The Cleveland/L.A./St. Louis/L.A. Rams

As part of the yearly rotation of non-division opponents, the Packers will host the Rams next season.

The Los Angeles Rams, that is, if this passed-on report from the Epoch Times is correct:

The St. Louis Rams have already made the decision to relocate to Los Angeles, and will make the official announcement after the Super Bowl, according to a new report.

“There’s a strong belief, people that are in–that I believe are in the know–multiple people, have told me that the decision has already been made and that the team is moving,” one of the hosts of 101 ESPN said in a recent show.

“Somebody told you that, really?” sharply questioned another.

“Yes.”

Jason La Confora of CBS Sports said recently that Rams owner Stan Kroenke is expected to make the announcement on February 15, 2015.

Kroenke stoked speculation in January by buying a 60-acre tract of land in Inglewood, California.

“The land is located between the recently renovated Forum and the Hollywood Park racetrack, which was shut down in December, and could potentially serve as the home of a future NFL stadium,” ESPN said.

“Since the Raiders and Rams left Southern California after the 1994 season, Los Angeles has been subjected to enough meaningless artist renderings to fill a museum and more empty promises to encompass two decades worth of failed campaign speeches. There is, however, a big difference if Kroenke truly does have an interest in moving the Rams out of St. Louis and back to Los Angeles. He owns the Rams and now owns enough land in Los Angeles to build a stadium.”

“Every indication that you get, or everything that is not said by Stan Kroenke would lead you to believe that he wants to build a stadium and have a team there,” one of the ESPN Radio hosts said this week.

“This is a guy that lives in L.A., and tried to buy the Dodgers.”

Pro Football Talk started this by reporting earlier this week:

As the 20th anniversary of the NFL’s departure from Los Angeles, the NFL seems closer than ever to returning. Per a league source, the current plan is that the NFL will send one or two teams back to Los Angeles within the next 12 to 24 months.

The timeline would include a team announcing its intention to move in the 2015 or 2016 offseason, with arrangements to play at the Rose Bowl or the L.A. Coliseum pending the construction of a new stadium. Possible sites for a venue in L.A. include the AEG project at L.A. Live in downtown, the land purchased recently by Rams owner Stan Kroenke at Hollywood Park, Chavez Ravine, and a couple of locations that have not yet been publicly disclosed.  Ed Roski’s shovel-ready site at City of Industry is not regarded as a viable destination.

Currently, the universe of teams that may relocate consists of three:  the Rams, Raiders, and Chargers. The Raiders’ current lease expires after the 2014 season.  The Rams can exit without penalty after each season.  The Chargers can leave by paying a relocation fee that shrinks every year.

The Rams, who most people don’t know actually started in Cleveland …

… moved from Cleveland to Los Angeles in 1946, playing at the cavernous Los Angeles Coliseum …

… before moving to Anaheim Stadium in 1980 …

… and then St. Louis in 1995:

The Raiders started in Oakland …

… moved to Los Angeles (the Coliseum) in 1982 …

… then moved back to Oakland in 1995:

The Chargers played their first season in Los Angeles before moving down Interstate 5 to San Diego.

Ever since the Rams and Raiders departed L.A. after the 1994 season, NFL-back-to-L.A. rumors have been as prevalent as car magazines’ stories about the next new Chevy Corvette. It is rather ironic that the rumors about the Rams’ and/or Raiders’ and/or Chargers’ moving (back) to L.A. involves two franchises that both moved to and from L.A. It’s also a bit ironic that two of the most recent teams to have moved (the last was the Houston Oilers, which became the Tennessee Titans in 1997, preceded one year earlier by the first Cleveland Browns, which became the Baltimore Ravens) are looking to move back.

Usually, teams that move move because of a combination of on-the-field lack of success and bad stadium situations, with one often affecting the other. (Which is kind of like being excited about buying a car that is a lemon.) The Rams play in the Edward Jones Dome, which opened in 1995. By 2012, the stadium was ranked the seventh worst U.S. sports stadium by Time magazine.

The Raiders are 0–4 and just fired their coach, and the Rams are 1–3 and in last place in the NFC West. Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, the Chargers are 4–1. Another team often mentioned in moving discussions, the Jacksonville Jaguars, are 0–4, but their stadium, the former Gator Bowl, just had $63 million in renovation work. The Buffalo Bills were recently sold to the owners of the National Hockey League’s Buffalo Sabres, so they’re probably not going anywhere. (And the Bills are also 3–2 and tied for first in the AFC East.)

Both the Raiders and Chargers are supposedly working on stadium deals where they are now. That makes the Rams’ moving back to L.A. more logical, given the additional fact that since the Rams are in the NFC West, they could move back to L.A. without reconfiguring divisions. The Raiders’ situation is also intertwined with the Oakland Athletics, who share the former Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum with the Raiders in the only remaining baseball/football stadium. (The A’s want out too.)

As for the Chargers, U~T San Diego is worried:

For much of the 12 years the Chargers have been posturing and pestering for a new stadium in San Diego, they were the only team in the NFL with the ability to get out of their current lease with minimal or no penalty. Not so any more.

The St. Louis Rams recently won their freedom and can leave any time, and the Raiders are free to abandon Oakland after this season. Both teams, as do the Chargers, maintain their current stadium situations are unsustainable.

This is not the good news you might think it is. It doesn’t push the Chargers out of the L.A. scene.

What it might actually do is force the Chargers to make a decision — because they can’t let another team (or teams) beat them to Los Angeles.

The Chargers can’t have another NFL team in Southern California – not without getting a new stadium in San Diego.

The team says that 30 percent of its revenue is generated from Los Angeles and Orange County. To have a team in that region siphon that business would, Chargers officials have said several times, have a momentously adverse affect on their bottom line.

(A little refresher: The Chargers are one of a handful of NFL teams whose primary local revenue source is ticket sales. A new stadium would provide a lucrative naming rights deal, which the Chargers do not have now, as well as enhanced signage, among other revenue-generating features.)

If progress toward a new stadium remains stalled – the mayor’s dinner with Chargers President Dean Spanos and lunch with U-T columnist Nick Canepa and a few perfunctory meetings between advisers aside – the Chargers will be cornered if the Rams and Raiders appear headed back to Southern California.

Their two choices will be staking their claim to the region in the form of litigation trying to block any teams from moving to L.A. or moving to L.A. themselves.

So whatever anyone thinks about how L.A. will embrace an NFL team after 20 years or its decades-long inability to get a stadium built, those in the league know there will one day, sooner than later, be at least one team in the nation’s second-largest market.

After reading this, you are bound to ask: Well, if L.A. is such a great market, why isn’t a team there now? The Rams and the Raiders left the same season for similar reasons — the Rams got a sweetheart stadium deal in St. Louis, and the Raiders got a deal to move out of the L.A. Coliseum, which was old, in a bad neighborhood, and lacking in 1990s stadium amenities. Twenty years later, the L.A. Coliseum remains old, in a bad neighborhood, and lacking in 2010s stadium amenities, but the O.co Coliseum is similarly old and lacking in amenities. (Unless you consider sewer backups to be a stadium amenity.)

You can also gue$$ what el$e i$ motivating the new $tadium pu$h, both from the NFL’s perspective and the perspective of owners of teams that might move to L.A. The NFL would love to have Super Bowls back in the SouthLAnd, but that is unlikely without a team and without a better stadium than the Coliseum (which hosted Super Bowls I and VII) or the Rose Bowl.

This is also potentially tied to the NFL’s TV blackout policy. Because of (the importance varies) the cavernous size of the Coliseum, the lack of quality of the Raiders and Rams, and the fact there are so many other things to do, L.A. team games have often been blacked out in L.A. because the stadiums haven’t been sold out. (The situation didn’t change back in Oakland either; the Raiders last season reduced their stadium capacity to avoid blackouts. That might have to do with the fact that through 2011, the Raiders had had more blackouts than locally broadcast games.)

No one is likely to announce a move during the season, because that would result in ugly situations in their soon-to-be-vacated home stadiums, at least until after the teams’ last home games. Watch what happens, though, after Dec. 21, because, interestingly, the Rams’, Raiders’ and Chargers’ last games of this season are on the road. The Chargers’ last two games are on the road, in fact, which could give them a one-week jump start, though whether they would use it might depend on whether or not they remain in playoff contention.

The ’64 Phillies, the ’69 Cubs and the ’14 Brewers

On Aug. 18, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported (and I blogged):

After sweeping the Los Angeles Dodgers in improbable and relentless fashion, the Brewers now have the best record in the National League at 70 wins and 55 losses, and lead the St. Louis Cardinals by three games in the National League Central.

The Brewers can go 18-19 down the stretch while the Cardinals would have to finish 22-17 just to force a tie for the division lead.

With fewer than 40 games to go, how likely is it that the Brewers make the playoffs? I compiled a handful of projections and put them in a table:

Brewers’ playoff odds, as of 08/17
FanGraphs’ projections mode 82.9%
Baseball Prospectus’ playoff odds report 88.4%
Sports Clubs Stats’ projections 94.7%

That was on Aug. 18. The Journal Sentinel reported Wednesday:

As the Brewers wake  up Wednesday morning, they have one playoff scenario:

They must finish the season 5-0, have the San Francisco Giants finish 0-5, then go to San Francisco for a play-in game for the second wild-card berth. That would send the Brewers to Pittsburgh for the wild-card game.

What is the likelihood of that happening? The Brewers’ playoff chances are now listed at 0.1%, the only fraction above zero. …

It has been an epic meltdown for the Brewers, especially when one considers they led the National League Central for 150 days. After beating San Diego, 10-1, on Aug. 25, they had a six-game lead on third-place Pittsburgh in the standings.

The Brewers have gone 7-19 since while the Pirates have gone 19-7, creating a 12-game swing between those clubs.

The Brewers last won five games in a row from Aug. 14-19, a stretch that included a three-game sweep in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. Remember how well the Brewers were playing back then? That was before the roof caved in on what has become one of the worst late-season collapses in MLB history.

The headline refers to arguably the two worst late-season collapses in baseball history, or at least the two most notorious. The 1964 Phillies had a 6½-game lead in the National League (in the pre-division days) with 12 games left, and proceeded to lose it all and miss the World Series. The 1969 Cubs were playing uncharacteristically good baseball, and led the NL East by 9½ games in mid-August. But in September the Cubs lost eight games in a row while the previously awful New York Mets won 10 in a row. The Mets — who had set a record by losing 120 games in 1962, when losing 100 games is bad enough, and were 73–89 in 1968 — won the NL East by eight games, then, even more improbably, defeated Baltimore 4 games to 1 in the 1969 World Series.

Readers know I have been skeptical of the Brewers all season long. Hank the Dog notwithstanding, the Brewers’ collapse was pretty predictable because too many players were playing over their heads, and regression to the mean predicts what happens after that. It is nearly impossible to overachieve over an entire season. In fact, I wrote one month ago: “If you believe the Brewers have been playing over their heads (suffice to say that no one was predicting the Brewers would be in first place in late August), regression to the mean predicts an ugly September, particularly given their schedule (harder than the Cardinals’ schedule) and their lack of big-game-experienced pitching.”

The what-if of the whole season probably is the deal that apparently was pursued, but never finished, for Colorado Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau, who could have been the left-handed power hitter the Brewers have lacked all season long. The Brewers did trade for left-handed outfielder Gerardo Parra, which, despite the fact he’s playing pretty well, has had little impact on the Brewers (though he’s been better than outfielders Logan Schaefer, Caleb Gindl and the now-crashing Khris Davis), and relief pitcher Jonathan Broxton.

I liked Broxton’s acquisition better than Parra’s (Broxton could be next year’s closer assuming the Brewers are tired of closer Francisco Rodriguez, even though statistically K-Rod has had a good year), but neither helped with the Brewers’ two main problems. The first, as was pointed out to me by a state championship-winning high school baseball coach, is that the Brewers have no stopper — a starting pitcher who is supposed to stop losing streaks. Pitcher Yovani Gallardo is supposed to be their number-one pitcher, but he’s really a number-three, which means they don’t have a number-one or number-two quality starter. Even though the Brewers’ starters have pitched well of late, there is no such thing as enough pitching.

The Brewers also managed to overrate their offense when they were winning games earlier this season. The best leadoff hitter is probably center fielder Carlos Gomez, except for his low on-base percentage, high strikeout totals, and ability to provide examples for the next How Not to Run the Bases video. Neither right fielder Ryan Braun nor third baseman Aramis Ramirez have had good years, perhaps due to injury. The entire roster outside of Parra (who doesn’t hit for power when the Brewers need a lefty who does), second baseman Scooter Gennett and catcher Jonathan Lucroy is a bunch of swing-for-the-fences would-be sluggers who are unable or unwilling to adopt a different approach.

If you look at successful Brewers teams — the two obvious examples are 1982 and 2011 — this team falls far short. The 2014 Brewers had no one who could hit for average like Paul Molitor, Robin Yount and Cecil Cooper. It seemed predictable that 2011 first baseman Prince Fielder would indeed balloon up and lose effectiveness as a hitter, but the problem is the Brewers have never replaced Fielder with a power-hitting left-handed first baseman who was a good hitter as well. This team has a horrible bench, and apparently lacked the leadership provided by Nyjer Morgan and Jerry Hairston Jr. on the 2011 team and nearly everybody on the ’82 Brewers.

The usual response in such cases as this is to fire people, and not surprisingly Brewers fans have called for the heads of general manager Doug Melvin (who I interviewed once) and manager Ron Roenicke. Melvin doesn’t appear to be leaving since he apparently is interviewing candidates for the team’s farm director position. In fact, if you want to blame anyone, this season is probably the fault of the people responsible for talent acquisition and development. Being a small-market team, the Brewers do not have the ability to fill holes by throwing money at free agents. Melvin has always developed the Brewers’ talent from within, with selected acquisitions (pitchers C.C. Sabathia and Zach Greinke, for instance) in promising seasons. If the Brewers have too many free-swinging, undisciplined hitters, that’s how they were allowed to develop.

Maybe Roenicke didn’t manage well this season, but I’m unconvinced a new manager would make a difference with fundamentally unsound players. I’ve read a lot about the Brewers’ failure to play small ball when needed, but there’s probably a reason for that. Gomez is already a potential rally-killer on the bases, and you can probably count on one hand the number of Brewers who could successfully execute a bunt or suicide squeeze.

I’ve read online calls to replace Roenicke, who apparently has become too buddy-buddy with players in some fans’ view, with a hardnosed field general type of manager. (The only name that came to mind was Larry Bowa, who got run out of San Diego not even halfway into his second season there. There was also Bobby Valentine, who succeeded during a surprisingly long major league managing career to turn off nearly everyone who had to work with him.) Such people who want the next Billy Martin don’t understand that that approach doesn’t really exist anymore for a reason. The Brewers have enough problems convincing players to come to Milwaukee without the prospect of playing for an asshole.

The Brewers lack a balanced offensive lineup. There is a huge gap between the starters and the bench, and not all the starters are necessarily starter quality. First base has been a disaster all season. I remain unconvinced Davis is a major league starter-quality player. The Brewers could dump all their bench players and you’d never notice. Roenicke came to the Brewers from the Angels, who when they won the 2002 World Series had a bunch of high-on-base-percentage hitters. That is certainly not the Brewers. (If you play in a hitter’s ballpark, as Miller Park apparently has become, you need not have guys in the lineup who hit 500-foot home runs; you need guys in the lineup to get on base, because eventually they will come home.)

I felt at the start of the season that this was no better than a .500 team, and quite possibly far worse. The problem is this team will get no better than this. The farm system has become depleted, as shown by the failure of anyone from the minors to help the offense this season, and the lack of minor-leaguers to package in a deal for someone like Morneau or a quality starting pitcher.

When you develop from within, you have to make almost all the right decisions, and the Brewers evidently haven’t done that. If you want to wait a half-dozen years, they could trade everybody and start over, but do you want five years of 100-loss seasons?

The person I feel worst for is not anyone on the field. It’s announcer Bob Uecker, who really deserves to get to announce a Brewers World Series while he still can, given the thousands of bad baseball games he’s had to announce since the early 1970s.

 

Football fans despite the football leagues

The National Football League has had, to put it mildly, a rough few weeks, with allegations of child and spousal abuse among prominent players.

Which shouldn’t take away from enjoying the sport, Quin Hillyer argues:

The NFL plays a terrific sport. Amidst all the media overkill of the past few weeks (deftly skewered by NR editor Rich Lowry on Friday), let us remind ourselves why we love the game in the first place, and why even this obviously flawed league with a flawed commissioner is nonetheless a great American institution.

Start with something that should be obvious: Children love to play football because it is just plain fun, and fans love it because it’s fun to watch. And fun, channeled in ways that promote rigor and discipline as well, is a very good thing. Fun, of the right sort, refreshes the mind and spirit, sharpens the enjoyment of life, and makes life’s necessary toils both more bearable and (almost certainly) more productive.

Football is fun to play because it marries physical striving to strategic and tactical thinking, all toward a well-defined end, in the context of camaraderie and group effort, in a game that rewards a remarkable variety of skills and body types. Football is fun to watch, as are other sports, because the awe and artistry of superb athleticism is inherently entertaining. But there’s more: Football’s organization into distinct plays makes it the sport most amenable to having fans put themselves into the coach’s mind, applying their own tactical sensibilities to every one of about 130 plays per game.

The NFL has developed and marketed this aspect of its game to the nth degree. Fans benefit from it. Meanwhile, the NFL’s relentless (and sometimes overwhelming) marketing, creating phenomenal wealth for itself, has another salutary effect. With so much money to spread around, the NFL has been able, better than any other professional league, to create an almost perfectly level playing field (figuratively speaking, of course). Its wealth has helped enable its revenue-sharing system, which, along with its superbly balanced salary cap, gives each team, regardless of the wealth or size of its hometown population, the same chance as every other franchise to create a winning organization. A league where a team from comparatively tiny Green Bay can consistently outclass New York’s Jets — a league that allows organization to be more important than locational wealth — is an enterprise that’s doing something right.

Moreover . . . oh, let’s chuck all this highbrow stuff. It’s all true, but here are the real reasons we love the NFL:

We love the NFL because something elemental in it appeals to us at a visceral level that lends itself to mythologizing. We love the NFL because our minds’ eyes can forever see Johnny Unitas leading the Colts through the gloaming in Yankee Stadium — surgically, inexorably — and we recognize in it the essence of how a well-led whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.

We love the NFL for Vince Lombardi’s magnificent tough love. We love the NFL for Bart Starr’s one last push on frozen tundra. We love it for Jack Kemp’s broken trigger finger surgically set at precisely the position needed to grip and throw the pigskin. We love it for Gale Sayers’s speedily balletic grace — and we love it because Sayers loved Brian Piccolo.

We loved it, in our innocence back then, for what remains the most electrifying display of kinetic acceleration the gridiron has ever known, namely all those times in 1973 that a man named Simpson turned on The Juice.

We loved Biletnikoff’s sticky fingers, and we loved Snake’s ball fluttering through the Sea of Hands. We loved the Fearsome Foursome, the Purple People Eaters, the Steel Curtain, and the Orange Crush. We loved Tom Landry’s fedora and Don Shula’s impossibly jutting jaw. We loved Joe Montana’s cool, and we loved Mike Ditka’s bluster. Dandy Don singing that the party was over, and John Madden diagramming how a defense stopped a field goal by inserting a goal-post upright in its path. The Big Tuna being doused in Gatorade — before it became absurdly clichéd — and LeRoy Butler’s Lambeau Leap.

We loved the game’s absurdities: Garo Yepremian trying to throw a pass, Jim Marshall’s wrong-way run, the Raiders’ Holy Roller. We loved its apparent athletic impossibilities: the Steelers’ Swann Dive, David Tyree’s helmet catch. We loved Fran Tarkenton scrambling, Barry Sanders darting, Lance Alworth floating, Ray Nitschke hitting, Dan Marino throwing, Brett Favre and Warren Sapp jawing and laughing — and the incomparable Walter Payton, never too much the superstar to stay in the pocket and pick up the blitz.

And lawdamighty, have you ever seen an athletic performance as compelling as Kellen Winslow’s epic in Miami?

Then there’s the NFL’s unmatched propensity for great storylines. The long-suffering Archie Manning fathering two Super Bowl–winning quarterbacks. The Harbaugh brothers coaching against each other in the Super Bowl. A beer-truck driver who played only one year of high-school football, never went to college, and first got a chance to go pro (indoor league) at 26, became a Pro Bowler in New Orleans. Quarterback Kurt Warner went from bagging groceries to being the Super Bowl MVP. …

You want community concern, public-spiritedness, human decency? Ask the tens of thousands of kids helped by NFL players through United Way charities for lo these 40 years. …

But if you want to see the best of the NFL — to understand how an entire devastated community can be lifted up by a professional sports franchise — never, ever let yourself forget what the Saints did for New Orleans when the NFL ordered owner Tom Benson to keep the team there after the horrors of Katrina. Have you ever seen grown men, a city’s expatriates all across the country, literally weep for joy, uncontrollably, over a first-quarter play in an early-season game? That’s what happened — the stories are legion — when gritty overachiever Steve Gleason blocked a Falcons punt in the first-ever game back in the Superdome after the hurricane.

Thirteen months of pent-up grief, suffering, and fear, all released on one cathartic moment. It wasn’t just that it was the local sports team. It was that so many of the Saints players, in some instances before anyone else, had done so much in the intervening months to help, in word and deed, to resurrect the city.

For all its faults, the NFL works hard, and works well throughout its territories, not just to suck up its cities’ energies but to add to them, not just live off the land but give back to it.

Sure, the ticket prices are way too high. Too many greedy owners demand kings’ ransoms from the public fisc. Too many values are skewed, too much hypocrisy encouraged, too much hype employed, too much trashy entertainment embraced as part and parcel of the NFL experience. Yet for every Ray Rice there is a Manning (any of three) doing charitable work in any of five cities; for every Michael Vick there’s a Starr or Staubach embodying discipline and class.

And, of course, there is the game, the game, the game. Youngblood in the trenches, a Night Train at the corner, and Summerall on the air with winter closing in.

This needs appropriate music:

 

25 years ago tonight

This year is the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which arrived in Georgia the same night as a nationally televised football game at Georgia Southern University:

I’ve announced games during rain (while we announcers were outside), snow, heat, cold and wind. Two years ago, I announced a three-day-long baseball game that started on Wednesday, included a tornado warning, and then was postponed due to lightning. Two days later, the rescheduling having to be rescheduled due to pools of water on the field, the game ended during, of course, a severe thunderstorm watch.

Last year, our second game of the season ended up taking four hours because of a 45-minute halftime lightning delay. We arrived at the stadium around 6 p.m., and left at 11:10 p.m., having announced a game that was literally the length of a Super Bowl.

A hurricane would be a first, though. Hurricanes don’t get up this far north, of course, though the remnants of hurricanes can, as low-pressure areas with geographically appropriate inclement weather.

 

The athletic equivalent of war

University of Virginia Prof. Mark Edmundson is the author of Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game:

Football is a warlike game, and we are now a warlike nation. Our love for football is a love, however self-aware, of ourselves as a fighting and (we hope) victorious people.

Until the end of World War II, it was possible for us Americans to think of ourselves as warlike only by accident. Europe pulled us into World War I. Many Americans wished to stay out. And when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, we had no choice but to fight.

The soldiers who returned from the war by and large believed the United States was finished with conflict, at least for a long time to come. The United States was a peace-loving nation, and it had earned the right to peace.

Then came Korea, Vietnam, three wars in the Middle East and no end of flare-ups around the world. One may think our military engagements have been justified and necessary. But it is no longer really possible to think America is a deeply peaceful, or even a peace-loving nation.

That kind of thinking smacks of the era when the national game truly was baseball. That game is skill-based, nonviolent and leisurely. Grunting effort has almost no part in baseball: It’s about subtle prowess, well deployed. You can win a baseball game without hating your opponents: In fact, too much passion will probably undermine your skills.

But in football, as skilled as its players are, you had best hate your opponent, or at least simulate some hatred for the space of 60 minutes of play.

Football is urban, tough and based to a large degree on the capacity to overwhelm the other team with sheer force. Football is a tank attack, a sky-borne assault, a charge into the trenches for hand-to-hand fighting. Football is following orders and sticking to the strategy. It’s about acting as a unit and taking hits for the group.

Football is generals (coaches) and captains (quarterbacks) and the enlisted guys who play on the line.

Football is about destruction. Sure, you win by getting more points than the other team, but to get more points, you generally have to slam the life out of your opponents. You try to do away with their skill players — by violence. Knock out the first-string quarterback and chances are you willwin.

It is beautiful, to be sure. The wide receiver competes with the ballet dancer in grace and style. The runner recalls the flashing leopard, the tiger on the move. It’s lovely to watch. War can be beautiful, too, one understands. The bombs create a memorable light. The crack of rifles is its own music.

The rise of football over baseball is about a change in America’s self-image. We’ve been ready to fight always (ask the Indian tribes or the Spanish who controlled much of the Southwest), but we haven’t been ready to admit it. Now it’s harder to escape the truth.

When people are willing to get publicly enthusiastic about football, they are showing a willingness to get enthusiastic about struggle and strife — maybe even about war, if they feel it is necessary. Granted, almost all games are sublimations of war. But no game is as close to war without slipping over to war as football is.

Aristotle thought the purpose of a violent spectacle was to purge dangerous feelings from the audience. Tragedy discharged the excess of pity and fear that built up in individuals. They left the theater feeling clean.

But Plato says something different. Plato fears we become what we behold. See violence enacted on a stage and your capacity for violence will increase. To Plato, football would feed a national capacity for violent action and be fed by it in turn.

From this point of view, football and war could enter a mutually energizing relation with each other: the more football, the more war; the more war, the more football.

If the modern world is truly a place where a nation must be ready to fight constantly to survive, then perhaps football serves a general good. But whether the only way to thrive as a nation and a people is through the capacity for warfare, one can certainly doubt.

The poet William Blake looked forward to a day when the wars of swords would be over and when men and women would hash out their differences through argument and imagination, through what he called the arts of mental fight.

May that day come soon.

I’m not sure if Edmundson’s close is an indictment of just war or football as well. Chess as a spectator sport is unlikely to become popular, in the latter case. Edmundson’s quoting Plato is belied by the fact that football does not come close to the amount of off-field violence that has been found in soccer. (Including the Futbol War of 1969 between El Salvador and Honduras, which started with, yes, a soccer World Cup qualifying match, and ended with 3,000 dead Salvadorans and Hondurans in 100 hours. American football also has nothing in its history like the 1985 European Cup final, where 39 people died and 600 were injured before the final, and the match was played because of fears of more violence had the match been canceled. As far as football, Aristotle tops Plato.)

I also think Edmundson’s depiction of football as “urban” is inaccurate. Other than big cities in Florida and Texas, football is more a small-town sport. There are no football-power high schools in Milwaukee or Madison, though there are in the Milwaukee suburbs. The urban sport is really basketball. But come to a small town in Florida and Texas, and even in this state, and you will see where football rates.

It should be obvious that the modern world is truly a place where a nation must be ready to fight constantly to survive. It also should be obvious that, unless you think that such concepts as freedom and self-determination are unimportant enough to fight those would take those away, yes, the only way to thrive as a nation and a people is through the capacity for warfare.

More on the warlike game later.

The season that begins tonight

With high school football starting tonight (or later this afternoon, in my personal case), Buzzfeed passes on truisms from the ultimate high school football coach, Dillon Panthers coach Eric Taylor from NBC-TV’s “Friday Night Lights”:

1. He taught us to keep our composure.

2. And the importance of being punctual.

3. He taught us responsibility.

17 Important Life Lessons Coach Taylor Taught Us

5. He taught us character.

6. And how to earn people’s respect.

12. And to tell the people close to you that you’re proud of them.

17 Important Life Lessons Coach Taylor Taught Us

16. And how to be champions.

17 Important Life Lessons Coach Taylor Taught Us
17 Important Life Lessons Coach Taylor Taught Us
17 Important Life Lessons Coach Taylor Taught Us

17. But most importantly, he taught us these six words to live by…

17 Important Life Lessons Coach Taylor Taught Us

Come to think of it, this doesn’t have to apply just to high school football. Or to high school.

Bet on the Brewers?

I am highly dubious about the premise of this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story:

The math keeps getting better for the Milwaukee Brewers.

After sweeping the Los Angeles Dodgers in improbable and relentless fashion, the Brewers now have the best record in the National League at 70 wins and 55 losses, and lead the St. Louis Cardinals by three games in the National League Central.

The Brewers can go 18-19 down the stretch while the Cardinals would have to finish 22-17 just to force a tie for the division lead.

With fewer than 40 games to go, how likely is it that the Brewers make the playoffs? I compiled a handful of projections and put them in a table:

Brewers’ playoff odds, as of 08/17
FanGraphs’ projections mode 82.9%
Baseball Prospectus’ playoff odds report 88.4%
Sports Clubs Stats’ projections 94.7%

Those percentages all went up compared with last week’s projections.

For a further explanation on the accuracy of baseball forecasting and why I use FanGraphs’ data, click here.

Click on the link, and you’ll get additional data, if that’s what you want to call this, about the Brewers’ chances beyond just getting into the playoffs as of earlier this week.

The more up to date data can be found at FanGraphs, and you get a different set of predictions there. Those projections have the Brewers and Cardinals tying for the NL Central title, with 88 wins each. The Brewers there, as of Wednesday, had a 52.8-percent chance of winning the NL Central, where the Cardinals had a 42.9 percent chance of winning the Central. That may seem like a lot, but it is actually the second closest projection (the closest is the AL Central).

One reason you probably shouldn’t buy this is that the Brewers and the Cardinals have seven games against each other in September. The Brewers are 5–7 against the Cardinals, and the Cardinals made trades to get better pitching (though that pitching hasn’t been better so far), and the Brewers haven’t. What would be worse, frankly, is for a repeat of 2011 — the Brewers get the wins over the Cardinals in the regular season, and then the Cardinals get the last laugh in the postseason.

The other is that this tries to predict based on past performance. If you believe the Brewers have been playing over their heads (suffice to say that no one was predicting the Brewers would be in first place in late August), regression to the mean predicts an ugly September, particularly given their schedule (harder than the Cardinals’ schedule) and their lack of big-game-experienced pitching.

Even if you buy this, you shouldn’t get your hopes up of a deep playoff run. The Brewers have just an 8.8-percent chance of getting to the World Series and a 2.8-percent chance of winning the World Series.

This Debbie Downer act of mine (but I am far from the only fan who feels this way) disgusts Gene Mueller:

The Brewers are atop the National League Central by three games as the new week begins, fresh off a sweep of the Los Angeles freakin’ Dodgers.  It’s a lofty perch they’ve held since well-before you mailed in your income taxes.  Think about that for a second, fans: a club given paltry-at-best chances of contending has been in first place for more than four months. …

But from Opening Day on, when the team’s early success was a pleasant surprise until these back-to-school-days of summer, there’s been an undercurrent flowing among fans, one that oozes doom and gloom, one that reeks of pending despair.

Jonathan Lucroy is an MVP candidate. Aramis Ramirez is strong and steady at third. Carlos Gomez is remains a beast.  Ryan Braun fights gamely on even though he’s left with only one functioning opposable thumb.  Starting pitching? No worries–beyond a pleasant surprise, in fact.  So what’s not to love?  Why are so many True Blue members of the Brew Crew so…blue?

They worry about Braun’s functionality. They fret about first base where Lyle Overbay isn’t the doubles machine we loved during his first tour of duty and where Mark Reynolds is prone to the whiff between prodigious homers.  They don’t care to see Rickey Weeks sharing time with Scooter Gennett at second. They worry about Jean Segura’s slide at the plate, and Khris Davis’ issues in left field. And, they live in mortal fear about the bullpen.

Solid points, indeed, but enough to take the shine off what’s been a season for the ages so far?

A team is the sum of its parts and the bottom line for the Brewers so far is that it’s a club good enough to lead a division where no one’s caught fire.  The Cards, Pirates and Reds haven’t gone on any daunting win streaks, but then again, Milwaukee hasn’t, either.  The Brewers July swoon served to fortify the doubters, and the lack of a torrid streak keeps many wondering when the other shoe is going to drop.

St. Louis is always a threat, and the Redbirds are due to get some starting pitchers back in September, just in time for the kind of run many fear could undo the Brewers–there’s something about that red parakeet that strikes fear in the heart of even the most fervid Milwaukee seam head–while Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are contending despite injuries to key position players.  It would be nice to see some of these clubs falter, but that hasn’t been the case.

The big worries for Brewers fans should be injury and the pop-gun offense: the team lacks depth among position players and losing a big bat could be a death knell.  The attack?  Milwaukee seems to score just enough to get by but too often goes into funks that leave its hitters estranged from home plate.  It’s those kind of slumps that can be enough to thwart a late-season push during a critical series, or bounce a team from the playoffs in an early round.

The trade deadline came and went with GM Doug Melvin making a deal for another outfielder, Gold Glover Gerardo Parra.  It wasn’t enough for some fans, but the asking price for other available talent seemed too high with more than a few clubs hot for Jimmy Nelson.  Sometimes, the best trade is the one you DON’T make.  That said, don’t think Melvin is done looking for help, as deals can still get done (once those involved clear waivers).  He’s not the kind of guy to sit on his hands, especially when the club is this close to the playoffs.

Cheer up, Brewers Nation!  This is the kind of season many dreamed of but few thought would happen.  Not only is your team contending in a tough division, it’s leading the pack in late August. This could be a fantastic late summer that could segue into an exciting autumn.  And, even if the worst happens, how can anyone say they’re disappointed by the kind of baseball we’ve been treated to in 2014 (factoring out a large hunk of July, of course)?

Well, for one thing, 88 projected wins isn’t that impressive, even if it’s second best in the National League. That right there probably tells you what you need to know, that the National League isn’t very good this year. The Cardinals’ odds of winning the World Series are 5.3 percent, which indirectly proves a point about the value of pitching in a short playoff series. And Melvin has nine days to get better pitching before the playoff roster deadline.