Friday, November 30, 2012

Want to Play Football? Be a Specialist!

Injuries are extraordinarily common in the sport of football.  NFL quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick, Jay Cutler, and Alex Smith were all injured back in Week 10, and all other positions in the sport also come with a risk of injury that's incredibly high.  

Except, of course, for specialists.

Kickers, punters, long-snappers, and even holders are some of the more overlooked members of any football team.  People normally pay attention to a such players only when they make costly mistakes.  But despite the lack of  recognition special teamers get, they are still largely important to the game of football, and boys interested in the sport should consider putting themselves at one of those positions.  For this post, I'll focus on the benefits of kicking (and punting) the ball.

Even though they're not paid as much as the players at most other positions in football, kickers and punters still make more money in a single football season than many Americans make in an entire year.  

The median 2011 salary of a household in the United States? A little more than $50,000 after adjusting for inflation, according to Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times.  

But the lowest-paid kicking specialist listed on USA Today's salary database for the 2009-10 NFL season, Kansas City Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop, earned a total salary of just over $335,000.  That's a huge disparity, even though it's likely very few people know who Succop is.

Kicking and punting aren't skills that everyone has either.  I'm going almost purely off opinion on this, but I think it's much easier to learn how to block a defender or tackle a running back than it is to punt or kick.  Kicking and punting aren't skills everyone has, or even skills that anyone can teach.  If you can put in the time it takes to learn, you've got a chance to succeed, perhaps even make it to the coveted "next level."  

And the risk of injury of kickers and punters?  Not high, probably in-part because you're not getting hit every play.  A 2010 study of injuries to kickers and punters in the NFL revealed just 488 injuries were sustained by kickers between 1988 and 2007. That's an average of just 24.4 injuries per year, not even one per team.  (Even when you consider that the NFL has added four teams since 1988, it's still not one injury per team).  

By contrast, the NFLPA reported an average of 3.7 injuries per NFL team each week in 2010.  Average that number out for all 32 of the NFL's teams over 16 games in a season (probably not the most scientific way of doing things, but it's all I've got) and you come up with a little less than 1900 injuries per year.  

Positions like kicker and punter are also valued members of a football team, regardless of whether they're recognized or not by fans.  Special teams are important, and the people that perform the special duties are contributing vitally to the team as a whole by doing their jobs and doing them well.  Not many people can do those jobs, but they need to be done by someone.  So if you can snap, hold, punt, or kick a football, you're a valued member of a team because you're contributing to the team's success.

At the end of the day, there are quite a number of benefits to being a special teamer in the sport of football.  You can still make a lot of money if you make it to the League and you get hurt less than everyone else, but you are still a valuable member of the team.  So if you want to play football, sign up for a spot as a kicker.  It probably won't hurt a bit.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Peyton Manning Signs Autograph for Jamaal Charles, Poses for Photo With Dwayne Bowe

After the Denver Broncos defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 17-9 on Sunday, Jamaal Charles asked Peyton Manning for his autograph, and Dwayne Bowe requested a photo with the Denver superstar.  

While we don't often hear about exchanges such as these, they do happen on at least some occasions, and aren't limited to soccer players switching jerseys.  Here's a history of some recent trades between professional athletes:

January 15, 2012:

Ray Lewis and Arian Foster exchanged jerseys following Baltimore's 20-13 playoff win over Houston, as shown in the video on this site.  Each signed his jersey  just before the trade.  

August 2012, London Olympics:

From what I've read, swapping pins seems to be a usual practice at the Olympics, and it's one that women's tennis players Kim Clijsters and Francesca Shiavone engaged in this year, as shown on this NBC photoblog. Also, South African Oscar Pistorius and Grenadian Kirani James actually swapped racing bibs after running against each other, according to Joe Battaglia's article on  

And from Timothy Burke on A Tunisian basketball player named Mohamed Hdidane got Kobe Bryant's signature after the United States-Tunisia game ... on one of the shoes Hdidane wore during the match-up.  

2012 NFL Regular Season:

If you thought Manning's gifts to the two players on the Chiefs were the only between-player exchanges that happened this year, you are certainly mistaken.  

Ray Rice has gotten jerseys from Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster, and Ricky Williams (though he got Williams' in the 2011 season).  He and rookie running back Trent Richardson of the Browns were supposedly going to trade with each other after the November 4 game between Cleveland and Baltimore.

Rice has also given his jersey to two other Ravens, Ray Lewis and Vonta Leach, and wore Lewis' jersey for at least one practice judging from Ryan Mink's article on the jersey-trading phenomenon.  

So trading among players isn't unique to the sport of soccer, and seems to be a least a little bit more common than one might think.  Rice was quoted in Mink's article as saying the following about trading jerseys: "It's huge.  People want them for memories.  Trust me, these won't go on eBay."  And ESPN blogger Bill Williamson wrote that lots of players request autographs from their rivals, also noting that, "Opposing players often trade jerseys, pose for photos, and sign footballs for each other.  I've seen that many times too."  

So this makes me feel a little bit disappointed in my own athletic career since I never once traded anything with an opposing player, despite having friends on some of the squads my college team played against.  

So since I have one very small souvenir in my room and plenty more still at home ... anyone have good sports memorabilia they don't want anymore?

**Note: All the information in the "2012 NFL Regular Season" heading came from Ryan Mink's The Caw: Jerseys Are NFL Currency, except for the sentence about the Trent Richardson-Ray Rice trade, which came from both Mink's article and the story Trent Richardson has mutual respect for Ray Rice by Jeff Schudel.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

Justin Forsett's Touchdown Against the Detroit Lions? Bogus, in More Ways Than One

This might be sacreligous or blasphemous for a sports journalism major, but I didn't really watch all that much football yesterday. I saw parts of all three NFL games, but I didn't watch a single game in its entirety, preferring instead to eat, take audio recordings of Thanksgiving Day (it's for a project on holiday tradition), and watch other television shows.

But I did happen to see Justin Forsett of the Houston Texans run for an 81-yard touchdown that shouldn't have been.

Forsett was tackled after an eight-yard run in the third quarter, but took advantage of a non-call by the officials and ran the other 73 yards to the end zone when the referees failed to whistle the play dead. Jim Schwartz threw a red challenge flag, which nulled Detroit's right to have the play reviewed. Such a reassessment probably would have caused the refs to overturn their original call.

How silly is that?

Imagine you go to a restaurant that promises you a free salad before your meal, but the waiter doesn't bring it right away. So you ask him to bring your salad and he says, "Well, I was going to bring it, but we aren't allowed to bring salads to people who ask for them. I'm sorry."

That's what it's like that the officials weren't able to review Forsett's touchdown yesterday.

Stop and think for a moment just how absurd this rule is. Every other touchdown yesterday, per NFL rules, would had to have been reviewed by the referees to ensure the player who scored actually reached the end zone. But the Lions, just because of a relatively minor error by their head coach, lost that opportunity in the third quarter of yesterday's game. The NFL took away one of their basic rights as a football team just because Schwartz threw a flag when he wasn't supposed to, and a touchdown that should have been reversed was counted.

Reviewable plays in the NFL should be equal opportunity, not based upon mistakes that head coaches make. The Lions got gypped yesterday. It's not even questionable that Forsett's run shouldn't have ended in six points. That really hurt the Lions, who now have very slim playoff hopes at 4-7-0. Sure, you can't say the Lions definitely would have won yesterday's game if that touchdown had been overturned, but there's no doubt the play made a difference in a game that was decided by just three points.

Luckily, it looks like this rule might get changed ... and perhaps sooner rather than later. Peter King wrote on Twitter early this morning that he was, "Told NFL very likely to overturn in 2013 challenge-flag rule that hurt Detroit+Schwartz." And Ed Werder added that the NFL might even change said statute this season.

Good. That's a silly rule anyway. After all, if I'm promised a complimentary salad I want the server to deliver ... even if I have to remind him to bring it to me.

Friday, November 16, 2012

MLB Offseason: Are the Toronto Blue Jays For Real?

If you're a baseball fan living North of the Border, it was a very good week.  Your team, assuming you are a Toronto Blue Jays fan, snagged Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buerhle on Tuesday night.  Then, they gave you a present for the weekend in the form of a two-year deal for Melky Cabrera.  

So, Blue Jays fan, how will your team do this coming season?  AL East title?  World Series champs?


But before we go handing the Blue Jays tickets to the 2013 MLB playoffs, let's evaluate their team on a statistical level instead of just taking them at face value.

First, their offensive lineup.  It's starting to look pretty potent what with the addition of Jose Reyes, whose .291 lifetime batting average should add well-roundedness to a team that last season ranked sixth in the Majors home runs, but 23rd in batting average (.245). 

Melky Cabrera bats .275 lifetime if you remove 2012, the year he was suspended 50 games for a positive testosterone test.  But while Cabrera's accolades as an offensive performer aren't nearly up to the standards of Reyes, his bat is still an improvement over the likes of Colby Rasmus and Rajai Davis, one of whom he'll probably end up replacing in the Toronto outfield.  

The rest of their lineup includes Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, and David Cooper, all of whom should be able to help the team offensively.  

So look at it this way: with those players, the one-through-six spots in the batting order should be very productive next year, which means good things for Toronto's chances at a title.  

Defensively, though, the Jays might have a little trouble at some positions on the baseball diamond.  

First base might be one of the biggest question marks of the entire 
Blue Jays franchise.  Of the players currently on the team, Edwin Encarnacion, David Cooper, Mike McDade, and Adam Lind all could play.  Encarnacion is more of a third baseman than a first baseman.  Cooper has played just 44 games as a Major League first baseman.  McDade hasn't even made his Major League debut yet.  And of the four players, Lind is the most experienced at the first base position with a .995 fielding percentage in 181 games, but he had less offensive success last season than either Encarnacion or Cooper.  

And in the outfield, who will the be the leftfielder?  Cabrera plays mainly centerfield, and most of Bautista's career games in the outfield have come in right.  Will it be Rajai Davis?  Colby Rasmus?  Adam Lind?  These questions about the defense have to be answered before Toronto can win the Commissioner's Trophy.  

There are also some weaknesses of the pitching staff.  The combined ERA of relievers last season was 4.33,  25th in the Majors.  

And as for the starters, they've added Josh Johnson and Mark Buerhle.  That's good, but the standard MLB starting rotation consists of five players, and of the pitchers still with the Jays who made at least six starts for the team last season, not one has a career ERA under 4.09.  Combine that with the fact that Toronto is a hitters ballpark, and the Blue Jays will need more pitching before they can truly contend.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Phil Jackson Snubbed, Alabama Loses, and Jose Reyes Goes to the Blue Jays: One Week in the Wild World of Sports

In Chinese culture, each year is assigned one of 12 animals, and January 23, 2012 through February 10, 2013 is designated the Year of the Dragon.  But with all that's been going on in sports, China might have to add to their tradition and call November 10 through November 19 the Week of the Underdog.

Saturday, November 10, 2012: Texas A&M upsets Alabama 29-24.  A collective gasp could be heard from the college football faithful when they realized a team that's not from the SEC just might end up hoisting the crystal football come January.  

But the upsets were far from over even after the universe's top-ranked college football team fell.  The same guy who left his job as head coach of the New York Knicks earlier in the year wound up getting the head coaching job of the team with the second-most NBA titles, as announced via press release on Monday.  And to become coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, Mike D'Antoni had to beat out Phil Jackson, a guy who has never coached a team to an NBA championship finishing ahead of somebody who has more rings than fingers ... even if you count thumbs.  

Then Tuesday night rolled around.  Dreary, eventless, Tuesday night.  The middle of the week.  But in a time when anybody can come out on top at any time, there's no reason Tuesday night couldn't be exciting, especially when ... Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buerhle were traded to the Blue Jays!?  Listless Toronto, the team from North of the Border that hasn't even won a division title since 1993, suddenly picks up three former all-stars in one shot.

And there's a chance this epic win streak of the underdog, a streak King Leonidas himself would have trouble matching, won't come to an end for at least another few days.  Four NFL starting quarterbacks were hurt in this past weekend's slate of pro football games, making it possible that the likes of Byron Leftwich (Steelers), Nick Foles (Eagles), and/or Jason Campbell (Bears) will take the field this weekend.  (And it has already been reported that Leftwich will in fact start in place of Ben Roethlisberger this weekend).  

Yes, this streak has to end.  Order will restore itself.  Alabama will go back to winning, the starting QBs in the NFL will heal and re-take the field, and there's a good chance Toronto will still finish third or fourth in the AL East next season.  

But for a few days, the underdog was the champion.  So stand up and rejoice, sports fans.  (Unless you happen to want the Tide to Roll, or miss Phil Jackson, or, like me, are a fan of New York Yankees).  The Week of the Underdog has arrived.  

Friday, November 9, 2012

Los Angeles Dodgers Can Match the Yankees in Spending, But Not in Success

The Los Angeles Dodgers have been dishing a lot of money lately, and have even been compared to the New York Yankees a couple of times for their free-spending ways.  But can they match the Yanks not only in money spent but in winning the World Series too?

No, no they can't.  

First of all, their offensive performance isn't good enough in a few key statistics.  Sports Illustrated postulated in their October 8 issue that two big reasons teams win in the playoffs are low strikeout rates among their hitters and high batting averages with runners in scoring position (RISP).  If you look at the numbers, this does seem to be true to a certain extent, since six World Series teams from 2009 to 2012 were in the bottom six in the Majors in number of strikeouts.  Five of the last eight clubs to make the World Series had a RISP in the top eight in the MLB.  

The Dodgers aren't nearly that good.

In the last four years, they've finished no better than 18th in the Majors in RISP, although Adrian Gonzalez ranked second among first basemen last season in RISP (.392).  The Dodgers were also no better than 10th in lowest number of strikeouts since 2009. 

Then there's the problem of winning during the regular season for the Dodgers, who put together a 86-76 record last season.  That's nothing to be ashamed of, but it didn't get them into the postseason.  They need to win more close and extra-inning games if they want to make the playoffs, which would be the first step to winning a title.  

So the Los Angeles Dodgers may be, as Jayson Stark referred to them on, "Yankees West" in terms of spending, but they're not going to match the Yanks in terms of titles.  

There are too many things they need to improve upon to catch the Commissioner's Trophy.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

You Won't Believe What Tennessee Titans Matt Hasselbeck Gets Fined For

During his NFL career, professional quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has played for three different teams, thrown for more than 34,000 yards, and started for the Seattle Sehawks in Super Bowl XL.

He can also add a fine for a horse-collar tackle to his resume.  

In what might be the strangest news of the day, the NFL fined Hasselbeck $15,750 because he horse-collared Kelvin Hayden of the Chicago Bears on Sunday, as reported by an article this afternoon.  

But there are also other quarterbacks who have been fined for dishing out on-field hits, despite the fact that their position is one of the most protected in the game of football.

November 2011: Matthew Stafford grabs Chicago Bears cornerback D.J. Moore by the helmet and tosses him following an interception.  The NFL fines him $7,500 according to an article. (You can also see a video of the hit on YouTube).

October 2010: Kevin Kolb, in his final season with the Eagles, is fined $5,000, "For a horse-collar tackle on Atlanta's William Moore while Moore was returning an interception," according to the website  

November 2009: Brady Quinn, playing for the Browns, hits Terrell Suggs low and injures the linebacker, and is subsequently fined $7,500.  However, Quinn does say in an AOL News article that, "'I was trying to go for the ball carrier.  Suggs came across at the last second in my vision.  I would never wish that upon anyone.  I was upset about it on the field.  We worked out in Arizona together.  I couldn't be any more sorry about that.  That was never the intent.  I'm sorry to Terrell and the rest of their team.'"

Despite Quinn's apologies, it's only right that these quarterbacks get fined for their transgressions. Players at other positions on the field get penalized for illegal hits, so why shouldn't quarterbacks?  They're football players just like everyone else, and when they hit illegally they should be fined for it.  

But at the same time, quarterbacks should be taught proper tackling techniques so they don't have to use banned methods to bring down defenders who've just intercepted a pass or recovered a fumble.  This is just a guess, but maybe one of the reasons quarterbacks get fined for illegal hits is that they don't know how to tackle.  Think about it like this: They spend all their time learning the plays, perfecting their ability to throw, and being protected from everyone else.  Perhaps they should be taught how to properly hit and wrap on a tackling dummy so they aren't faced with having to subvert the rules to bring players down during games.  Yes, that means taking off the red jersey and letting them get a little bit dirty during practice, but then fines, not to mention threats to player safety, could be avoided.  

** and the AOL article from which the Quinn quote was taken provided the information on the fine Quinn received and the nature of the hit.  Furthermore, the only time a video provided information regarding a hit was with the Stafford play.  No videos of any of the other hits that were referenced in this article could be found.  

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Boston Red Sox Should (Fill in the Blank) To Build Their Roster for Next Season

Okay Boston Red Sox fans, time for a pop quiz.  What should the BoSox do this offseason to make sure the 69-93 debacle the team suffered through in 2012 doesn't happen again next year?  Should they A) Do their best impression of Brian Cashman and go get anybody and everybody that's on the free agent market?  Here we come Josh Hamilton, Nick Swisher, Zack Greinke, and Mike Napoli!

Or should the Red Sox B) Say goodbye to all the big names except Dustin Pedroia, keep the young players, and let the farm system do the rest of the work?

The answer of course is option C) Sign some free agents and keep some of the guys who are already on the roster, both veteran and youthful (Don't worry if you answered incorrectly.  It will not count against your final grade).

Why won't signing lots of big names work?  Think about it like this: If there's one thing the New York Yankees accomplished this postseason, it's showing that spending huge isn't always the key to acing the final exam and winning the World Series.  The Yanks are now stuck with high-profile players that are no longer of great use to them and that no one else wants because they're owed way too much money.  Alex Rodriguez' guaranteed salary for the next five years is $118 million, and there's a good chance he'll get more for breaking various home run barriers.  He's just 13 taters away from tying Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time home run list, for example, and will receive a $6 million bonus for reaching that milestone.  While there's no doubt the Red Sox shouldn't be frugal, there's no reason they should throw their money around haphazardly either.

There are also players within the organization that should be able to help the team, so the BoSox don't have to go out and buy everything they need.  Pedro Ciriaco is a decent enough shortstop to be able to play on the big league level while also producing at the dish.  And if Xander Bogaerts, a shortstop for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs who was recently listed by as the Red Sox' number-one minor league prospect, turns out to be the real deal, then there's no doubt the squad has a shortstop for the future too.  The 20-year-old's numbers in 23 games with the Sea Dogs are impressive: a .326 batting average and a .948 OPS (on-base percentage added to slugging percentage).  So perhaps he could be a bright star shining in the club's future. 

But at the same time as the Red Sox shouldn't go spending a ton of money and have some good players within their organization already, it's not exactly prudent for them to wave goodbye to all the studs and start over from scratch either.  James Loney certainly won't do at first, and there isn't a first baseman in the organization's top ten prospects as listed by  And who is really able to play third?  Ever notice that Will Middlebrooks' fielding percentage at the hot corner is only .949?  Nothing to actually start jumping up and down about.  So the Sox' roster could definitely use some upgrades for the time being in the form of, say, Jeff Keppinger or Eric Chavez at third, and maybe a guy like Nick Swisher or Adam LaRoche at first.

Keppinger is a sneaky-good for-average, good OBP kind of hitter who might fit in to the Red Sox lineup as a leadoff or number two hitter.  And after his 2012 season with the Washington Nationals (33 home runs, 100 RBI), LaRoche could be the third or fourth guy in the batting order, and would definitely be an upgrade over James Loney.  Just think about how many times LaRoche might be able to go yard in the Lyric Little Band Box.  

Plus, while the Sox might have to shell out some dough to get a player like LaRoche, Keppinger isn't a household name and his salary hit just over $1.5 million last season, so he'd likely come relatively cheap. 

There's also no reason not to re-sign guys like Cody Ross and David Ortiz, two power hitters who can help the club compete right here and right now.  Ross can be a solid sixth man in the batting lineup after hitting .267 with 22 homers last season.  And even though Big Papi is getting old and might not be in the majors for too much longer, he is still extraordinarily effective when healthy.  In 90 games last season he hit 23 home runs and had an OPS of 1.026.  He also struck out just 51 times, which would add up to a mere 91 whiffs if he were to play every single outing of a 162-game season.

Yes, the Boston Red Sox should walk a middle ground this offseason.  Don't go out and spend money like there's no tomorrow, but don't rely only on the players within your own organization.  Either extreme will result in a team that's not as competitive as it could be. With a few tweaks here and there, though, the team should be able to pass the test of making the postseason in 2013.