It's NHL lockout day, and that sound you're about to hear will be that of a great but troubled sports league shooting itself in the head. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to a local suicide prevention group.
Funeral arrangements will be made as soon as the patient is dead. It's expected to linger for a while. Shooting, after all, is not the NHL's strong suit these days. But the prognosis is grim.
Sometime Wednesday, perhaps by the time you read this, the league's Board of Governors will emerge from a meeting with Seligian commissioner Gary Bettman in New York and announce with long faces that they have locked out the players. They'll call it a sad day, but they'll say they had no other choice.
Of course, they have plenty of other choices, including, oh, let me see here, let's just think a second ... oh! I know! Negotiating in good faith. Being willing to take even the tiniest step toward the players, who, in an attempt to help alleviate the league's financial problems -- which are, not to put too fine a point on it, entirely the product of decisions made by the owners -- have made proposal after proposal filled with concessions.
The most recent player offer included an across-the-board 5 percent pay cut, new salary limits for entry-level players, a luxury tax and revenue sharing.
The owners, who nine years ago negotiated the collective bargaining agreement that expired Tuesday night, and who twice since then have renewed it, and who decided to expand the league beyond supportability, and who have agreed to contract after contract that paid players salaries the owners say they couldn't afford, have had one one thing to say since "negotiations" began: No hard salary cap, no deal.
They call it good, hard-nosed business sense. Those of us who don't own an NHL team and aren't irrationally jealous of the paychecks of entertainers who can fill 20,000-seat arenas as many as 110 times a year have another word: intransigence.
It's pretty obvious that what the owners are trying to do is break the union so they can start over with whatever salary structure suits their needs. It worked in the NFL two decades ago and it might work here, though I doubt it.
If it does, though, we'll be sure to mention it in the NHL's obituary, currently written, on file, and awaiting only a few details to be filled in.
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One for the Junk Stat Hall of Fame [PERMALINK]
"Monday Night Football" has a new stat for this year, and it's one for the ages. It's called "Max Stats," and it measures the speed at which a pass is thrown, then extrapolates somehow to give you the equivalent speed for a baseball pitch.
For example, in the season-opening Colts-Patriots game, "Max Stats" decreed that on the Colts' last touchdown, Peyton Manning's pass to Brandon Stokely traveled at 56 mph, which would be the equivalent of an 83 mph pitch in baseball.
I can say without exaggeration that this is the dumbest, most useless stat I have ever seen. It is a junk stat among junk stats. It is Bunyanesque in its uselessness.
That throw was equivalent to an 83 mph baseball pitch, ABC is saying, except it was a football, not a baseball, and it was thrown with a totally different purpose, and we're not going to tell you how we arrived at that equivalence.
You'll be happy to know that one of Bret Favre's throws Monday night was equivalent to starting a campfire without matches in four minutes flat, completing the Sunday New York Times crossword in one hour, 37 minutes and 53 seconds, and getting to third base with the prom queen by midnight on the second date.
There are people doing yeoman work, at places like Footballproject.com and Football Outsiders, trying to perfect new ways to analyze football statistically. They're working on ways to measure line play. They're figuring out who the best running backs and quarterbacks and receivers are in ways other than just counting yards gained, because a yard gained on third-and-goal from the 1 does not equal a yard gained on first-and-10 from the 50, and a yard gained against the Ravens is not the same as a yard gained against the Cardinals.
And the preeminent football broadcast in the land is feeding us nonsense about what a touchdown pass would be if it were a baseball pitch. There does not seem to be an insult to the intelligence of sports fans from which the TV networks will refrain.
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Barry Bonds for MVP Stat of the Day [PERMALINK]
Today's stat: Imaginary managerial cojones.
That's right, imaginary -- well, you heard me. What we're dealing with is the anti-Bonds canard "His numbers are artificially boosted by all those stupid intentional walks."
Reader and Albert Pujols fan Tim Potter rebuts Monday's Stat of the Day, OPS, which Bonds is dominating to a ridiculous degree, thusly: "You completely talk around the fact that his OPS is so high because he set a major league record for intentional walks this year because there is absolutely no need to pitch to him. He has nobody else on his team."
A.C. Hawley puts it this way: "If I was walked as often as Barry Bonds, my OPS would be that high as well." Major league scouts, take note! There's an unsigned baseball player who claims he can slug at over an .800 clip in the bigs, something only Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds have ever done! For a small finder's fee, you may contact Hawley through this column to arrange a tryout.
OK, so all those intentional walks -- 105 of them through Tuesday night's game -- distort the numbers. Bonds has otherworldly stats because other teams are too chicken to pitch to him, or because his teammates are such bums there's no need to. That's the claim.
So here's what we'll do: We'll get rid of the intentional walks. We'll pretend that all of the opposing managers on the Giants' schedule have had the managerial cojones -- or lack of regard for job security, whichever you want to call it -- to pitch to Bonds the way they pitch to other big-time power hitters.
Jim Thome of the Phillies is second in the National League in intentional walks with 25. So let's fix it so Bonds has 25 too, instead of 105. Follow me here: We'll take 84 of Bonds' intentional walks and turn them into plate appearances in which he produces exactly the same results as in his remaining 464 appearances. Since 21 of those 464, or 4.5 percent, were intentional walks, four of these new 84 appearances will be free passes too, for a total of 25. Thus our imaginary Bonds gets the delicate treatment of the next-most-feared power hitter in the league, but nothing more.
So what else would happen in those 84 plate appearances that used to be intentional walks? Based on his season to date, Bonds would go 22-for-60 with 22 walks, including those four intentional, a sacrifice fly and a hit-by-pitch. He'd have five doubles, seven home runs and 17 RBIs. His batting average would stay at .372, of course, but he'd have 48 home runs, three ahead of Adrian Beltre of the Dodgers for the league lead, and 111 RBIs, third in the league behind Cardinal Scott Rolen and Colorado's Vinnie Castilla (both with 121), one ahead of Albert Pujols of the Cards.
Bonds' on-base percentage would suffer a bit, dropping from .614, the best ever, to .542, the fourth best in modern (since 1900) history. His slugging percentage would drop a bit too, from .828 to .822, still the fourth best season of all time. His OPS would fall all the way to 1.364, also the fourth best in history. On all three all-time lists, the only names above his 2004 season are Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Barry Bonds.
And just for reference, that 1.364 OPS would be 254 points -- 23 percent -- higher than that of the closest MVP "candidate," Jim Edmonds of the Cardinals at 1.110.
Folks, it ain't the intentional walks. Even discounting them, Bonds is having one of the greatest offensive seasons anyone has ever had. There are no other candidates for MVP.
Previous column: Ignoring the hockey World Cup, U.S. Open
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