Monday, June 28, 2010

The Benefits of the Status Quo

Now that the American World Cup fever has broken, we can all go back to our regular lives, pending any sort of international commitment. However, it would be a tragedy if we did not learn any lessons from the premier showcase of the world's game.

In watching a handful of matches, it seemed fairly obvious that much like baseball, the call for instant replay in soccer is growing. USA's offsides call in the Slovenia game was just the beginning and yesterday someone else besides the red, white, and blue had a reason to bitch. Nevertheless, FIFA seems content with blowing off any and everyone that questions their referee's calls and I am doubtful any major changes will occur. They have been running the World Cup for 80 years without it, why change things now? Once again the information age proves to be a mixed blessing with new data just showing us problems we've always had, just never really noticed.

Anyway, watching commentators, coaches, players, fans, etc... all talk about instant replay and officiating in soccer got me thinking about our little sport. Just a few years ago I could not have been more adamant that Ultimate needed referees, but now that I am a few years older and wiser, I am beginning to see things differently. Much like the children's story "If you give a mouse a cookie" introducing changes to the officiating system just opens the door for more. First its instant replay for goals, then offsides, then handballs and pretty soon the game looks completely different. Likewise with Ultimate. I cannot believe I am writing this but, once you have a more direct role for calls I can imagine more and more things slipping through the cracks (rather than being caught) and pretty soon the game that we once thought would be improved by impartial judges is now a mockery because of them.

The underlying assumption regarding officials in ultimate is that they will reduce the number of suspect calls. However, what if this is erroneous? What if they make matters worse? Forget the objective standpoint of, "If someone is watching, the foul/travel/pick/etc... will be called" because, as the World Cup has shown, even trained professionals at the highest levels in the most popular sport, get it wrong. That being said, I am beginning to believe that the status quo has more merit than I have historically thought. Perhaps this self-officiating system is worth while, not because of SOTG, but because there are more eyes in better position than without. And whats even more comforting is that our sport does have a reasonably sound system of checks and balances. The contest system is quite effective and one of my favorite moments in Ultimate is when I can look my opponent in the eye and say, "That's a good contest."

In any event, after 4 months of LSAT prep, I have learned the power and risk of assumptions and the World Cup has shown us that refs botch things quite often. Bottom line, much like Germany/England and Argentina/Mexico, the better team won. Even with USA/Slovenia, whatever issues the official created did not end up affecting the competition in the end. Rarely is it the case that poor officiating actually changes the course of a game and in that rare instance, our current system would have prevailed. Ultimately, Rule #76: No excuses, play like a champion.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Heros Get Remembered, but Legends Never Die

Today marked the end of Ken Griffey Jr.'s career and for those that know me well, such a day brings a significant amount of emotion into the heart of an already emotional person.

To call me a Griffey fan is an understatement. Beginning at the age of 6, I became obsessed with everything Griffey. From his baseball cards to autographed balls and bats to jerseys to video games, posters, trips to Seattle, wearing a gold #24 around my own neck. I even used to sleep with his 1989 upper deck rookie card while it was in a bullet proof glass case.

Bottom line, for over 20 years the number 24 has been a mainstay in my life, so much in fact that I have even considered getting it tattooed on my body. My ultimate numbers have always been 24 and a few years ago, on my 24th birthday, my mother had an authentic Seattle Mariners jersey made for me with 24 and "Match" on the back. I will always remember it as one of the best gifts I have ever received.

However, the true greatness of Griffey cannot be explained with statistics, his picture perfect swing, his smile or even one of a hundred of his over the wall catches. In my opinion, his greatness is best understood in looking at his dark years from 2000 to today, the years plagued with injury and mediocrity. Why? In 50 years, hell in 5 years, the period that Griffey played in will always be known as the steroid era. Bonds, McGwire, Canseco, Palmeiro, A-Rod, Manny, Clemens, they all have had amazing careers that were boosted because of a pill or a needle. Some people, including myself, are even waiting for players like Pujols to get popped, because in all honesty, crushing home runs year after year draws skepticism these days.

But what of Griffey? See in my opinion, the late 90's marked a very crucial moment in two highly parallel careers. Griffey was riding some serious momentum after an MVP and even a few playoff appearances and Barry Bonds, while winning 3 MVPs by 1993, had to watch Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire break Maris' record and earn the praise he so longingly wanted. Both were fantastic players at the top of their careers, but it was at this point that the two athletes spiraled into two hugely different directions.

This is speculation, but the consensus seems to be that Bonds started hitting the juice around this time and before you know it he became a monster. Soon after he begins to put up insane numbers and only three years removed from Big Mac's 70, he hits 73. As for Griffey? Well there isn't much to tell. A broken wrist here, issues with a hamstring there. A failed stint with the Reds. Basically nothing. Why do we care? Because there is no better comparison between a player that used and a player that didn't.

Griffey will be a first ballot Hall of Famer for many reasons, the most compelling of which is the same reason Bonds won't be. He played the game honestly. I have no doubt temptation crossed his mind once or twice, but unlike many players that have ridiculous career spikes in odd places, Griffey's career is a testament to what professional baseball does to a person. No one, even the The Kid, is invincible to the wear and tear of 162 games, and in a time where so many athletes fail to represent the heroes we all hope they should be, Griffey's legacy will endure. Never have I been more proud to be a fan of #24.

In addition to Griffey's retirement, there is another layer of this Legends and Heroes post. Mike Grant. Much like Griffey, when anyone in ultimate hears that name, the word "excellence" can't help but come to mind. For the past 10 or 12 years MG has represented the absolute pinnacle of Ultimate performance and wherever you go, no matter who you ask, any knowledgeable ultimate enthusiast will say, "He's the best player in the world." And what is even more impressive is that no one, save maybe a few Fish, could ever dispute this. How do I know this? Because I threw with Chicken a few hours ago and he told me, without any sort of prompt, that in his prime, MG was the best to ever play the game.

However, much like Griffey, it appears that MG's career has come to an end. Off and on I've tried to approach my Furious contacts to write about his exit, but I can understand if it is a sore subject. Perhaps he feels three gold medals and three UPA club titles are enough. Perhaps Furious' dip in performance the last few years has compelled him to reassess his priorities. Whatever the reason may be, the fact still remains, the game has lost its best player. Fortunately for me, I had the opportunity to meet and interview him directly after arguably the biggest win of his career, which for me was a moment that could only be eclipsed by three things, 1) my PhD defense, 2) my wedding day, or 3) the day my son/daughter is born.

With this in mind, I'm sure you can all guess why I have put Griffey and Grant in the same post. They are my heroes, they are simply why I care. At 6 it only took my older brother giving me a 1989 Donruss and at 19, only a little blurb in a UPA Magazine, but these two players changed my life and what's is even more important, is that they represent the best components of their respective games. They are, through and through, absolutely pristine examples of what little boys and girls should strive to be when they pick up a glove or a disc. Yes, there are other fantastic role models in each game, but I strongly believe that in looking at a career, bookend to bookend, you can't do much better than Griffey and Mike Grant.

In summation, peripheral to actual competition, these two athletes have compelled me to become the thinker, the writer, the scientist, the journalist, and most importantly, the man I am today. Thank you.

just my thoughts

match diesel