Family Memory(XIX) – 12:01am, June 14

I tend to be a night owl. It’s quiet after ten here (usually) and that offers me time to work and contemplate things…sometimes, perhaps, too much.

One of those evenings is always like tonight, late on June 13 as 12:01am, June 14 comes around. This will be the tenth time I wait for a phone call that will not come. That’s how many birthdays have come since Mom has been gone.

Back when I was in high school, Mom made the brave decision to return to school after 20+ years away (and not having been a good student when she was a teen anyways…). She graduated at the end of my sophomore year of college and started her career as a nurse. Eventually, she settled in to working second shift–because she was a night owl at heart, too.

I think it was the summer of ’88 the first time. I was in Ames in the Preeti-Seema apartment I was sharing with Tony F. and Jason E. for summer. At 12:01, one minute into my birthday, the phone rang and a woman’s voice on the other end (Mom) started singing a bad version of ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. From that point on through 2010, every year, I’d get that call. If I was in Davenport, then she’d get home from work and the first words out of her mouth walking in the door–happybirthdaytoyou! In bed–too bad, so sad…friends visiting, they can wait. Nothing could interfere with the birthday call.

No more midnight phone calls, no more goofy singing.

I’ve never been a fan of birthdays for a number of reasons…as a child, they were made miserable by others. As an adult, only milestones matter–and even then, Dad died less than a month before my 21st birthday. And then you get to the birthday one past your dad’s age when he died, the 10th that your mom’s been gone. It generally sucks.

That’s not meant to generate sympathy, a pity-party, or even happy birthday requests. The sentiment here simply “is”. It will not get better, nor does it get worse. It is an absence which can never be replaced. It is something you learn to accept, a scab that tears off from time to time to remind you of what can no longer be. This isn’t just me–this is an inevitability for everyone who reads this.

Most of the family memories I remember and consider writing down are happy ones, even the one about my grandfather’s funeral is important for the story told at it. This one though? It’s rough, real rough. And yet here I am, writing this up an hour before midnight. I’ll stay up until midnight, think of the phone call I haven’t heard in years, the voice that I haven’t heard. And then–it will pass, I will get over it, enjoy the rest of the day and let the wound heal until the next June 13-14 comes along again.

25+ observations (not quite Andy Rooney)

Andy Rooney was a commentator on 60 Minutes, a television news show.  In his later years, he was most famous for his little observations in the show’s final minute or two.  He served as a US Army reporter during World War Two, even winning a Bronze Star.  I had a few observations of things, and it immediately made me think of Rooney’s minute.

  1. Why do Americans automatically associate a religion with a nation?  Israel is not all Jews, Iran is not all Shia, and the US itself is a polyglot of beliefs.
  2. The US has never won a counter-insurgency, so why do we constantly provoke the need to fight a type of conflict we never win?
  3. Those who would have peace should prepare for war.  The saying says prepare, not start.
  4. Jimi was right–there will only be peace when the power of love surpasses the love of power.
  5. Why do conservatives claim Jesus as one of them?  Have they read the Bible?  Jesus disliked the greedy and rich, he cared for the poor and the weak.  If he was alive today, Jesus would be a Democrat (but NOT Bernie Sanders).
  6. Why do politicians who have never been in a classroom know better than teachers how to run a classroom?  Since government makes a hash of most things–do we really want it with increasing influence in classrooms?
  7. If teachers get paid so much for such a great job–why is there a shortage of teachers?  Great pay, no work…you’d think people would be lining up for teaching.  Hmmmm….
  8. Ever notice how administrators always want to cut costs by cutting the salaries of staff, faculty, coaches, etc, but very few administrators think it’s good to cut their own salaries?  Chop a teacher’s salary 30% and you save $10,000.  Chop a Dean or VP’s salary–save yourself $50,000…enough to hire another teacher, too.
  9. Only one university in the US cut it’s administrator:faculty ratio from 2000-2015.  Curious that it’s in a state that didn’t see a tuition increase from 2010-2015 either, for any of its state schools.
  10. Why do people complain about doctor competence, yet when the physician says ‘Take this for 10 days’, they stop after six…then get surprised when the same illness returns and is more resistant to the medication?
  11. Why do people go to a doctor for an exam and then say, “But Google said…”?
  12. Men and women were not meant to run naked.  Really.
  13. Former Confederate States of America states all demand less government spending, yet receive more than the national average and don’t see a problem with that.
  14. When Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater can’t pass your ‘litmus tests’ for being a true conservative, your political party has a problem.
  15. When JFK, LBJ, and Jimmy Carter are ‘too conservative’ to be true Democrats–your party has a political problem.
  16. Politics today are much more polite than they used to be.  Once upon a time, Thomas Jefferson insinuated John Adams was a pedophile.  Ahh, the good old days of the noble Founding Fathers!  …until, of course, 1/6/21 when the greatest fear of the Founding Fathers came to pass–the incitement of a mob by a demagogue masquerading as president.
  17. Speaking of Founding Fathers–I wonder if any Senators or Representatives have actually read what the Founders wrote, things like their belief in helping the poor, not meddling in every day affairs….or maybe wanting to avoid political dynasties? 
  18. You know, if you purchased one of my novels, you could help me not pay taxes like Al Sharpton or Donald Trump.  Have you read one of my books?  Well, you should.
  19. Why do administrators think equal rights means hiring people based on their gender?  Isn’t equal rights about hiring based on ability and ignoring gender? 
  20. Everybody needs experience.  If you’re good running your shop, take a chance on giving someone their first experience in business, coaching, teaching, whatever.  Better still–ever thought of hiring someone different than you to add a new perspective?
  21. If states want to improve student abilities–rather than look at lots of standardized tests, how about we don’t let kids use calculators on math problems in 3rd grade?  Maybe we could have reading time every day–and homework, too? 
  22. I like watching athletes with skill and work ethic regardless of sport or team–or age level
  23. Adults wonder why fewer kids play sports.  Maybe the fact that travel teams now exist for 4-yr olds has something to do with that?  Let kids be kids and get adults’ compulsive urge to organize things out of there.  Step back–let them play.
  24. Parents pay travel teams so their kids can get athletic scholarships.  Maybe use the money on math lessons–there’s far more academic aid available than athletic.
  25. Maybe parents could take those travel-ball expenses and put the money in a bank account. 4-6 years of travel ball fees is enough to pay for *an entire college degree* sometimes.
  26. I wish I could’ve had a fastball to match the curve I could throw.  My elbow wishes I never threw those curves.
  27. Classic cars look cool, but modern SUVs are easier to drive, have better comforts, and are faster.  I’ll still take the classic look.
  28. In thirty years, every boy/young man who ‘manscaped’ will regret it when their children see their pictures.  It’ll be the big hair 1980s in reverse.
  29. Everyone groans when they here a ‘dad joke’–but they are always happy to tell them.
  30. Is there anyone more responsible for chaos at home or at work than the two brothers “Not Me” and “Wasn’t Me”?
  31. Who wins–a sneaking ninja or the Lego pieces left by a kid on the floor?
  32. Hard to believe but we could control greenhouse gases by reducing cow farts even though it’s true.
  33. Japan developed an AI to tell the difference between a croissant and a bearclaw.  It failed…but turned out to do well differentiating between cancerous and healthy cells.
  34. Cheetos are the best-tasting packing peanuts ever.
  35. Americans admire, worship, and are jealous of wealth.  We do not admire the hard work required to achieve the American dream–and avoid that work in many instances.
  36. Why is Jesus always portrayed as a skinny, meek white guy?  Dude was Sephardic.  He was a carpenter in an era without power tools capable of wreaking havoc without interference in a public arena.  He was a rabbi/philosopher in the body of Schwarzenegger (or the Iron Sheik).
  37. Monopoly isn’t really about being good at building a business empire.
  38. Republicans keep demanding lower taxes…except they are already less than 1/3 the level Reagan thought was the bare minimum for efficient government/running the nation.  What did I miss in my economics classes?
  39. Elected officials should be required to take a test on the US Constitution and their state’s constitution.  Those test results should be made public.  We should know which of the people we’ve elected actually understands the American system of government.
  40. Why do Americans side with billionaire sports owners in fights against millionaire athletes?  Are billionaires REALLY going about things fairly?  
  41. There’s a shortage of HS coaches and officials.  The common denominator–dealing with parents.  Hmmmm.
  42. Since this is #42, it makes me think of Jackie Robinson, but we should also remember Larry Doby, first black to play in the A.L. and also the first black player in base ball before the turn of the 20th century.
  43. If we’re looking at the line item number, can I mention anyone other than Richard Petty?  He is responsible for NASCAR’s popularity.  He never turned a fan away from an autograph or a photograph, never hesitated to talk with kids.  But when his driver, Bubba Wallace, started speaking out on police violence and the Black Lives Matter movement, when Wallace got pressured to be quiet, Petty stood by him and the need for Wallace to speak out even if it affected Petty’s bank account.  When we talk about people in sports to admire–Petty needs to be mentioned regularly (and I don’t care totally for NASCAR).
  44. Do I even NEED to mention the great athlete associated with this number?  Totally underappreciated now.

The Value of Listening

This isn’t the best-written post I’ve ever made. I’m not sure I’m getting some complicated stuff correct. That’s my fault as a writer and thinker. The gist of it–>listen, learn, grow.

Roughly a year ago at this point in time, you had a lot of stress in the U.S. The obvious is the pandemic and the second full month of things being shut down in most places–and the first whines of people claiming that either COVID is fake and a Chinese plot.

You also have the shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky when police came into her apartment blindly firing and looking for someone who wasn’t there. That was May 13th. Of course, that was just three months after Ahmaud Arbery was shot for having the audacity to go jogging as a black man. On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis by a cop casually keeping a knee against his back until he no longer breathed, dying as he asked for his mama.

Discussion of racism (rightfully) wound up in every sort of forum you could imagine whether it was auto racing (Bubba Wallace), food deserts in big cities, college athletics, and even volleyball.

The story starts with a basic discussion of racism with some saying it is obvious, some not having paid attention to the issue, and some denying it existed at all in the sport of volleyball. So I posted a question–can minority coaches share examples of what they face at tournaments?

And…that didn’t go as expected. Hah! Some responded angrily–that I had no right to demand examples. Others thought I didn’t word my question ‘politically correct’ enough (p.c. isn’t the term used–I don’t remember what it was but that’s what popping into my mind as I write this.) Some felt examples unnecessary because any examples would be isolated instances irrelevant to the big picture.

And–as with most internet discussions, tangents immediately broke out. In the aftermath of Floyd’s murder, there was a lot of frustration and anger (rightfully). When you are angry, you can say stuff that you’d take back if you could once you have time to cool down. And sometimes when you don’t necessarily have an immediate stake in events–maybe because it is an isolated event, maybe because of where you live, maybe because of ignorance of the issue…any number of factors, you fail to understand that an issue can be emotional, that emotion is a driving force that for better and worse trumps reason.

So–in the argument, one of the people accused me of being racist. The person demanded to know where I worked, my boss’ name, and his contact information so that he could get told what a racist he had on his staff. So I gave the info. Put it right out in public–because I hadn’t done anything wrong or racist (my assertion was that there’s a difference between something done intentionally and something done from ignorance and that the two should be handled in separate fashion) Instead, I reached out to the person privately–and he responded immediately–and away from other people making silly comments, we realized something: we’re on the same side in what we want.

It’s like George Shaw said, “England and America are two nations separated by the same language.”

In this case, I’m a white guy living in rural, 91%-voting-for-Trump Middle America. The other guy’s a black man in one of America’s ten biggest cities in a 80%-Democratic area. My experience with cops is–speeding tickets. His is (sadly) more extended…not because he’s done anything criminal, but because his skin color is dark. My experience with guns is shooting with ROTC, his is from getting shot at by a racist who didn’t like blacks moving into the neighborhood.

But here’s the thing–we both like volleyball. We both like sports. We have both been (and are) educators and over the course of several days (and weeks), we realized those differences above aren’t relevant to moving forward. I listened to him. He listened to me.

He learned how much I value facts and paying attention to the big picture–that half-truths and stories without evidence do not advance a cause, that when I argue something, it’s after learning as much as possible about the issue. I’m uncomfortable arguing without knowing stuff in advance.

I learned that while knowledge is great–that there are some problems that have gone on too long, that are so ingrained, that emotion and empathy are necessary pieces of the puzzle.

We learned we each had sons preparing to be D-1 college athletes. I learned about his father, one of the first black police officers in his city. He learned that my youngest son is a minority living in a 99.9% white area. We learned we want the world to be a better place, that both of us understand the end-goal of equality. My life is better with this person in it. My understanding of the world is better because of our conversations.

So?

So it goes back to personal growth. It goes back to listening. Are you talking to people to understand them or learn–or is it really just to spout your opinion that you have no intent on changing? (Listening is hard, it’s uncomfortable–and it can force you to face up to mistakes you’ve made or perspectives you’ve ignored/never considered). We reached out, discussed things, and handled it with respect and decency. When I have odd questions–I don’t hesitate to ask for his perspective. Better still–through him, I’ve become friends with a few other people who are happy to discuss issues politely.

Grow! Listen! Stop yelling at others, stop being convinced you are right 100% of the time. If two guys as different as us can do this and become friends–what’s stopping you from doing the same?

The Jordan Rules, Uniform Rules, and Rule Principles

In the past week or so, I’ve seen some incidents across various sports that made me consider how to handle disciplinary policies as a coach. I think–for purposes of discussion–there wind up being two main schools of thought. Those are the Jordan Rules and Uniform Rules. There’s also something I refer to as ‘rule principles’. I think understanding all three is important for a coach (or a teacher for that matter)

Uniform rules are universal. There’s one policy and it applies to everyone. If your punishment for being late to a practice is being suspended for a game, then that’s going to be applied to the team’s best player and worst player equally. In this case, the rules are the rules.

The Jordan Rules get more of an explanation. The name refers to Michael Jordan, a basketball player who defined his generation. The first time ‘Jordan Rules’ was used as a term was by an opponent, the Detroit Pistons. It was a set of ground rules they used to beat the Bulls–double-teaming Jordan in specific situations as well as hammering him with hard fouls (what would be flagrant fouls in the 21st century–rightfully) if he moved into the basketball lane. The second use of the term was from a book and it discussed how Jordan received preferential treatment in Chicago from the team and most media. Basically, because he was the greatest player in the game at the time, Jordan could break curfew, go to casinos on off-days, do whatever he wanted. The team’s rules really only applied to the non-stars on the roster. So that’s the gist of calling this ‘the Jordan Rules’–on this team, the stars don’t have rules applied in the same way as role-players or benchwarmers.

I started my coaching career as a ‘uniform rules’ person–and still default to that when required, but I have changed over time so that I now work on ‘rule principles‘ wherever possible. This means that I don’t have specifics in my rules unless totally necessary. I feel that if we put it in writing that that dictates what we will do–because if it doesn’t, why is it a rule in the first place? Instead, I try and offer certain principles that leave room for discretion–and that is important. It goes back to the way the Marines teach ethics. It’s easy to write a rule while sitting at a computer in an office–and totally different to apply it with immediacy.

EXAMPLE:

Your team rule is “Anyone who misses practice doesn’t play in the next contest.”

Uniform application: The player misses the game.
Jordan application: The star plays and is told ‘don’t let it happen again’. The bench player gets a butt-chewing and misses the game.
Rule principle: What is the context, what is the explanation, etc? We need the details before deciding what’s an appropriate response.

What if the player had a flat tire? What if a teacher kept them after school to help revise a paper? What if it was for the player’s father’s funeral? See the issue? Should there be a difference for a first offense rather than a tenth? If the rule is set in stone, now we have to break it, now we have to make an exception and once we do that, we create the need for more rules which will, in turn, require more exceptions. Rule principles are meant for the real world–that everything is not all black and white.

That’s what makes rule principles different than the other two–there’s an acceptance of the gray area, that almost every instance of something happening will be unique, that each situation is different in some way. It is NOT saying that there should be no rules. It is NOT saying that decisions should be arbitrary or whimsical–please don’t take it that way.

Does it boil down to perception? Athletes want consistency (so do athletic administrators…). They want to know where things stand–which I think is a failing of the Jordan Rules. It’s easy to know if you’re the star or the last guy off the bench, but what about a regular starter? What about the first guy off the bench (or for other sports–a baseball closer or US football kicker)? The minute you start making exceptions to rules-set-in-stone, you’re going to lose players.

The players now will begin advocating for other exceptions, will presume that a previous exception can now be used by them as well, or could become resentful if an exception is provided when it had not been previously for someone else/themselves. Worse–what happens when they do something not covered by your rules? Worse still, what happens when it’s covered by the rules and the punishment for breaking the rules doesn’t serve as a deterrent to the behavior?

Again–I’m not saying there shouldn’t be rules. There should. And some should be etched in stone with no exceptions to be made. You have to decide for yourself what those are.

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List of Coaching Ethical Dilemmas

Coaches can face all sorts of problems. It can be helpful to consider them before they happen to your own team. The catch is–there’s not necessarily a right answer. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to your personal values. Some of these may be a big deal to you, some may not.

Also, when pondering/discussing these, think about something the Marines call hot/cold ethics. Cold ethics are what you’re going to do reading this–you’re going to think about it, have the time to create the optimal answer for the situation. You have the luxury of thinking, refining, and debating the question with others. Hot ethics are what happen in the moment–the point where you need a decision in seconds, when there is no time for debate and discussion, when emotions may be running high.

*What do you do to a starter who is late for the bus to a match? With her on the court, you are guaranteed victory. Does it matter if the opponent is 3-18? What if it is for a conference title? Does it matter if it is a state/national championship?

*You have a great player who is not a good teammate? Do you nominate her for post-season awards?

*Your star player who will get you to State/Nationals next year has a problem with his grades. He is 0.5% short in one class of maintaining eligibility (either for a key period in HS or the upcoming season in college). Do you say something to his teacher? Would you say something even if you have never done that previously on behalf of an athlete?

*The official calls a ball out that was clearly in, scoring a point for your team. Do you make the honor call? Would it matter if it was in a blowout? What about game point? Taking place in a Region championship? A state/national title game?

*You get to vote on post-season team seeding. If you put CITY HIGH below where they ought to be, your team will get a better match-up. Do you put them where they ought to be or do you help your team?

*You get to vote on seeding. City High went 34-0 but you know they didn’t play any tough teams. Local High went 20-14 but played three teams that were mentioned on ESPN for being awesome and a generally tough schedule. Who do you rank higher?

*By mistake, you play an athlete in too many contests according to your state rules. He played mostly JV and a few points in five varsity sets. No one will ever know there was a violation unless you report it. Do you report it?

*When voting for post-season awards in a conference/region/area, should you permit your opinion of the player’s personality/attitude affect your vote?

*Your hitter needs 10 kills in the last match of the year to reach 1,000 for her career. She finishes with nine. Do you leave her one short of the mark or do you fake your stats to give her the record?

*You get five votes. The five best players are all from the same team. Do you vote for those five? Do you think it’s important to vote for the best single player from multiple schools/diversity on the all-whatever team?

*Your administrator says you need to start Jean instead of Pat. Pat is better than Jean. If you start Jean, you will still win. Who do you play?

*You overhear two players from a different sport badmouthing their coach. Do you say something to that coach? If so, do you keep the comments anonymous or do you tell the coach the player names?

*A player calls you out in front of a group in disrespectful fashion for an error. The player, however, is correct regarding the error. Do you discipline the player for the disrespect? Do you make a correction? If so, immediately or at a future practice?

Just food for discussion and thought. These may never come up but a coach needs to make sure to plan for many eventualities and with problems like these, some forethought can save a lot of grief down the road because it’s easy to come up with the ‘cold’ solution–but even the best coach may choose a different path (even knowing the ‘right’ answer) when a ‘hot’ situation erupts.

Family Memory XVIII: 1940, Artillery, and the Officer who Hated Cigarettes

The stereotype of history is that during the German invasion of the Low Countries and France, that the Allies rolled over and it was a walk in the park for the advancing Wehrmacht. Perhaps that’s true when you look at the campaign’s length or at the strategic/operational levels…but when you get done to the business level, that was far from true. When talking of individuals and small groups, the war was hard-fought and scary.

In 1940, my grandfather was a corporal (obergefreiter). He was also nineteen. By the start of the western campaign, he’d seen combat in Poland and understood war was not fun and games. Somewhere in there after he enlisted and before Fall Gelb, he took up smoking. I suspect this was to fit in as much as anything else.

In my grandfather’s unit, they had a senior NCO (either an Unterfeldwebel or an Oberfeldwebel) who was a stickler for discipline and believed in the philosophy that the body was a temple, thus smoking cigarettes polluted the body and were disgusting, to be avoided. He constantly lectured and nagged the men who smoked about the deleterious effects of tobacco and nicotine.

My grandfather found this annoying. I think there was something else going on with the sergeant in question…

A few days into their advance, the unit came under heavy bombardment by French artillery. This wasn’t just a lot of guns firing at them–this barrage was directed by someone who knew the location of the pionere (Wehrmacht assault engineer) positions. My grandfather furiously dug in and as he did, found himself digging alongside the annoying NCO who was also digging as if his life depended on it (it did…this is war, not metaphor).

Trapped in their position as French 105mm and 155mm shells exploded around them, there was nothing to do but pray the position wasn’t hit. As shells exploded within meters of their position, the Unter/Oberfeldwebel asked my grandfather for a cigarette. And another. And another. By the time the bombardment ended some time later (my grandfather was never specific), the sergeant who’d lectured men about cigarettes for weeks had chain-smoked every cigarette my grandfather had.

My grandfather said nothing. I think he realized at that point that the sergeant was an NCO by longevity in the Wehrmacht rather than combat proficiency–that the bombardment was his first direct experience of being under fire. Combat/being shot at leads soldiers to make interesting decisions sometimes.

When the bombardment was over, the sergeant never again said anything about men who smoked cigarettes in the Army.

Family Memory XVII: Papa, the bicycle, and France 1940

A long time ago, I wrote the story of my Grandfather’s battlefield heroism. That’s here: Family Memory (6-7 April 1941). That was not his first experience with combat or war though. He’d served in Poland during September 1939 and then in Fall Gelb, the invasion of France in May-June 1940. It was in France that my great-uncle was killed. That’s part of this story: MARCH 1945.

When he was in France, he came across a bicycle. Ask any infantryman if they prefer to walk or do something easier–they’ll go with riding every time. At some point about a week into the campaign (around May 17th or so), he was asked to carry a message from his battalion to the neighboring unit since they weren’t in radio contact—I suspect the fact that he’d picked up the bicycle may have helped in the decision to send Corporal Haas.

So…he took off on the bicycle at a nice pace. He’d been told something along the lines of ‘take the third right’ but the orders were counting a trail as a path, so that while riding, he didn’t count that small trail/dead end as a road. That meant instead of taking the proper road, he went one road too far.

The road he took led to a smallish village (under 1,000 people). When he road into the town square, the residents there stopped whatever they were doing and stared at him riding. My grandfather was not a stupid man and realized the situation–he wasn’t in the right spot and had left German lines 2-3 kilometers behind him. He was the first German those people had seen.

He did what you or I would do if we were a soldier in that situation. He calmly circled the square and rode back out of town back towards friendly lines. He found the proper road, delivered the message, and got back to his unit…at which point he had to ditch the bike as the men were put onto trucks and moved elsewhere (I don’t know why–it may have been because they were pionere–assault engineers).

Talking to me when I was a boy, my grandfather laughed at the story and relished telling it–but he also admitted in his laughter that when he realized he was far beyond his lines, “I nearly shit my trousers.” Can you imagine something like that when you are nineteen years old?

For me, I can think of several things from nineteen I laugh about now with friends or my kids but in the moment, my reaction was the same…stay calm while shitting my trousers.

Baseball / Rock ‘n Roll Comparisons

So quite a while back, I did a post on the biased selection of acts for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame–and that if you aren’t from England, Canada, or the United States, you aren’t getting in no matter what.

I wrote that in the middle of multiple phone conversations with my friend Eric and the discussion of baseball and music–and what we tried to do was create the equivalents from each sport, something like Bill Veeck is the Spinal Tap of baseball…some parody, a ton of tongue in cheek, and brilliant nonetheless. See?

Dick Allen is the Michael Schenker of baseball. Allen was cranky and always in a seeming-fight with media with harsh words to be said for his team’s management. He’s the best hitter not in the Hall of Fame. Allen was an innovator and early-adopter of weight-lifting, vitamins, and steroids (legal at the time). Schenker is the greatest guitarist not in the Rock Hall, controversial for his on/off again feud with his brother Rudi and his brother’s band (his ex-band) The Scorpions, but in both cases, these two individuals don’t have the recognized #s–platinum records or 3000 hits/500 homers.

Nolan Ryan is the Rolling Stones. Ryan had one of the longest careers ever in baseball, but his overall W/L record and his wildness are of note. The Stones have been making music for nearly 60 years. They’ve had a couple of records with spectacular music, but usually there’d be a couple great tracks, a few good, and a couple dogs…a lot like a Ryan season–a couple no-hitters, several 2-3 hitters, and the games where he’d walk 6-8 guys. The other thing to make them comparable–the Rolling Stones start in the final stages of 1950s rock stylings, help lead the British Invasion, get through the Psychedelic 60s, the long songs of the 70s, Disco, and keep rolling through Big Hair, Grunge, and today’s mass-produced generic ‘rock’. Ryan came up in an era where HS pitchers would arrive before they were 20, survived the seasons of no pitch counts and 300+ innings, four-man rotations, and on into the time of five-man rotations and specialized bullpen roles. At age 44 he was pitching more innings/game than todays mid-20s stars do. The game changed between 1966 and 1993, but the Ryan Express rolled right through it all.

Norm Cash is Big Country. Unbelievable start to a career and then nothing which reaches that initial peak, even though Cash was able to play 15 years with the Tigers, never dropping below average. Big Country had a 1983 smash with “In a Big Country” as a single and The Crossing as the album. They followed it up with three really good albums (Steeltown, The Seer, Peace in our Time) and better than average releases through the end of the 1990s though they were no longer widely popular.

Sandy Koufax is Nirvana. Koufax came out of nowhere and became the icon to represent the modern deadball pitching of the mid-1960s before retiring at 30 due to an arthritic elbow. He had six years of dominating pitching (enough for the HOF…that’s a different issue). Nirvana lasted for seven years and only a few albums. Behind Dave Grohl and Kurt Cobain, they represented a new sound–grunge–that changed what was played on the radio and the sound of what is considered alternative rock. Koufax was done in by his elbow. Nirvana was done in by Cobain’s mental health struggles. All that exists for Koufax and Nirvana is what might have been.

Randy Johnson reminds me of Elvis. No one had seen a near-7 foot pitcher before, certainly not a lefty, just as Elvis was a unique phenomenon from the start. Elvis’ career spanned three decades, ending with his death at 42. Johnson pitched until he was 45. Elvis reinvented himself a couple of times going from blues/gospel-influenced musician to movie star to Vegas Elvis. Johnson only reinvented himself once at age 28 after a talk with the Ryan Express. He went from an insanely wild pitcher who relied on a fastball for everything to one who learned the value of knee-buckling breaking pitches against hitters who knew there’d be a 97-mph fastball heading their way often enough. Johnson used his past to his advantage, just as Elvis did.

Greg Maddux is Bob Dylan. Dylan is considered the consummate craftsman and storyteller, but his voice isn’t among the greats, nor is his guitar playing. He’s still going nearly 60 years though. Greg Maddux had a LONG 23-year career. He never had a blazing fastball, never the best breaking pitch, but the man had the skill to change speeds by 1-2mph (and knew he was doing that) as well the ability to adjust a pitch’s location by the width of the black of the plate. Dylan’s the greatest songwriter of 1960-2000. Maddux is the best right-handed pitcher of the post-WW2 era (partially because Clemens jacked himself up on ‘roids/PED)

Other comparisons?

What about Joe Morgan as…Cher??? Morgan’s one of the 2-3 best secondbasemen of all-time. He then went on for may years to be an entertaining listen as a color-man with Jon Miller on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. Cher was a pop sensation, first with Sonny, then completely on her own–and then she reinvents herself into a movie star and succeeds there, too…just not enough to make you think of her first as an actor rather than singer (just like Morgan is remembered as a player first, not an announcer)

If you’ve got more–put them here in the blog comments. I’ll likely add more as I think of them.

Wake-up calls exists…momentum, not so much

Sports commentators are lazy. Every stinking contest, there’s momentum. They just scored twice–momentum is on their side. Oh, momentum propelled the comeback. Blah, blah, blah.

It’s lazy announcing, it ignores math principles like regression to the mean and…it’s just plain wrong.

A discussion on a volleyball forum got me to go back and dig up numbers I researched for a proposed AVCA seminar. The seminar was rejected as ‘not having a wide enough interest’. Whatever. But I never throw away anything…there’s always use for old data and new ways to look at it. Time offers perspective we don’t have as something is in the instant of happening.

So–with volleyball, you inevitably will hear announcers say “Oh, they won the 4th set, so they have momentum going into the 5th set”. If that’s true, then the team that wins the 4th set should clearly win more than 50% of 5th sets, right?

Nope.

Going through NJCAA and NCAA post-seasons, I went backwards until I had 100 five-set matches to look at. Why 100? So that I could avoid doing math on a calculator.

(Also–consider following the blog, please…you won’t get solicited or anything, but it helps me with metrics behind the curtain)

What was the winning percentage of teams that won the fourth set? It should be higher than 50% since they have momentum, right? And if it isn’t, anything between 45-55% is probably just random variation, the +/- 5% you always see as a disclaimer with research or polling.

The answer:

19%.

That’s not a typo. It says nineteen.

That means the team that lost the fourth set won 81% of the fifth sets. Weirder still, a large margin of defeat in the fourth set had no real effect on the fifth set’s results. A team blown out in the 4th set still won 80% of the 5th sets.

Momentum is total bull hockey.

Now, I get it–I limited myself to 100 matches total. None of this is complete. It’s possible I screwed something up somewhere. I don’t think so though.

But–this then leads to another issue. The other conventional wisdom is that deciding-sets are always 50-50 affairs. A 81-19 split is far from a 50-50 thing. So what’s up?

I think it’s the big picture. In most cases going into a match, you can identify the ‘better’ team. So, if the better team wins 2/3 of the time–they are most likely to win any one set–so that by the time you get to the 4th, one team is likely up 2-1…and it’s probably the better team. That means the winner of the 4th set is likely to be the weaker team–and that the 5th set reverts to the ‘norm’–and the better team wins.

What it means is–the OTHER announcer cliche regularly mentioned, “Giving that game up has to be a wake-up call for Team X”–which is the opposite of momentum when you really look at it–is accurate.

Conclusion: Momentum doesn’t exist. Wake-up calls do.

Iowa State: Poker with Paul (and the guys)

I really ought to write more about Iowa State stuff…probably will with time.

Once again, the subject of this memory is my friend Paul Eichinger. He’s been mentioned elsewhere–running from birds or actually dining.

I think it was the start of Spring semester, 1989. It blurs after so much time. I know it definitely took place up on Niles-Foster in Friley…though I don’t remember if it was Brian Olsen’s room or Keith Kolmos’. It was actually a life-changing night for me.

We decided to play poker. Nothing big–pennies and nickels. No one had more than a couple bucks, so no worries–it was more about hanging out with friends for a good night of games and BS–and that’s how it went for a couple hours.

And then we played a poker-type game called guts. The gist is that you put your money in, take your cards, count to three, and if you drop them, you’re out and if you hold onto them, you have to add to the pot whatever’s already in the pot. That means sticking around can get expensive. 10 cents becomes 20 cents becomes 40 becomes 80….now if you’ve got 5 guys playing…you see?

Now the beauty of this is, I wound up with a freakin’ impossible hand. I had four kings. There’s no way someone is going to beat that–so I knew I was in for the duration. The thing is as others started dropping, Paul didn’t. He stayed in–and he had his shit-eatin’ grin on his face–Paul was never good at bluffing, by the way. He said, “Jim, you need to drop. Really.”

Of course, I had four kings…I’m not dropping. So I replied, “No, Paul…you’re going to lose, just get out of this now.”

Penny poker. Hands worth 15-20 cents. Ummm…penny poker got up to $10. We decided that was enough–any more than that was too big…hah–$10 was too much if this was just penny poker, but neither one of us would back down.

Like you see in the movies, I put my cards down with a smirk: K-K-K-K-7….BoOM–easy money.

And then Paul put his cards down. I only saw four of them: A-A-A-A.

Yeah…jerk had four f-ing aces.

Since none of us brought that money to the game–I’d have to owe Paul. I gave him a stinking IOU. God, I hate IOUs. I told him I’d take care of it…I don’t recall if he believed me or not…I bet he did since I don’t renege on bets. So, first thing Monday morning, I went to the bank and got myself 1,000 pennies and took them to Paul’s room.

Oh, the look on his face! It was totally awesome and worth it. The only thing I remember him saying as he laughed, “You know, you’re really a dick.” We had a good laugh.

The thing is–other than paying him in an obnoxious fashion–I learned a big lesson that night. I don’t gamble. Ever. All it takes is one surge of emotion or cockiness, one wild twist of odds (like his four aces) and in the wrong circumstances, you’re broke or worse. Nope–that ended the allure of poker and cards for me. The only time after that I played poker was for my bachelor party—and for that we set a grand total of $25 to be involved. I’ve stuck with the ‘no gambling’ now for 32 years–thank God. I saw what gambling has done to people, including my stepfather. It’s a horrible addiction.

I should also note–this is now a happy memory–I appreciate the time with my friends and I wish I would have savored it more in the moment, but that’s hard to do when you are 20 but in the end, that ten dollars has provided a lifetime of chuckles and good reminiscing!