Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Moving On...

Since I am moving in two days, I shot this video as a brief reminder of living in Back of the Yards. My new apartment will be on the complete opposite end of the city, in a neighborhood called Edgewater.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The New Yankee Stadium

It resembles the old Yankee Stadium. It stands right next to the old Yankee Stadium. It even uses the same parking garage from old Yankee Stadium. But it is not the old Yankee Stadium.

This is the new Yankee Stadium.

This new stadium cost $1.3 billion, which the New York city and state taxpayers funded thanks to agreements former Mayor Giuliani made before his term ended in 2002. Mayor Bloomberg had really no say in it. Thank you, Giulani, for wasting over a billion dollars of taxpayers money so that you can sell a few more corporate boxes. Meanwhile, the average working man can’t afford to take his family to a game with the food prices: hotdogs ($6.75); bottled water ($5); and beer ($10). It is hard to believe the American economy is the worst since the Great Depression. The whole thing makes me lose my appetite.

Yesterday, my best friend growing up, Arin Kalman, asked me if I wanted to go to a game at the new stadium in the Bronx. He had an extra ticket through his insurance company, who had season tickets. Someone had canceled at the last minute. Morals aside, I said, ok. It’s very hard for me to turn down free tickets. Besides, I was curious: just what did this new stadium have that the old one did not?

We parked on top of the parking garage, which sat right next to the old stadium. I was already feeling nostalgic. Apparently, the designers had anticipated this feeling. As soon as I walked inside I saw giant photos of DiMaggio, Gehrig, and Mantle. If they were still alive they would do a double-take at the price of programs ($10). To counteract this, more and more black-and-white photos hung around the food stands. It was fun to look at, and indeed brought back fond memories of when baseball was less of a corporate affair. After all, when did you see a sushi restaurant at an American ballpark? Your average fan doesn’t eat sushi. These were the new fans.

The jumbo-tron was like no other I had seen before. It was a 1080p high definition screen that measured 103-by-58-feet. From our seat in the second row of the second level, the jumbo-tron was the most noticeable difference from the old stadium. The railings keeping people from falling to the level below looked a little different too. Also, there was no view from buildings behind the outfield. No train going by, either. I missed the train. I missed the old buildings in the backdrop beyond the white fa├žade.

Most of all, I missed the feeling I had when going to a Yankee game as a child. I remember walking down near the first base dugout and getting autographs from the players. I remember taking photos and watching the players warm up. This was what ballparks were built for. This new stadium was right next door, but it might as well have been on a different planet. I took one step toward the lower level, and an usher stopped me. I showed him my camera and told him I was just taking a quick photo. He said I couldn’t. What are you talking about? I just want a quick photo of the field without the overhang in my way, I said. He said no with an attitude. I am just going to take one quick photo. He began yelling at me as did another usher when I tried this again.

It wasn’t just me. Barbara Barker, a Newsday reporter, wrote an editorial about this very incident, titled, “Yankees’ security needs to lighten up.” Barker writes, “The Yankees just don’t have a new stadium; they have a new culture, one that’s obsessed with rules and controlling what is supposed to be a carefree day at the ballpark…. No longer can you get there a few hours early with your 8-year-old and hangout by the top of the dugout hoping to get Derek Jeter’s autograph. It doesn’t matter that no one who can afford a premium seat bothers to be sitting in it an hour before the game. If you don’t have a ticket, you aren’t even allowed to walk down the empty aisle that leads to the dugout.”

The fans are ones who paid for this stadium. The fans are the ones who are buying the ridiculously expensive food. Yet the fans cannot take a single photo beyond the first level ushers. The fans cannot be treated with respect. I’m never coming back here, I thought.

Kurt Suzuki hit a controversial homerun off C.C. Sabathia in the second inning just beyond the reach of leftfielder Johnny Damon. Yankees beat Oakland 9-7 in the 14th inning, the first extra-inning game in the new stadium.

As soon as I got to my seat I settled down and enjoyed the first extra-inning game in the new stadium. Of course I couldn’t leave the stadium without my blood pressure rising again. I got in my car when Arin pointed toward a sign on the way out that said everyone has to prepay at the machine before leaving. No problem, I thought. Arin ran downstairs and put his ticket in and put money in the machine. He took the receipt and met me at my car. At the bottom of the garage a parking attendant was stopping each of the cars ahead of us. I couldn’t understand what was taking them so long. When the car ahead of us pulled out, the parking attendant asked me for my ticket. I gave him my parking receipt. He asked for my ticket. I told him I put the ticket in the machine and paid and received the receipt. He said without the ticket it will cost me $20. I told him that was ridiculous, and that I'm not paying twice for parking. It was an obvious scam. The attendant was making a quick buck for those wanting to leave quickly, which was everyone. I asked to speak to his manager. He pointed to an office on the other side of the garage. I pulled over and Arin talked to the manager, who gave him the run around. Finally, we did leave without paying again. But did we deserve to be hassled for more money when the sign and machine made it clear vehicles had to pay before leaving? Did I deserve this after dealing with the rude ushers and expensive food? Then again, I'm not a corporate man; I'm an old Yankee Stadium kind of guy.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Money (Basket) Ball

There is a tension, peculiar to basketball, between the interests of the team and the interests of the individual. The game continually tempts the people who play it to do things that are not in the interest of the group. On the baseball field, it would be hard for a player to sacrifice his team’s interest for his own. Baseball is an individual sport masquerading as a team one: by doing what’s best for himself, the player nearly always also does what is best for his team.

~ Michael Lewis, New York Times Magazine

I first read Moneyball when I lived in Colorado in 2004. This book, authored by Michael Lewis, completely changed the way I view baseball and its front offices. It is another reason I don’t call myself a Yankee fan anymore. Quite simply, Lewis researched why money alone doesn’t win championships and how certain general managers are rethinking the game’s statistics toward maximizing their lineups. One of these general managers was the Oakland A's Billy Beane. His basketball counterpart, as Lewis writes in a recent New York Times Magazine piece, is Daryl Morey, 33, of the Houston Rockets. Morey was part of the reason the Rockets won 22 straight games last season without their two stars, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, on the court at the same time during 11 of those wins. He was the main reason, however, Shane Battier played in every game during that winning streak. He also was the reason why they traded for Battier in the first place. Battier is exactly the player a team like the Rockets want, a true undervalued player because he doesn’t score points or grab rebounds or produce any other statistic that most players think they get paid for. Battier does one thing, though, as well as the other All-Star players in the NBA: he makes his team win.

When (Kobe) Bryant is in the game and Battier is on him, the Lakers’ offense is worse than if the N.B.A.'s best player had taken the night off.

~ Michael Lewis, New York Times Magazine

In the game Lewis watched between the Houston Rockets and the L.A. Lakers, Battier guarded the Laker's star Kobe Bryant the entire game. Bryant outscored Battier 33 to 3. Without Battier, says Sam Hinkie to Lewis, the Rockets would have lost by 12. Hinkie is the vice president of player operations and the head of basketball analytics in the Rockets’ front office. Battier played the odds the entire game, forcing Bryant into taking his most inefficient shots on the court. With the Rockets leading by two in the closing seconds, Bryant took a shot 27.4 feet from the hoop. Bryant had missed 86.3 percent of his shots from farther than 26.75 feet from the basket in the closing seconds. Battier and the Rockets front office knew this. Yet Bryant made the shot and the Lakers won. Most fans would think it was typical Kobe being Kobe, when in fact it was a very rare occurrence. In the long-run, over the course of a season, however, you can’t beat the odds.

One statistical rule of thumb in basketball is that a team leading by more points than there are minutes left near the end of the game has an 80 percent chance of winning.

~ Michael Lewis, New York Times Magazine

Lewis points out that two of three NBA games are decided by fewer than 6 points. That is two or three possessions. It is a couple of turnovers. It is the reason why you may see more teams following Morey’s method and acquiring players like Shane Battier. It won't stop there. In the current recession spending money efficiently is a top priority for most professional teams. Computer geeks who love sports and business are going to continue to revolutionize how professional teams choose their players. Moneyball is no longer just for baseball.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

MJ Video Tribute to Hall of Fame Induction

Michael Jordan was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame yesterday along with John Stockton and David Robinson. For those who doubt he was the greatest player ever, I provided a few videos below for proof.

Monday, April 6, 2009