Blue Brewing

The Thursday trade-without-waivers deadline came and went with the Brewers making one acquisition — outfielder Gerardo Parra.

At least Parra is a left-handed hitter. He has six home runs, which is six more than outfielder Logan Schaefer, and two fewer than occasional lead-off hitter Scooter Gennett. But Parra (which must mean “left-handed” in Spanish, since former Brewer pitcher Manny Parra was also left-handed) is not a power hitter. He has never hit more than 10 home runs in a season, and to expect him to hit 10 to 15 home runs the rest of this season is unrealistic.

The Brewers did not improve themselves in their two biggest liabilities — left-handed power hitting and pitching. Nearly all of the Brewers’ notable hitters — center fielder Carlos Gomez, catcher Jonathan Lucroy, right fielder Ryan Braun, and third baseman Aramis Ramirez — are right-handed hitters. The Brewers platoon at first base, but the right-handed first baseman, Mark Reynolds (today’s answer to Dave Kingman) has 16 of the 20 home runs at first base. The leading left-handed power hitter is Gennett, with eight, eight more than outfielder Logan Schaefer, who was platooning in left field for a while. The Brewers also platoon at second base, which means Gennett gets the majority of the at-bats (most pitchers are right-handed, of course), but Gennett is probably not a power hitter in this or any future season.

The Brewers do not have en0ugh pitching. The Brewers have literally never had enough pitching. They do not have a number-one or even number-two starter on their staff. That includes supposed number-one starter Yovani Gallardo, who has not pitched any better than a number-three starter all season. The bigger pitching issue is late-inning relief, before closer Francisco Rodriguez (though Rodriguez has a few spectacular flameouts this season), and, again, the Brewers didn’t improve themselves there either.

My contention throughout this season is that the Brewers have been playing over their heads, and that rarely lasts for even an entire season. The Brewers’ worst stretch of the season was just before the All-Star break, when they shed their entire division lead, only to win the final game of the season and thus take a lead into the break. They still have that lead, but I think it’s highly likely that lead will disappear after their weekend in St. Louis, which starts tonight. The Cardinals picked up two pitchers this week, though neither, thankfully, was superstar lefty David Price, who went from Tampa Bay to Detroit.

Parra is a Gold Glove winner, but left field is probably the least important defensive position in the outfield. Parra isn’t going to replace Braun in right or Gomez in center, and left fielder Khris Davis has been hitting home runs in left, so it’s not clear why the Brewers got Parra at all. They needed bench help (one other player they never replaced after he left was utility player Jerry Hairston Jr., who they got during the 2011 season), but I’m not sure Parra’s that bench help either.

There were a couple of rumors, or more speculation than rumor, that the Brewers might be going after two supposedly available left-handed first basemen, Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard and Boston’s David Ortiz. (Ortiz started his professional career in Wisconsin, when the Timber Rattlers were a Mariners affiliate.) Neither is playing to their traditional standards. Both are up their in years. Both are on teams that apparently are shedding their older and more expensive players. Howard is due $70 million the next two seasons, but supposedly the Phillies were willing to pay “most” of that to a new team. Neither deal happened, and the waiver period’s end makes deals more difficult, though not impossible.

This should not necessarily be read as a call to replace general manager Doug Melvin. Given the Brewers’ limited resources, maybe this team is the best he can do this year. This year demonstrates, though, the downsides of building from within, in that it takes longer and the penalties for failure to develop players (for instance, left-handed power hitters) or injuries (relievers Tyler Thornburg and Jim Henderson) are harsher.

Brewers fans remember the playoff seasons — 1981, 1982, 2008 and 2011. They less remember the almost-seasons — 1979, 1983, 1987 (the Brewers managed to miss the playoffs despite their 13-0 start) and 1992. And this looks now like one of those seasons, not a playoff season.


35 years ago tonight

Today in 1979, I believe I was back in Madison after nearly a month camping with my father, Boy Scouts and Scoutmaster in the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico.

I know I did not watch the Yankees-Brewers game at Milwaukee County Stadium that night. The game was not on TV, because the Brewers didn’t televise home games, feeling it would hurt home attendance, until the Sportsvue subscription TV service debuted in 1984. (Sportsvue then died a year later, in large part because the Brewers chose the 1984 season to crater, just two years after their World Series season and the year after the Brewers contended almost all of the season.)

It’s too bad the Yankees-Brewers game wasn’t on TV, because, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Gary D’Amato, it had everything, including an epic brawl:

OK, old Brewers fans, how many Brewers do you recognize? For that matter, how many Yankees do you recognize?

The Yankees back then were…well, how to describe them? Think of the team you despise most and multiply it by 10.

“I think there’s always a dislike for the Yankees,” said Sal Bando, then the Brewers’ third baseman. “Being in your own division (the American League East), I think there’s a bigger dislike for them.”

Owner George Steinbrenner was the symbol of big-city, big-spending conceit. Irascible manager Billy Martin had a perpetual chip on his shoulder. Reggie Jackson was the self-proclaimed “straw that stirs the drink,” with a home-run swing to match his enormous ego.

“They had some characters, some crazy guys on that team,” [first baseman Cecil] Cooper said. “But they had an awesome team with guys like Bucky Dent, Willie Randolph, Thurman Munson, Reggie, (Mickey) Rivers, (Lou) Piniella.”

The Brewers were coming into their own. After eight consecutive losing seasons (nine counting the franchise’s one year in Seattle), they’d gone 93-69 in 1978 and were en route to winning 95 games in ’79.

Bando and Cooper had arrived in 1977 to join Robin Yount and Don Money. Paul Molitor, Jim Gantner and Charlie Moore were ascending young players. Gorman Thomas had found a home in center field.

“We were a good team,” Bando said. “Oh, yeah, there was no question about it.”

Left-hander Mike Caldwell started the series opener. He was a bit of a character himself, known for carrying an expensive valise, in which he stored one item: a bottle of ketchup.

A crafty veteran who mixed speeds well, Caldwell already was known as the “Yankee Killer,” having shut out New York three times the year before.

“The Yankees always ruled the roost,” Caldwell said. “But I pitched extremely well against them my whole career. They had a lot of left-handers and free swingers in their lineup.”

The Yankees scored a run in the first inning, but Cooper answered in the bottom half with a two-out solo shot off starter Ed Figueroa. The homer earned Cooper a brushback pitch from Figueroa in his next at-bat, in the third.

“Figueroa was a different kind of guy,” Cooper said.

To underscore the point, when approached in the locker room after the game, Figueroa denied not only brushing back Cooper, but his own identity. “I’m not Figueroa,” he said, dismissing reporters while blow-drying his hair.

Jackson led off in the top of the fourth and Caldwell’s first pitch was high and tight and delivered the appropriate message.

“Mike was a hard-nosed, mean, grumpy kind of guy,” Cooper said. “He always stood up for his teammates.”

Jackson said nothing and worked the count to 2-2. On the next pitch, Caldwell again came inside, this time with a rising fastball that buzzed Jackson’s chin, causing the Yankees slugger to topple over backward.

“I’ll tell you exactly what happened, and it is truthful,” Caldwell said. “I wanted to throw Reggie a fastball on the inside part of the plate because he had some holes in his swing there. I was trying to telegraph to him that I was going to throw a curve and the ball slipped ever so slightly on my fingertips and I threw a fastball that was inside and it rode up on him.

“It turned into what you would call a perfect knockdown pitch.”

Jackson got up and dusted himself off. Caldwell then threw a curve and Jackson hit a towering pop-up to Bando at third.

Craziness ensued.

Caldwell moved toward Bando and was pointing to the ball and yelling, “Third!” when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a bat coming at him. Jackson, trotting to first base, had expressed his displeasure with Caldwell’s pitch location by flipping his bat toward the mound.

“As I’m waiting for the ball, I hear the fans yelling,” Bando said. “That usually doesn’t happen with a pop-up, so I figured something was going on.”

An angry Caldwell picked up Jackson’s bat by the fat end and slammed it into the ground. Dissatisfied that it didn’t shatter, he took a step or two toward home with the intention of breaking it on the plate. Umpire John Shulock was already coming out to meet him.

“He said, ‘No, Mike, not here,'” Caldwell said.

By then, Bando had caught the ball, Jackson had rounded first and now, shedding his glasses and helmet, was rushing the mound as the dugouts emptied.

“He got his hands around my neck and if you’ve seen pictures of it, it looks like I got killed,” Caldwell said. “His momentum carried him over me and I wound up on top of him. My right arm was pinned under his neck. I had my left arm around the front of his neck and I think I tore two or three gold chains.

“Reggie said, ‘You threw at me!’ I said, ‘No, I didn’t throw at you.’ He said, ‘You swear to God? You swear to God?’ I said, ‘Hell, yeah, I swear to God.'”

It took 10 minutes to restore order but the only casualties were Shulock, who’d gotten in the way of a punch, and Brewers manager George Bamberger, who strained a calf muscle. Jackson was ejected but Caldwell was allowed to stay in the game, none the worse for wear other than a few scratches.

Martin declared that the Yankees were playing the game under protest, and when he returned to the dugout, he was pelted with a few objects and a fair amount of verbal abuse. He started climbing into the stands but was pulled back by players and security guards.

The game finally resumed and after the Yankees went ahead, 3-2, Money drove in a run and Cooper hit a two-out, two-run homer off Ron Davis in the seventh to put the Brewers back on top, 5-3.

Randolph answered in the eighth with a two-run shot off Caldwell to tie the score. Martin brought in the flame-throwing Gossage for the ninth and he quickly retired Molitor on a groundout and Money on a fly to center. Up came Cooper.

“Gossage was one of the toughest guys I ever faced,” Cooper said. “He was a big guy and he had that Fu Manchu mustache. He looked like he could take a big piece of steak and tear it in half.”

Gossage made Cooper look bad on a couple swings and ran the count to 1-2.

The next pitch, however, wound up in Brewers’ lore. Cooper turned on a fastball and the ball traced an arc in the night sky and disappeared over the right-field wall. Cooper hopped and skipped his way around the bases, the roar of “C-o-o-p!” ringing in his ears.

Bud Selig, then the Brewers’ owner and now the outgoing commissioner, called the fans’ reaction to Cooper’s game-winner the greatest he had ever seen at County Stadium.

D’Amato tells the rest of what happened in that series. (Hint: If you were a Brewers fan, you liked the other two games too.)

The 1979 season was the only year between 1976 and 1981 that the Yankees didn’t at least win the AL East. Much of the reason was the absence of Gossage, who three months earlier had broken his thumb when he fell in the Yankee Stadium shower during a fight with teammate Cliff Johnson.

Martin (whose stops as a player included, believe it or not, the Milwaukee Braves) was, well, indescribable. His record says he was one of baseball’s best managers. He had the ability to make bad teams at least competitive; until the Texas Rangers started resembling a baseball team in the 1990s, he was their manager during the Rangers’ best season, a surprise second-place finish. Martin also managed the 1969 Twins, 1972 Tigers and 1980 Athletics to division titles.

But Martin was born, or fated, or perhaps cursed, to be a Yankee. He got the Yankees to the 1976 World Series and won the 1977 World Series, despite, among other things, a televised argument in the Fenway Park dugout with the aforementioned straw who stirs the drink. He started the 1978 season as the Yankees manager before he resigned after his comments about Steinbrenner and Jackson. (Martin said the two deserved each other; “one’s a born liar and the other’s convicted.” The latter referred to Steinbrenner’s federal conviction for illegal, as in excessive, campaign contributions to the 1972 Richard Nixon presidential campaign; the former referred to, the most recent conflict between Martin and Jackson.)

Shortly after the resignation, Martin was introduced at a Yankees Old Timers Day, where the Yankees announced that Martin was going to be the Yankees’ manager in 1980, with manager Bob Lemon (who had just been hired after Steinbrenner tried to, believe it or don’t, trade Martin for Lemon) moving to a front-office position. Martin, however, replaced Lemon after the Yankees got off to a bad start in 1979, which is how Martin was in Milwaukee that night.

There was a permanent Yankee loss shortly after this. The Yankees were in Milwaukee on a road trip that ended in Chicago before the Yankees went back to New York. On a day off before the first game of their homestand, Munson, who had gone home to Ohio, decided to take his new jet out and practice takeoffs and landings. Munson’s plane crashed, and Munson died.

Martin — who, remember, was supposed to manage the Yankees in 1980, not 1979 — didn’t get to the 1980 season. He was fired after a fight in a Minneapolis hotel with a marshmallow salesman. Really. Martin returned to manage the Yankees in 1983 (the season with the infamous Pine Tar Game), 1985 (fired again after a late-season fight with pitcher Ed Whitson) and 1988 (canned again).

Martin’s career arc at any one stop was generally (1) get hired, (2) do surprisingly well with young players,  (3) get in the playoffs, (4) burn out his young pitchers, then wear out his welcome with (5A) his players or (5B) management and (6) get fired. Martin was reportedly about to be hired by the Yankees again for the 1990 season, but he died in a car crash in late 1989.



Obscure moments in Brewers history

I have a lifelong habit of looking for something and finding something else. Here are today’s examples.

Readers know that my favorite sports announcer of all time is Dick Enberg, formerly of NBC. Enberg is known more for NFL football and college basketball (with Al McGuire and Billy Packer) than baseball. But before going to NBC, Enberg was the California Angels’ announcer.

And on July 16, 1972, Enberg announced the Angels’ game in Milwaukee County Stadium. (Actually both games, because they played a doubleheader.)

Enberg also was the Angels’ announcer in 1975, which means he was at County Stadium for my first baseball game, a 7–5 Brewers win over the Angels and their starting pitcher, Nolan Ryan, who gave up a home run to Hank Aaron. Ryan was making his second start since no-hitting Baltimore 1–0 two weeks earlier.

The Brewers’ lineup included shortstop Robin Yount and center fielder Gorman Thomas, who were still with the Brewers when they played in the 1982 World Series.

(Enberg’s on-air partner during his later Angels days was Don Drysdale, who had one of the nicest on-air personas for one of the nastiest pitchers in the history of baseball. Enberg’s excellent autobiography, Oh My!, includes details of Drysdale and Brewers announcer Bob Uecker trying to drink Enberg under the table when the Brewers met the Angels. Oh My! also includes details of how Uecker would drive Drysdale nuts by deliberately messing up Drysdale’s house on visits.)

Enberg was never a regular baseball announcer for NBC, but did several playoff series (including, bizarrely, one game from both League Championship Series in 1977) …

… and the 1982 World Series, though it seemed every time Enberg was doing play-by-play bad things were happening to the Brewers.

Enberg also announced for the Brewers — well, sort of, in the movie “Mister 3000,” which inexplicably cast Enberg instead of Uecker as the Brewers’ announcer. (Enberg’s son, actor Alexander, told his father he made a better generic baseball announcer than Uecker.)

Back to 1975, the first of Aaron’s two seasons playing for the Brewers.

The announcers on this clip are Jim Irwin, better known as the announcer of the Packers, Bucks, and Badger football and basketball teams, along with Merle Harmon, the last announcer of the Milwaukee Braves and the first announcer of the Brewers. (Uecker joined the Brewers in 1971 after one season announcing for the Atlanta Braves.)

Irwin called a later Aaron home run with Gary Bender. Irwin and Bender (or was it Bender and Irwin?) teamed up for Packer and Badger football (alternating quarters of play-by-play) in the early ’70s, and the Brewers in the 1975 season. Irwin worked for WTMJ TV and radio, and Bender worked for WTMJ radio while the sports director for WKOW-TV in Madison, until he left Wisconsin for CBS. WTMJ-TV was the Brewers’ TV outlet for their first 11 seasons, and WTMJ radio has carried the Brewers all but two years of their existence. (Those also were the Brewers’ first two playoff seasons, for what it’s worth.)

Bender was the number-two baseball announcer for ABC after he moved there from CBS. Irwin, who counted as his broadcasting influences Harry Caray (who did both college football and the NBA in addition to baseball), substituted for Uecker after Uecker missed part of a season for health reasons in the late 1980s.

WTMJ-TV was the first commercial TV station in Wisconsin, and for many years had the only mobile production truck in the southern half of the state. As a result WTMJ’s truck could be found at, among other places, the WIAA state basketball tournaments at the UW Fieldhouse, even though WTMJ didn’t carry the state tournament after 1969. A decade before that, WTMJ’s equipment and employees shot the 1957 and 1958 World Series games at Milwaukee County Stadium for NBC.

The same year as the two Aaron home runs, Hammerin’ Hank was chosen for the 1975 All-Star Game …

… played at County Stadium. Aaron’s teammate, first baseman George “Boomer” Scott, also played in the game.


Over-the-top spin masquerading as analysis

For today’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game (weather permitting, as it only grudgingly did for last night’s Home Run Derby), one wonders how much retiring MLB commissioner Bud Selig paid the Washington Post’s Dave Sheinin to write this:

Bud Selig leaves a complex legacy

He finds himself thinking about history a lot these days, not so much the ancient minutiae he can famously recite from memory — the 1953 Milwaukee Braves starting lineup, for example, or the name of that one obscure pitcher who did that one amazing thing in that one game so many years ago — but History, writ large. His own history. Baseball history. American history. By this point, they’re all intertwined.

This is what happens when you’re about to turn 80, as Bud Selig will at the end of the month, and each week seems to bring the death of another good friend or colleague. It’s what happens when you are preparing to step down from the job you have held for 22 years, as Selig will Jan. 24, a job you have cherished and in many ways transformed. It’s what happens when you have held a lifelong obsession with history and now are confronted with it at every turn as the weeks tick down.

I learned about this because I got an email from Mueller Communications of Milwaukee, which intoned:

The attached piece by Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post not only describes the achievements that Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan H. “Bud” Selig has made, but delves into those qualities of leadership made him successful. I believe you will find it interesting reading.

This is why I have a, shall we say from the Post’s headline, “complex” relationship with the public relations world. PR professionals provide a valuable service for the news media by bringing to their attention their clients’ work when their clients’ work dovetails with the media’s needs.

This, however, is over the top. I am trained by experience, not education, in PR, but said experience teaches me that if a PR professional feels the need to hype his or her client — “achievements” and “qualities of leadership” that “made him successful” — I should become immediately suspicious. At least Mueller didn’t use the terms “buzz” or “hot,” which I loathe.

How about that complex legacy?

“If you look at this season, it’s almost a personification of his vision, with so many teams within striking distance,” says Bob Costas, a commentator for NBC and the MLB Network and the author of Fair Ball: A Fan’s Case for Baseball. “His mantra for 20 years has been ‘hope and faith for all.’ He’s come pretty close to accomplishing that.” …

His legacy is something Selig cares deeply about. Though he tosses off questions about it with a wave of the hand (“That’s up to the historians to decide,” he says), a man who gets a daily package of newspaper clips faxed from New York each morning — and who has been known to call the writers of negative stories to set them straight — doesn’t all of a sudden stop caring about the way in which history will view him, just as he is ready to depart.

Costas, interestingly, wrote in Fair Ball that he hated the wild-card. So instead of one wild card team, which is one too many, per league, now we have two. It’s not really an accomplishment to say that more teams are in the playoff chase when there are more playoff spots to chase.

Selig has only taken baby steps to actual competitive balance. The so-called luxury tax has not prevented the big-market franchises — the Dodgers ($235 million), Yankees ($203.8 million), Phillies ($180 million) and Red Sox ($162.8 million) — from outspending small-market franchises by an order of magnitude. If salaries were everything, the Yankees would win every World Series, so obviously they’re not, but consider who’s on first in each division and their payroll rankings:

  • National League Central: Milwaukee (until the second-half begins and their losing streak resumes), 16th.
  • NL East: Washington, ninth, and Atlanta, 14th.
  • NL West: Dodgers, number one.
  • NL wild card as of today (the other would be the NL East loser): San Francisco, seventh.
  • American League East: Baltimore, 15th.
  • AL Central: Detroit, fifth.
  • AL West: Oakland, 25th.
  • AL wild cards as of today: L.A. Angels, sixth, and Seattle, 18th.

At least baseball fans can chortle at the plight of the Dead Sox (fourth overall in payroll, last in the AL East), Rangers (eighth in payroll, last in the AL West) and Phillies (third in payroll, last in the NL East). Cubs fans are inexplicably going to Wrigley Field to watch a team with the 23rd highest payroll and the second-worst record in the NL (though their history shows they should be used to that). Imagine, however, being a fan of the Astros (lowest payroll, and dead last in the AL Central) or Diamondbacks (second lowest payroll, and in the basement by one-half game in the NL West), whose ownership appears to be not trying to win.

Comparing baseball and the National Football League is tricky, except that they are competing for your entertainment dollar. The NFL has never canceled its playoffs due to labor unrest; baseball did, in 1994. The numerous past examples of teams going from watching the playoffs to playing in the Super Bowl the next year shows that even fans of, say, the Cleveland Browns have some hope when the season begins. And yet, fans in some baseball markets know full well at the start of the season that their team will be out of the race by Memorial Day.

Sheinin reports that baseball shares $400 million in revenue now. That, however, is a pittance compared with what the NFL shares. If baseball was serious about revenue sharing, teams with huge broadcast contracts — all the big-market franchises — would be required to share all of those revenues with the smaller markets, because it takes two teams to play a baseball game.

This may be why Mueller Communications pushed this story:

He has been called a master politician himself, skilled both at whipping votes when there is the possibility of consensus and at applying the dark arts of politics when there is not. In Milwaukee, the city’s power brokers still speak in awe at how Selig pushed through the construction of Miller Park, mostly through public money, when both the mayor and (eventually) the governor were against it.

“He comes up, and he goes, ‘Goddamn it, governor, I’m sick and tired of all this horseshit!’ ” says Carl Mueller, a prominent Milwaukee public relations man and longtime Selig confidante who was involved in the effort to get Miller Park built, recalling a meeting in Gov. Tommy Thompson’s office. “ ‘I’m going down there, and we’re going to pass this bill. And I got one question: Are you with me or not?’ ”

The bill passed. “I wouldn’t want to cross him,” Mueller says of Selig. “Having him in your corner is worth a lot, and I think the owners understand that. I’ve never witnessed what happened to people who crossed him, but I don’t think you do it twice.”

Had that story gotten out during the Miller Park debate (and Thompson been a Democrat and Selig a Republican, instead of the other way around, this story would have gotten out), the Brewers would be the Charlotte Distillers or something else. It says more about  Thompson than it does about Selig that Thompson didn’t tell Selig to go east on Interstate 94 and keep going until the water went over the top of his car. (Indeed, Thompson then pushed for the stadium bill by telling those outside Milwaukee to “stick it to Milwaukee.” And to be honest, the Miller Park roof remains probably the best $100 million portion of a building project in the history of this state, as I rediscovered upon a trip to Miller Park when it was 49 degrees in the parking lot.)

Sheinin concludes …

Baseball still has its problems. Oakland and Tampa Bay are stuck in bad stadiums. Washington and Baltimore are fighting over their cuts of a shared television network. Most vexing of all, the games themselves are too long, and thanks to the rise in strikeouts and the work-the-count approach of hitters, the ball is in play less than ever — not a great prescription for a sport struggling to keep the attention of the next generation of fans.

The Pete Rose issue still looms, too — the banished Hit King, 73 years old himself, withering on the vine, hoping for a reinstatement from his 1989 ban for gambling on baseball. If Selig is considering reinstating Rose on his way out — his own version of a presidential pardon — he isn’t saying, having stayed almost completely silent on the Rose matter.

… without one single word about the enormous problem of the game’s arrogant umpires, too many of whom think fans pay good money to see them instead of, you know, the players. Selig does deserve credit for bringing the umpires out of control of the individual leagues, but too many umpires who do not deserve to get major league paychecks are getting major league paychecks. Indeed, baseball arguably still has the worst officials of any of the professional sports.

I don’t believe in praising people for adequately performing their work when they are much, much more than adequately compensated for that work. The National Hockey League has grown tremendously under commissioner Gary Bettmann, and the National Basketball Association grew considerably under former commissioner David Stern. Former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle was the greatest commissioner in the history of professional sports, and the NFL grew from there under former commissioner Paul Tagliabue and current commissioner Roger Goodell. Compared to them, Selig did OK, and only OK.


100 years ago today

On July 12, 1914, George Herman “Babe” Ruth played his first Major League baseball game.

Sports Illustrated points out 99 (because this was written last year) facts about Ruth, including …

9. The [International League's Baltimore] Orioles sold Ruth to the Boston Red Sox on July 9, 1914 along with two other players as part of a fire sale by team owner Jack Dunn, who found himself in financial straits when the presence of a Baltimore franchise in the new Federal League obliterated the Orioles’ attendance. …

14. Ruth was a sidearming power pitcher who made 127 appearances on the mound before appearing at any other position in the field.

15. In Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball, noted journalist and author Dan Okrent said Ruth was “the best lefthanded pitcher of the 1910s, without question, in the American League.” Indeed, among AL lefties with at least 1,000 IP in the decade, Ruth had the lowest ERA (2.19) and highest winning percentage (.659) while ranking fourth in wins, tied for fourth in shutouts and ninth in strikeouts. …

18. In six seasons with Ruth, the Red Sox won three World Series titles. In 107 seasons without him they have won four [actually five, including 2013]. …

22. On June 23, 1917 at Fenway Park, Ruth was ejected by home plate umpire Brick Owens for arguing balls and strikes after walking the first batter of a game against the Senators. Ernie Shore replaced him. The baserunner, Senators second baseman Ray Morgan, was caught stealing, and Shore then retired all 26 men he faced in a 4-0 Red Sox win. Officially, Ruth is credited for participating in a combined no-hitter, but Shore is not credited with pitching a perfect game.

23. Ruth’s first major league home run came against the Yankees at the Polo Grounds on May 6, 1915. Exactly three years later, in the same ballpark, Ruth hit a home run in his first start at a position (1B) other than pitcher.

24. Soon after that first appearance as a position player, Ruth began to refuse to pitch, leading to tension with Red Sox manager Ed Barrow. In early July, Ruth attempted to leave the team and join a shipyard team in Chester, Pa., to avoid a fine from Barrow. Ruth quickly caved to the threat of legal action by Red Sox owner Harry Frazee and rejoined the Red Sox without playing for the shipyard team. …

26. Ruth is the only player since the turn of the 20th century to lead his league in Triple Crown categories as both a hitter and a pitcher and he did it in the span of three years.

27. Ruth held out in spring training in 1919, ultimately landing a three-year contract worth $10,000. He threatened a hold out again after the 1919 season, saying he was worth twice the salary he had agreed to before that season. Frazee, still in debt from his purchase of the Red Sox three years earlier, responded by selling Ruth to the Yankees on Jan. 3, 1920, for $100,000 and a $300,000 loan secured by a mortgage on Fenway Park. …

30. Ruth was one of 17 players Frazee traded or sold to the Yankees between December 1918 and July 1923, when he finally sold the team. On New York’s first World Series title team of 1923, half the regular players and six of the seven pitchers to throw more than a dozen innings were acquired from Frazee. …

43. The Yankees had never been to the World Series before acquiring Ruth from Boston, but they went to seven World Series in his 15 years with the team, winning four of them. Their first pennant came in 1921. Their first championship came in 1923 in the third of three consecutive World Series confrontations with John McGraw’s New York Giants. …

48. After losing a ball in the sun in the Polo Grounds’ leftfield on July 16, 1922, Ruth refused to ever play the sun field again, and he didn’t. His position thereafter was determined by the geographic orientation of the ballpark in which he was playing. For the rest of his career, Ruth played exclusively in rightfield at the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium, as well as in Washington and Cleveland [where right field was in the southwest corner of the diamond; home plate was in the northwest or west corner of the diamond, similar to both Milwaukee County Stadium and Miller Park] but exclusively in leftfield at the other AL cities (Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and St. Louis) [where home plate was in the southwest corner of the diamond]. …

81. Ruth retired as the career record-holder in home runs, RBIs, total bases, walks, strikeouts, on-base percentage and slugging percentage as well as the single-season record-holder in home runs, total bases, walks and slugging, and he was briefly the single-season record-holder in RBIs during his career. …

88. Ruth’s career OPS of 1.164 remains the record, as does his career OPS+ of 206. The latter stat adjusts OPS for a player’s home ballpark and compares it to his league with 100 being league average. Ruth’s career OPS+ is thus more than twice as good as an average mark. By way of comparison, the last player to have a single-season OPS or OPS+ higher than Ruth’s career was Barry Bonds in 2004.




Another kick against soccer

My favorite basketball player of all time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, explains why soccer will never really score, so to speak, in the U.S.:

I’m reminded of the end of Man of La Mancha, when Don Quixote lies dying, but is suddenly inspired to rise once more and proclaim, “Onward to glory I go!” And then he drops dead. Soccer has been proclaiming this impending U.S. glory for years, and while there are signs of life in the body, the prognosis is not good.

Once the World Cup is over, soccer in the U.S. will return to its sick bed and dream of glory. This dire diagnosis probably seems crazy in the face of the current World Cup TV ratings success. Between Univision and ESPN, 25 million viewers tuned in to watch the U.S. play Portugal last Sunday. Compare that to 15.5 million viewers that the NBA finals averaged this year, or the 14.9 million averaged in last year’s baseball World Series. Worse, the NHL playoffs averaged only 5 million viewers. Only NFL football consistently beats soccer’s best rating.

The problem with those statistics is that it’s like using the ratings of bobsledding during the Winter Olympics to declare a new renaissance for bobsledding in America. The World Cup, like the Olympics, happens every four years, so the rarity factor alone will account for inflated ratings. For a more realistic view of its popularity as a professional sport, we need to look at how many people watch on a regular basis. Major League Soccer (MLS) averages a mere 174,000 viewers (compared to the NBA’s average of 2 million and NFL average of 17.6 million), while their equivalent to NBA Finals, the MLS Cup, averaged only 505,000 viewers.

The MLS points out that more people on average attend one of their games (18,807) than attend either NHL (17,455) or NBA (17,408) games. While that may be true, the reasons for that appear to be pretty simple: cheaper tickets and fewer teams playing fewer games. Add that to the fact that comparatively few people watch it on TV, and you have a sport that produces much less revenue than other major American sports. Like it or not, in the end that is the measure of a sport’s popularity.

The obvious question is why hasn’t soccer taken off in the U.S. as it has throughout most of the rest of the world? After all, youth soccer has exploded over the past few decades. In 1974, only 103,432 youth were registered players. In 2012, registered players amounted to over three million. In all, 13 million Americans play soccer (compared to 26.3 million who play basketball). When you look at those figures, you notice that twice as many people play basketball as play soccer, yet ten times as many people watch basketball on TV. This is important because the more people watching a sport translates into more people wanting to play that sport. That’s the money-making cycle. Watch. Play. Repeat.

Is there something fundamentally different about watching soccer that turns people away by the millions? Apparently so. For one thing, there’s a lot of movement but not much action. American audiences see people kicking the ball to a teammate, only to have it intercepted by the other team. A lot. To the average American used to the hustle of basketball, the clash of titans in football, the suspense of the curve ball in baseball, or the thrilling crack of the slapshot in hockey, the endless meandering back and forth across the soccer field looks less like strategy and more like random luck. It lacks drama. Of course, that’s not true at all, but that is certainly the perception.

Why aren’t those millions of youth soccer players since 1974 watching? Perhaps another perception is that it is a kid’s game. Kids get to run around, kick something, and generally wear themselves out to the gratitude of parents. Parents who dutifully and diligently attend their kids’ games don’t seem inclined to tune in to professionals on TV.

Soccer is counting on the growing U.S. Latino population to raise its popularity. Between 2002 and 2012, the Latino population increased from 13.3% of the U.S. population to 17%. I’m certain that will be a factor, but perhaps not a huge one — this line of thinking doesn’t account for children seeking more traditional American sports in order to assimilate. As many parents will attest, some children refuse to follow in their parents’ sweaty sneakers.

Finally, soccer doesn’t fully express the American ethos as powerfully as our other popular sports. We are a country of pioneers, explorers, and contrarians who only need someone to say it can’t be done to fire us up to prove otherwise. As a result, we like to see extraordinary effort rewarded. The low scoring in soccer frustrates this American impulse. We also celebrate rugged individualism, the democratic ideal that anybody from any background can become a sports hero. We like to see heroes rise, buoyed by their teammates, but still expressing their own supreme individual skills. Certainly soccer has its celebrated stars, from Pele to Beckham, but those skills seem muted on TV where we’re often looking at small figures on a large field and therefore these feats appear less impressive than they really are. In football, basketball, baseball, and hockey, team effort is rewarded with points and individual greatness is as instant and immediate as a one-handed snagged football pass, a three-pointer from the corner, stealing home base, or a snap-shot of the puck into the goal.

Clearly, there are many dedicated soccer fans in the U.S. They play the sport, they watch the sport, they love the sport. But that group, though slowly growing, is not nearly enough to overcome the traditional favorites. To do that, it’s not enough that you’re as good as one of the popular sports, you have to bring something better. More excitement. More skill. More entertainment. For most Americans, soccer just doesn’t do that.

Abdul-Jabbar’s last four sentences also sum up why baseball — for which today is a traditionally big day — has been passed up by basketball among Americans interested in pro sports. Basketball has action and scoring, because an NBA team has to score within 24 seconds (35 in college, and it probably should be 30) or risk losing possession. In contrast, baseball has been slowing down for decades — batters step out of the box to adjust their batting gloves and other uniform parts, pitchers think the way to beat batters is to lull them to sleep by slow play — and as far as fan interest goes, basketball appears to have passed baseball.

Hockey has also grown in interest, and that was predicted when high-definition TV started to become popular, allowing TV viewers to actually see the puck clearly. HDTV hasn’t seem to have helped soccer much, though, given that TV directors feel the need to show the entire width of the field, which means that, unlike hockey, which is played on a 200-foot-long rink, you have tiny players and a tinier ball on a 120-yard-long field. Abdul-Jabbar’s point about excitement, skill and entertainment is also proven by the existence of soccer’s offside rule, in which a one-on-one clash between would-be scorer and goalkeeper is banned by the rules.

I also think many Americans see soccer as a technologically backward sport. In every other timed sport in America, fans know exactly how much time is left in a period, down to tenths of a second in basketball and hockey. Soccer has 45-minute halves plus whatever the referee thinks is appropriate for “stoppage time” — balls kicked out of play, fouls, injuries or substitutions. (It would be interesting to watch the second half of the USA-Portugal match, in which Portugal scored to tie the match, and see whether there should have been as much time added to the half due to stoppages as the referee added.) Soccer has one referee for a 120-yard-long game, which seems an invitation for abuse by officials who have less-than-required integrity. (Either that, or there is so little action in soccer that more than one official is not needed.)

There are ways to fix many of these problems, but FIFA, the most arrogant sport governing organization in the world, refuses to change the game to try to increase its interest in the most important country in the world.

Abdul-Jabbar posted a link to his Time column on his Facebook page, and got hammered by people who disagree with him without having ability to explain why his points are wrong. The appeal to authority, or perhaps majority — it’s the world’s most popular sport! — is particularly annoying. Slavery is still in existence on much of the planet, and many cultures treat women like cattle, so let’s be just like them!

From 2014 to 2018

No, this is not about Gov. Scott Walker’s chances of being reelected in 2018.

The soccer World Cup ended, from the U.S. perspective, yesterday with Team USA’s 2–1 extra-time loss to Belgium.

Keith Olbermann was his usual snarky self on ESPN2 last night, but if you ignore the snarkiness, he makes some valid points about how to increase Americans’ interest in soccer. Click here for the video, but here is the outline:

  1. Stop imitating the British and their incorrect grammar — for instance, “Belgium are,” which everyone knows should be either “Belgium is” or “the Belgians are.”
  2. Find an American play-by-play voice, even though Brit Ian Darke does an excellent job:

    Olbermann’s point is that soccer needs an American voice, as Vin Scully for baseball or Mike Emrick for hockey. He’s correct. The problem is that ESPN’s previous American soccer announcers, Dave O’Brien and Jack Edwards, were, in order, bland and not from soccer, and ridiculously jingoistic. (Anyone who has heard Edwards on Boston Bruins hockey can agree with the latter point.)
    ESPN Radio’s announcer, JP Dellacamera, is great …

    … but seems to not meet ESPN TV standards, or something.

  3. “Lay off the elitism,” or “stop trying to build soccer by tearing down other sports.”
  4. “Calm down,” which is based on a soccer referee’s tweet yesterday, “Soccer belongs to the world, and is not ours to do as we please.” A statement like that makes me want to never watch soccer again, at any level.
  5. More U.S.-appropriate Major League Soccer team names, instead of names that are “embarrassingly derivative” of international club names, such as FC Dallas, D.C. United, Sporting Kansas City, Toronto FC, Chivas USA (which is based not in Chivas, but in Los Angeles) and Real Salt Lake. (Of course, that runs into the danger of nicknames that generate offense in our perpetually offended society — Redskins anyone? — though I’m a bit surprised there haven’t been protests against Chivas by the anti-alcohol crowd.)
  6. “Stay away from FIFA,” the international soccer organization so corrupt that it “makes the IOC look like Doctors Without Borders.” (Lines like that are why Olbermann is in fact worth watching, maddening though he can be.) Olbermann suggests staging an American version of the World Cup here, which would generate an American Football League vs. National Football League rumble, which must have been fun to watch in the ’60s. Of course, the event that started soccer to becoming kinda-sorta popular in the U.S. was when the 1994 World Cup was held in the U.S., without requiring construction of new stadiums and stadium worker deaths, unlike Qatar now.
  7. Olbermann quoted surveys of 12- to 17-year-old boys that suggest they prefer soccer to baseball, concluding, “What kids really love is soccer video games.” He suggests figuring out a way to tap into that, which I think is a task for a demographic younger than Olbermann’s, or mine.

One unfortunate thing about Tuesday’s loss is that it may well be the final World Cup match for Tim Howard, who might have been the only reason the U.S. was in the game. Howard made a World Cup-record 16 saves, and his work in goal prevented a bloodbath. Howard is 35, and it’s not clear that a goalkeeper pushing 40 is likely to be in the 2018 plans, though finding a goalie as good as Howard seems unlikely, at least today.

The loss suggests that the U.S. remains far, far away from being a World Cup contender. In hockey, teams occasionally decide to be hyperaggressive on offense, and leave their goalie to be essentially the entire defense. That’s how goalies sometimes accumulate a huge number of saves, and sometimes give up a lot of goals; it’s a tradeoff to try to generate more offense, and it’s certainly fun for fans to watch. That’s not what the U.S. did — their offense is anemic, and so they played a defensive style, and yet Howard was still required to singlehandedly save the American bacon for the 90 minutes of regulation.

So for one game, the Americans were bad on defense, and for the entire World Cup, they weren’t very good on offense. Yes, they scored five goals in four games, but that’s in a World Cup that had a record number of goals in group play, and goal number four came after the U.S. was in desperation mode.

So how does Team USA get better than this? Or is this the best that can be expected of Team USA?


Two steps forward, one giant step back

The Milwaukee Bucks’ new owners scored public relations points early by saying all the right things upon their introduction and by drafting Duke’s Jabari Parker.

Then came the trainwreck of the firing of coach Larry Drew and hiring of Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd as their new coach/majordomo of basketball.

It’s kind of a given that professional athletes will be buttheads, particularly in the National Basketball Association, where the main off-court hobby seems to be fathering multiple children without bothering to marry their mother. It is generally expected, however, that the adults in the locker room will act like adults. This apparently has not been the case with Kidd, who had domestic abuse and alcohol issues during his playing days. There is not much evidence that, unlike former coach Scott Skiles, Kidd has actually grown up and stopped acting as if his age was his uniform number.

As bad, on a different level, is how Kidd engineered his exit from Brooklyn. Following one season as coach, when the Nets did well during half of the season, Kidd apparently decided he deserved more authority and campaigned with management to be moved above the Nets’ general manager in the hierarchy. Management declined, and so Kidd started talking with his friends the Bucks owners.

The Sporting News contributes this:

There is a certain decorum with which a coach in the NBA — and, indeed, a coach in most any major pro sport in the country — is expected to carry himself. Safe to say that, in the last few days, recently departed Nets coach Jason Kidd has violated several of them. Or, at least, the one that matters most.

“I think the one thing you know not to do as a coach is to talk about another job while it is still occupied,” one veteran NBA coach told Sporting News. “You just don’t do that. This is a tough business, there are only 30 jobs and no matter what you think of a guy, every one of us puts his heart and soul into what we do every day. And so you learn to respect your colleagues. But nothing is more disrespectful than gunning for someone’s job while he is still in it.”

What’s worse is that Kidd appears to have done this three times in a matter of days. First, Kidd attempted to usurp the general manager’s role with the Nets from Billy King, having seen Stan Van Gundy get the same broad powers in Detroit and Doc Rivers granted that title with the Clippers. But Brooklyn team ownership, led by Mikhail Prokhorov, had no interest in giving Kidd that level of power.

New Bucks owners Marc Lasry and Wes Edens then came into play for Kidd, receiving permission from the team to speak to him last week — Lasry was a former minority owner with the Nets, and knows Kidd personally.

That’s when Kidd attempted to sell the Bucks on an arrangement by which he would both run and coach the team. Problem is, the Bucks have two people doing those jobs already — coach Larry Drew and general manager John Hammond.

King. Drew. Hammond. That’s three employees Kidd attempted to oust. Kidd eventually came away with the job as Bucks coach, with Milwaukee sending 2015 and 2019 second-round picks to the Nets, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports first reported. Drew was never informed of the negotiations with Kidd.

What’s worse, it appears that one of Kidd’s motivations was resentment over the bigger financial packages awarded to Steve Kerr in Golden State and Derek Fisher in New York, each of whom reportedly got five-year, $25 million deals. Both of those coaches, like Kidd, are former players who have never been on a coaching staff before — not only as a head coach, but not even as an assistant. …

The coach also pointed out that this is one of the perils of hiring a coach with no experience — he has no sense of paying dues, no sense of how hard some coaches, like Drew, have worked to get where they are. Kidd is acting like a spoiled brat, perhaps because he never had to earn anything in the coaching business.

I’ve argued here before that the positions of general manager and coach need to be separate, at least in pro football. That more likely than not is the case in other pro sports as well. General managers acquire players by draft, trade or free agent signing; coaches coach them. Those are two full-time jobs, and given that Kidd apparently isn’t necessarily a candidate for Mensa, to think he can do both jobs seems optimistic at best.

Kidd supposedly wants to become the Bucks’ answer to Phil Jackson, possessor of several NBA championship rings and now president of the team he played for, the New York Knicks. Jackson was a role player on two NBA championship teams, but apparently while he wasn’t playing he was paying attention to what coach Red Holtzman was doing. Additionally, unlike Kidd, Jackson learned how to coach by coaching in the Continental Basketball Association (as did former Bucks coach George Karl). One season is really not a large enough sample size to determine if someone can coach.

The supposed upside here is Kidd’s supposed ability to get free agents to play in Milwaukee because he was able to get a couple to come to Brooklyn. (Which might be an indictment of Kidd’s coaching ability since the Nets didn’t start playing well until the second half of the season.) Milwaukee is not Brooklyn, and whether Kidd can duplicate that feat remains to be seen. Moreover, Kidd eventually will run out of player contemporaries who he supposedly can attract to Milwaukee to play.

None of this should be viewed as a defense of former coach Larry Drew (who is being paid handsomely to have read that he was about to be replaced) or general manager John Hammond. The Bucks deserved their record as last season’s second worst team in the NBA, and I saw little evidence of improvement. (Teams should never tank to improve their next-season draft position.) But I’m not sure at all that Kidd represents actual improvement.

The Wisconsin State Journal’s Tom Oates reinforces my point:

Kidd, who has alienated people throughout the NBA over the last 20 years, was available only because his own power play had been rebuffed by Nets ownership. He tried to oust general manager Billy King — the man who hired him despite his complete lack of coaching experience — and gain control of all basketball decisions in Brooklyn, but the Nets instead seemed eager to let him move on. That should have told the Bucks owners something right there, but apparently they weren’t listening.

The way [Marc] Lasry and [Wesley] Edens handled this entire matter — especially interviewing a prospective coach when they already had one under contract — shows either a lack of character or an amazing amount of naivete. It was cutthroat or clumsy or both, all of which bodes poorly for a franchise that is coming to the plate for its final at-bat in Milwaukee and can’t afford to make mistakes.

The immediate response to the Kidd news was that these are the same old dysfunctional Bucks. They still have owners who think they know more about basketball than they actually do and like to meddle in decisions they’re not qualified to make.

And speaking of unqualified, there is nothing in Kidd’s resume that would qualify him to run the basketball operations in an NBA franchise. He was a point guard for 19 seasons and a coach for one, but he’s never spent a day in an NBA front office.

Still, the Bucks’ starstruck new owners seemed willing to hand their franchise over to him. Perhaps they should have asked why the Nets’ owners, who are more familiar with the NBA and know Kidd better than anyone, weren’t willing to give him that control. …

But just because Kidd was hired only to coach the team doesn’t mean this story is over. His desire to make personnel decisions likely hasn’t changed and, given the clout he carries with the new owners, it’s only a matter of time before he has both jobs. …

Of course, if Kidd has success as a coach, much of this will be forgotten. But it seems like only a matter of time before Kidd is in control of the team’s basketball decisions, and that ought to scare everyone.

A(merican) knockout in the knockout round

The Associated Press’ Raf Casert explains why the U.S. will lose to Belgium in the World Cup later today:

TOUGH DEFENSE: Belgium didn’t concede a single goal in open play during the group stage. Talk about a hermetic seal. It has Thibaut Courtois, at 22, already one of the top goalkeepers around. He anchored Atletico Madrid to the Spanish league title and also the Champions League final. Playing ahead of him is Vincent Kompany, who led Manchester City to two of the last three Premier League titles. And amazingly at 36, Daniel Van Buyten is still one of the standout defenders at the World Cup.

“KAMPFSCHWEIN” COACH: If you are looking for fighting spirit, coach Marc Wilmots fits the bill. Such was the toughness of his attitude and the challenges he made as a player with Schalke in the Bundesliga, the working class fan base immediately took a liking to him and called him Kampfschwein — which translates as fighting boar. Now aged 45, that determination survives. As a coach, he goes looking for victories at the World Cup whether they involve beautiful football or not. His team’s three one-goal victories have so far proven it to be the right strategy.

EDEN HAZARD: The playmaker has huge expectations to live up to. At 23, he is already among a handful of European players with global appeal. He is now the creative genius at Chelsea and is seeking to emulate that for Belgium at the World Cup. So far, the results have been mixed. He has been decisive in both matches he played in, providing the winning assist late in the game each time, in a 1–0 win over Russia and a 2–1 victory against Algeria. But he has yet to take the mantle of leadership in the team and this is what Wilmots will be looking for against the United States.

SPOILT FOR STRIKERS?: Don’t be fooled by the measly four goals from three games, Belgium does have its share of good strikers. Christian Benteke was supposed to be the first choice for Wilmots, but the Aston Villa striker ruptured his Achilles tendon in April. No worries. There’s also Romelu Lukaku, the Everton forward. Despite a sterling preparation campaign and key goals in qualifying, he has been a bitter disappointment so far in Brazil. Wilmots went looking for an alternative, and found one. Divock Origi, at 19, has been crucial. He scored the winner against Russia and provided the shot which allowed Jan Vertonghen to tap in the winner against South Korea. Now, Origi is a fan favorite to start against the United States.

Soccer fans: Do you really think the U.S. can compete against that?

Backing into the knockout round

Team USA backed into the World Cup knockout round with its 1–0 loss to Germany and Portugal’s 2–1 win over Ghana Thursday.

So Team USA, with a 1–1–1 record and as many goals scored as given up, is one of the 16 best soccer teams on the planet, as defined by the World Cup. The countries that cannot make that claim include 2010 World Cup champion Spain, England and Italy. Oddly, the U.S. lost its match yet advanced to the knockout round, whereas Portugal (which tied the U.S. Sunday) won but was eliminated.

I didn’t expect the U.S. to get out of what some soccer observers called “the Group of Death” (though that proved inaccurate). Apparently others may not have expected a good result today either, given that some writers chose yesterday to pan soccer, or at least Americans’ every-four-years interest in it.

Ann Coulter wrote a piece that is basically nothing more than clickbait (it might as well have been headlined “You Won’t Believe What Ann Coulter Said About Soccer!”), though she did have a few amusing points:

Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation’s moral decay. …

(3) No other “sport” ends in as many scoreless ties as soccer. This was an actual marquee sign by the freeway in Long Beach, California, about a World Cup game last week: “2nd period, 11 minutes left, score: 0:0.” Two hours later, another World Cup game was on the same screen: “1st period, 8 minutes left, score: 0:0.” If Michael Jackson had treated his chronic insomnia with a tape of Argentina vs. Brazil instead of Propofol, he’d still be alive, although bored.

Even in football, by which I mean football, there are very few scoreless ties — and it’s a lot harder to score when a half-dozen 300-pound bruisers are trying to crush you.

(4) The prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport. Most sports are sublimated warfare. As Lady Thatcher reportedly said after Germany had beaten England in some major soccer game: Don’t worry. After all, twice in this century we beat them at their national game.

(5) You can’t use your hands in soccer. (Thus eliminating the danger of having to catch a fly ball.) What sets man apart from the lesser beasts, besides a soul, is that we have opposable thumbs. Our hands can hold things. Here’s a great idea: Let’s create a game where you’re not allowed to use them!

(6) I resent the force-fed aspect of soccer. The same people trying to push soccer on Americans are the ones demanding that we love HBO’s “Girls,” light-rail, Beyonce and Hillary Clinton. The number of New York Times articles claiming soccer is “catching on” is exceeded only by the ones pretending women’s basketball is fascinating.

I note that we don’t have to be endlessly told how exciting football is.

(7) It’s foreign. In fact, that’s the precise reason the Times is constantly hectoring Americans to love soccer. One group of sports fans with whom soccer is not “catching on” at all, is African-Americans. They remain distinctly unimpressed by the fact that the French like it.

(8) Soccer is like the metric system, which liberals also adore because it’s European. Naturally, the metric system emerged from the French Revolution, during the brief intervals when they weren’t committing mass murder by guillotine.

Despite being subjected to Chinese-style brainwashing in the public schools to use centimeters and Celsius, ask any American for the temperature, and he’ll say something like “70 degrees.” Ask how far Boston is from New York City, he’ll say it’s about 200 miles.

Liberals get angry and tell us that the metric system is more “rational” than the measurements everyone understands. This is ridiculous. An inch is the width of a man’s thumb, a foot the length of his foot, a yard the length of his belt. That’s easy to visualize. How do you visualize 147.2 centimeters? …

The USA-Portugal game was the blockbuster match, garnering 18.2 million viewers on ESPN. This beat the second-most watched soccer game ever: The 1999 Women’s World Cup final (USA vs. China) on ABC. (In soccer, the women’s games are as thrilling as the men’s.)

Run-of-the-mill, regular-season Sunday Night Football games average more than 20 million viewers; NFL playoff games get 30 to 40 million viewers; and this year’s Super Bowl had 111.5 million viewers.

Better arguments come from Ted Bromund:

In 1994, the United States hosted what remains, by measure of attendance, the most successful World Cup of them all, so clearly there is an American audience for soccer. But it’s a limited one. Why? Sports historians have concluded that it’s because, around the world, soccer began as the game of the working man.

But in the United States in the mid-19th century, baseball, the game of the Northeast’s cities, claimed soccer’s audience before it could establish itself. In the early 20th century, college football and then basketball grabbed the rest of the crowds, leaving the United States, as in so much else, an exceptional nation.

While we don’t play (much) soccer, it’s immensely popular around the world, partly because you need only a ball. Although it began as the game of the common man, at the top level, it’s now the property of the rich, and there’s no better evidence than the World Cup.

Figuring the cost of hosting a major sporting event is difficult, in part because it’s become so high that nations have an incentive to lie about it. While Brazil claims to have spent $3.5 billion, Forbes estimates the true cost at $11 billion, a price accompanied by the usual corruption, forced slum clearances, and serious concerns about whether the facilities would be ready and safe.

As always, the justification for this splurge is that it will make everyone better off by creating jobs and funding modern infrastructure. A majority of Brazilians — 61 percent, in a recent survey — don’t agree. And they’re right. With Brazilians themselves buying more than 60 percent of the tickets, the World Cup is not so much bringing new money into the country as it is shuffling old money around.

Building an airport terminal can sometimes make sense, but new stadiums, which sit empty most of the time, are a waste of money. And rushing to build infrastructure quickly guarantees even more money is wasted. The World Cup is like stimulus spending on steroids, and it’s no more effective.

The opening of this World Cup was marked by riots, though so far nothing compared to the protests by the 1 million Brazilians who took to the streets in June 2013, in part to protest World Cup spending. And they’re not the only ones who are tired of these expensive circuses: The Olympics are feeling the fatigue, too.

Of the eight nations that seriously considered bidding for the 2022 Winter Games, four have dropped out. Sweden is shaky, and Ukraine has no hope. That leaves China and Kazakhstan, autocracies that want to advertise themselves and don’t care about costs — or the will of the people.

But now the spotlight is on soccer. The next World Cup will be held in Vladimir Putin’s Russia in 2018. In 2022, the circus moves to Qatar, an Arab nation with no tradition of top-flight soccer, where hundreds of near-slaves have already died building stadiums, and where the average summer temperature exceeds 100 degrees.

Qatar has no business hosting anything. It got the job the old-fashioned way: by buying it. The fact that FIFA, soccer’s governing body, calls criticism of Qatar “racist” tells you all you need to know about its Mafia-like culture, where what matters is the payoff a bidder can deliver.

Similar to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, what made the 1994 World Cup great was two words: “private sector.” No near-slaves died building stadiums because not a single stadium was built for the World Cup. Every game was played at an existing stadium (including the final at the Rose Bowl), which had to be modified only by replacing artificial turf in some cases with grass, and in some stadiums expanding the field surface for soccer.

The everyone-else-is-watching-it-so-you-should-too argument makes as much sense as the everyone-else-is-doing-it-so-you-should-too argument. (I heard earlier this week that the U.S. is one of only three countries that doesn’t give paid parental leave by law. So the U.S. should do things like Russia, Iran, North Korea and Nigeria, a country in which 40 women and children were killed earlier this week, but that’s OK because they have paid parental leave!) This World Cup apparently set a record for most goals scored in group play, but that may say more about the quality of the losers than about improved offense.

The excess of ties (and one tie is too many) prompted FIFA, the international soccer organization (which appears to have as much integrity as the National Collegiate Athletic Association), to award three points, instead of two, for wins. The simpler solution for eliminating ties is to award points only for wins. Ties would thus become not draws, but double losses. The necessary corollary is to play sudden-death overtime for all ties after regulation — win or die trying.

The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Ezkenazi is a fan of soccer, but admits it’s never going to get very big in the U.S.:

Regardless of how the U.S. team does, a month from now this outbreak of soccermania will join the excitement over the victorious U.S. women’s World Cup team in 1999 as another never-happened turning point. The truth is, soccer isn’t an American game and never will be. It’s not adventurous enough. Not enough happens in games. You can hardly make out individual stars. What statistics are there to talk about?

In our Big Three sports there’s a lot going on. At any given moment during the action, the score can change instantly, with a baseball home run, a football touchdown pass or a basketball three-pointer. In the World Cup on Tuesday, England limped out of the competition by tying Costa Rica with the scintillating score of 0-0. At any given moment in a soccer game, someone is almost certainly not going to score. Because the player will be too busy falling down at the slightest touch, writhing in agony and hoping for a penalty call. If none comes, he almost invariably pops up, miraculously recovered and ready to play. …

The founding of the North American Soccer League in 1968 may have been the first “soccer is finally breaking through in America” moment. What prompted a few otherwise smart businessmen to invest in the sport? The healthy ratings for NBC’s broadcast of the 1966 World Cup final in London when England beat West Germany 4-2. There were only three networks then, so a significant number of Americans would be watching one of the channels, no matter what was on. And the fact that the game aired just before the major-league baseball game of the week no doubt helped.

The NASL was formed from two rival professional leagues—boy, was soccer really catching on!—but despite efforts to jazz up the game for an American audience by tinkering with the rules to avoid ties and to encourage scoring, the soccer breakthrough never happened. It was fun to see aging stars like Pelé and Italy’s Giorgio Chinaglia and West Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer add some vigor and juice to the arriviste sport. Still: no sale. Attendance faded. The league folded in 1984.

These days, we have Major League Soccer, which has elevated the game to something more than a niche sport. Attendance averages more than 18,000 per game. And that’s about where the numbers will remain, I dare say. The soccer birth-death-revival routine is getting stale. With millions of other Americans, I’ll be rooting for our World Cup boys on Thursday, admiring how the players can dribble a ball on their toes and maybe even once in a while take a meaningful shot. But I’ll miss the individual beau geste that marks truly American games.

Eskenazi makes the strange statement that soccer is a democratic sport because you don’t have to be huge to play it. The same could be said about baseball, except that baseball requires mastery of the most difficult skill in sport — to hit a baseball. (It’s so difficult, in fact, that major leaguers who hit the ball successfully one time in every three at-bats are at the top of the game.) Soccer’s two most important skills are scoring, and stopping scoring. Scoring happens very infrequently, which is a good thing for goalkeepers because percentage-wise goalies don’t stop shots that often, because they don’t see shots that happen. Moving the ball around — supposedly “the beautiful game” — without scoring gets tedious to watch.

Ten years ago, Chuck Klosterman had a few related things to say about soccer, including a point I can certainly relate to:

Soccer unconsciously rewards the outcast, which is why so many adults are fooled into thinking their kids love it. The truth is that most children don’t love soccer; they simply hate the alternatives more. For 60 percent of the adolescents in any fourth-grade classroom, sports are a humiliation waiting to happen. These are the kids who play baseball and strike out four times a game. These are the kids afraid to get fouled in basketball, because it only means they’re now required to shoot two free throws, which equates to two air balls. Basketball games actually stop to annihilate them.

That is why soccer seems like such a respite from all that mortification; it’s the one aerobic activity where nothingness is expected. Even at the highest levels, every soccer match seems to end 1-0 or 2-1. A normal eleven-year-old can play an entire season without placing toe to sphere and nobody would even notice, assuming he or she does a proper job of running about and avoiding major collisions.

Soccer fanatics love to tell you that soccer is the most popular game on earth and that it’s played by 500 million people every day, as if that somehow proves its value. Actually, the opposite is true. Why should I care that every single citizen of Chile and Iran and Gibraltar thoughtlessly adores “football”? Do the people making this argument also assume Coca-Cola is ambrosia? Real sports aren’t for everyone. And don’t accuse me of being the Ugly American for degrading soccer. That has nothing to do with it. It’s not xenophobic to hate soccer; it’s socially reprehensible to support it. To say you love soccer is to say you believe in enforced equality more than you believe in the value of competition and the capacity of the human spirit. It should surprise no one that Benito Mussolini loved being photographed with Italian soccer stars during the 1930s; they were undoubtedly kindred spirits.

Soccer has elements that Americans will never approve of — or,  more accurately, lacks what Americans want — claims Stephen Moore:

Every soccer match is like watching a North Carolina basketball game before the shot clock when Dean Smith invented the four corner offense.

I’ve often said that after having to watch my three sons play junior soccer, now I know why Europeans riot at soccer matches. For the same reason that inmates riot in prisons: there’s nothing else to do. It’s good exercise for sure, but to what end? If golf is a good walk spoiled, then soccer is a good run spoiled.

And what is with the ugly polyester soccer uniforms?

I’m an American. I want scoring. I want action. Maybe it’s part of the instant gratification culture but 90 minutes of kicking with zero or one or two goals doesn’t exactly move heaven and earth.

And because scoring is such a lightning striking rarity, once a team gets up by two or three goals, turn the lights out, it’s like being down 49-0 in football. In other words, soccer lacks one of the best parts of watching a sport: the comeback. It almost never happens. If a team gets up by three goals they might as well invoke the slaughter rule.

Because scoring is so nearly impossible, many of the matches come down to faking a penalty (flopping) in order to get a penalty kick. The referees are the most important people on the field.So the key to being a good soccer player is to be a really good actor.

I’ve also argued that soccer is a manifestation of the labor theory of value applied to sports—which may explain why socialist European nations do so well.

Soccer is a huge expenditure of human effort and exertion with almost no return. Under capitalism the idea is to produce the most output with the least amount of work. Because there is so little scoring and so little of the action bears on the outcome of the game, every crazed soccer mom can convince their child that they are above average.

Here we are in America, the world’s economic and military superpower, and the richest place on the planet. Yet the odds of America winning the Cup this year are 100-1. We’re like Fairleigh Dickinson going up against Kentucky in the NCAA basketball tournament.

Now basketball, that’s real action. And we are indisputably the world superpower in that sport.

Or let’s have a World Cup tournament in “football” on the gridiron. Given the lousy state of the economy, the ISIS offensives in Iraq, and a White House that seems to be fighting a new scandal every 24 hours, America needs a lift.

The U.S. plays Belgium Tuesday. A U.S. win would equal the best U.S. performance ever, in 2002, when Team USA won its first knockout game before losing in the quarterfinals to Germany. Tuesday is, however, probably when the U.S. visit to the World Cup will end. The U.S. has neither the best coach in the world (in contrast, say, to the 1980 Winter Olympics, when hockey coach Herb Brooks proved smarter than every other coach in the tournament) nor any single player in the conversation of the best players in the world at his position.

Getting to the knockout round in consecutive World Cups is an accomplishment, but the Americans are not a world-class World Cup team. They may never be.