calls on that one, wondering how I had hit a 6 iron 245 yards, and into the hole, no less. I gave out very little info on that one, because it was fun to let people think I had really done that. Other than the some other spectacular shots, one time I went 2, 3, on a par 3 and 5, and almost holed both shots, my golf was for the most part disappointing.

My winter of teaching was fun, and I went through a major swing change myself. I met a lot of interesting people down in Florida, but none more interesting than Babe Belagamba, who was the head of instruction at the school that I taught in Orlando. The Babe was the definition of a character. He was an inventor and had many of his inventions at the school. I still use some of his quotes to this day. He gave me many a lesson and I remember him telling me “Your body is not doing what you think its doing, trust me, you’ll see it on the video”. Of course, he was right. His swing principles, were to make sure your right elbow was digging into your side at address, have your weight pressed into the right side of the left heel, and take the club pretty quickly to the inside to help you turn on the take away. He was not a big believer in visualizing the shot, but more in controlling the body. He wanted you to feeling a stretch up the left side at the top of the swing and release it like a sling shot. I do not do a lot of what he taught me, back then but maybe I should. My favorite quote of his is ” Several years of school, can produce a good brain surgeon, but golf is a lifetime education in frustration. He was right, golf is not brain surgery. Unfortunately Babe passed away in 2006, just a little over a year, after I had met him, and I never got to hear enough of his golf wisdom.

The decade ended with me about ready to quit the game, for the second time, and I thought that this time, it would be for good. Then I happened to see in the local paper, a listing of golf courses, in the area. I started to count them up, and all of these were all public courses, that were at least 6000 yards long. In other words, no par 3 or executive courses. I noticed that there were around 100 golf courses, within 90 minutes of my house, and I thought, why not try to play them all, and start a blog about it. Rate the courses, including the hot dog at the turn, and see if I might be able to figure out this game, in the process. The blog has evolved in to it’s current form where I discuss various subjects involving the necessities of life. Yes, golf is a necessity of life. The non golfers, non meditators, non foodies, and non sports nuts, really don’t know what you are missing. It’s never to late to find out what life is really all about. See you on the links.

Meditation: Obligation, Society

Obligation is defined as an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound; a duty or commitment. Society is defined as the community of people living in a particular country or region and having shared customs, laws, and organizations. Does society have any obligations to its general members. There is always some kind of debate about this, which leads to the subject of the welfare state. In my view society should be obligated to make sure that everyone has shelter, food and clothing. No one should be hungry or cold or exposed to the elements. It seems like a simple obligation, and really does not seem all that noble. It should be something that is easy to accomplish. However, throughout the world people are hungry, homeless, and die from exposure to harsh conditions. Obviously society has failed miserably in meeting these 3 rather simple obligations. Despite these failings, society has taken upon itself another perceived obligation. The obligation that everyone should receive proper medical care. Of course society has also failed at this, but should it even be an obligation.

When you look up the basic human rights, food, clothing, shelter, and medical care are not even mentioned. At least not until 1948, when the United Nations got involved, and drafted a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There were 30 articles affirming an individuals rights. It was in those articles, that food, clothing, shelter and medical care, became basic human rights. Should medical care be a human right. The fact that this human right, was first advocated by the United States, is rather ironic, since we are one of the few countries, that do not have a national health care system. Despite this, or maybe because of this, Americans pay the most for health care, with our current health insurance system. Even though the government is more involved with our health care, we are far from having a universal health plan. Health Insurance is nothing more than a form of socialized medicine, where the many, pay for the few. Since the United States is a free enterprise system, which is based on supply and demand, why isn’t the medical profession part of the economic system. If the medical profession was held to the rule of supply and demand, health care costs would probably plummet. Surgeries and hospitals stays would cost around ten thousand dollars, instead of 30 thousand dollars. People may start to take better care of themselves, if they knew that they would have to foot the bill for their own medical care, and not be subsidized by an archaic health insurance system. Medical care for children should be an obligation of society. When the child becomes an adult, then that is when the obligation stops. Once the medical profession has to charge what the market will bear, then medical care would become much more affordable. Those that do not plan for their medical care, simply would get palliative treatment, to alleviate pain. As long as medical care is going to be considered a God given right, then there is no incentive to make it more affordable, whether it is managed by the government or insurance companies. Once people are required to pay for their own medical care, then possibly society will be able to finally meet its responsibility of providing everyone with food, shelter, and clothing. Once that obligation is met, then maybe society will be able to provide medical care for everyone. I would not hold my breath.

%d bloggers like this: