The Long Con

in Sports

All good things must come to an end. Bad things, too. For about a decade, I’ve been throwing my words into the wind here, but the time has come to move on, to get a fresh start. And that brings me to the topic of this farewell.

I love sports. I think I’ve made that clear enough over the years. And I’m not one of those guys that picks a favorite sport and laughs at the people that prefer another. No, I don’t play favorites. I’ve seen at least some good in every sport I’ve ever watched (except cricket, which is the only one to completely baffle me). But you never forget your first, and for me, that was baseball. Specifically, the closest thing I have to a hometown team: the Braves.

When I started this little rant section, they were in the last year of an epic run, a generation-long dynasty. Fourteen times in 15 years they’d won their division. (There were only 14 division winners in that span, as nobody counts the strike-shortened 1994 season.) So, since 1991, the Braves were winners. But I started watching them in 1990, when they were, to put it bluntly, awful. I didn’t care, then, because I was 6, and I saw the magic of watching grown men play the same game I had just started playing. They lost about two out of every three games they played that season, and I don’t think my Little League team was much better, but the hook was there.

Fast forward twenty-five years (has it really been that long?) and things are much different. The game of baseball, at the major-league level, is totally different, and that brings me to the problem. Not too long ago, a new movement started in baseball: Moneyball. The culprits were economists, who, not content with ruining the nation’s economy, turned their sights on its pastime. Starting in Oakland, this cancer has now spread to most of the country. The basic idea of Moneyball, from what I can tell, is to use analytics (of the same kind that caused the Great Recession in 2008) to make up nonsense statistics to justify trades and acquisitions.

Now, I have no problem with stats in baseball. Historically, it’s one of the few sports that welcomes them. But, before Moneyball, stats directly reflected performance. Batting average is a simple ratio of hits to at-bats. Earned run average? Nothing more than the runs a pitcher gives up every 9 innings. Even holds, which were created by “setup” pitchers to justify higher contracts, at least have some real-world explanation.

Moneyball stats, though, are different, almost ethereal in their nature. It takes a computer to figure out WAR and FIP and UZR. These stats aren’t intuitive. For anyone other than a GM, they’re not even useful. What’s worse, they’re taking away the magic of baseball. A couple of years ago, Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown, leading the league in batting average, RBI, and home runs. Nobody had done that in half a century. But all we heard from the pundits was how he didn’t deserve to be named MVP! Why? Because Mike Trout had a better WAR rating.

A few teams remained immune to the Moneyball scourge even after this, and the Braves were one. That ended last year. After a terrible season (that started with great promise), the GM was ousted, and a new front office was installed, full of Moneyballers. That, in and of itself, is not the problem. What the replacement, John Hart, has done since then…well, I wouldn’t be writing this if he hadn’t screwed up.

I’ll be the first to admit the Braves of 2014 needed a few adjustments to be better in 2015. But Hart has decided that, apparently, winning games in 2015 is a silly idea. Teams have rebuilt before, but this is a case of tearing down the building, setting fire to the remains, then salting the earth, just to make sure. Every player with any kind of talent is now gone. Jason Heyward: traded. Justin Upton: gone. Kris Medlin, Evan Gattis, Tommy La Stella? All out. And yesterday was the deepest cut of all: Craig Kimbrel, the best closer in the game traded just to get rid of the overpaid and underperforming B.J. (now calling himself Melvin) Upton. The last remaining “names”, like Freddie Freeman, will likely be gone before the trade deadline in July. (If they’re not asking for trades by then, I’ll be amazed.)

What did the team get in exchange? Mostly older players coming off of injuries, minor leaguers that probably won’t ever see the bigs–and will never match up to who’s been lost–and a few guys (like Carlos Quentin) who have already been released. Extreme Makeover doesn’t do this kind of rebuilding.

But this is all part of “the plan”, according to John Hart. And that plan is sinister indeed. The lease on Turner Field runs out after next year. Despite the fan-favorite ballpark being only 20 years old at that point, the team wanted a new one, and, as is common today, wanted the city of Atlanta to pay for it. The city, wisely, said no. So, instead of making a slight (and cheap) renovation to “the Ted”, the Braves instead decided they would move to somewhere near Marietta, who would be happy to put up hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on a new stadium.

Now, I can’t prove this, but my suspicion is that the so-called rebuild is related to this. Since Hart started his mad demolition project, he’s said all along that the plan is “to be competitive when the new ballpark opens in 2017.” (That was entirely possible building off the old team, especially as the NL East was fast becoming a three-team division, but I digress.) The faithful Atlanta fans have essentially been thrown under the bus, and my theory is that this is intentional. A rebuilding period coinciding with the two lame-duck years left at Turner Field? It might even make good business sense, but, as a fan, I can’t help but see this as a big middle finger extended in the general direction of downtown Atlanta. It’s just too convenient, especially given the way the MLB has tried to destroy the Braves since the days when they were owned by Ted Turner. (John Hart, by the way, was in the commissioner’s office not too long ago.) As a side benefit, manager Fredi Gonzalez, utterly despised by the Moneyball-loving pundits, will be sacked by the end of this season, if not sooner, shedding the last connection to the dynasty of my youth.

So, today’s Opening Day for baseball. But I won’t be watching. For the first time since 1990, I won’t even try to watch. It hurts to say it, but it’s the truth. It’s kind of poignant that this last betrayal of the Braves fan base happened on Easter Sunday, but I think I’d rather have thirty pieces of silver than Cameron Maybin in the outfield.

Atlanta’s Judas says it’s all part of the plan. But that plan has no room for the traditional fan, whether of the Braves or of baseball in general. He says his team will be bad this year and next, but that it’ll be worth it in the end. Looking at the roster, I don’t see how that’s possible. No, this is a return to the Braves of the 80s, even the 70s, when losing 100 games was a step up. And it’ll be like that for a long time. The plan is a failure from the beginning. There’s no way it couldn’t be. It comes from the same flawed thinking that destroyed our economy seven years ago. And look at last year’s World Series. The Giants and the Royals are two of the last teams to avoid the Moneyball plague, and they put on a great show.

“Don’t like it? Don’t watch it,” is what the pundits will say. Well, I won’t. Anyone that loves baseball should do the same. Don’t watch. Don’t go to the games, because John Hart has already said he doesn’t want you there. At least the Predators are making the playoffs, because the Braves won’t be anytime this decade, except by sheer luck.

Opening Day. And it’s Closing Day for On The Contrary. I’m not losing the contrarian spirit, but I want to channel my creative energies into something a bit more substantial. Prose Poetry Code is my new place. It’ll have fewer rants and more useful information, I promise. I hope to see you there, and under better circumstances.


Business As Usual

in Admin

Since 2005, I have been developing web sites, apps, and so on. Now, for the first time, I can say that I have done so professionally. Styles Construction is a local remodeling business based in the Chattanooga area (in exactly the same place where I live, in fact) that is seeking new business opportunities on the Internet, and I am proud to say that I am the developer and host of their site. More information to come later, but, for now, you can click over to there to find out about their services in home remodeling, repair, and renovation.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

in Sports

Even though my team lost, I’m more proud than ever to be a Braves fan tonight. For the Braves lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in tonight’s “first ever” NL Wild Card Game, by a final score of Braves 7, Cardinals 6. Wait a minute, you say. Well, the box score says 8-3 Cardinals, but that doesn’t show the runs the umpires gifted to St. Louis and took away from the Braves.

Don’t get me wrong: I love baseball. I’ve always loved baseball, for as long as I can remember (one of the oldest Christmas presents I can remember was a plastic bat and ball), and I’ve always been a Braves fan, even before 1991. But there are only a few times I’ve truly been proud to be a fan: the 1992 NLCS, where the Braves beat the Pirates on a play that is forever known as The Slide, banishing Pittsburgh to baseball mediocrity for a generation; 1995, when We Won It All, 1996, when a back-to-back championship was all but stolen by bad umpiring, and now, where Chipper Jones’ last shot at any sort of championship had the same result.

Most sports pundits will point to the dropped fly ball that was called an infield fly, even though it was no where near the infield, and the only infielder involved lost any notion of where the ball was. That call cost the Braves at least two runs, but there was another, earlier in the game. In the 4th inning, Andrelton Simmons was called out for interference after a bunt, when the pitcher’s throw to first hit him in the head and bounced into right field. With runners on the corners, this would have scored at least one run, probably two given that the Cardinals’ first baseman bobbled the ball in right.

Instead, Simmons was called out, and the runners were brought back to their starting points, in the first of many “letter of the law” calls. Strictly speaking, according to the rulebook, Simmons was interfering, since he was on the inside of the baseline. But that’s a call I can’t remember ever seeing made. It’s the baseball equivalent of the Tuck Rule, something that’s only called to make sure a favored team advances.

The infield fly call, then, only added insult to injury. And the fans showed their displeasure in the only way open to them: they threw everything they could grab onto the field. But, unlike the media reports, they didn’t “trash” the field, they merely added to the garbage that was already there, in the guys of six men wearing black. The only way this umpire crew could have been more biased was if they could somehow resurrect Eric Gregg and have him call balls and strikes. High strikes were consistently called for the Cardinals and against the Braves. It’s a travesty, and not because of the 20-minute trash cleanup delay (which, of course, didn’t remove the cause of the problem, merely the effects).

But this is not a one-time thing. Since becoming effectively a wholly-owned subsidiary of FOX, Major League Baseball has waged a war against the Braves. This might sound like the deluded ramblings of a fan disappointed in his teams’ loss, but hear me out. Before the FOX takeover, before Bud Selig became commissioner for life and ruined every tradition possible (the subject of another post), Atlanta was America. TBS showed Braves games to everyone in the country that had even basic cable, every home outside of a major market was a Braves home. Then FOX arrived, and decreed that local fans must watch local teams. Ted Turner, the wizard/stubborn mule that used to own the Braves (come back, Ted, we miss you!), wanted none of that, but his successors in the Atlanta front office, and at TBS, didn’t want to fight the money machine of FOX. So they gave in, and the Braves became a local team like 28 others in the majors. (The exception, of course, is the Yankees, which get a free pass in all of this because they are ESPN’s favorite team, and ESPN can compete with FOX in pure dollars.)

Because of Turner’s reluctance, the last few years have shown an obviously anti-Brave league. Broadcast rules that hamstring Braves telecasts (which caused the demise of Turner South), severely biased announcers on national FOX games [NB: in this sentence, I mistyped FOX as FIX, which seems appropriate.], and bizarre umpiring decisions, like Bill Hohn’s “picking from a lineup” ejection call. (For reference, Hohn was the home-plate umpire for a Braves game a couple of years ago. he made a horrible call, and some of the team started yelling at him for it. One particular comment angered him enough to eject someone, but he couldn’t tell who said it, so he said he would just go down the lineup card and pick one at random if the perpetrator didn’t come clean. Chipper finally owned up to the comment, if only to end what can only be considered a baseball hostage situation. The next Braves game Hohn called was so biased that everyone noticed.)

We are now seeing the fruits of FOX’s labor. In 2006, the Braves lost their division championship streak, and national sportswriters were joyous. The story of the collapse last year was almost totally ignored by ESPN, but FOX spread it far and wide. Now, the first time in a long time that fans everywhere could see the Braves on TBS, as they were meant to be, we get this. Announcer Joe Simpson said–under duress, I’m sure–that the fans were an embarrassment. No, Joe, the embarrassment was the call on the field. Come on, MLB, that’s why you have 6 umpires in playoff games instead of 4, to make the right calls, not the best. You just watched the NFL get berated for a month because of poor officiating, and now this?!

I’ll still be a Braves fan, but now, in a bitter twist of irony, I’m rooting for the Cardinals to win the World Series. Because I know that that win would be forever tainted. It would always bear the mark of its MLB-given giftwrap. I certainly won’t be watching any of the games, though. Hope you’re happy, FOX.

Recipe for…Success?

in Programming

Some seven months ago, I released PassMaker Mobile for Android, the first of what I hope to be many mobile apps. Since then, a lot has happened. Even as I was spending what seemed to be endless hours pouring through API docs and slaving over Java code, the world, my world, was growing darker. PassMaker was made, I’ll admit, in a fit of panic.Not panic over computer security, mind you, but over what was happening to my family.

On November 3 of last year, my mother received a phone call that no one ever wants. My grandfather had had a stroke. At age 90, this was, of course, a major family emergency. But the consequences of that emergency were not immediate at all. This was not a deadly stroke, but the complications arising from it (and from failures on the parts of many) turned a yearlong recovery process into a three-month nightmare.

That nightmare ending by descent into an even deeper despair on February 4 of this year, the day that my grandfather passed away. For a full quarter I, along with the 30 or so “close” family members (everyone descended from my grandparents, and all their families), put everything else on hold. Except, in my case, for a password-generating app that I threw together in a couple of weeks before Christmas.

Nevertheless, almost five more months have passed since that fateful February evening. Now, as we, as a family, are starting to crawl out of the mental wreckage, I have good news. The fruits of my labors are like a beacon of hope, a bastion of normalcy in a world upturned. And I want to share those fruits.

Thus, I give to you another app, called A to Z Recipes. It is, at its heart, an organizer, turning your Android tablet into a replacement for notebooks, index cards, and even cookbooks. It’s really not much more than a way to store recipes in a database, without having to do the work of setting up a database. It does have a few niceties, however, including a “flipbook” mode, which lets you flip through recipes with a swipe, similar to a real book. Also included are a number of search options, including tags. You can also attach images taken with your tablet’s camera; these can cover the whole dish or a single direction in the step-by-step section.

There’s still a lot left to go, though. I’m mainly releasing A to Z Recipes now because of increasing pressure from outside, and just the sheer need to do something. Still to come are a fancier interface, more options, and, naturally, support for sharing your recipes through social networking.

A to Z Recipes is available on the Google Play Store (no longer called the Android Market) for $1.99, meaning that it is my first paid app. However, the source is available under an open-source license, and you can find it linked on my profile at GitHub. My hope, of course, is that you will actually buy the app, since that does help me. But I would rather have “freeloading” users than no users at all, so I give you the option of downloading the source and building and installing it yourself.

Click the button for A to Z Recipes, and keep watching this space for more apps. Hopefully, they’ll be here sooner rather than later.

Android app on Google Play

The Future, For Better or Worse

in Programming

All you hear about these days, whether on tech sites, TV, or pretty much anywhere else, are tablets, Android, iPads, and the like. We just can’t escape. So, instead of trying to run away from the tablet tidal wave, let’s try to ride it out, like the surfing scene from Lucifer’s Hammer.

My company–such as it is-which I call Potter PC Services, will soon need a new name. For now, I’m using the name “PPCS Mobile” for the development of Android apps. The first app is called PassMaker Mobile, and it’s not very complicated. You download it, start it up, and it makes passwords. I made it because I can’t stand having to create a new password for every site, using more and more byzantine rules (must use capital letters, must have numbers, can’t use any dictionary words, needs X number of characters, etc.), and I figured that other people have the same feeling. It’s free, no cost, and open source as well.

(Of course, all these password rules really don’t help as much as site owners think, as XKCD so helpfully points out.)