The NFL is mad about the ESPN dramatic series "Playmakers," which portrays the Sturm und Drang of a rough season for a fictional football team known as the Cougars. The Cougars are a wife-beating, drug-abusing, teammate-hating, groupie-disrespecting bunch, and worse than all that, they wear butt-ugly teal uniforms. Very 1995.
There's really not a good guy in the bunch, from the veteran running back trying to return from an injury all the way up to the owner. The league isn't thrilled with the idea of ESPN, a network that airs NFL games on Sunday nights, running a series that portrays pro football players as worthless thugs and crackheads. ESPN has made it clear that the Cougars are a fictional team that plays in a fictional league and the series isn't intended to be an exposé of the real world of the NFL, but it's hard to avoid making the connection as you watch. There are football leagues other than the NFL, but none of them look like the league portrayed on "Playmakers."
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue reportedly complained to Disney honcho Michael Eisner over the summer when "Playmakers" promos aired during exhibition games, and some team owners have griped publicly about the show.
It's the Writers Guild that should be complaining. "Playmakers," which started out promisingly enough, has turned out to be a pretty silly soap opera, one of those shows where nothing but trouble ever happens to anybody. It has a gritty, HBO-ish style about it, but it's more "Falcon Crest" than "The Sopranos," more "Knots Landing" than "Oz." It's a reasonably good time if you like that sort of thing, but it hardly has the look of a docudrama.
The NFL ought to quit worrying and fix the tuck rule. Its audience is smart enough to know the difference between the real league and a semi-ridiculous fictional one, and besides, hasn't the NFL ever heard that thing about their being no such thing as bad publicity? The league looks as silly complaining about "Playmakers" as the American Society of Newspaper Editors would look whining about "Everybody Loves Raymond."
One guy with a reasonable complaint about "Playmakers" is Randy Boyd, who writes a column at Outsports.com. He laments that the recent story line that has a team member coming out means there's yet one more gay male character on TV who is "white, tortured and looks as if he was cast from a 24-Hour Fitness commercial. Yes, America, there are other types of gay men. Fat gay men. Older gay men. Gay men of color."
Yeah, but gay men in teal?
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The Neifi Awards [PERMALINK]
It's the season of year-end baseball awards, and perhaps the least anticipated of the lot are the inaugural Neifi Awards, given to the league leaders in the Neifi Index, the stat invented by me, King Kaufman, the Neifi Perez of online daily sports columnists, as it were.
To review, the Neifi Index is the difference for each player between his team's winning percentage when he plays and when he does not. A high Neifi Index means a player's team is much better when he doesn't play than when he does. A negative number means the player is an anti-Neifi -- his team is better when he plays than when he sits. To guard against sample size oddities, the Neifi Index is confined to reserve players, those who've played between half and three-quarters of their team's games.
The cultural significance of the Neifi Award is that unlike every other baseball award, you and I could win it if we played in the majors. I'm confident that even the Detroit Tigers could become significantly worse by inserting me into their lineup.
Thanks to the numbers crunching of reader Michael Davidson, I can tell you that the National League Neifi Award winner is Greg Norton of the Colorado Rockies, with a Neifi Index of .387. The Rockies were 39-75 (.342) when Norton played, 35-13 (.729) when he did not. N.L. Neifi leaders tend to be frequent pinch-hitters, as Norton is, because pinch-hitters are used most often in losing efforts. It's important to remember that the Neifi Index doesn't measure cause and effect. It's doubtful that the Rockies would turn into a .700-plus team by playing Norton every day. Well, wait. It's doubtful that the sun will come up in the West tomorrow. The Rockies becoming a .700-plus team with Greg Norton in the lineup is somewhere beyond that.
The N.L. runner-up is another pinch-hitter, Matt Franco of the Braves, at .342. Atlanta went a stunning 43-7 when Franco stayed in the dugout. Neifi Perez, namesake of the index and award for his astonishing ability to lower the quality of a lineup, finished with a healthy .279 Neifi Index, sixth in the league.
In the American League, the Neifi Award goes to Tom Wilson, the Blue Jays' backup catcher, another type that often has a very high or low Neifi Index. His Neifi Index was .306. The Blue Jays were 39-57 (.406) when he got into a game, 47-19 (.712) when he didn't. The runner-up was Matthew LeCroy of the Twins, a designated hitter and occasional catcher, at .150. (Wilson aside, A.L. Neifi numbers are much lower.)
The A.L. and major league Anti-Neifi Award winner is Aaron Rowand of the White Sox at -.369. Chicago fired manager Jerry Manuel after its disappointing season, but maybe the Sox should have fired the outfielders who are keeping Rowand out of the lineup. And, remembering that cause-and-effect caveat, maybe not.
The White Sox were 64-29 (.688) when Rowand got into a game, 22-47 (.319) when he didn't. That's partly because he's the opposite, Neifi-wise, of a pinch-hitter. He's a late-inning defensive replacement, the type who's inserted into a game when the team has a lead. The Sox went 31-7 in games in which Rowand played but didn't bat. But that means they still went 38-22 when he did hit.
Aaron Rowand: Key to everything!
His runner-up was Ben Broussard of the Indians at -.222. Cleveland, which lost 94 games, was actually a respectable 56-60 when Broussard, a first baseman, played.
The National League Anti-Neifi Award winner is Padres catcher Gary Bennett at -.181, but far more interesting is his runner-up, Miguel Cabrera of the Marlins, who appears headed for stardom and thus ineligibility for future Neifi Awards. The Marlins went 56-31 (.644) when Cabrera was in the lineup, and 35-40 (.467) when he wasn't, giving him a Neifi Index of -.177.
But almost all of that 35-40 record was compiled before Cabrera was called up from the minor leagues. Cabrera joined the big club on June 20. On Aug. 7, manager Jack McKeon decided to give him his first day off, and the Marlins lost to the Cardinals 3-0. McKeon never again made the mistake of leaving Cabrera in the dugout, and the Marlins won the World Series.
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