Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Last Days of Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter's final season in Yankee pinstripes is coming to an ignominious close. Jeter, a five-time World Series champion who sits sixth on baseball's all-time hits list and is an all-but-guaranteed first ballot inductee into the Hall of Fame, is playing out the string with a combination of iffy prospects, overpaid free agents, and past-their-prime position players. For a player who has famously played in only one regular season game in his entire career when the Yankees had no chance of making the post-season, Jeter's whimper-not-a-bang final season won't even end in Yankee Stadium. The team closes on the road in Boston.

Of course, anyone who follows baseball knows the Yankees have been flirting with a redux of their slide to the basement in the late 1960s for some time now. While the team scratched out a World Series win 5 years ago after dropping nearly half-a-billion dollars the previous offseason, things have been going downhill ever since. This season exposed all the team's long-term failings. A fallow minor league system that has produced only one all-star since Jeter's arrival (Robinson Cano, who is no longer with the team), the suspension of Alex Rodriguez, the wear and tear of thousands of innings finally catching up with CC Sabathia, underperforming recruits like Brian McCann and of course, Masahiro Tanaka's balky ulnar collateral ligament, which, when it gave out just after the all-star break, sealed the team's fate. 

Surely, someone who has probably meant more to the Yankees than anyone since Mickey Mantle - "the captain," "the face of baseball" - deserves better than a nostalgic farewell tour larded with tacky gifts and a recent 0-for-28 slide that dropped his average close to .250. But the sports gods have a quirky sense of humor. Offered the opportunity to bow out gracefully, few athletes ever do. Indeed, John Elway's retirement after winning his second Super Bowl is more the exception than the rule. Tim Duncan could have called it a career after San Antonio secured its fifth NBA title in June, but he's coming back for another season. Peyton Manning set several NFL passing records last year and led his team to the Super Bowl, but even after four neck surgeries and one of the most prolific careers by a quarterback, he's back under center in Denver. Even the great Michael Jordan could not leave well enough alone. Having secured a sixth title with an iconic jump shot against the Utah Jazz in 1998, MJ made an ill-fated comeback in a Wizards jersey that while doing nothing to taint his place as one of the sport's all-time greats, was an odd coda to an otherwise exceptional career. 

While this is not Willie Mays stumbling in center field for the Mets in 1973, or Johnny U closing out his career looking lost and old with the San Diego Chargers, Jeter's decision to continue playing after that last World Series title shows that while his career may have been charmed, even he will be denied a storybook ending. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Project Delay The Game

While public outrage (rightly) continues unabated regarding the NFL's handling of the domestic abuse by its players of wives, girlfriends, and children, ratings for the actual football games remain at record highs. A populace that expresses its distaste for the actions of players like Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, and Adrian Peterson still dutifully tune in on Sunday, Monday, and Thursday night to watch their favorite teams.

So here's a modest proposal. Since the only thing the NFL seems to respond to is the bottom line (Radisson's decision to temporarily cut ties with the Vikings and a "sternly worded letter" from league sponsor Anheuser-Busch were both notable), do not watch the first 30 minutes of any NFL game, or the first quarter, or maybe even the first half. Let the NFL know that you can untether yourself from your TV screen and that their response to date has not been acceptable. Diminish the value of advertising dollars and let the sponsors apply their own form of pressure for change that may include:

  • Roger Goodell's resignation.
  • A clear "zero tolerance" policy for any form of domestic or child abuse. One strike and you're out. 
  • A fine of at least $1 million and the loss of draft picks levied against any team when one of its players is convicted (or pleads, a la Ray Rice) of any form of domestic or child abuse. 
  • Expanded access to treatment and counseling options for NFL personnel.
  • A public service campaign related to domestic and child abuse. 

I know many people, (including me), may not be able to turn away from football entirely, but absent a pinch in the bottom line, do not expect the NFL to react. Rather, it will wait for the outrage to cool and move on. 

Those are my ideas, how about you?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The New Meet The Press, Same As The Old Meet The Press

Chuck Todd's maiden voyage as moderator of Meet the Press was indistinguishable from the tired, Inside-the-Beltway circle jerk that resulted in historically low ratings and the firing of sometime Karl Rove "rap" partner, David Gregory. 

Todd is a fan (and active user) of Twitter, so perhaps he was simply trolling the Internet by kicking off his show with a roundtable that was no different from any that Gregory produced. The foursome included long-time correspondent Andrea Mitchell (you know her, she's married to some guy named Alan Greenspan, but of course, none of his failings as head of the Federal Reserve ever seem to make it to air), MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, some guy named Michael Leiter, who was a counter-terrorism guru mostly under George W. Bush, and Nia-Maliki Henderson, a reporter for the Washington Post

The panel discussed a segment of Todd's interview with President Obama, itself a bit of a joke, as Todd attempted to goad the President into acknowledging that we would need to invade Syria, as if that was accepted wisdom that had permeated the bloodstream of official Washington. The President, sober and expansive in his explanations, seemed a poor match for Todd's desire for simple solutions, but part of the reason "don't do stupid shit" is a smart, albeit pithy, encapsulation of Obama's foreign policy is that the types of decisions the President is wrestling with and people like Todd think have simple answers, do not. 

Regardless, the panel discussion unfolded as one might expect. Mitchell tsk tsked the President for making Saudi Arabia "mad" at us for not toppling Assad last year (never mind the fact that the Saudis fund madrasses that teach precisely the type of radical Islamic ideology that we are fighting or that most of the 9/11 terrorists came from Saudi Arabia) and Henderson helpfully observed that when Congress returns on Monday (after a 38 day vacation, a whole other topic that might have merited discussion … alas) they will be looking to do "the bare minimum." 

That this is accepted as fact and allowed to pass without comment speaks volumes about the cynicism Todd claims to deplore in D.C. yet accurately reflects the media's long-ago acceptance that lockstep opposition to Obama is a symptom of dysfunction in Washington, not in one political party. When the conversation turned to immigration, the dialogue was no more useful. Todd brought in Buzz Feed editor John Stanton, but his only contribution (other than flashing his ubiquitous tattoo "sleeves") was to state a crumb of Beltway conventional wisdom that shows like Meet the Press should be calling politicians to account for, not blindly accepting - that "this election does not matter."

The rest of the hour recycled a segment of Gregory's creation, going "outside" Washington to see how things are "getting done" in the country and looking at competitive Senate races. The resulting discussion with mayors from places like Tacoma (WA) and Oklahoma City was informative, but comparing politics in any city to the national discourse has limited value at best. The dynamics are simply too different. As for the discussion of Senate races, this could have been done on Todd's old show, The Daily Rundown on autopilot. 

As for the big "get" of this first hour - Todd's interview with the President, Todd whiffed on a serious discussion in favor of convenient tropes - decisions on immigration were based on politics, war with Syria was inevitable, and on and on, nothing that some poor research assistant could not cherry pick from the litany of cable talk shows that have been espousing these facile notions. Of course, the subtext to Todd's interrogation was to lay the blame and responsibility entirely at the President's door. Do not get me wrong, it is appropriate to call elected officials to account for their ownership of problems, but in failing to note things like the House's failure to take up the Senate's comprehensive immigration bill or Congress's failure to provide Obama the military authority to act in Syria last summer, Todd and the panelists of Meet the Press simply committed the same factual crimes of omission David Gregory became famous for. 

Todd did live up to one promise - the show was overly interested in politics and far less interested in policy. Which is fine so far as it goes, but the show's legacy is not as a glorified water cooler discussion about "optics," it was about delving into the issues of the day so the electorate could be better informed. Paradoxically, that charge is more important today than ever, for while there is more information than ever at a person's fingertips, much of it has a "bias" that a show like Meet the Press once trafficked in correcting. Now, it just regurgitates it. 

It was said when Todd was announced as Gregory's successor that the former's "passion" for politics was one of the things that would make the show more successful; but if all you do is recycle the same tired political pablum in a shiny new wrapper because the host has more enthusiasm for the subject than his predecessor, does it really matter?