The Stephen Strasburg All-Star Debate… A Star As Bright As Any

July 6, 2010

Read the opposing argument from and Loyal Homer.

Even before the recent announcement of the MLB All-Star game rosters there has been a whirlwind of controversy surrounding the potential inclusion of rookie pitching sensation Stephen Strasburg on the NL roster. Having only made six major league starts – with a record of two wins and two losses, but a remarkable stat line of 2.45 ERA, 54 Ks, and 1.06 WHIP – many current and former players have weighed in on the issue about how deserving of an All-Star Strasburg is. Critics claim he hasn’t earned it and it would be an insult to those who pitched well all season long and were snubbed from the team. I am not so convinced.

Talent is talent. Whether it is displayed across six starts or 16, ability makes itself known. Strasburg has quickly become one of the most popular players in the country and his star burns brighter with each start.

He has become an invaluable asset to the Washington Nationals as well as MLB. He has skyrocketed to stardom not just as a pitching marvel, but as a popularity maven as well. Strasburg has driven up TV ratings and ticket sales for Nationals games both home and away. His merchandise is in high demand everywhere he goes, so much so that teams like the Cleveland Indians are cashing in, having taken to setting up stands devoted solely to selling Strasburg merchandise. A popularity like that is good for baseball and should not be ignored.

Strasburg is good for baseball, and therefore should be showcased during the All-Star game. Were it the decision of those representing and marketing MLB (i.e. Bud Selig) it would be foolish to pass on such a popular and up-and-coming talent as Strasburg.

Strasburg has developed quite a bit of name recognition for himself since being drafted with the number one overall pick of the Washington Nationals in 2009. I can honestly say I am more familiar with him than I was with other dominant National League pitchers like Ubaldo Jimenez who is buried in the anonymity of the Rockies roster.

During the B.S. (Before Strasburg) Era, the Washington Nationals were not even a blip on the proverbial radar f, but now I follow them with a unique fanaticism. He has honestly made a believer of me. I actually pay attention to the Nationals box score and make appointments with the television to watch him anytime I can. Admittedly I am doing some fantasy scouting, and counting down the days until he hits free agency (so he can be lured to the pinstripes and bright lights of the Big Apple, but that is another story entirely). He has provided a huge boost in popularity to the Nationals and baseball itself, and as such merits inclusion on the All-Star roster for the good of the game itself.

Obviously he is not going to receive a special invitation to the All-Star game because he is important and marketable. Fortunately he warrants inclusion on the roster because of what he can actually contribute to the team.

Strasburg should make the All-Star team because he gives the NL a legitimate shot at winning. Think about it. There is not one batter on the AL All-Star team, starter or reserve, that has ever seen Strasburg’s electric stuff. Talk about a secret weapon. American League batters would be stepping into the box with zero previous at-bats against him and only minimal scouting reports to assist them. Add to that the fact that he will only be called on to pitch to one or two innings of batters… and we are talking about a deck stacked in favor of Charlie Manuel’s team.

Make no bones about it, the All-Star game has consequences. Like it or not, the winning league secures home field advantage for the World Series. Every player and manager has to realize the importance of this consequence and capitalize on the strengths at a team’s disposal. Strasburg’s usefulness as an overpowering pitcher that the American League has virtually no prior read on is an advantage too powerful to ignore.

Few if any critics of Strasburg’s participation in the All-Star game challenge his talent, but rather how much he deserves to play in the event. The idea that he has not “paid his dues” by playing in the entire 2010 season is irrelevant. The belief that Strasburg’s inclusion due to his overwhelming talent and popularity is somehow inappropriate because it insults players who didn’t make the cut is flawed at best. If that were the most important factor, then why would fans get to vote at all?

The fans vote for who they want to see play, not who has earned the unwavering support of their peers. Plenty of players get questionably selected to the All-Star team. For example, Derek Jeter is having a down season but easily won the starting shortstop gig for the AL team with the second largest number of votes. Is he having a great season? No. Is he having the best season of any shortstop in the AL? Maybe not. But does that make him undeserving of the honor? Absolutely not. This highlights how “being deserving” – however that phrase is defined – is not essential criterion for participation in the event. Jeter made the team because the fans want to see him play, and I firmly believe that if he were available for voting Strasburg would easily emerge with a ticket to Anaheim.

Strasburg belongs in the All-Star game. He belongs there for baseball’s sake. He belongs there for the competitiveness of the National League team. And he belongs there because the fans obviously want to see him play. Any argument to the contrary is obviously motivated by team loyalties or jealousy.

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The Best NBA All-star Game Contest Debate – The Slam Dunk Still Dunks the Rest of the Weekend

February 12, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Bleacher Fan.

I have always liked NBA all-star weekend. I enjoy most all of the events. This year, the actual game, which appears to be headed towards a battle of attrition with each passing day, falls on Valentine’s Day. Too bad so many of you guys will be stuck taking your valentine to the movies to see Dear John or Valentine’s Day! But, as you know, there are other televised events going out through the all-star weekend. And, despite all the turnover throughout the years (with stars choosing to bypass the event for various reasons) I still believe the slam dunk contest is the best event of the entire weekend.

Take a stroll with me down memory lane if you will. Go back to the mid to late 1980s. Superstars Michael Jordan and Dominque Wilkins battled it out in competitions that my friends and I talk about to this day. I have an old VHS cassette showcasing the 1988 Slam Dunk contest in Chicago, when Jordan defeated Wilkins in an epic battle in which, I might add, I still think Jordan received some home cooking scoring from the judges. Nevertheless, that year is perhaps the signature contest for this event.

Over the years the contest has become a chance for young players to make a name for themselves. Isaiah Rider, Harold Miner, Dee Brown, and Josh Smith are names that come to mind immediately without even looking it up. Even last year’s winner, Nate Robinson, won it in 2006 as a rookie, and up until his recent playing time dispute with the Knicks, that has been how most casual fans know about him. That and the fact that he is just a tad taller than former champion Spud Webb.

This year’s contest features Robinson (who may actually pull out with an injured groin), Shannon Brown, Gerald Wallace, and the winner of a Friday dunk-off between DeMar Derozan (who?) and Eric Gordon. I know what you are saying, because I am thinking the same thing. These are not big names. And you are right. NBA Commissioner David Stern and I would love nothing more to see a certain number 23 in the event. Shaquille O’Neal tried to talk up a possible contest between LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Vince Carter. Wouldn’t that have been a real treat to see?

But, despite the lack of big names in the event, it is still the best event of the weekend. Like the Home Run Derby for baseball, the Slam Dunk Contest is that event where the all-stars have their kids sitting on the court with them while they record the event with their video camera. It still has the buzz that I am not sure the other events have. Let’s hope it delivers once again!

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The Fans Voting For the All-Star Starters Debate – I Scream, You Scream, We ALL Scream for All Stars

February 11, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

I am putting together an all-star list of my own. The list will feature the all-star ice cream flavors of 2010. There will be some obvious selections, such as Vanilla and Chocolate. After the “sure-things” are named, though, how do you go on to decide the rest of the list?

No matter which flavors make the list, people will challenge the validity of certain selections. I can hear it now

”What idiot thinks that Butter Pecan should be on the list?”

“Where is Mint Chocolate Chip? How did that NOT make the list?”

“If Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry are already separately on the list, why is Neapolitan also up there?”

The list of questions and challenges to those selected would be as varied as the list of flavors itself. The reason for this is simple – it is a SUBJECTIVE list. My opinions on the ‘best’ ice cream flavors most likely differ greatly from yours. It is a matter of personal taste.

Even if the list were based on some objective ranking, such as the amount of scoops purchased last year for each flavor, you and I would still disagree at least partially on the end result. Likewise, even the decision to rank the flavors objectively, based on the number of scoops purchased, was still a subjective decision. Someone ultimately made the decision to use that as the method for ranking based on THEIR subjective opinion that it was the best method. They could have also used the amount of money spent on each flavor, the number of locations that carry that flavor, the list goes on and on.

In much the same manner, determining which players should constitute the NBA all-star rosters is entirely subjective. Someone must ultimately make the decision on which players deserve to be recognized as all-stars and why. It does not really matter what the criteria for that decision is, because there will always be people who disagree with it.

If the list were based solely on statistical performance, such as total points scored, there would still be grounds for disagreement. ”Player X may not have had as many total points as Player Y, but Player X gets a higher percentage of points for the minutes he plays.”

It is IMPOSSIBLE to create a list that EVERYONE would agree with. It just cannot happen. My opinions on those players who SHOULD be all-stars will be different from yours, and that is okay. The only thing that REALLY matters is that the criteria for ranking is consistent with everybody.

For the NBA, that method of consistent ranking is done through fan voting, which makes perfect sense to me. The NBA is a spectator sport, meaning that it serves as a production intended to entertain a crowd of spectators (fans). Without those fans, the NBA does not exist.

Although it may be an imperfect system (as I said, though, they are ALL imperfect), the NBA has made the decision to REWARD their collective fanbase for their ongoing support by giving them the opportunity to see their favorite players in one place. Those players will then participate in an exhibition game that is designed to – you guessed it – ENTERTAIN THE FANS!

Who cares if Allen Iverson got selected to the all-star team? I will tell you who cares – THE FANS! That is why he was chosen. Whether you or I believe he SHOULD have been selected is completely irrelevant. Clearly there were enough fans out there who DID believe he deserved it, and they get just as much of a say in the matter as I do. That is the beauty (and the risk) of a democratic system. Even if it is for only one day and in a game that does not count, the fans get the opportunity to let their voices be heard.

This is one of the few ways that professional sports organizations like the NBA can thank their fans in a real way, by giving them the ability to DIRECTLY influence the operation of the league. Why on earth would they want to stop that process?! The removal of fan voting from the NBA all-star process will only make things worse, not better. It may eliminate FAN subjectivity and bias from the process, but it will not eliminate subjectivity altogether. It WILL, however, upset the fans to know that their opinion is no longer solicited or valued by the NBA.

Of course, if the NBA does decide to one day eliminate fan voting, they could at least make up for it by instead giving their fans some of that delicious ice cream at every game!

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The MLB 2009 Division Race Debate – You’re Not Cruising Yet, Philadelphia

July 13, 2009

Read Bleacher Fan’s argument that the American League Central is the best second-half divisional race, and Sports Geek’s argument that the National League Central is the best.

Well folks, MLB has reached the All-Star break. The all stars get to enjoy the festivities in St. Louis, rest, and get ready for the second half of the season.
Five of the six divisions are yet to be decided with exciting races up on the horizon (Loyal Homer has seeded the NL West to the Los Angeles Dodgers). This parity gives a lot of hope to many of the teams and keeps fans interested in these cities at a time when attendance is down six percent, as Sports Geek pointed out last week.

The Sports Debates has decided to give you a sneak peek at the second half of the season, as we’re excited about the next two and a half months. Sports Geek will argue that the NL Central is the most exciting division race in the second half of the season while Bleacher Fan will argue why the AL Central is the most exciting race.

Meanwhile, I have decided the NL East is the most exciting division race.

As it stands now, the world champion Philadelphia Phillies hold a four game lead over those pesky Florida Marlins. The Atlanta Braves are currently six games back, with the slumping/walking-wounded Mets six and a half games back.

This race was actually closer 10 days ago, before the Phillies went on a 9-1 tear that opened things up a bit. But, I don’t think those Marlins are going anywhere.

The Marlins, led by All-Star starting shortstop Hanley Ramirez, just keep hanging around. They aren’t supposed to be here, but yet, here they are. Ramirez is quietly having an MVP-type season. The youth and energy of this team is contagious. Too bad no one in Florida has caught the fever (see attendance numbers). I’m not sure this team is ready to take the next step yet, but they aren’t going away and they could steal this division. Keep in mind that the Marlins won a World Series in 1997 and in 2003. That’s six years apart. Six years after 2003 is 2009. Hmmmm????

The Braves, while maddeningly inconsistent offensively, can’t be counted out because of their starting rotation. Starting pitchers Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens, rookie sensation Tommy Hanson, and Kenshin Kawakami form a rotation with a combined ERA under four. On offense, the Braves think they have added by subtracting the Jeff Francoeur with a recent trade. On paper, this team doesn’t have enough offense to catch the Phillies. However, there’s a lot of time left.

The Mets haven’t played with their regular team pretty much all season. First baseman Carlos Delgado hurt his hip early in the going, and he was joined on the disabled list by shortstop Jose Reyes and center fielder Carlos Beltran… among others. The Mets think they have provided a spark with the addition of Francoeur, and judging by the last two games, the spark is there. But, the Mets starting rotation is weak once you get past Johan Santana. However, once those guys come off the disabled list, they can certainly make a run.

The Phillies come into the break red hot. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins has finally broken out of his year-long slump and has been the catalyst to this recent hot streak. But, like the Mets, the Phillies rotation leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps that’s why they are looking closely at Pedro Martinez. That offense is one of the best in the league, with Rollins, first baseman Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley, outfielder Raul Ibanez, and underrated outfielder Jayson Worth. Then again, every offense would be stacked if they played in a homer friendly ballpark like the Phillies do. (Remember that 1995 Colorado Rockies team with the Blake Street bombers hitting balls out of Coors Field… in the pre-humidor days?)

The weakness of the starting rotation of the Phillies gives the other three teams a chance in this division. Also, the four teams will be beating up on each in September. Whatever team gets hot in September is the one that is going to take the division!

The Home Run Derby Relevance Debate – The Verdict

July 13, 2009

Read Loyal Homer’s argument that the derby still has relevance, and Sports Geek’s argument that it does not.

Last Friday, I posed a debate question around the Home Run Derby, and asked Sports Geek and Loyal Homer to weigh in with their opinions on whether or not the event still added any value to Major League Baseball.

Having read their arguments, I am thoroughly convinced that it still does add value, and therefore award the verdict to…

Loyal Homer!!!!!

Sports Geek argued that there are more exciting plays in baseball than the home run, citing an unassisted triple-play or stealing home as examples. The one thing that Sports Geek doesn’t address is the nature of how these events occur. A home run, for example, makes for a good skill challenge because it can happen at any time, on any pitch, no matter the context of the game. You cannot make that same statement for unassisted triple-plays, or for stealing home base. Conditions must be right for those events to take place.

In addition, an unassisted triple-play is an event, not a skill, so it can’t be incorporated successfully into a skill challenge. Perfect games and grand slams are also very exciting in baseball, but you can’t have a perfect game or grand slam challenge. Logistically, challenges built around these events would be impossible to host, and would probably be very boring to watch.

That is not to say, though, that Sports Geek’s argument is without merit. Variety is the spice of life, and as such there is certainly room within baseball to host other challenges at MLB’s All-Star event that feature different skills, such as directional hitting, base-stealing, pitching accuracy, etc. Based on what I have read, though, these events would be best used to complement, rather than replace, the Home Run Derby.

When you consider the merits of the Home Run Derby as an attraction worth featuring, the numbers don’t lie.

As Loyal Homer’s argument points out, 6.8 million viewers tuned in to watch the 2008 Home Run Derby. That number actually accounted for a 35% INCREASE in viewership from the year prior, which means that Derby popularity is growing, not declining.

As for the 6.8 million viewers, let’s consider how that number compares to the NBA All-Star event, which features a variety of skills in a sport which many would consider to be more popular than baseball. Despite being the most successful year of television ratings in the 24-year history of the event, the NBA All-Star Saturday night (which includes the 3-point and slam dunk competitions), only attracted 5.8 million viewers.

That means that the Home Run Derby, a single skill challenge in an arguably less-popular sport, still managed to draw one million MORE viewers than the NBA’s cavalcade of skills.

Those numbers leave no doubt in my mind that the Home Run is still king.

The Home Run Derby Relevance Debate – Chicks Dig the Long Ball

July 10, 2009

Read the debate intro and Sports geek’s argument that the Home Run Derby is no longer necessary.

The All-Star festivities for Major League Baseball are fast approaching. The game, the galas, the celebrity softball game, and the Home Run Derby will be taking place next week in St. Louis, Missouri.

Now, what event do you think the Loyal Homer is most looking forward to watching? (I can promise you it’s not the celebrity softball game, which is probably Sports Geek’s favorite event!)

It is, in fact, the Home Run Derby!

The Home Run Derby is a made-for-TV event that has taken place at the All-Star Game every year since 1985. And last year’s first round created perhaps the most buzz ever, with Josh Hamilton hitting in record 28 home runs in the first round (though he eventually lost to champion Justin Morneau.).

The question posed by Bleacher Fan basically asks if MLB still needs to host the Home Run Derby each. I say most definitely… YES!

I love the home run derby. It’s one of my favorite exhibition events of the year in any sport. Some buddies of mine and I are planning on getting together on Monday to grill out and watch the derby. We’ve been doing this for years. It appears I am not the only one who likes the Home Run Derby, either. Last year’s Home Run Derby drew 6.78 million viewers for ESPN.

Fans come to the park to see home runs, even in this steroids era. They don’t come to the park to see singles and doubles. Do fan stand up and cheer when the eighth place hitter hits a bloop single to center? Heck no! Do fans stand up and cheer when the cleanup hitter hits a 475-foot bomb over the right field fence? You betcha!

This year’s derby features some of the game’s biggest sluggers, including Ryan Howard, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder (his dad Cecil could hit some moon shots back in the day), and hometown boy Albert Pujols. Now, you can’t honestly tell me that you don’t want to see how far Pujols can really hit a baseball. He can hit it a long way in a game (just ask Brad Lidge). Imagine how far he can hit it in against batting practice pitching! I, and thousands of other fans like me, get to baseball games early just to stand in the outfield seats and try to catch a BP home run. That proves to me that America is still fascinated with the long ball.

And chicks dig the long ball. If you have never seen this commercial, please give it a look. It’s one of my all-time favorites.

Is the derby a little too drawn out now with all the rounds and the contestants and commercial breaks after every hitter? Yes, certainly! It needs to be adjusted. But it does not need to be eliminated. Loyal Homer loves the event and I know the fans do too!


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