Why Jeter is an all time great, Kershaw should be NL MVP…and other baseball thoughts

So the 162-game marathon of the baseball regular season is over for another year and it will be remembered as Derek Jeter’s last. Was anyone surprised his last AB at Yankee Stadium was a walk-off hit? Not me. Some things are just meant to be. But inevitably in sport these days a backlash occurs. And in Jeter’s case it came from Keith Olbermann of ESPN who claims that Jeter is not that great. Sorry anyone who has the sixth highest number of hits of all time, plus the most hits and games for the most successful franchise in baseball history has to be great – and add to that he was a perfect gentleman and a credit to the sport. That is important because when he made his debut in 1995 baseball was in the doldrums after the shambles of the 1994-5 strike and needed an image boost. He’s not the greatest Yankee of all time – that is still Babe Ruth who changed the whole way the game was played – but to say he’s not great is ridiculous. Olbermann is on firmer ground when he attacks the season long “Jeter fest” his retirement has brought but that is the media and MLB’s fault and not Jeter’s. And no one complained when Mariano Rivera went through the same retirement hoopla last year. Jeter might be past his best but I would still hate to be the 2015 Yankees shortstop. The first time “E6” is written on a scorecard in the Bronx next year one suspects the poor guy will be reminded that he is not Derek Jeter. I would also just like to say thanks to Paul Konerko and Bobby Abreu who are two very good players whose retirements went under the radar because of the tributes to Jeter.
So with the regular season ending, we think of the MVP awards. A lot of experts on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” seem to think a pitcher shouldn’t be MVP because they have their own award namely the Cy Young . Yet 24 pitchers have won the MVP and two rookies have been MVP in the same year they were Rookie of the year – Fred Lynn in 1975 and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001 – and no one said that was wrong or that is should stop Mike Trout from being considered for MVP in 2012 so that argument is false. It is true that position players play every day and starting pitchers only every five days but if one of the latter has an exceptional season he should be considered. And Kershaw’s season was exceptional. You want proof? Johnny Cueto and Adam Wainwright both won 20 games. In any other season there would be a big debate over which one of them would win the NL Cy Young. They have as much chance of winning it as I have. Why? Kershaw. By winning 21 out of 27 starts he has done something no pitcher has gone since 1880. Counting two games the Dodgers won when Kershaw had no decisions their win rate is .852(23-4) when he pitches…and .526(71-64) when he doesn’t. That is an MVP season. His only rival is Andrew McCutchen but while his season was a repeat of his 2013 Kershaw was outstanding. The Dodgers fans were right when during his last start they chanted “MVP”.
And so on to the post season. The good thing about this post season is there is no outstanding team this year and anyone of the ten teams in the post season can win the world Series. So many questions. I’ll be fascinated to see how the Angels’ young star Mike Trout fares in his first post season. He’s arguably the best player in MLB today but he has yet to be tested in the post season where there are no rubbish fifth starters to feast on and the pressure is greater. On the other side of the scale tonight is a big night for Adam Dunn of the As who plays his first post season game after 14 years 2001 regular season games and 462 home runs – to say nothing of the Kansas City Royals for whom tonight is their first post season game since 1985.
But two people who are under pressure this post season are Jon Lester and Brad Assmus. First Lester. Ever since the As traded for him – trading their best hitter Yoenis Cespedes in the process – the As offense collapsed. Their second half win percentage (.433) is the worst of any post season team in MLB history and but for the second wild card we’d be comparing the As to the 2011 Red Sox and the 2007 Mets for September collapses. But they are still in the hunt. And this is the game they brought Lester to Oakland for. A must win post season game. The pressure is huge. Oh and the other team’s starting pitcher is known as “Big Game James”. Both offences are poor and this game could be 1-0 either way. The margin for error could be nil. And if the As lose Oakland fans will think “why did we trade for this guy and lose Cespedes?” No pressure Jon..
But the man I would not swap places with is Assmus. You are a rookie manager. Its Game one of the postseason. Who do you put on the mound? Your choice is between Justin Verlander (Cy Young winner), David Price (Cy Young winner) and Max Scherzer (the reigning Cy Young winner). Its like being a kid in a sweet shop. Which one do you pick? And if the one who you do pick gets roughed up by the home run happy Os every one will use hindsight and say you picked the wrong one! I would NOT like to be Mr assmus.
Still I think it will be a happy ending for Assmus. Pre season I tipped the Tigers and the Dodgers to be in the World Series and the winner to be whatever League won the All-Star Game. They are both in the post season. I do not change horses mid race. Still the question remains. Who will be 2014’s David Freese – or 2014’s Bill Bucknor? There’s only one way to find out….

Ban sexist NFL from the UK

It is fair to say it has not ben a good couple of weeks for America’s National Football League (NFL). Four different players – Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Roy McDonald and Jonathan Dwyer – face allegations of domestic abuse and a fifth – Adrian Peterson – faces allegations of hitting a four-year-old child. Some might say that is just an unlucky coincidence but they would be wrong. Since current NFL commissioner Roger Goodell came into office in September 2006 there have been 56 cases of domestic abuse in the NFL. And what tough punishments have been dished out by Goodell in that time?. Answer: The 56 cases have been hit with a ban of 13 games between them. This does not include Rice who has been suspended indefinitely. One would think Goodell doesn’t give a toss about domestic violence but it gets worse. A video was released earlier this month of Rice abusing his wife his wife in an elevator. It has been revealed that this video was sent to the NFL in April – which if true suggests a cover up. Also Bill Simmons has been suspended from ESPN for calling Goodell ” a liar” Question: Why has ESPN suspended him? If what he said is not true Goodell could sue him. I just think the establishment are trying to turn the US into North Korea by not allowing criticism of Goodell. But as it is unlikely Goodell will read this I can say that Roger Goodell is a sexist scumbag who should be sacked from his £23.6 million a year job and replaced by Condoleezza Rice with the latter given a mandate to do to the NFL what Margaret Thatcher did to 1970s Britain – go through it like a dose of salts and impose sweeping changes.
For the fact is the whole culture of American football is sexist. Any sport that forces women to play it in underwear – the Legends Football League*(LFL) and forces its cheerleaders to take the “jiggle test” as members of the Buffalo Jills (yuck!) cheerleading squad have said – has serious problems. And the sport is an obstacle to gender equality in another way. This is because of the “money-eating monster” that is college football. Colleges are supposed to provide equal opportunities for women in sport under Title IX legislation. But as Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano point out (in “Playing With the Boys page 247) most US colleges don’t spend as much on all women’s sport combined as they do on football. As they further point out men are victims of this too. Colleges cut minority male sports and blame it on Title IX whereas the fact is as the book points out “They should blame football”. Quite why the NFL should have federal funding for what is in effect their minor leagues is a mystery. The law should insist that all colleges should spend the same money on women’s sport as they do on men’s. And if that forces college football to face a dose of George Osbourne style austerity – or even better forces its abolition – then so be it.
As a Brit what really concerns me is that the NFL also pollutes my own country. There is a NFL match in London tomorrow – Oakland v Miami – and two others during the season. There is even talk of an NFL franchise coming to London. That is totally unacceptable. We have more than enough problems with sexism in our own sport without importing an even more sexist sport from abroad. And if that is not bad enough the LFL is coming to Manchester next year. What is the UK Government doing about this? They should be telling the NFL that unless it cleans up its act – by sacking Goodell and introducing a minimum five-year ban for domestic violence as well as closing down the LFL which should not be allowed to exist at all never mind come to the UK – it will not be allowed to stage games here or even be on UK TV. (any UK fan who wants to watch it could still watch it online). The NFL is wallowing in a pile of sexist sewage. Until it cleans itself up it should have no place in the UK or on UK TV screens.
*This League used to be called the “Lingerie Football League” which is a truer reflection of what it is. it probably changed its name to try to con people.

Scotland votes “No”. What should happen next?

So Scotland voted “No” after all. And as I thought would happen all along by a bigger margin than the polls were suggesting – by 55% to 45%(I should at this point congratulate Peter Kellner and his polling company You Gov who after the polls closed but before the result, predicted a 54 to 46 margin which was almost spot on). Alex Salmond has resigned. David Cameron, Ed Miliband Nick Clegg and the UK Queen are sleeping a lot easier. But what happens next?
One thing is clear. Whatever happens now the Westminster establishment MUST deliver the extra powers for Scotland that former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised during the campaign. In 1979 during another Scottish referendum, another former UK PM – Sir Alec Douglas-Home – promised if the Scots rejected Labour’s devolution proposals and the Tories won that year’s General Election the Scots would get better devolution – which although both events happened – never materialised. If the UK establishment don’t keep their word this time the union could be in deep trouble and we could end up like Quebec doing this all over again in 15 years time – which no one outside the SNP wants.
However they shouldn’t be in this position as they should never have made these promises in the first place. They were made in a blind sate of panic over one poll on September 6th which put “Yes” 2% up (the only poll that did so). And personally I don’t think the Scottish Parliament needs more powers. Except one.
Although I voted “No” I had friends who voted “Yes” (don’t worry we haven’t fallen out). They hate Alex Salmond and have never voted SNP in their lives. So why did they vote “Yes”? Two words. The Tories. They told me “We don’t want a Tory Government in Scotland again and we’re voting for independence to ensure that does not happen”. So I started thinking “How can we stay in the Union and avoid Tory Governments”? And then it hit me. Give the Scottish Parliament the power of veto. Every bit of legislation passed by a UK Government has to be passed by the Scottish Parliament too. The Tories can’t hurt us unless OUR Parliament allows us to. Obviously this can’t just apply to Scotland so the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies would have this power too as would a new English Parliament which in my opinion is now needed to get rid of the unfair anomaly that is the West Lothian Question*. This English Parliament would replace the House of Lords – the UK’s unelected second chamber – which everybody agrees is an anachronism but we’ve been trying to reform it since 1968 with very little agreement so why not just get rid of it and replace it with four second chambers? All four National Parliaments would have the power the Scottish Parliament currently has plus the power of veto over all UK legislation except the budget defence and foreign affairs. If say the English and Northern Irish parliaments passed a bill but the Scottish and Welsh did not the law would just apply to England and Northern Ireland
This would have another advantage. A lot of people complain about the “elected dictatorship” – an oxymoron which actually means that a Government with a House Of Commons majority is able to do what it wants. But if you gave the four national parliaments the power of veto that removes the elected dictatorship because a Government has to get its legislation through every one if it wants its policies to become law al over the UK. it brings into the system the American system of “checks and balances” to stop a mighty executive from doing what it wants. You would in effect end up with “The United States of Britain”. It has to be a fairer system than what we have now.
I should also mention that the turn out at the referendum was an astonishing 85% – last seen in UK elections in the 1950s – proof that the referendum was on the whole good for Scotland as it got people talking about politics again. The challenge for the parties here is to sustain this interest. Secondly I would like to pay tribute to Alex Salmond. I might not agree with his views but we would not have had this referendum without him. He turned the SNP from a rabble into a party of Government. Those people who voted “Yes” should remember he gave them the chance to be able to do so. His successor as First Minister and SNP leader – probably Nicola Sturgeon – has a hard act to follow.
*The West Lothian question is named after the constituency of the Labour MP Tam Dalyell who first raised it. He said it was unfair that he as the MP for West Lothian could vote on English affairs but the MP for West Bromwich could not vote on Scottish affairs. The Labour Party to its shame has ignored this anomaly. It has to be got rid of otherwise it will be English not Scottish nationalism which will be a threat to the unity of the UK.

No Turning Back…

At 11.07 am today I voted in the Scottish independence referendum. I voted No. There is no turning back. But I’ve learned a lesson. Don’t reveal how you are going to vote too early. Because had the referendum been yesterday I would have voted Yes in a fit of pique.
The reason is I am sick to death of some people in England. I read the Daily Telegraph. A lot of writers to their letters page said that the rest of the UK should have voted on Scottish in dependence. Why? This is a matter for the people of Scotland alone. If say the majority of Scots had voted “Yes” but the rest of the UK had voted “No” the SNP – who are paranoid moaners at the best of times – would have been moaning even more than usual. And the point is I can’t think of an independence referendum where it was NOTdecided by the people of the part that wanted to break away. From Kosovo to Quebec it has been the people of the part that wanted to break away that decided not the greater whole. Why should the UK be any different?.
Secondly a lot of Telegraph readers (and the paper itself in today’s editorial) have been complaining about the fact that if a simple majority of Scots vote “Yes” independence will happen. Some want to make it say two-thirds of the vote should be for “Yes” for independence to happen. They don’t realise that causes more trouble than its worth.
Two examples prove this. In 1979 there was a referendum on wither there should be a Scottish Parliament. The UK Government at the time had no majority so it was forced to accept a clause by a rebel MP George Cunningham that 40% of the total electorate had to vote “Yes” for the parliament to happen. That meant dead people who had died since the electoral register had been compiled would count as “No” voters. As SNP MP Douglas Henderson pointed out if that rule had applied to post war UK General elections the country would never have had a government (Seasons In The Sun, Dominic Sandbrook, page 525). As it turned out, 51.6% of those who turned out voted “Yes” but that was only 32.6% of the electorate so the parliament never happened causing resentment to this day (the Scottish Parliament finally happened in 1997). In another context the former editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly Tim de Lisle was spot on. After a blocking minority of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) members had voted against admitting women members in 1998 (the vote was 55.7 “Yes” and 46.3% “No” but the motion needed a two-thirds majority*) he wrote in an editorial (October 1998) that “the only majority that works is a simple one. Otherwise you are likely to get the few dictating to the many”. A majority “Yes” vote that was stymied by an artificial barrier would be a disaster. It would fuel resentment and the Scots would not accept it. A repeat of 1979 can’t happen.
To my mind these people have no trust in the people of Scotland to do the right thing. I was so angry yesterday I snapped and said “F*** them I’m voting “Yes”. But I never wanted independence and realised I was being childish. The people down South should trust the Scottish people. I suspect the polls – that are predicting a “No” win by 51-49 – will be proved wrong and “No” will win by a bigger margin than that. Today is the day for the silent majority.
But the result of the referendum will not be the end but the beginning. On Saturday I will write about what should happen next – depending of course on how we have voted today.
* Later in 1998 there was another ballot on the issue. This time the two-thirds threshold was reached and women became eligible for MCC membership.

A couple of lessons we’ve learned from the Pistorius trial

So Oscar Pistorius has learned his fate. After a trial that seemed to go on forever, he has been found not guilty of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp but guilty of culpable homicide (manslaughter) by judge Thokozle Masipa. All that is left now is for him to be sentenced – which will happen on October 13th. He could get fifteen years. he could be let off with a fine. In my opinion, anything less than 10 years is unacceptable. He killed another human being. End of story.
There are a couple of lessons that the legal systems in England and Scotland* can learn from the Pistorius trial however. The first one is that the jury system is not fit for purpose. As mentioned above it was a judge that decided Pistorius’ guilt or innocence (the fact that the judge was a black woman and she was deciding the fate of a white Afrikaner can be seen as part of Nelson Mandela’s legacy). I suspect a jury would have found Pistorius not guilty as they would have been starstruck by the Olympian. Besides why should non experts decide a human being’s fate? If your car breaks down you go to a qualified mechanic. if you’re ill you go to a doctor. If you’re in debt you go to a bank manager. All experts in their field. And yet to find out if a person is guilty of a serious offence you take people at random off an electoral register who might (or might not) understand law. An example of how this can go wrong was seen last year in the case of Vicky Pryce, the ex-wife of former UK Cabinet minister and MP Chris Huhne. Her first trial collapsed because the jury could not understand the facts meaning a retrial was needed – a waste of taxpayers money which would not have happened had there been a judge deciding her fate. Another problem is coercion. If you are selected for jury duty you have to turn up. That means you will have people who don’t want to be there. I know. I was on a jury once**. I reckon two-thirds of us (myself included) did not want to be there. I suspect that must affect your behaviour when you are there. The jury system has lasted 800 years. It is an anachronism. Time for a change.
The Pistorius trial was televised. Last night on Sky News’ “Week Review” British journalists Kevin Maguire and Isabel Hardman both said court cases in the UK should be televised. They are wrong. In fact they are dangerously wrong. The fact that the Pistorius trial was televised turned the killing of an innocent young woman into a global soap opera which is totally unacceptable. Besides think of the witnesses. A lot of witnesses in the Pistorius trial said they were overwhelmed by being on television (even though they had the option not to allow their faces to be shown. Most chose not to). A court is scary enough as it is. In my time as a juror I found the court frightening and I was just watching and listening. And what of the victims? What if Reeva Steenkamp had been injured and not killed? Should she have to go through the ordeal of giving evidence on TV just to satisfy the lust of a celebrity obsessed culture? In my opinion, no. Just because the public are interested does not mean there is a public interest defence for showing trials on TV. Some things are too important to be turned into showbiz. Court cases are among these things. The only court cases on TV should be fictional.
Finally some people have said if Pistorius gets off with a fine he should be allowed to run again. NO. Sport has enough problems with its treatment of women as it is. A convicted rapist might be allowed to play football next year when he is out of prison. Wife beater Ray Rice was only banned from American football when video evidence emerged showing how serious his offence was. To allow someone who killed a woman to continue his athletic career would only make sport look like an industry where you can do what you want to women and still be welcomed back to the fold. Not good enough.
*Although the UK is still together (for a few days at least!) the Scottish legal system has always been separate from the rest of the UK. One example. In Scotland a jury has 15 members. In the rest of the UK there are only 12 jury members.
**The law does not allow me to say anything about the case.

FIFA is so arrogant it even ignores its own rules

We all know FIFA is racist, sexist, homophobic, arrogant and has contempt for the law. It is a bit of a shock to discover they don’t even have respect for their own rules but a new story confirms this.
The excellent British magazine World Soccer (although judging by its content it should be called World Men’sSoccer but that is a different story)has an interesting article in its September issue (pages 36-38) that shows UEFA and FIFA are ignoring their own rules. it will surprise no one to learn it is to do with the 2018 World Cup hosts Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Earlier this year Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of the Crimea. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly passed a resolution upholding the territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea, and that Russia’s annexation “has no validity”. This did not have anything to do with football until July when three Crimean teams were moved from the Ukrainian League and entered into the Russian League instead. The three teams were from Simferopol, Sevastopol and Yalta. The point being that UEFA rules do not allow teams from one country to play in another country’s League at all, while FIFA rules allow it if both the FAs agree* – which considering Ukraine (and the UN) consider Crimea as still part of Ukraine is not going to happen. The punishment for breaking this rule should be suspension of the federation concerned. In other words Russia should be thrown out of the Euro 2016 qualifiers and Russian clubs should be banned from the Champions League and the Europa League. Russia should even be threatened with losing the right to host the 2018 World Cup.
So what tough punishment have Russia been hit with for stealing three of another country’s football teams? None. Zilch. Sweet FA. UEFA say they will wait until they get advice from the UN. But the UN resolution on Crimea (see above) shows their point of view. FIFA won’t do anything until UEFA does. A cynic might say the football authorities want to cosy up to Putin rather than move the 2018 World Cup to a democracy. FIFA general secretary Jerone Valcke gave himself away by saying “less democracy is sometimes better for organising a World Cup”. As for UEFA the fact that the Champions League is sponsored by a Russian gas giant – Gazprom – has nothing to do with them not wanting Russian clubs banned from the Champions League. And if you believe that you believe in the tooth fairy.
All this proves is that until governments force football to obey the law FIFA – and football – will do what it wants. Its one thing getting an exemption from a law you don’t like – like the UK’s 1975 Sex Discrimination Act – it is quite another to ignore your own rules to suit one country while expecting everyone else to obey them. In my opinion the English FA – and every FA in the world – should just ignore any FIFA rule they don’t like. After all if FIFA let Russia off they need to let every one else off. But that is what dictators do – and Sepp Blatter is one – they change the rules to suit themselves. The governments of the world must order their FAs to leave FIFA – thus consigning Blatter’s arrogant two-faced dictatorship – that doesn’t even enforce its own laws – into oblivion.
*Which is how Cardiff City and Swansea City – both Welsh clubs – can play in the English League to quote one example.

If Scotland votes “Yes” blame the bedroom tax

There is an episode of “The Simpsons” (9F01 “Two Cars In Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish”) where Mr Burns runs for governor. His spin doctors tell him “there is a burning issue that we need to neutralise”. He thinks he has – but he hasn’t and it comes back to haunt him, sinking his campaign for governor. My fear is that this could happen in the Scottish independence referendum.
Since I last posted on this issue two events have happened. First the campaign has got nasty – pro union Labour MP Jim Murphy has been pelted with eggs and branded a “Traitor” and a “Quisling” while former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray has said “it is not possible to be a decent person and vote no” – which is a disgraceful smear which in my opinion should cost this guy whatever job he is doing now – while secondly the polls have tightened with one poll for YouGov giving the “No” side just 6% ahead – down from 22% – meaning a 3.5 % swing would lead to the unthinkable – the break up of Britain. So how did we get to this position when the “Yes” side’s arguments are full of holes?
There is one big reason for this. Welfare reform – and especially – the “bedroom tax”*- which is hated in Scotland. Alex Salmond has called it “the most ludicrous tax of all time”. Alex is being too kind. It is the most evil measure passed by a UK government for at least 25 years. To cut people’s benefits for having a house too big for them is a joke. The Government wants them to move into one bedroom houses – which don’t exist. There is an estate agents in the main street of my home town. Since this tax became law in April last year I’ve spotted three one bedroom houses for rent. No more need be said. It is so hated that the Scottish Government is paying the people who have suffered from this tax the benefit that has been taken away from them. However they can only do this until March next year. It is so hated that even Sir Tom Hunter – a rich entrepreneur who if he was English would probably be donating money to the Tory party – has called it “an abomination hitting the poorest hardest”.
So why is this tax a threat to the union? First of all Alex Salmond is being very clever. He is able to claim that if Scotland was independent the bedroom tax would never have happened as we would never have voted Tory in the first place. To show how hated the Tories are in Scotland former Scottish Tory leader (since deceased) David McLetchie said after the 2010 UK election that “we are destined never to get anywhere as long as people believe the Tories’ main policy is the slaughter of the first born”.We now know their main policy is to pass a tax that mainly affects disabled people and had them fearing eviction.The current Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has even said Scots can vote no because her own party will lose the 2015 election. While opinion pollster John Curtice thinks Prime Minister David Cameron should ” accept he should rely on others to fight the battle for him” Yes the UK PM is so unpopular that he is a liability to the campaign to save his own country.
Secondly opinion polls have shown that the “Yes” side is more popular in poor areas where they are terrified that a re-elected Tory Government in 2015 would mean more cuts to their income. I know people who are scared of a “No” vote for fear of what the Tories might do to them and are not prepared to take a chance that Labour win next year’s election. Yes UK people are actually scared of their own country staying together. The Tories should be ashamed of themselves.
So what should Cameron have done? He should have sacked Iain Duncan Smith – the man “credited” with thinking up the bedroom tax. Every time this man opens his mouth he costs the “No” campaign votes. He should have given the Scottish Parliament the power to block both the bedroom tax and the 2012 Welfare Reform Act – which they would have done. This would have neutralised an issue that has made the Tories even more unpopular in Scotland than they already were.
I still think “No” will win. However the bedroom tax even in the best case scenario will cut down the margin of victory. If the “No” victory is less than 60-40 we could end up like Quebec was after the 1980 referendum – with the issue unresolved and the nationalists wanting another referendum (in Quebec a second referendum happened in 1995. The “No” side won by just 50.5 to 49.5). The worse case scenario is that the nationalists could win. If that happens David Cameron should feel like Mr Burns did. He could have neutralised the bedroom tax. He didn’t. I hope this mistake does not result in Britain breaking up. But if it does he has no one to blame but himself.
*The Tories want it to be called the “spare room subsidy”. I want to be a billionaire .Neither will happen.