Monday, December 23, 2013

Dead on Arrival

I was at work when I read that Major League Baseball was banning home plate collisions. With every ounce of my body I wanted to scream "AW HAIL NAW" but I didn't. While some are welcoming this decision, others think that baseball is going soft. Shoot, what sport looks like it isn't soft nowadays? So many precautions...

Last week, a monumental decision was made in the American baseball realm. This decision has begun a massive schism of the ages where there are people that believe in safety and people that believe in letting men act like men in the game. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this actually happened. With slow enforcement this upcoming season leading to a full enforcement during the 2015 season, any kind of collisions occurring at home plate will be banned. Those exciting plays at home? Gone. Fear that you will be losing your catcher (or runner) for a set amount of time? Gone. All of that exciting physical stuff? Gone.

With this decision, there are a lot of good intentions behind it: Firstly, it eliminates blind hits; therefore, any kind of injury is avoided, such as whiplash or freak accidents. Secondly, it diminishes the chance of collateral damage, such as concussion, broken bones, or ruined muscles/tendons/ligaments from the hit. Lastly, there will be disciplinary action whenever something like this occurs in the future, since the concept of "targeting the catcher" is taboo in this rule.

The biggest part of this incoming rule was that catchers would no longer be allowed to block home plate. While I understand that blocking the plate is a really dangerous idea and it's sort of a reflex in a close play such as one at the plate, my response was: "When did this become Little League, and why do they want to put something similar to the 'slide or surrender rule' into effect?" Is the catcher just some placeholder that only catches a pitch now? They have pads on for more than one reason, you guys. That's just me, though. You'll see why in a second.

Amid all of this commotion, Johnny Bench is actually praising this rule. He went to Twitter after the occasion noting how he has lingering knee issues after a collision with Gary Matthews in 1975. He has taken to many other outlets since then, basically stating that this rule should have been implicated some time ago, and that men like Giants catcher (and apparent future infielder) Buster Posey have become victims of the reckless plays at home plate that should never have been allowed in the first place. Somewhere on this planet, Pete Rose is looking at a picture of Ray Fosse and going: "You took it like a man. Why can't they?" For those who aren't familiar with that whole story, the Fosse/Rose duo are most infamously known for the home plate collision during the 1970 All Star Game in which Rose stormed home plate, injuring Fosse. It was later revealed that he had a broken and separated shoulder which had healed incorrectly, ultimately affecting his entire career after that.

Again, people are going to be 50/50 on the whole matter. But with recent findings making their way out to the public, this rule seems like it needs to happen whether we like it or not.

The human body has suddenly shown frailty in our sports-loving society. Late last week, it was announced that former MLB utility player Ryan Freel, an athlete who took his life in December of 2012, was discovered to have suffered from CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This makes Freel the first known case of CTE in Major League Baseball. He had allegedly suffered up to ten concussions in his nine-year career, and they were the catalyst in his untimely death. Even Cardinals manager Mike Matheny noted how many head injuries he had sustained because of collisions. Everything seems to be falling into place, and the right people are coming out and speaking up about how there is a dark side behind the plate, and there are more injuries sustained than ever believed.

I've noted on this blog that time and time again that athletes know they have to take these chances of suffering injury playing sports. If they didn't want to get hurt, they'd stay home and sit on their hands or take some cubicle job they can't stand. While it looks like I highly oppose a rule like this being implicated in MLB, there have been a lot of scary things going on when it comes to collisions at home plate, and nine times out of ten it results in a horrendous injury. With that said, I still approve of the close play of sliding into home plate. On top of that, there is also a difference between sliding into home plate and throwing your forearms into someone in a mid-air tackle like you're a Pokemon or some Dragonball Z character. In the case where Buster Posey shattered his ankle in May 2011, that was a case of Marlins player Scott Cousins being reckless. This was pretty reckless too, but this was Hollywood. When it comes to reckless tackles like that, you run the risk of missing home plate, so if that part was banned, I wouldn't mind it so much. The whole wiping it out completely is what baffles me the most. But que sera sera. It has to be done now.

Let's get them all out now, OK?


(For more reading, you can go here.)

Oh, and Merry Christmas, you sillies.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Red Whines: Short-Term Anger, Flippant Fans

Words can't express how reading an article about these kinds of incidents make me feel. It hurts, it angers, it practically makes me lose faith in humanity. Plus, there have been so many similar stories to these before Sunday. Sickening, yes? You'll find out here.

Rivalries. It's in the genes of sports. If you're a fan of a specific team, there has to be one team you absolutely despise in return. For example, if you like the Red Sox, you totally hate the Yankees. If you like the Packers, you totally hate the Bears. If you like the Cowboys or the Penguins, everyone seems to hate you. No matter where you are, there's a blind hatred involved with people rooting for the other team. While there may be respect when it comes to other interest, sports fall into the category of things you should never discuss along with religion and politics. Then again, aren't there a lot of politics involved in the religion that is sports? I digress. In my time of watching and loving sports, I have read many reports of fans fighting in the stands over something extremely stupid which later results in police activity. Good times, I must say. While they often involve flying cups of beer, flying fists, and other flying objects (shoes?), others involve even harsher physical violence. I'm talking about sharp objects. While sharp objects are not permitted inside of stadiums, most of these fights take place outside, and most of them have gruesome results.

Sunday night following the Broncos/Chargers game in Denver, a fight broke out after an alleged near-collision while someone was pulling out of a parking spot. A knife was pulled out and at least three people were stabbed in the process. Luckily, the injuries were not life-threatening.

A parking spot. I could not make this up.

The idea that this is even happening or being brought into conversation is preposterous. Really? Are we thinking short-term again? This is enough to throw the unwritten code of ethics onto the table. While I have seen my share of rival fights in the stands, any idea of going so far as to stabbing someone over a parking lot incident is rather stupid in a sane person's mind. While there is the idea of making a statement, it's also another thing to shut someone up and the inevitable happens. In this case, three (possibly four) people were stabbed in the incident. When we go through a though process, anger tends to cut the whole "thinking things through" part and that's when the bad stuff usually happens. We see it all the time in the ghetto-style neighborhoods when one tussle turns into an unnecessary weapons display. In short, short-term anger leads to lack of long-term planning. One doesn't think of the consequences, and why is that? One wants an immediate solution to an irritating problem. It's not a video game, where the guy is going to respawn at home after a ten-second wait.

This recent story comes on the heels of other national news stories involving fan violence after and even before the games occur. We're not talking one, but at least four or five here. For example, a 24-year-old man was fatally stabbed following a bar fight after a Dodgers/Giants game in late September. While charges were later filed and apologies were made, nothing was healed in the matter; there's a loss of life and a guilty conscience on the man who delivered that deadly blow. It's one thing to incapacitate a guy, but it's another to use a weapon that can end a person's life. Again, short-term anger turns into lack of long-term planning.

I'm not particularly saying this from a woman's perspective, but there's a fine, fine line between being a man and being stupid. There. I said it.

There's more.

I'd like to direct you to this little video that was shot a few months ago after a Cowboys/Chargers game. While alcohol was involved with this incident, again, there is a fine line between showing that you're a man and that you're a total idiot. I'd like to note that this is one of many fan fights you will see on YouTube, and most of them result in law enforcement getting involved. Unfortunately, the only thing that sports organizations can do is enforce the law and practice the correct discretionary measures toward unruly fans through security and ground rules explained in various locations in the vicinity. I feel as if teams and franchise owners almost take some sort of responsibility for these matters because, after all, these fans are rooting for their team and their actions are giving their team bad publicity. Even when it doesn't involve violence, such as when a fan fell to his death at Turner Field in Atlanta in August or at Candlestick Park in San Francisco in September, there is some sort of an "uh oh, what happened here" thought flying around the head.

There is a general understanding that it is human instinct to express the policy of "actions speak louder than words." However, when that instinct kicks in, the "flight or fight response" rears its head and takes over. There's no morals, there's no remorse; it's all about making the statement. Unfortunately, there's the assistance with alcohol and the reason to be angry in a rival showdown going sour. I'd also like to note again that some of the reasons for these altercations are asinine and they make me want to throw my head into my hands asking: "Why? Why are people so stupid? Why do I want to smack them upside the head?" Then we hear that voice in our heads, replying: "[Your name], people are crazy, that's all. This is normal." Life goes on as usual. There are other ways to cope with these bouts of anger, believe me. This has to be the worst wave of fan violence in a very long time, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better. You can blame society all you want; it's just an awful shame that it's at the expense of an exciting sporting event.

(What is it with the Chargers and San Francisco teams making multiple appearances in this article? Sheesh.)


(Here are the articles used as reference in this article. Read if you wish. 1, 2, 3)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

MMA: Lost in Translation?

It's a year and a half in the making. It finally happened. I had to force this one, and my goodness, it's pretty.

After finishing the last blog post, I had to quickly call my friend Andrew (who has poked his head around on this blog a couple of times) because I had a really good idea. After knowing him for four years, I've learned a lot about him, including his involvement in taekwon-do. When it comes to what he has learned, I wondered what he thought of mainstream MMA sports organizations like UFC. Long ago, he had pondered on whether he wanted to write a post on this topic. Obviously, that never happened. It took a half-hour conversation over Skype to get all of the ideas down. Enjoy and leave a comment if you'd like.

--AZ (Andrew too)

Who Are You To Judge?

I will get this out of the way now: I am not the biggest fan of UFC. While martial arts can be seen as a competitive sport by many, I still see it as an art of personal enrichment and knowledge. Call me old-fashioned. I dare you to.

On a personal note, I've been gone for a month. Have you missed me? I missed me. I've been incredibly busy with other projects, but I haven't forgotten about this baby. Who are you to judge my absence? Honestly!

A month after the fact, UFC 167 is still being seen as one of the most controversial MMA events that had occurred in quite a long time.

On November 16, the UFC Welterweight Title was on the line as Georges St. Pierre was fighting against a favored Johnny Hendricks. While Hendricks held his own for three rounds, the match when the five full rounds and went to the decisions of the judges. In a stunning move, St. Pierre won the fight by split decision, shocking everyone in attendance, including UFC President Dana White. Social media blew up, and it was such a big deal that it was even on the front page of ESPN for all of a day or so. What made the matter even more controversial was the St. Pierre had later announced that he was stepping away from MMA to tend to personal matters. While he had said there would be a rematch, that will remain to be seen. Rather dramatic, don't you think?

Could this judging issue have been avoided? It's rather obvious that people were displeased with the result, and everyone observing the event became armchair judges. It really isn't that difficult to follow along with a match, so you could judge subconsciously and get results right just about every time. As complex as the UFC realm may seem, the rules are relatively simple and just reading them over for a brief minute helps you understand what's going on and how things are run. For example, there are little tidbits that count as fouls and other infractions, and when it comes to earning points, it depends on effective strikes and grapples and the precision of each attack/defense. Simple enough, right? That is where the "10-10, 10-9, 10-8" business comes from.
If you want more information on the judging criteria in UFC, check out the rules here.

After exploring the judgment system in mixed martial arts, it's rather similar to the sport of boxing, in which there isn't a declared winner until the contest is over. Sure, you might get a general idea of who wins the fight based on overall performance in each round, but your opinion might be substantially different from the official judges. That is where we run into the fly hanging around in the ointment. Could we be running into the controversial problem of errant booking and gambling?

Gambling in sports has been a giant pink elephant in the room for centuries. It works like a ninja in most sports, considering how gambling and betting on sports is a major offense in the United States, especially when it involves match fixing. While betting isn't a four-letter word in the sports world, it certainly makes for awkward entertainment and sportsmanship. It becomes even more awkward when the athlete isn't in on the match fixing and they're like: "What just happened?"

There was a book written called The Harder They Fall, and it was later adapted into a film in 1956 starring Humphrey Bogart in his last role before his death the following year. The book and film explored the dark side of match fixings in the world of boxing, and how it tainted what once was a sport of honor and a showcase of fighters with the biggest aspirations and heart. Sixty-plus years after the release of the novel, about sixty since the film, we're experiencing a dark side in real life. Although there hasn't been anything confirmed behind the scenes, you have to admit that something fishy was going on.
[I highly recommend the film, by the way. You will actually see some real-life famous boxers in the film like Max Baer.]

Yes, "All the world's a stage and we are merely players," but the line needs to be drawn when it comes to pure sport and pure entertainment. Mixed martial arts organizations like UFC have been pretty good with that, especially when they adopted a more formal system outside of what they had in the 90's [i.e. dudes fighting in sneakers, for real] and--for the lack of a better term--began showcasing different martial arts styles and lovechildren of said styles. You're probably thinking: "Steph, you're an idiot. This is already entertainment." Okay, hush your face; this isn't the kind of entertainment I'm talking about. In entertainment, I'm thinking of more staged outlets like professional wrestling. While fights are entertaining in boxing and MMA, the fights aren't booked in advance, making each event more of a "watch and see athleticism that has no premeditation attached to it." Does that make more sense now?

When you're a judge for a sport like boxing or MMA, you are put in the hot seat and you need to make sure you are observant in each movement and each attack, especially when it is a close fight. I'm stating the obvious here, but it's a job that needs to be taken seriously, especially when careers [and money] are on the line and they're crucial to keep the credibility of the sport going along. It isn't difficult to get something wrong, but when there is no responsibility claimed in screwing up judgment, things get muddy and all kinds of foggy. Would you rather claim responsibility and admit you got something wrong, or screw up the reputation of the sport that you had once admired and observed.

With that said, you have to admit that seeing the you-know-what hitting the fan at UFC 167 really takes away some form of credibility with the sport, especially when it comes to the honor behind most arts. You could tell it was bad when Dana White was not pleased with the aftermath. It can't be helped when controversy involving poor decisions leads to poor press. This is especially true when it comes to the judges for each event and what they're looking for in each fight. Is favoritism involved? Was something done under the table? I could be thinking into it too much, but those are just some things that can't helped but be considered when you see a screwy finish to a fight that looked like it had a decisive winner.

With UFC 168 coming around in less than three weeks, we're going to see some animosity with the crowd and the judges will be n deep water until things start moving along smoothly. Let's not muddy the waters anymore now, okey dokey?