Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Replay, Go Away

I am troubled by Major League Baseball's soon-to-launch foray into instant replay.

Commissioner Bud Selig says replay will be used on a very limited basis, and MLB says reversing an on-field call will require "clear and convincing evidence".

And how will baseball achieve this? By having the umpire crew chief disappear from the field and watch video clips being fed back from New York. Who knows how long that'll take, and who knows if those clips will really help the umps get it right.

Remember, the only reviewable plays will be home runs: fair or foul, in the stands or not, touched by a fan or not. Think back. No doubt, you've seen a few of these plays that remained puzzling even after repeated replays. And don't forget: a human is still making the call.

The bottom line on replay is this: it's not 100% perfect. And since it isn't, why bother? Why delay games on the pretense of perfection?

My personal bias is to just let the umps make the call and live with it. Yet many people are uncomfortable with that. They're not comfortable with letting humans decide things.

Fine. Then turn it over to machines, the way tennis has done with the Hawk-Eye system that allows players to challenge line calls and get instant, automated results.

Hawk-Eye technology is already being used in tennis and being tested in cricket and soccer. In theory, it could also be used in hockey to speed up the often-lengthy reviews of disputed goals.

At the end of the day, I think it really does come down to two schools of thought. One camp thinks we need to right every wrong, reverse every blown call. The other camp (mine) is OK with the fallibility of human beings, and is willing to accept a bad call as fundamentally no different from a bad hop: a break of the game.

I used to think I was alone, but I keep hearing from athletes who agree with me. Here's what Angels center fielder Torii Hunter told the Los Angeles Times: "I like the human decision of the umpires, whether it's right or wrong. That's what makes baseball. Guy might be safe and called out, all the fans get upset and scream, everyone jumping up and down. That's kind of cool."

Right on.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Are You Kidding Me?

So I open my morning Chronicle today to read that somehow, we're the bad guys for doing our jobs.

Not a new complaint about the news media, of course, but this time, the gripe is that we aired Olympics results before NBC got around to showing them. The Chronicle's Peter Hartlaub suggests we were out to ruin everyone's fun.

Uh, Peter, seems to me it was NBC that did the Grinching. When Usain Bolt ran his stunning 200 meters the other day, The Peacock Network sat on the video for something like 15 hours. In Internet time, that's roughly 37 years. Anyone with an Internet connection could see the video long before Bob Costas & Co. got around to sandwiching it in among all the diving events.

If anybody needs chiding for how it handled Olympics news, it's not KCBS. Consider that NBC had not one, or two, or three, but five networks at its disposal (NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, Oxygen, and Telemundo). NBC could have shown everything right down to the always-gripping small-bore rifle competition live, and still packaged the highlights for prime time.

Hey, I'd hate to be in NBC's position, too. You pay an insane sum of money to broadcast the Olympics, and you want to have full control. But here's a memo to the Peacock: times have changed. I can get results on my cell phone.

Or on KCBS.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bolt, Definitely

I'm interrupting a heated debate with a co-worker to write this: Usain Bolt's triple gold medal, triple world record performance is a bigger deal than Michael Phelps' 8 golds.

She hoots at the notion, but I am arguing that what Bolt just did, and the way he did it, trumps Phelps' epic effort.

Understand: I do not dismiss the magnitude of Phelps' accomplishment. But those who say it was bigger than Bolt's feat because he won 8 medals instead of 3 miss the point. Track athletes have fewer events in which to win medals than do swimmers (or gymnasts).

Phelps was good--but Bolt owned his competition. His win in the 200 was one for the ages. The Jamaican 4 x 100 relay broke the world record by 3 tenths of a second, which boggles the mind. If only he hadn't gone into early-celebration mode in the 100 meters...who knows? And he still set a world record!

Phelps was terrific in Beijing. I'm not sure we have the word yet for what Bolt did.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

No, It's Bolt


Read that again. A man just ran 200 metters in 19.30 seconds.

Even the guy whose record was broken, Michael Johnson, laughed at the craziness of it.

Look, I know Michael Phelps is a hell of a story. But be honest: has there been anything more thrilling at the Beijing Olympics than watching Usain Bolt run? I'm with Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle, who argues that Bolt is really the bigger story than Phelps.

And here's the kicker: the guy just turned 22. In a few days, he's set world records in both the 100 and 200 meters--and he could end up running the 400 some day.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Better Than Phelps

Nothing at all against Michael Phelps. His is a remarkable story, and he seems like a grounded young man who's keenly aware of the bubble in which he's lived in order to reach his Olympian heights.

But you keep Phelps. I'm going with Stephanie Brown Trafton as my Beijing Olympic hero.

If there are people left who embody the Olympic ideal, Stephanie is one of them. She's a Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo grad who jokes that her Olympic ambitions began when she watched Mary Lou Retton win gold at the Los Angeles Olympics--but because Stephanie grew to be 6'4" and 225 poiunds, gymnastics didn't really work out for her.

Trafton can't make a living throwing her disc. She has a job with an environmental consulting firm in Sacramento, where they let her work flexible hours so she can train and compete.

She made the 2004 Olympic team but came home from Athens without making the finals. This year, she grabbed the final spot on the U.S. team, then barely escaped the qualifying round to make the finals. While she waited in the pressure-packed Bird's Nest, she sang favorite gospel songs to herself to calm her nerves.

It may have been a tense scene, but it was not an unfamiliar one. Trafton had spent months working out in her garage at home, looking at a huge photo of the Olympic stadium taken from the perspective of the discus ring. She even hauled that poster to Beijing and tacked it up in her Olympic Village apartment.

Look, I know the pixie gymnasts and sleek swimmers (to say nothing of the barely-clad beach volleyballers) get all the TV attention. But Stephanie Brown Trafton is a big girl who came up big. Hats off to her.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For

Brett Favre apparently had a burning desire to play football again.

Let's see how that feels in, oh, September, when he fully realizes that he's now playing for the New York Jets. Not the defending Supre Bowl champ Giants, but the Jets, coming off a 4-12 season and with little hope of ascending into the AFC aristocracy.

Favre, of course, will get a big fat media wet kiss in the Big Apple. Newspapers like the New York Post are already fawning over Favre. The talk show lines are buzzing.

But let's say Favre fails to actually walk on water and the Jets get off to a slow start (a likelihood, given that two of their first three opponents are the Patriots and the Chargers). Then what?

Then, I'm guessing, that warm cozy feeling Favre felt for so many years in insular Green Bay will seem far, far away.

Monday, August 4, 2008

It Gets Weirder

As I write, we are about 24 hours from what will surely be one of the strangest spectacles in NFL history: the arrival of recently-unretired Brett Favre on the Green Bay Packers' practice field.

By all indications, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell went to extreme lengths to work something out between Favre and his once-and-current employers. Ordinarily, when a player decide to come out of retirement, a little paperwork gets shuffled and that's it. But this isn't ordinary.

Favre is a legend. Part of his enduring aura has to do with the fact that he always wore his heart on his sleeve, seemingly never more so than when he tearfully announced his retirement back in March. He's a competitor and a warrior, and we probably shouldn't be surprised that he gave in to that little voice telling him to return to the battlefield.

I have no problem with that. My issue is with the way he did it.

If Favre just wants to play football, that's cool. Plenty of teams would love to have him, but he's specifically shot down attempts by two NFL teams to acquire him (the Jets and the Bucs). Of course, neither of those teams is very good, and in playing for them, Favre would probably wind up taking a battering with little chance of success.

What Favre really wants, apparently, is to reset the clock. He wants the equivalent of a do-over with the Packers, an organization he has served admirably but one he has also tortured a bit with his vacillations.

Call me old-school, but decisions come with consequences. Favre retired. The Packers moved on. The fact that he'll be on the practice field should not necessarily be seen as a sign that he's really welcome.

Time waits for no one.