Thursday, January 9, 2014

Dan Le Batard Gave Me His Vote and Got Banned For It

Editor's Note: It's been announced that Dan Le Batard has been stripped of any future Hall of Fame vote and barred from the Baseball Writer's Association for one year. Also, statements appearing below in quotations are generalized statements and not actual quotes.

By Justin Cates

It's funny how little it often takes for the sporting press to lose its damn mind.

In this particular case, Dan Le Batard of ESPN and the Miami Herald created the stir amongst his peers by giving his vote for the baseball Hall of Fame to readers of sports website and athlete 'sext' aggregator Deadspin.

Full disclosure, from the very beginning I thought this was a marvelous idea and not just because I'm a regular reader Deadspin.

Baseball writers by and large desperately hold on to the antiquated notion of baseball as a sacred game. Baseball, apple pies and Chevrolet. America's pastime.

They long for baseball's "golden age" completely ignoring the fact that African-Americans weren't allowed to play in the majors back then. They decry "performance enhancing drugs" while lauding anybody who gets shot up with cortisone—a steroid commonly used to reduce joint inflammation, attendant pain and swelling—as a "gamer" for being so "tough".

Writers commonly ignore that rampant drug abuse in baseball dates back at least to the start of the modern age of baseball, which was around 1960.

Mickey Mantle is my favorite baseball player of all time, but if you don't think he was working through countless hangovers by taking enough amphetamines to kill a horse, well, we disagree.

Who appointed these writers as the arbiters of baseball morality anyway?

Oh that's right, they did.

There are no rules in the Hall of Fame voting guidelines that explicitly prevent writers from voting for players that used steroids. 

They created this criteria themselves because baseball just loves unwritten rules.

As it turns out, there's actually a National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame. I checked out the members to see what kind of warped double standard was applied there and to my horror, there doesn't seem to be one.

Recent inductees include Bob Ryan, John Feinstein and Peter Gammons. Fine writers all but an outrage for the Hall of Fame!

How dare they induct men who wrote during the word processor era! It's completely unfair. Can you imagine what Grantland Rice would have done with spell-check and a laptop computer?

He probably would have written an insufferable poem.

Now, let's get back to Mr. Le Batard.

People are absolutely crucifying him. I will address a few of the more laughable criticisms as follows.

"He only did this for publicity."

Dan only attached his name to this protest as a means of owning the thing. If he'd remained anonymous, you know damn well the rallying cry would have been, "COWARD! If you're going to pull a stunt like this at least put your name on it!"

"Spare us the sanctimonious diatribe Danny boy."

You guys keep using that word...I do not think it means what you think it means.

Sanctimonious-Making a hypocritical show of religion, piety or righteousness.

I don't think Le Batard ever claimed he was one hundred percent right. He just feels that the process is dumb and too many people are clinging to it. Arguably, many of the folks so vehemently defending the old way are being far more self-righteous than he ever was with statements like...

"The media covering baseball everyday are more qualified than fans to judge these things, that's why there's no fan vote."

If you mean former players with a press pass, okay. However, if you mean some schlub from the Times who once saw Tom Glavine remove his jock strap with the grace and precision of a champion...stop, just stop.

You didn't glean any magical insight from getting quotes in a locker room that I watched simulcast on the YES Network.

"He's making a mockery of the Hall of Fame voting process."

No, he's not. That's done just fine every year by other voters like Ken Gurnick who this year voted only for Jack Morris. He left the other nine spots blank because he claimed he didn't want to vote for "steroid-era" players even though Morris finished his career during that same era.

Which brings me to my final point. Did anyone even look at the ballot submitted by Le Batard?

Most Deadspin voters took it seriously, I among them.

I voted after looking at everyone's numbers—I even looked up Armando Benitez—checking out highlights when possible and looking at a bio here and there.

The compiled website ballot was Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Jeff Bagwell, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Curt Schilling.

It would appear the joke, the farce, the travesty of a vote actually included all of the inductees.

That's a lot better than some voters.

I'm looking at you Gurnick.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Florida State Wins The National Championship or, The BCS is Dead and Buried

By Justin Cates

The final five BCS football games were all wonderful.

This season's games were exciting, evenly matched and generally without controversy. The national championship game between Florida State and Auburn was for my money the best championship of the entire BCS system—save for the first three quarters of the title game in 2000.

For the most part, the results of the BCS actually turned out to be the "right" ones pretty much every time. There was some healthy debate regarding the participants on occasion, but almost every national champion crowned under the system was considered the best team in college football.

But that's all no more.

Now we can all look forward to a future where we sit in our post-apocalyptic bunkers regaling the youth with tales of this antiquated system.

"When I was growing up computers decided the national champion in football."

"You mean like Skynet?"

"No, no. This was back before the machines became self-aware. Humans fed a bunch of data into a formula we created and the machines spat out the two teams allowed to play for the championship."

"So the computers didn't even design the formula?"

"Nah. Actually, most of the data we used was based on subjective human observations too. It was really one of the last times we controlled the machines..."

"This is a bad story Grandpa. Tell us again about telephones that plugged into the wall!"

Pictured: A visual approximation of the BCS computers.

Right. Where were we? Ah yes, FOOTBALL! 'MURICA! CHAMPIONS!

Some general thoughts about game:

Florida State is here to stay. I knew he could recruit, but now we know Jimbo Fisher is a full-on football coach which is scary. He also seems pretty classy and humble.

Even seeing him cowed by old age, I still had an uncontrollable desire to punch Bobby Bowden in the neck. I hope he spends his days sitting on a fishing boat staring wistfully into the distance muttering "dadgummit" under his breath.

Brent Musberger gets worse with each passing moment.

I'm sure there was a time before I was born when Musberger was cogent and delivered crisp calls without fawning over hot coeds in the stands or accidentally announcing himself as Kirk Herbstreit.

That being said, I want him gone before he does to Kirk what Tim McCarver did to Joe Buck. This can't end well.

ESPN kept billing their "mega-cast" as some revolution in broadcasting. I found it annoying as it really just amounted to dozens of their analysts—some of whom have no particular football expertise—clogging their various platforms with half-cocked observations and hooting and hollering. I did all that on my own thank you kindly.

On the bright side for ESPN, Nick Saban was terrific and Tim Tebow was actually pretty tolerable.

Both were impressive in their game predictions with Tebow calling for a 35-31 FSU win and Saban saying Auburn would need to score 35 points to win. Bravo gents.

Florida State's win ties a nice bow on this college football season and now we can all look forward to the new college football playoff.

Anticipation is one thing but please, pace yourselves friends! There's still 233 days until the opening game between Ole Miss and Boise State.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Sun Bowl Preview: Virginia Tech vs. UCLA

By Justin Cates

In honor of this game's host city of El Paso, Texas I'm going to shoot straight from the hip in this preview. I won't be bothered by silly stats and thoughtful analysis. I'm basing everything on my gut.

Besides, trying to figure out this Hokie football team is a fool's errand.

Tech managed to navigate a schedule featuring 10 teams that made bowl games at 8-4. Not bad considering the brand new offensive system and general lack of proven talent on that side of the ball.

Of course, a reasonable argument can be made that there's very little reason the Hokies shouldn't be 11-2—assuming a loss to Florida State in the ACC title game—and readying for a BCS game.

The Alabama opener wasn't close, but losses to Maryland, Boston College and Duke were all avoidable.

Now Duke is a much better football team than the Hokies, but they played like hot garbage juice when they won 13-10 in Blacksburg. The Hokies played...well, like something worse than that.

The results were a bit better against Maryland and BC, but there were far too many orange and maroon mistakes.

Sorry to relive that, but my point is No. 17 UCLA is much better than those teams so it's a mighty tall order to expect Tech to win this one.

Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley likely began salivating when he saw the Maryland tape. Terrapin QB R.J. Brown ran all over the Hokies and he was coming off an injury. Hundley is a much better passer and probably a better runner. Yikes.

Senior linebacker Anthony Barr leads UCLA on defense and he's an absolute monster. At 6-4, 248 there is little question why he's considered a likely top five selection in the NFL Draft. His 10 sacks this season prove he's an outstanding pass rusher. It's too bad he'll end up somewhere terrible next season like Oakland.

The powder blue uniform belies the ferocious nature of Anthony Barr.

Linebacker/running back Myles Jack is a headache wherever he lines up. He was named both the Pac-12 offensive and defensive rookie of the year.

The last four games, Jack has seven touchdowns on just 37 carries. UCLA's diamond formation may well give Bud Foster a migraine.

But, given all that it's not unthinkable Tech can pull an upset. Bowl games are essentially a toss-up and the Hokies tend to play to the level of the opponent.

To win however, Tech needs a running back to step up and fill the hole left by injured starter Trey Edmunds. Logan Thomas has to avoid mistakes. Chuck Clark has to play big on defense to fill in for Kyle Fuller who will dress, but is limited due to injury.

As Doc Brown said in Back to The Future, so long as all of those things happen perfectly..."everything will be fine."

Friday, December 6, 2013

Virginia Tech Names 16th School President

By Justin Cates

Virginia Tech announced today that its Board of Visitors appointed Timothy D. Sands as the 16th President in University history effective June 1, 2014.

Sands will succeed Charles Steger who is retiring after 13 years as President.

Dr. Sands comes to Blacksburg from Purdue University where he was the executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. He also served as acting president in the fall of 2012. 

Sands holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics (1980) and master’s degree and Ph.D. in materials science and engineering, all from the University of California, Berkeley.

“I am delighted and honored to serve this great university,” said Sands. “There is so much here that Virginia and the nation needs. Virginia Tech truly embodies the 21st century land-grant university role. I’m excited to have the opportunity to serve a university that’s been on an upward trajectory over the last decade or more and is well positioned for even greater success. I share in the board’s optimism for the future.”

He sounds like a pretty terrific hire and personally, I like having an outside individual with fresh, new ideas coming into the fold.

Dr. Steger has done a tremendous job getting Virginia Tech in a great position as a top research institution and Dr. Sands seems like a great fit to continue the process. 

Now let's be irrational and take a look at how this affects sports.

Current athletic director Jim Weaver retires December 31 and the university wants to have a new AD in place by the end of February.

Steger has said he'll consult with Dr. Sands as they make a selection.

As Andy Bitter nicely summarized, from his comments today Sands sounds like he values athletics but not at the expense of academics. He appreciates Tech's rather unique position of running an athletic department that is solvent and not subsidized by the University budget.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Look Ahead: Virginia Tech vs. Virginia

By Justin Cates

Editor's Note: Saturday will mark day 3,291 of Virginia Tech's continuous possession of the Commonwealth Cup.

Virginia Tech has lost three of it's last four, but with one final spin of the ACC "wheel of destiny" there's still a chance the Hokies can win the Coastal division.

Tech needs to beat Virginia and hope North Carolina can edge the surprising Duke Blue Devils.

That very well may happen, but the Hokies (7-4, 4-3 ACC)  have shown they're more than capable of losing to anybody and Duke can beat just about anyone after winning seven straight games.

The Cavaliers (2-9, 0-7 ACC) haven't won a game since beating VMI on September 21. They've played horribly, but there is certainly plenty of talent on the roster and funny things happen in rivalry games.

Junior Kevin Parks is a good running back who has gone over a hundred yards five times this season including the last two weeks at North Carolina and Miami.

The 'Hoos haven't been able to pass effectively, but stopping the run has been tough for opponents as Parks has 926 yards and 11 touchdowns.

As for that passing game, it hasn't been pretty.

Quarterback David Watford has eight touchdowns and 15 interceptions this season prompting coach Mike London to insert freshman Greyson Lambert in recent weeks.

Against Miami, Lambert completed 13-of-19 passes for 134 yards.

A marginal improvement, but Lambert gives the 'Hoos more of a threat through the air while Watford's strength is his athleticism on the ground. Both quarterbacks will play Saturday.

On defense the Cavaliers are paced by safety Anthony Harris who leads the nation with eight interceptions.

Harris will miss the first half against the Hokies after being ejected for targeting against Miami.

The Hokies are looking to beat Virginia for the 10th straight season.

All bias aside, Mike London is probably the worst football coach in the country. He's like a more hapless and hilarious version of Al Groh. He makes Will Muschamp look like Vince Lombardi.

How UVA has managed to go from George Welsh to knuckleheads like Al "NFL experience" Groh and Mike "I won the national championship with someone else's players" London is well beyond me.

With its academic profile and upper level facilities, Cavalier football is a sleeping giant. At present, that giant is comatose.

Point of fact, I myself am not currently an FBS head football coach, however it doesn't take one to see a bunch of underachievers.

"Yeah, yeah I KNOW! Just lay off until they fire me okay?"
That brings us back around to the Hokies.

This isn't a bad team. It's not a good team either. Not much was expected with a new offensive coaching staff, but this group was close to so much more than 7-4.

That being said, the Hokies could still win nine or—theoretically at least—ten games this season. With a win and some help from the Tar Heels, Tech could make it to Charlotte to play for the ACC title game.

Had you offered that deal to Frank Beamer in August he would have called you a liar and promptly taken the deal.

The point is, there's still a lot on the table for Virginia Tech football this season.

Everything else aside, it's always satisfying to beat UVA in anything.

Plus I may or may not have a large sum of money invested in, "Virginia Tech Football: A Decade of Dominance in the Commonwealth" T-shirts.

We'll see if the Hokies can make it a reality Saturday.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My Jim Weaver Story

By Justin Cates

Like any man, Jim Weaver's legacy will not be easily defined.

Virginia Tech's athletic director announced last week that he will be retiring at the start of the new year, sooner than expected due to issues with his health.

Weaver has been controversial at times and has long been a source of consternation for the Hokie faithful. He's viewed by many as a kind of business drone obsessed with crunching numbers and watching the athletic department's bottom-line.

This is not entirely incorrect. Weaver's business savvy has put Tech's athletic department in the black and paved the path for the next director to take things to a level that not too long ago seemed like an impossibility.

Tech's facilities have improved across the board. A few missteps aside, the coaching has improved as have the academic support facilities, conference affiliation and talent level across all programs.

Many fans—myself included on occasion—have been frustrated by some of Weaver's decisions.

Loyal season ticket holders have been subjected to season ticket re-seating with preference given based on Hokie Club donations. Long time basketball coach Seth Greenberg was fired with horrible timing after most off-season coaching moves had already been made in the spring of 2012.

Something especially annoying to students was the decision to ban Tech's band, The Marching Virginians, from playing the "Stick It In" drum cadence.

Played when the Hokie football team had the ball in the opponent's red zone, the cadence—seen here—played as fans chanted, "Oh, Oh, Oh" while raising their hands in the air. Finally, the cadence stopped and everyone yelled, "Stick it in! Stick it in! Stick it in!" punctuated by a series of somewhat suggestive pelvic thrusts.

Some may argue that's just the behavior of immature college students deserving to be curtailed, but I have borne witness to elderly women in the stands joining in on the dance as well.

And then there's the time that Frank Beamer nearly got away in 2000.

As he said in his most recent book Let Me Be Frank: My Life at Virginia Tech, the winningest coach in Hokie football history actually briefly accepted the North Carolina job.

It was only when he and his wife Cheryl returned home that Beamer began to have second thoughts.

He met in Weaver's office with the AD, school president Dr. Charles Steger and Minnis Ridenour. During the meeting an offer was made to increase the salary for Beamer and more importantly gave more money to his assistant coaches.

It was nearly a dark moment in Hokie sports history, but proved to be a crucial save. Of course, it's fair to wonder how things ever made it to that point.

Rough patches aside, Weaver has had an incredibly successful tenure as the second longest serving athletic director in Virginia Tech history.

Sometimes, his interactions with the fan base weren't terribly smooth, but one-on-one he was surprisingly warm and engaging.

Weaver oversaw Tech's conference moves to the Big East in 2000 and to the ACC in 2004.

That brings me to my stories.

As a young kid in Blacksburg, I had developed an interest in broadcasting and at the urging of a neighbor I wrote a letter to the voice of the Hokies Bill Roth.

To my surprise, Bill called me one afternoon after I got home from school. He said he was across town watching a Tech baseball game and he invited me to come watch with him and chat.

I got a ride over and found the door to the press box locked. Like any mischievous and enterprising youth, I waited for someone to exit, then silently slipped inside before the door closed.

I made my way up the stairs and found Bill. We had a nice chat and not long after I told Mr. Roth that I wanted his job, in popped Jim Weaver to say hello.

Roth introduced him to me saying, "This is Justin, he wants my job".

Weaver shook my hand and said, "Young man if I have one piece of advice for you it's to work cheap."

Everyone laughed and I smiled somewhat puzzled. Years later, I truly appreciate the driest sarcasm I've ever heard. Given his penchant for the bottom line though, I've always wondered if it wasn't partially serious.

Fast forward to my freshman year of college when I was working for campus radio station WUVT.

I decided to attempt to interview Weaver and initiated it by sending him an e-mail late one Friday afternoon.

Unexpectedly, he responded quite quickly and agreed to an interview in his office in the Jamerson Athletic Center the following Monday morning.

Dressed in an ill-fitting suit, I sat in the waiting room with his secretary, politely declining coffee and wondering what I'd gotten myself into. 

After a few minutes he came out and shook my hand, then led me into his enormous office.

He patiently sat and answered everything I had written down and even random things I started throwing at him from Hokie football scheduling to when he thought Joe Paterno would retire at Penn State (Editor's Note: Weaver played and coached under Paterno).

He didn't have to do any of that. He could have politely declined my request for an interview or even ignored my e-mail altogether.

That's never been Weaver's style.

Whether you agreed with him or not, he always stood his ground and was willing to explain himself to you.

He served Virginia Tech well and oversaw the athletic department during a tumultuous time in college athletics.

He ruffled feathers with things like coaching changes and ticket re-seating, but those things come with the territory in big-time college athletics. Thanks in large part to Weaver, Hokie sports are just that now. Big time.

And so I'd like to give him the biggest compliment I can offer: Jim Weaver is a true Hokie.

Not that he cares what I think.

Maybe, I'll send him an e-mail.


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