Who am I?

I'm from Houston, a graduate of the University of Texas, a fan of the Houston Astros and Houston Texans. But this blog will be about the "greater sports", whatever that means.

Follow me on Twitter: @lhd_on_sports

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LHD_PotW (287) MLB (110) NFL (109) NCAA (96) NBA (50) NFL Playoffs (47) NHL (41)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

How to fix the All Star Game

We're less than a month away from the 82st Major League Baseball All Star Game, I thought it prudent to review what is, and isn't working in the current format.

What is working:
1) Tuesday is a great day to host it
2) Marketing of the event is outstanding
3) Players genuinely covet roster spots (unlike NFL) and you can see it on their faces
4) DH (added this year) to all games regardless of location (and I'm generally a DH hater)

What isn't working:
1) Fans voting in starters
2) Selection of reserves
3) Field Management of the game
4) Home field in the World Series being on the line

More on each of the "isn't working" and how I would fix:

1) Fans voting in the starters. All this does is skew the starting lineup to the big markets and popular teams. It used to be the popular players regardless of team (Gwynn, Ozzie, Brett, Bench) but now it reads like a Yankees/Red Sox "mash up". The catcher for the NL is always from Chicago, St. Louis, or LA. Never a .300 hitting Benji Molina or slugging Pirate Ryan Doumit. Mind you, some of this is fed by Fox, who do you see on Fox Weekly games? New York, LA, Chicago, Boston, etc.

I propose that fans vote as they do today, BUT these players are only on the roster, not starters. This will also help the field management, the NL and AL managers can actually make a lineup that makes sense. With a speedy guy leading off, a contact hitter in the 2-hole, sluggers through 6, and maybe some better defensive players toward the bottom. You know, like a real manager would!

2) Selection of reserves. By the time the players and coaches vote in additional mandatory players, then the "one player per team" is filled, there's usually about one or two spots left at managers discretion. I think the managers should have the whole league to choose from, with the caveat that his team can have no more than one player than the next most represented team. This allows the manager to build an all star team based upon who he thinks can win the game. I think the one per team stays intact, it's actually something that makes the game special.

3) Field management of game. The next "rule" is, you play it like a real game. That doesn't mean you don't pinch hit or just play the starting nine. But Pujols, Jeter, Utley, Morneau should be in there at the end. Instead you end up with one of the last players added to the team pinch hitting against Mariano b/c you want him to play. You might substitute defense late. You can pinch hit righty/lefty, etc. Brings a whole new dynamic to the game, rather than the fire-wagon substitutions you see in the 5th - 8th innings. If a player doesn't play, so be it. It's an honor to be selected, and even more of an honor if you get a chance to play.

4) Home field advantage for the World Series. This is EXACTLY like how the BCS got formed. There was a problem (the tie in 2002) and they needed a way to win the fans back. Just like there was a bowl system that didn't pit the top two teams in 1997 so they found one that would. Both the previous systems were inadequate (World Series was determined by odd/even year whether it was AL or NL hosting 4 of the 7 games. They need to do the next thing (both of them). BCS should have a playoff and the World Series home field advantage should be decided by team with the best record. If you institute #3 above, you don't need to dangle home field as an incentive.

Once fan voting is finalized, I will institute my plan above and give you the rosters of each league if I were manager. And lineup. Might look a lot the same, might be different. Roster sizes should be a bit lower, but not the standard 25, because of the need for extra pitchers given you won't have one guy going 6+ innings.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Big XII: 1996 - 2011

I come not to bury the Big XII but to praise it.

First a disclaimer, for the most part I intend to keep this blog very objective. I am a fan of the University of Texas and therefore have personal opinions of the Big XII. I'm not going to write about that, but rather the facts, but take my facts in context.

You were born in 1996, really a two years earlier. But it was a good move at the time football being the focus. The Big 8 and Southwest Conference were struggling for relevance. While Nebraska was at the cusp of winning three out of four national titles, OU had regressed, Kansas State hadn't ascended, and it was one big fish in the Big 8, and with Texas A&M's probation and Texas still floundering (no bowls 1991-3) about zero big fish in the SWC but some potential. What might have sealed the fate of the SWC was 1994, when there were five (yes five, to include Rice and Baylor) co-champions all at 4-3. Texas A&M was on probation and ineligible for the title while finishing 6-0-1. The five champions all lost to A&M and went 2-2 against the others. Ironically, the last place finisher in the conference was SMU. At 0-6-1, they tied A&M.

What transpired for the next 14 years (and one to go) was nothing short of taking the best of both and not looking back. A Big XII team (not necessarily the champion) played in the title game for 8 of the 14 years. Two other years teams (1996 NU, 1998 KSU) were upset in the title game and denied. Only the SEC matched the Big XII's 57% appearance rate. Next best is ACC with 29%, all Florida State, all before 2000.

The Big XII garnered 4 Heismans (Williams, Crouch, White, Bradford), one more than any other conference (SEC 3, Big 10 3, Pac10/USC 3, ACC 1).

The following 8 teams made runs at National titles (#3 or better, November 20 or later): Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska (all 2 or more appearances winning one), Kansas State (1998), Colorado (2001), Missouri (2007), Kansas (2007), Texas Tech (2008). I defy you to find another conference that had 8 teams make a run like that. The SEC is the only conference to have more champs (Tennessee, LSU, Bama, Florida) than the Big XII (Texas, OU, Nebraska), no other conference had more than 1.

As for baseball, Texas having won two national titles equals the Big East (Miami x2 pre 2004) and one short of SEC/LSU (3 titles) and the Pac 10 (two Oregon States and a USC). Again right there.

Basketball over the last 10 years (data most easily found) shows that the Big XII has had 6 Final Four appearances only eclipsed by the Big 10 with 7 and the ACC with 9. The Big East also had 6 but has like 18 teams. In that, the Big XII had four different Final Four teams (KU, OSU, UT, OU), eclipsed by 5 for the Big East and matched by the Big 10 and ACC.

There was no doubt that on the field, court, swimming pool, the Big XII was as good as they came.

So what has led to its untimely demise? It was never a comfortable marriage. But rather arranged. The South always felt content, the the SWC teams having taken their tradition forward, and OU and OSU feeling really at home. But since 2000, there has not been a North team favored in the title game. A North team won in 2001 and 2003 upsetting National title hopes, but they were anomalies. The low point might have been Texas' 70-3 thumping of Colorado in 2005. Nebraska made a game of it last year (and might very well win the conference this year) but something was amiss. The old Big 8 lost its feeling of comfort and it didn't seem like the Big 12 was really a cohesive unit.

So enter Big 10 commissioner Jim Delany. Some think he masterminded a big takeover, I really think he was always just acting in the best interest of the Big 10. But when he said expansion, the glue that held together the arranged marriage fell apart. It was like a marriage on the rocks were on Temptation Island. Didn't take long before everyone was protecting their #1 interest. Interesting coincidence that the states of schools in the Big XII all bordered the SEC, Big 10, and Pac 10. It made them ripe for the picking, and everyone (commissioners, presidents, ADs, media) knew it. See the above successes, very very ripe additions only one state away.

So the demise was met. The Big XII tried to put together a pinky swear of everyone vowing to stay in, but the risk of not moving outweighed the potential benefits of staying. It hurt that the region of the Big XII just didn't have near as many TV markets as the other major conferences. So it was set.

It's interesting, as far as baseball, the SWC was always still superior to the Big XII. Despite only having 7 teams. From 1997 - 2009, the Big XII had 12 teams appear, the SWC would have had 15 (add Rice +7, subtract Nebraska +3, OSU +1). Texas, Baylor and Texas A&M count for both.

RIP Big XII, you led a great life, cut too short by marketability, longevity, and too many big programs looking attractive to the market. You end as you began, in the elite of conference competition.