Saturday, April 30, 2011

Standing Up for the Rich and Powerful

Chicago has a proud tradition of brilliant sportswriters. I grew up on Jerome Holtzman, who taught me to love newspapers and gave me even more reasons to love baseball in the city.

Chicago also has an embarrassing tradition of giving morons columns and allowing them to poison the atmosphere: Skip Bayless and Jay Mariotti taught me the lesson that in contemporary America, being an a*^hole is often confused with being interesting. Steve Rosenbloom currently proves that this inability to distinguish between the two continues to characterize the environment.

David Haugh is a whole different story. Haugh is generally a solid writer about the Bears and game performance and analysis. His opinion pieces, on the other hand, are idiotic and induce winces while reading. Not because I disagree with his opinions necessarily: Haugh recently wrote that he thought the Bears should do right by the Ravens and send Baltimore its fourth round pick to remedy the team's silly mistake. I also think that it would have been a classy move that would not only salve any hard feelings from the Ravens but also be a tremendous boon in terms of public relations and general perceptions of the club. But Haugh wrote this in support of his argument:
Salvaging Angelo’s reputation around the league by showing he’s a man of his word might be worth whatever fringe roster player might be picked at that slot in the fourth round.

Bob LeGere, who does excellent work for the Daily Herald and is a must-read for all Bears fans, appropriately mocks the stupidity of labeling the possible fourth round selection as a "fringe roster player":

And those who act as if giving away a fourth-round pick is no big deal are uninformed. Since Angelo began running the Bears’ draft in 2002, the fourth round has brought DE Alex Brown, CB Nate Vasher, QB Kyle Orton, LB Jamar Williams, OG Josh Beekman, S Craig Steltz, DE Henry Melton, CB D.J. Moore and DE Corey Wootton.

Indeed, in honor of "fringe roster players" selected in the fourth round, I walked around Byrd Stadium today wearing Marcus Robinson's jersey -- the Bears' 1997 fourth round draft pick out of South Carolina who, under current Terp offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, set and still holds the franchise record for receiving yards in a single season (1,400 yds).

To be fair, it is a throwaway line. Sloppy, ill-conceived, and unsupported, but minor.

Haugh's follow-up? Feigned outrage at Robbie Gould in one of the dumbest concocted controversies in recent memory. Haugh quotes our kicker as telling the Chicago Tribune:
"Look, fans don't buy tickets to see Virginia or Brian McCaskey. They pay to watch Brian Urlacher, Drew Brees and all the great players. This lockout is all because of the owners' greed. I'm sorry if that sounds cold, but it is the truth."

This quote seems, on its face, unremarkable. Not to Haugh. Haugh sees Gould defiling Virginia McCaskey, disparaging her honor. This, Haugh will not abide. Now, expressing this opinion is one thing. When Haugh writes:
By today's anything-goes standards, what Gould said falls short of offensive to many. But a Bears player criticizing Virginia McCaskey is like a baseball manager arguing balls and strikes. You're wrong the moment you begin to speak, whatever you say.

he just comes off as an idiot. A lack of outrage at a fellow sportswriter who repeatedly and continually attacks player for failing to play through injury evinces "anything-goes standards." On the other hand, saying that people don't pay to see the McCaskeys and that the lockout is due to owner's greed is a mixture of fact (people don't pay to see the McCaskeys) and opinion (the lockout is a product of a number of things, including owners' desire for more money -- i.e., greed -- the weight afforded to each factor depends upon perspective).

But Haugh goes further:
I called Gould to see if he regretted escalating lockout rhetoric to include a woman considered off-limits for a long time.

You what?
I asked Gould if he will apologize to Mrs. McCaskey whenever football resumes.

Is this the third grade?

Grow up, David.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Thursday night was a beautiful evening to spend at RFK. Setting to one side the result, the audience at the stadium was treated to an excellent display of football from the visiting side capped off by a remarkable moment of skill from Juan Agudelo. A diehard Arsenal supporter accompanied me to the game and after spending most of the drubbing recalling some of Thierry Henry's more exceptional goals in light of his brace, Agudelo's juggling conversion paid perfect homage to his teammate's career achievements.

I wish that this all would have been enough to allow me to leave RFK happy and justify missing game 3 of the Bulls-Pacers series. But a pathetic performance from D.C. United starkly contrast the Red Bulls effort. The juxtaposition between centerbacks was particularly noteworthy. Rafa Marquez and Tim Ream were tremendous; frankly, I spent almost the entire first half admiring their partnership. Perry Kitchen and Dejan Jakovic, not so much. Craig Stouffer's excellent recap of the evening locates blame for Henry's two goals on D.C. United's fullbacks (Chris Korb and Marc Burch), but from our seats, in real time, Jakovic seemed to lose his defensive assignments throughout most of the evening. The Canadian international made a brilliant tackle late in the second half and endured numerous cheap shots from mini-Hercules Luke Rodgers without being provoked into retaliation, but otherwise appeared to struggle.

Ethan White lost a starting spot following United's only shutout of the season because Kitchen was apparently healthy and perhaps that's the right call. But watching a team's most potent attacking force go completely unmarked doesn't sit well and belies any claim that the defensive personnel on United's roster reflects the best recruits available for Olsen's Army. A short piece by Ives Galarcep on Andy Iro's frustration in Columbus concludes with the following:

Iro was a fixture in Robert Warzycha's starting lineup last season but hasn't played at all this season. Instead, Warzycha has paired Julius James with Chad Marshall in central defense. The Crew's back line is in the midst of a 373-minute shutout streak and has posted four consecutive clean sheets.

Tell me again how James isn't very good.

Ethan White was joined on D.C. United's bench last night by Branko Boskovic, Andy Najar, and Santino Quaranta. I don't believe any of the four where there because of fitness concerns. The team selected for the starting XI got thrashed and spent much of the game (at least until Boskovic's introduction) sputtering in the attacking end.

Perhaps United fans will soon be treated to declarations that Boskovic, Najar, and Quaranta aren't very good?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Staying In Touch

On a weekend packed with great soccer matches, I caught two games on television. Barca-Real Madrid? No thank you. Manchester Cup Derby? Not my cup of tea. Arsenal-Liverpool? Maybe alright for some, but no sir.

In this house, only the best = Saturday, D.C. United in Toronto; Sunday, the L.A. Galaxy in Chicago.

Both games featured huge contributions from players we followed locally, which ended up being the theme of the weekend.

Begin Friday night: IFK Mariehamn played another game in the Finnish Cup, this time against Honka, and won 1-0 on a goal by Toni Lehtinen. Per the match report, the most valuable player of the game was the man most responsible for the shutout, Josh Wicks. In addition to making some great saves to preserve the clean sheet, Lehtinen's goal is reported to have come off a Wicks' boot forward. Mariehamn now moves on to the quarterfinals as one of the final eight teams remaining in the tournament after reaching the semifinals last season. IFK Mariehamn's league season opens on April 28th against Lehtinen's former team and fellow Finnish Cup quarterfinalist, FC Haka. Long may Wicks' good run of play continue.

On Saturday night, Ethan White was handed his third consecutive start anchoring D.C. United's defense against Toronto FC. In the second consecutive league match, he was joined by fellow Terp Marc Burch in the back four. White didn't have a perfect game, but he was solid and fearless and a seminal part of DC's first clean sheet of the regular season. Along with Perry Kitchen and Chris Korb, United has added three very good players from the collegiate ranks to their defense (and all three played Saturday). Questions were raised as to whether White was too eager to leave Maryland, but the early returns from his play indicate that he is a competent professional soccer player who can seamlessly slot into the starting XI.

On Sunday afternoon, the L.A. Galaxy traveled to Chicago and according to the broadcasters the man of the match was another center half from Maryland, Omar Gonzalez. Gonzalez netted the game winner off an impressive header connecting with a corner kick. Chad Barrett's strike would have been enough, but Omar got beat late by Dominic Oduro. Despite the lapse, Gonzalez put in another good shift for LA and his ability to score from set plays is going to have to put him in the mix for additional caps with the USMNT. Late in the match, LA's other center half, Leonardo, injured himself badly on an innocuous looking play and is expected to miss the rest of the season. In Leonardo's absence, LA will likely use the All-Terp duo of Gonzalez and AJ Delagarza.

A little later in the day, two other former Terps took to the field for the Portland Timbers' second home game in the MLS. Another game, another gamewinner for a Maryland alum, this time off the foot of Rodney Wallace, who benefited from some nifty dribbling by Kalif Alhassan that took out nearly every Dallas defender leaving Kevin Hartman isolated and exposed. The first person to congratulate Wallace on the fortuitous goal? Jeremy Hall, who put in a 64 minute shift before getting spelled by Darlington Nagbe and things unraveling a bit for Portland as Dallas pulled back two.

It sucks to see Wallace in any MLS jersey other than United's colors, but he could not have landed in a better place. Reunited with Hall, both are privileged to play before a rabid fanbase that make home matches events, not mere games.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Convenient Fees

A trip to Nationals Park today spared me from having to watch Carlos Marmol's meltdown at Wrigley, as the Cubs lost their opening home series (to the Pirates) for an inauspicious start to the season. At the stadium, a twenty minute wait in crowded ticket lines provided the perfect opportunity to contemplate "convenience fees."

Last week, I bought a bunch of tickets to the 2011 Nats Fest. I wasn't sure I would be able to use the tickets (and ultimately was not able to use them), but a portion of the ticket price went to the Nationals Dream Foundation so no loss either way. Except, the last ten dollar ticket I purchased came with $6.75 in fees ($1.50 for convenience, $5.25 for order processing). The numbers make the necessary math here simple for me: ordering a ticket online came with a 67.5% surcharge for fees.

A few days later, I tried to buy tickets to a Padres game. There are 23 different pricing levels for seats at Petco. (I thought that this was remarkable until I went to buy Nationals tickets and realized that they've got 30 different pricing levels -- the Cubs have 22). Finding the best seats available -- as opposed to the most expensive tickets available -- is not easy, as it requires searching across all of the various ticket pricing levels to see what can be purchased. After thirty minutes of futile clicking, I gave up, found a ticket broker and bought seats exactly where I wanted for over 25% less than what it would have cost to buy the tickets directly from the club.

A break in the awful weather here created an opportunity to go see a ballgame today and so I spent ten minutes on Saturday looking at buying tickets for the game: five outfield reserved tickets for $24 a piece were easy enough to find -- although I was given no ability to determine whether those seats would be in left or right field -- and's cut? A mere $23.50. Meaning that I could bring somebody else to the game for two quarters if I just waited to buy tickets at the stadium.

Complaining about ticket fees is neither new or interesting, but I struggle to understand why the ticket services provided for such exorbitant fees are so pathetic. Anyone who has purchased tickets for European football clubs has enjoyed the ability to pick out specific seats for a match after being informed as to which ones are open or already occupied. I bought tickets for a Feyenoord match a few months ago and marveled at the ability to navigate a system in a language I did not understand to find a great couple of seats.

Perhaps that level of interactivity -- for reasons that elude me -- is not appropriate in the context of a baseball game. Except, one of the great things about getting tickets for Bowie Baysox matches (the Orioles' AA affiliate) is the ability to pick your exact seats through a transparent process. The Baysox's interface parallels that of choosing seats on a plane -- you are shown which seats are unoccupied and can simply select whichever of the available seats you fancy.

And, of course, buying tickets through MLB's "official" secondary marketplace (StubHub) allows far more autonomy in selecting tickets. Ticket availability is reported by section. If I wanted to buy five tickets for the Nationals next home game, StubHub's total administrative cost for purchasing five tickets at $24 a piece? $16.95. In other words, the "convenience" of's archaic system is valued at 19.6% of the total ticket charge, while StubHub's interactive system of bringing tickets to a prospective buyer is valued at only 14.1% of the total ticket charge (despite it being far superior). Put another way, the system is 40% more expensive for purchasing tickets of the same value.

Worse, because of the market I am in, the $24 tickets for the next home game available on StubHub are being sold significantly below face value, so the equivalent cost for buying comparable tickets through the club directly would be substantially higher.

The design of MLB's ticketing system seems to intentionally drive fans to the secondary market -- a bizarre consequence of what appears to be structural incompetence. Presumably, a better system would not only encourage more ticket sales but would further facilitate dynamic pricing systems that would provide more revenue.

Or not. Regardless, missing the top half of the first inning while waiting in line for tickets did not bother me. As long as the alternative is paying significant funds to a service that seems to do little, chatting with other baseball fans on a sunny (albeit brisk) spring day is the better option.