Apr 172009

I’m here in San Francisco visiting a friend. He’s an northeastern transplant and as such, he’s pretty sports-oriented like many northeasterns. He confirmed a suspicion of mine (and many other eastern people) that sports just isn’t as huge a part of the culture here as it is on the right side of the country.

Now there’s no doubt that there are sports-mad people on the left coast but by and large, it seems as though the sporting-life isn’t as integral. He told me that not once during football season did someone give him a call to ask what he was doing for the games on Sunday. I would get email chains on a weekly basis asking what I was doing for the Steelers game, do folks want to meet at a bar or someone’s place to watch, who’s lucky enough to be going to a game, etc.

AT&T Park in San Francisco

AT&T Park in San Francisco

Some of it has to be climate-affected. During a northeastern winter, what better thing is there to do than escape the cold and watch some sports or go to a movie. But if it’s still nice enough to go for a hike, why not spend Sunday roaming the hills of SF. People go to wine tastings or art galleries or walk around the parks on a nice Saturday or Sunday afternoon. I enjoy those activities in the summer and Oreo loves going to the parks but I’m probably more likely to want to go to a Pirates game at PNC Park on a Sunday afternoon than the average Bay Area citizen is to go to a Giants game.

Please understand that I’m not making a value judgment here. If there’s one thing that annoys me about people who are stridently west coast or east coast, it’s the value judgments they place on their way of life. I don’t give a flying frak if you prefer wine tastings to football or hockey to hiking. I’m just pointing out a difference. Speaking of which, my northeastern friend and I are going to an SF Giants game at AT&T Park today. Go Sports!

Mar 292009

By and large, I consider myself to be a fortunate sports fan. My teams generally do well. Two Superbowl titles, 2 Stanley Cups, 7 Sweet Sixteens, 1 Elite Eight, 1 Champions League, 1 FA Cup, Curtis Martin, Larry Fitzgerald, many others. And someday the Pirates will get to .500 and all of Pittsburgh will go nuts.

I think a reasonable standard of expectation for a fan is for one’s teams to be in the hunt, in any given year. Nothing more, nothing less. All the crazies who expect a title every single season can stay in Lexington or Tuscaloosa or the Bronx.

In any given year, I expect that the Steelers will win 10+ games and have a shot at the Superbowl. I expect the Penguins to make the NHL playoffs and have a shot at the Stanley Cup. I expect that Pitt basketball will make the Field of 65 and have a shot to make a run to the Final Four. I expect Liverpool FC to contend for the Premiership, Champions League, and/or FA Cup titles. Eventually, I would like to expect that Pitt football will win 8-9 games in most years and once every few years when the pieces fall into place, they should contend for a national title.

Pitt vs Villanova

But even with what I believe are reasonable expectations, you inevitably get heart-breaking losses. I don’t have to tell you which loss I’m “mourning” today. I would have to say that Pitt’s loss to Villanova ranks second only to Francisco Cabrera’s single for Atlanta vs the Pirates in the 1992 NLCS. Even the Penguins recovered from David Volek. The Pirates have never recovered from that loss.

Pitt basketball is a strong program and they’ll rebound, rebuild and contend again. I know we had a successful season. I’m proud of how they battled and banged with the big boys. We’ll be back. I expect it.

Mar 262009

I want a salary cap and comprehensive revenue sharing in baseball. It’s the only way to ensure a proper competitive balance in the sport. It’s the only hope a small market team, such as my Pirates, have for contending on a regular basis. Every game that the NY Yankees or the Boston Red Sox play make this point even more painfully clear to me.

But the naysayers will point out that other small market teams have contended and even won the World Series. True though that may be, it hides the ugly reality that a well-run small market team (such as the Minnesota Twins or Oakland Athletics, NOT the Pirates) can only compete for a couple years in a given cycle. They will build a team, contend for a time, maybe even reach/win a World Series and then watch as their best and brightest leave for the big money spenders, such as New York, Chicago or Boston. Does anyone remember that Manny Ramirez began his career with the Cleveland Indians? Talk about the model small market franchise. The Indians drafted well, managed their payroll, tried to sign their stars to manageable contracts before their hit arbitration or free agency. They made the World Series and then went kerplunk!

World Series Trophy

A salary cap does NOT guarantee that every team will contend. But it does provide cost certainty such that any team, big market or small, will have a shot to retain its hard-earned, home-grown talent when the big money comes calling (without having to revert to the Reserve Clause).

In the NFL’s infancy, New York Giants owner Wellington Mara decided to give up what could have become a Yankees’ sized advantage in monies in favor of comprehensive revenue sharing. Later, the NFL adopted a salary cap that gives cost certainty to all teams. Today, Ben Roethlisberger is in the midst of a $102 million contract, Troy Polamalu is one of the highest paid players at his position and a team like the Washington Redskins is spending itself into oblivion. Well-run teams like the big market New York Giants or the medium market Pittsburgh Steelers continue to thrive by building rather than poaching.

If MLB did institute a salary cap, perhaps the Pirates would continue to lose; that wouldn’t surprise me one bit. But I think Wellington Mara would be pleased with the idea that well-run, well-built baseball teams would be afforded the opportunity to prosper for many, many years, not just 2-3 years.