Normative Narratives


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Monday Morning QB: March Madness Starts Early This Year

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=espn:9036126 (link to a video of the brawl between Mexico and Canada in the WBC)

The World Baseball Classic has been about as exciting as anyone could ask for up until this point. The Italian team has been the surprise story of the tournament, emerging from a tough division along with Team USA to make it to the single elimination games. The remaining 8 teams are:

USA, Italy, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Chinese Taipei, Netherlands, Cuba, and Japan.

This list includes some surprises and some obvious names. It was nice to see team USA advance past group play for the first time. The Netherlands may come as a surprise, but players from Curacao (a small island state near Venezuela) help bolster the team’s roster. The Dominican Republic boasts a powerhouse lineup and are many peoples’ favorite to win the whole tournament. Two-time defending champion Japan, whose roster includes a whopping ZERO MLB players, have no intention of letting that happen. There is lots of talent in this WBC, and it has been fun to see some of the non-MLB players getting a chance to shine on a global stage.

It has not been so much fun for everyone; some teams suffered frustrating eliminations. Team Venezuela was expected to go far in this tournament, but could not make it out of a difficult division featuring the D.R. and P.R. Teams Canada and Mexico showed their frustration in the form of a bench clearing brawl (although Canada was not yet eliminated at that point). The Canadian team, up 9-3 in the 9th inning, bunted to get a runner on base (aggregate score is a tie-breaker for group play in the WBC). This prompted Mexican 3B Luis Cruz to tell his pitcher to intentionally hit the next Canadian batter. After several failed attempts, the batter (Rene Tosoni) was hit, and a bench clearing brawl ensued.

It is unfortunate that tempers had to boil over, as the WBC is supposed to be about different countries coming together under the umbrella of Baseball, but it just goes to show you how seriously players take this tournament. The action will only get more intense, as games are now single elimination (although I wouldn’t expect anymore brawls; you want that, go watch any Hockey game).

Congrats to Tiger Woods, whose dominant performance at Doral earned him his 17th World Golf Championship Title. Tiger has paid enough for his transgressions; it is good for him and the game of golf to see him return to championship form.

Congrats to Bernard Hopkins, who over the weekend broke his own record to become the oldest Boxing title holder at 48 years old. “On Saturday, Hopkins beat 30-year-old Tavoris Cloud for the IBF light heavyweight championship.”

Joe Flacco backed Anquan Boldin’s assertion that he will not take a pay cut to stay on the Ravens next year. Joe should really use some of that money he got to hire himself a math tutor, or at least have someone explain how the salary cap works. There was arguably no other player who was more important to Joe Flacco’s playoff success than Boldin, who “in the playoffs, caught 22 passes for 380 yards receiving (95 yards per game) and four touchdowns.” Flacco should put his money where his mouth is, and agree to shave a few million dollars of his record-setting contract in order to bring back the guy who most helped him win the Super Bowl and secure said contract. Boldin has been the Raven’s leading receiver since he came to the team from Arizona three years ago.

Flacco owes much of his success to Boldin, and a small restructure would allow Boldin to stay on the team (Boldin has stated he does not want a pay raise, but he will not take a pay cut either):

“Boldin told USA Today on Saturday he’s unwilling to slash his salary in order to stay with the team, citing “principles.”

“At no point, no matter how well I played, would I come back to the table and say, ‘I need more money.’ The contract that I signed was the contract that I intended to play out,” he told USA Today.”

I believe Boldin is right here, but Flacco “backing him” is a bit of a joke unless he is willing to structure his deal in a way that will allow the Ravens to keep Boldin. In a salary cap league, one man’s record contract is (potentially) coming out of his teammate’s pocket. A great WR can make a QB better, and Boldin’s ability to go up and get the ball has undoubtedly made Flacco better.

Two weeks ago I said that Flacco’s legacy may be determined by how flexible he is with his contract. Signing such a large deal puts a considerable amount of responsibility on Flacco to allow the Ravens the salary cap flexibility needed to ensure they can continue to surround him with championship caliber talent. I never would’ve thought such an opportunity would present itself so soon, but this is an opportunity for Flacco to prove to the city of Baltimore that money is not everything, and that winning is what is most important to Flacco (just to be clear, this would be a very small portion of Flacco’s 6 year 120.9 million dollar contract, as Boldin was only set to make $6 million next year before he was asked to restructure his deal).  

Talk is cheap Flacco. While it is nice to back your WR, it’s time to put your money (which we all know you now have more of than you could ever need) where your mouth is.

Update: It appears that Boldin has been traded to the 49ers for a 6th round pick (once he passes a physical). It’s amazing to me that the team couldn’t figure out a way to keep it’s most consistent weapon following it’s Super Bowl victory and record-setting contract for Joe Flacco, but there you have it. As former teammate and now undisputed No. 1 Ravens WR Torrey Smith put it upon learning of the trade, “This business is BS at times,”Enhanced by Zemanta.

The Ravens lost a big piece in Boldin. Boldin was not the most physically gifted WR at this point in his career, but he was a strong No. 2 WR with exceptional hands who always played bigger than he actually was. The Ravens have a True No. 1 WR in Torrey Smith, but nothing certain after that. Will they draft someone or sign a free agent? Do they believe the explosive Jacoby Jones is ready to make the next step as an every-down WR?

This could end up being a big mistake by the Ravens (I think it is), time will tell.


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Monday Morning QB: The World Baseball Classic and Professional Sports as a Development Tool

https://i0.wp.com/sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com/sf/images/ballpark/y2012/wbc_300.jpg

It seems that 200 MLB players will be participating in the World Baseball Classic this March. For those of you who do not know, the WBC is a global baseball tournament held every 3 years in March–this March will be the third such tournament. You may expect the Americans to dominate on the global stage, as baseball is the “American Pastime”, but you would be wrong. Japan has won both of the two World Baseball Classics so far, the U.S. has never even made it to the finals (and only made it to the semi-finals once).

There are a number of reasons for the lack of dominance by the U.S. For one, lots of the best MLB players come from Latin America (the Dominican Republic specifically), so the MLB talent does not favor the U.S. as much as it may have in the past (when baseball was dominated by white Americans). This map from 2011 is a pretty recent visualization of how baseball has become more global in recent years, if we had an updated map for 2013 you would expect to see even more international players.

There is also the argument that “Team America does not take the WBC seriously”. Many players from MLB rosters are barred from playing in the WBC by their team (older guys, pitchers, players coming off injury traditionally do not play in the WBC). This affects the rosters for all the clubs, but disproportionately the American team as it has the vast majority of MLB players. Also, the WBC runs parallel to spring training in America; many MLB players are just getting into playing shape and use the WBC as an opportunity to shake the rust off, as opposed to some international players whose seasons may be in “full swing” (no pun intended).

There is also the argument that MLB players will not help you win this competition. Japan, the only team to win the WBC, has never had many MLB players on their roster. This year, Japan will look to defend its WBC title with zero MLB players, that should be fun to watch. With MLB players just getting warmed up, other teams have a much better chance at competing in the WBC then one may expect.

Sports can be a powerful development tool for undeveloped countries.Professional sports bring to the table billion dollar profit margins that can go an even longer way in a poor developing country than they could in the U.S. These programs are a true win-win for professional sports leagues and developing nations. The professional sports leagues can expand their markets to new regions, and the process of discovering talented new players is essential for the future profitability of any sport.

The benefits to the developing country are not what one may think. It is natural to think of the sport star who signed a big contract giving back to his home country, and for this most part this does happen. However, these benefits are small compared to the more “organic” process of economic development. By linking sports programs to educational and nutritional programs, even those who do not go on to become professional sports stars will be helped in achieving their potential. The social capital and camaraderie learned in sports is a more abstract advantage than schooling and nutritional guidance (human capital), but are nonetheless important skills for young people to learn.

Participating in these sports development programs are not only fun for kids, but they teach them valuable life skills. Instead of selling drugs, joining militias, or working as poor child laborers, these children learn marketable skills and are given the opportunity to realize their full potential (something we in the developed world often take for granted). The next great MLB player could come from one of these programs, but so could the next Nobel Prize Laureate. The benefits from these “investments” will take time to pay dividends, but the return on these investments could be absurdly large for both professional sports leagues and developing countries. These programs are a true example of a win-win relationship, and there is a strong argument for “scaling-up” these programs.
Baseballs development initiatives tend to be in Latin America and Asia, where baseball is popular. Comparable programs exist for other major sports as well. Any NBA fan could tell you about “NBA Cares“, where star players help out in poorer communities around the U.S.. Less well known is the SEEDS program, which supports similar programs in developing countries (currently operations are based in Senegal, but the organization has an ambitious goal to expand to other countries in the future).

Certain sports naturally fit better in different countries. Asia and Latin America have a history of baseball. Also due to the fact that these regions are generally more developed than Sub-Saharan Africa, the cost of playing baseball is a bit more achievable (and is subsidized in certain cases by MLB). In Africa, basketball and soccer are more popular, as all you need to play these sports is a ball and an arena. Different sports for different folks, but they all have the same potential for spurring economic development and raising the standard of living.

Baseball seems to be making inroads in the African market as well. Uganda became the first African team to play in and win a Little League World Series game last year after missionaries brought baseball to Uganda in the 1990s. Some of the best athletes in the world are born in Africa, I would not be surprised to see MLB take further steps in promoting it’s sport in Africa in the coming years / decades.  South America is another potential untapped growth region for MLB to consider.

So while you’re enjoying the WBC, or the Olympics or World Cup in the future, know that you are not only enjoying sports, that you are not only displaying national pride, but that you are also (indirectly) advocating the use of sports as a poverty reduction tool. All that socially constructive behavior by sitting on your couch at home, not too shabby!!

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