Sports and Games

American Sports Teams and Geographic Deception

Posted in Sports and Games on July 24th, 2015 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, currently only one game ahead of the Houston Astros for control of the AL West, are visiting town next week in a series that will prove to be tense and interesting. Hopefully the Astros will regain the lead of the division during the series, but regardless of how things turn out, the Astros have one thing to be proud of: they're not geographically deceptive.

See, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are, as the latter half of their name suggests, based in Anaheim, CA. A city, that, for the record, is not even in Los Angeles County. These Orange County wannabes look to their northwest and see love for the Los Angeles Dodgers, based in, believe it or not, Los Angeles. They are understandably envious of the admiration that big city living gives you. And frankly, I can't blame them. When they changed their name from "Anaheim Angels" in 2005, they gave a nod to their beginnings, they created a more easily marketable franchise name, and they began their geographic deception.

After thinking about the Angels, I got interested: are other baseball teams practicing geographic deception of the same caliber? What about teams of other sports?

As it happens, in baseball, they are the only team to lie about their location, and even that's not quite a full lie, as they maintain the "of Anaheim" qualifier. The other twenty-nine MLB teams are accurate about where they are located, although five (Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, and Tampa Bay Rays) are vague enough to facilitate a possible future-though-nearby move.

And it turns out that this geographic deception is actually not very rampant outside of football: the NFL is by far the most egregious pit of lies. Of thirty-tw teams, only twenty-six play where they call home, and six of those (Carolina Panthers, Tennessee Titans, New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals, and Minnesota Vikings) are quite vague, hedging where they actually play. That leaves a whopping SIX teams that are geographically deceptive in the NFL: New York Giants (East Rutherford, NJ), New York Jets (East Rutherford, NJ), Dallas Cowboys (Arlington, TX), The Washington Professional Football Team (Landover, MD), Buffalo Bills (Orchard Park, NY), and the San Francisco 49ers (Santa Clara, CA). After all, what's in a name?

The NBA and NHL are much more honest, basically on the same level as baseball. The NBA has only four 'hedgers' (Indiana Pacers, Utah Jazz, Golden State Warriors, and Minnesota Timberwolves) and only one liar: the Detroit Pistons (Auburn Hills, MI, but can you blame them?) Frankly, the NBA should get bonus points for their aboveboard honesty in the form of the Brooklyn Nets. Where every other NY-centric team in any sport claims just "New York," the Nets are specific enough to name their borough. The NHL, similarly, has six 'hedgers' (Florida Panthers, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, and Minnesota Wild) and only one liar: The Ottawa Senators (Kanata, Ontario – I expected better from you, Canada… shame.)

The conclusion from all this? Minnesota is one big state with no individual cities, at least as far as sports are concerned.

The Wonderful World of Stadium Naming Rights!

Posted in Sports and Games on February 13th, 2015 by Nathan – 1 Comment

When I was a kid, the Astros and Oilers played in the Astrodome, and the Rockets and Aeros played in the Summit. Today, the Oilers are no more, the Aeros are no more, the Astros play in Minute Maid Park, the Rockets play in the Toyota Center, and the Texans play in NRG Stadium.

In between my childhood and now, Houston has been graced by even more names: the Astros went from the Astrodome to the Ballpark at Union Station to Enron Field to MMP. (Those last three being the same location.) The Rockets and Aeros went from the Summit to the Compaq Center to the Toyota center. (Those first two being the same location.) And the Texans began life at Reliant Stadium before NRG Stadium. (Yes, those are also the same location.)

Naming rights are fascinating to me when I consider this: as a child, every stadium I knew was unnamed, an advertisement for sports only, yet today, I see cars, juice, and electricity. And in traveling, I find that there's fewer and fewer unnamed sports complexes. My uncle once took me to see games at both Cowboys Stadium and the Ballpark at Arlington, but those are now gone, and their teams instead play at AT&T Stadium and Globe Life Park in Arlington. Even while in college, I watched as Shea Stadium was replaced by Citi Field. The unnamed building is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

Given this, I decided to do some simple research to answer some questions. What industries are most prevalent in naming rights? Does that differ by sport? What stadiums/arenas/ballparks still don't have paid naming rights and what are they named for? Etc. Here's what I've found:

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Links to full size images: MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, Overall. And the data I used (excel format).

  • Outside of the MLB, there's very few places that haven't sold naming rights. Fully one-third of MLB ballparks have avoided doing so, but the other three sports combine to produce the same number (ten: two in the NBA, six in the NFL, and three in the NHL).
  • Financial institutions hold the most naming rights (twenty-one overall), followed closely by Tech/Communications (fourteen), Insurance (eleven), and Retail/Consumer Goods (eleven).
  • There are two Casinos, one in the NBA and one in the NHL, that have naming rights, yet sports gambling is illegal in most of the country.
  • There's something called a Scotiabank Saddledome.
  • When the Dallas Mavericks played the Miami Heat in the 2011 Finals, American Airlines won. Both teams play at AA-branded arenas.
  • Of the twenty venues without naming rights, six are named for a team owner, six are named for the team itself, three for a place, three as a memorial, and two just as a pleasant flourish (The Palace of Auburn Hills and Arrowhead Stadium, where the Kansas City Chiefs play).
  • There are some interesting choices in the non-Finance/Retail/Insurance sectors. For example, four NBA stadiums/NHL arenas have airline naming rights, yet there are no airlines in any other sport. Similarly, the MLB has five Food/Beverage ballparks (Coors, Minute Maid, Miller, Busch, Tropicana), whereas the other sports combine for three (NBA: Pepsi, NBA/NHL: Smoothie King; NFL: Heinz).
  • And finally, in case you were unsure just how much of a scam for-profit colleges are, in 2006, University of Phoenix (which, it should be noted, has a higher student-loan-default rate than graduation rate) paid $154.5 million for twenty years of naming rights for the Arizona Cardinals' stadium.

Bostons defeated by the St. Louis, 20-6

Posted in Sports and Games on May 31st, 2013 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

A bit of whimsy: I was looking for the most errors committed by a team in a single game of baseball and found that the answer was 24, on June 14, 1876. I couldn't at first find the box score, but after searching through old newspapers, found this story from the Boston Globe, June 15, 1876.

[Some notes: I tried to preserve a few spelling and grammar mistakes so those are of the Globe, not of me; I also relied on a box score found in the Chicago Tribune to correct the mistakes that were found in the original article. Both originals are below as well. When the Tribune disagreed with the Globe, I went with the Globe (on account of geography), unless the Tribune resolved a math error. (Such as for the line score.) Note that the Tribune claims Boston had 25 errors, but the original search that led me here in the first place stated 24; The Tribune only has a box score but does editorialize: "Following is the score of the worst professional game on record:"]

SUMMER PLEASURES.
—-
BASE BALL AND TURF EVENTS YESTERDAY.

The Bostons Defeated by the St. Louis, 20 to 6—The Athletics Defeat the Cincinnatis, and the Louisvilles Beat the New Havens—Races at Mystic and Point Breeze Parks

The St. Louis nine put in an appearance on the Boston grounds yesterday afternoon, for the first time this season, and played their first game for the championship with the Bostons. The attendance was small, it being generally thought that the St. Louisians would have very little difficulty in defeating their Boston adversaries on this occasion, and as Chadwick says: "when such a condition of things exists, there is not that inducement to invest a half a dollar," particularly when the crowd can get disgusted reading the game by innings on THE GLOBE bulletin. The visitors came on in fine form, and their play and deportment fully sustained their previous reputation. The Bostons had their usual team, with McBride as pitcher, but it was evident after the first innings that the visitors could hit him as they pleased, and it was not until the seventh innings that the captain (whoever that person is) could be induced to put in Manning in his place. The change worked well, as but two safe hits were made in the remaining innings. The St. Louis nine defeated the Bostons at every point, the only real damaging errors to their nine being passed balls by Clapp. The play of the Bostons was simply disgusting and the only players who are worthy of notice, are O'Rourke and Whitney. Leonard's play at second base was terrible, nine errors marking his score, and still the management think he can ply the position. George Wright attempted great things, but failed. Schafer also made two bad muffs. Morrill was a trifle "off," probably owing to the fact that he had lost all confidence in throwing to second base. The fielding of Bradley was the finest yet seen on these grounds. The visitors' batting was good, every player being credited with safe hits McGeary and Cuthbert made four each. The game really deserves no mention, except such as contained in the following score:

           BOSTONS            |           ST. LOUIS
                R IB PO  A  E |                 R IB PO  A  E
G. Wright, s.s  0  0  0  2  4 | Cuthbert, l.f.  1  4  3  0  1
Leonard, 2b...  1  1  4  4  9 | Clapp, c......  1  4  6  2  6
O'Rourke, c.f.  0  0  2  0  0 | McGeary, 2b...  2  4  4  4  2
Murnan, 1b....  0  1  9  0  1 | Pike, c.f.....  2  2  0  0  0
Manning, r.f..  0  0  2  0  3 | Battin, 3b....  4  4  1  0  0
Morrill, c....  0  0  5  2  3 | Blong, r.f....  2  2  1  0  1
Schafer, 3b...  1  1  2  2  3 | Bradley, p....  4  2  0  4  3
Whitney, l.f..  2  1  3  0  0 | Dehlman, 1b...  2  2 11  0  0
McBride, p....  2  2  0  1  1 | Mack, s.s.....  2  1  1  3  3
               -- -- -- -- -- |                -- -- -- -- --
 Totals.......  6  6 27 11 24 |  Totals....... 20 25 27 13 16

 Innings .......................1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9
Bostons ........................0  0  0  1  1  0  2  0  2 - 6
St. Louis ......................1  0  0  4  5  7  0  0  3 -20

Runs Earned – Bostons 0; St. Louis, 5.
First base on errors – Bostons 1, St. Louis, 7.
Bases on Called Balls – Bostons, 3; St. Louis, 3.
Wild Pitch – McBride, 1; Bradley, 0.
Fly Catches – Bostons, 7: St Louis, 6.
Foul Catches – Murnan, 1; Merrill, 3; Clapp, 2; Battin, 1; Dehlman, 1.
Struck Out – G. Wright, 2; Murnan, 1; Dehlman, 1.
Double Plays – G Wright, Leonard, and Murnan, 2.
Passed Balls – Morrill, 2; Clapp, 4.
Umpire – Mr. Hodges of the Suffolks Club.
Time of Game – 2 hour 40 minutes.
The second game between the Boston and St. Louis will be played this afternoon on the Boston Grounds.

Original Images:

Embracing the nadir (Astros 2013)

Posted in Sports and Games on April 5th, 2013 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

After two consecutive "worst in franchise history" seasons, it appears the Astros, despite their stellar performance on Opening Night, are poised for a third. This is not a good thing: no one wants to see their team lose, and no one wants to see their team at the bottom of the league standings, the laughing stock of others, the perpetual target of every sportswriter's "incompetence" musings. But it's not necessarily a bad thing either, if losing paves the way to future victory. And that's the promise, from the leadership of this team, that holds a lot of fans today.

Rebuilding is the name of the game, and in the process, there will be losses. There will be trades and there will be minor league success. There will be #1 draft picks. There will be times where every hack makes a joke about the players who get paid more than the entire Astros' roster. There will be embarrassing games. There will be times where Marwin Gonzalez is interviewed in the same vein as he would be for a walk-off home run in the playoffs, all for getting a single hit in the bottom of the ninth to break up what would have been a perfect game. And then one day, there will be wins.

But before those wins come, I recommend embracing the nadir. Take pride in our team, knowing that they will probably never again be as bad as they are now. There's something to be said there. Something proud about losing so badly that you lose better than you've ever lost before. This team doesn't have much hope this year, and that's been admitted. But if they have to lose, let's, as fans, ask them to lose in glorious fashion. And that means breaking "unbreakable" records.

Unbreakable records are those that, thanks to changes in the game or the fact that the level of science or talent has shifted, are no longer reachable. Of course, there are only a few actual unbreakable records, such as Old Hoss Radbourn's fifty-nine (or possibly sixty) wins in one season. But there's a large number of records that seem unattainable, such as Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game, but are not actually unbreakable. These are the ones that this Astros team should reach for.

  • Team Season Strikeout Record (1529) – Currently held by the 2010 Diamondbacks, this seems to be the easiest to break thanks to advances in the science of pitching. The Astros are currently on pace for 2322. This should come down a little, but 1530 is certainly in sight.
  • Team Single Game Strikeout Record (20) – This one will be really hard to break, but there's even more of an incentive to do so: currently the '98 Astros hold the record but are tied with the '86 Mariners, '96 Tigers, and '12 Mariners. It's time to break ahead of the pack and hold this solely. In a typical home game, the Astros will face at minimum twenty-seven at-bats, so twenty-one strikeouts is not unattainable. Just difficult.
  • Most Consecutive Scoreless Innings (56) – The 1903 Pirates hold this record and it doesn't look like it'll fall any time soon. It requires at least six consecutive shutouts, plus an additional three shutout innings to break. The Astros are currently working on this, with eighteen, but that's not even close.
  • Most No-Hitters Against a Team in One Season (2) – Two no-hitters suffered in one season has happened fifteen times, most recently the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays. No team has ever been no-hit three times in one season though, and now's as good a time as any.
  • Most Consecutive Losses (26) – The 1889 Louisville Colonels managed to put together the worst skid ever, and it has stood for 124 years. But the time is ripe!
  • Most Grounds-Into-Double-Play (174) – This one, currently held by the 1990 Red Sox, is probably the least likely for this team to break, as it requires actually getting to base in the first place. There have been no GIDPs for the Astros this year. Don't count on this growing too fast.
  • Fewest Intentional Walks (10) – The 1961 Kansas City Athletics only received ten intentional passes, the record by far. Can the Astros break this? Certainly seems possible: if there's no base runners, there's no reason for a pitcher to intentionally add one.

While some of these records may seem daunting, they're worth breaking, or attempting to break. On the surface, there's no pride in being the worst. But there is an investment of pride. Imagine, when the rebuilding has found success and the Astros aim for a title, how much more impressive it will be in the face of record-setting failure only a few years prior. When your children ask if you were there for that nadir, you can say you were there, you remember it, and you embraced it.

Nineteen December Games (Texans v Patriots)

Posted in Sports and Games on December 5th, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

I saw a curious tidbit float around twitter regarding the upcoming Texans/Patriots game on Monday night. Basically, it stated that the Patriots have not lost at home in December since 2002. Nineteen straight December home victories.

The idea behind the tweet, of course, was that the Texans don’t have a great shot at winning, in that they’ll be at New England, in December, against this juggernaut of a December-home-victory team.

Of course, there is some truth to the idea that playing in Foxborough, Massachusetts in the dead of winter is difficult. Playing in any cold-weather city is hard for a team like the Texans who are based in a warm-weather city. And away games are never easy for any team, other than the Giants, who seem to be particularly fond of them.

But there are two issues I take with such a tidbit: it ignores anything other than these wins, and it implies that past performance indicates future results. Both of these issues are not insignificant.

The latter is frequently ignored in sports reporting. There may be an interesting fact about a team, but the Patriots of the past ten Decembers have been ten different teams. Only a few things are still the same after ten years, and such a streak is in no way an indication of whether or not it will continue in the future.

I often see snippets like this while watching sports or reading about a sports story. Something will say “no Bengals quarterback has ever rushed for more than 200 yards in a season” (I made that one up, I’m sure it’s false) as though that means that such a thing can never happen. This is foolish, as past performance is not an indication of future results.

The other issue is the isolation of data. The Patriots have not lost in December at home in nineteen games. But who did they play? How good were their opponents? Did they lose in January? How good were the Patriots come December? There’s a lot more to the story that could be told by answering these questions, so I set out to do so:

Did they lose in January? Over the same stretch of time, the Patriots have played five January regular-season games. They’ve won three (2004 49ers, 2010 Dolphins, 2011 Bills) and lost two (2005 Dolphins, 2009 Texans). Not quite as formidable as December, though the weather is generally worse.

Who did they play; how good were their opponents? Over the course of those nineteen December games, the Patriots faced such juggernauts as the 0-11 2011 Dolphins, the 1-13 2007 Dolphins, and the 2-9 2006 Lions and 2005 Jets. Of course, they also played some difficult teams; the best team they faced in that time was the 9-2 2010 Jets (and they were 9-2 at the time as well). But the combined record of the nineteen teams they played by the time the matchups began was 105-138, for a less-than-impressive 0.432 win percentage.

Who were these Patriots and how good were they? The Patriots, on the other hand, have had the opposite side of the story. Four of the ten Patriots teams made the Super Bowl, two won it. Three of these nineteen games were during the famed 16-0 season. The combined win-loss record of the Patriots by the time the matchups began was 187-56, or a very impressive 0.770. Only twice did the visiting team have a better record than the Patriots: both the 2002 Dolphins and 2005 Buccaneers had one more win than the Pats.

So basically, you have a fantastic team playing against a lot of subpar teams, with only a few standout victories among these December games. And from this, we’re supposed to understand that the Texans have no chance to win, because it’s December in Foxborough.

Will the Texans win on Monday night? No one knows. But will a win or loss come because it’s December (and impossible/due) in Foxborough? Not a chance. But heck, this is an 11-1 team coming in to face a 9-3 team. And after all: that represents the most lopsided-against-the-Patriots game that has been played in Foxborough in the last ten Decembers.

My thoughts about Lance Armstrong

Posted in Sports and Games on October 26th, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

Joey asked me what I thought about the Lance thing and I realized it was odd I hadn’t stated such thoughts publicly. Thus:

Lance Armstrong, now that he has decided to stop fighting charges that he used blood doping and drugs as performance enhancers in order to win seven Tour de France races, has been the center of a lot of hubbub lately. He has been dropped by sponsors, his championships have been vacated, and he’s been asked to return four million dollars in prize money that he won for his team.

It’s sad that we live in a world where a sports hero can be so easily disgraced by their poor or illegal decisions, but that’s the world in which we live. And Lance Armstrong is another in a long line of great athletes who have to remove that “great” modifier because of performance enhancing drugs.

What Lance Armstrong did was wrong. But the reaction, frankly, is stupid. Vacating championships is something I’ve been against for a long time. We all know who won those Tour de France titles, regardless of what the record books officially say. That’s not a reasonable punishment, and it’s not meaningful. Furthermore, if I understand the situation correctly, the use of performance enhancers in cycling during this time was so prevalent, if we awarded the victory to the first clean finisher, we’d have to go down very far on the list of competitors.

Lance Armstrong did the wrong thing. Nike and other sponsors dumping him at this point does not fix that though. If anything, it has allowed them to milk his career for all its worth and drop him right when he’s no longer valuable to them. It’s a shameful thing for Armstrong to have doped but it’s a shameful thing for his sponsors to back out in this way now as well.

Finally, I don’t think that closing the barn door is useful once the horse has left. And in the case of Lance Armstrong, the horse apparently got away back in 2001, when the International Cycling Union chose to ignore his first positive test. Just as in baseball, those in charge chose to look the other way while a cheater generated buzz and revenue for their sport. Punishing Armstrong in 2001 would have been warranted. Eleven years later? It just seems like hypocrisy.

I'm not saying bench Romo, but…

Posted in Sports and Games on October 2nd, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

One interception wasn't his fault really. But four more are too many to excuse.Last night's Cowboys-Bears game was a disaster for Dallas. Five interceptions tells the story of how poorly Romo did, but it doesn't belie the horrible miscommunication that plagued the whole offense. The receivers were never on the same page as Romo (someone in the bar where I was watching joked that Romo was reading from the playbook, Dez Bryant from a coloring book), and even though Witten finally had some catches (instead of the dropped balls of the previous three games), it was clear that he was not in sync with his quarterback. Even worse than all that, the running game simply could not get off the ground. Of Dallas's 430 yards, less than 10% (forty-one yards), were gained via rushing.

It's hard to win a football game if you only throw the ball. It's impossible if you combine that with five picks, including two returned for touchdowns.

Some might call for benching Romo, as when Orton, his backup, showed up, he was able to execute plays with finesse and expertise, as though Romo were the backup. Romo's 60.1 QB rating looks like a joke compared to Orton's 137.1. Orton had only one incompletion, more yards per completion, no interceptions, and an equal number (one) of TDs as Romo.

Now, obviously all of that was during garbage time and should be taken with a grain of salt. And of course, anytime you have a backup in, you're gonna treat him like a backup and have him execute simpler, less involved plays. And that is where I think the real solution for this Cowboys team lies.

Frankly, I do not believe that Jason Garrett or Rob Ryan are particularly good coaches. Garrett has room to grow and maybe will be great in the future, but right now he's simply not there. And coaching is, as we've learned from Sean Payton this year, extremely important. It seems that Garrett and Ryan are trying to prove themselves to the overly-harsh Jerry Jones by drawing up plays that are significantly more complex than necessary. The result is mistiming, lack of coordination, dropped passes, failed sacks, and otherwise Washington Generals-style play.

Jerry Jones is too involved in the team. This creates an unreasonable atmosphere in which one man, too old to have adapted properly, controls the destiny of his team. We've seen how that worked in Oakland, and Dallas is rapidly heading in that direction. Jones needs to step back, give more control to others, and allow his team to prosper without his interference.

I don't think benching Romo is the answer. I do believe that Romo has more talent than Orton. But when Orton outshines Romo that spectacularly, you have to ask questions. There are a lot of valuable pieces on this year's Cowboys team, but if they aren't put together properly, they'll explode. As they did last night.