Category Archives: Sports

Into the Woods

 

Last week, I mentioned how current events have triggered reminders of past life experiences.  This morning was one more of those occasions.  The prompt was a CNN report under the heading, “Tiger Woods won’t face charges after sheriff says car crash was an accident.”

The year was 1993.  I was lead staff for a National Governors Association project to establish uniform state policies for the regulation of the hazardous materials (HM) trucking industry.  The first step involved formation of a working group consisting of state and local officials, environmental interests and the industry.  In preparation for the first meeting I met with staff from the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) to confirm what I believed to be the primary goal of the project: reconcile the myriad difference in HM regulations among the contiguous 48 states while still ensuring safe movement of some pretty nasty stuff within the legal definition of HM ranging from large quantities of nail polish to radioactive waste.

The project was a compromise with the industry which pushed for federal preemption of state authority.  During congressional hearings for what became the Hazardous Materials Transportation Uniform Safety Act of 1990 (HMTUSA), states made the case they already had the infrastructure in place to regulate the industry.  To shift responsibility to Washington, D.C. would require a significant increase in federal resources and staffing, something the George H. W. Bush Transportation Department was not ready to support.

At the NHTSA briefing, I asserted the states’ primary objective was prevention of accidents which resulted in HM spills which threatened both human safety and the environment.  I was immediately stopped and told (paraphrasing}, “There are no such things as accidents.  DOT uses the term ‘incident.’  There is either equipment failure or operator error.”  For example, metal fatigue results in a broken axle.  A driver falls asleep after violating mandatory rest stops.  The shipper inadequately secures the cargo.  Even incidents related to so-called “acts of God” are avoidable if the proper preventive measures are employed.

Too bad Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva had not been in attendance at that briefing.  On a Facebook Live chat about Tiger Woods, Villanueva said:

We don’t contemplate any charges whatsoever in this crash.  This remains an accident. An accident is not a crime. They do happen, unfortunately.

Accidents do not just happen.  Villanueva reminds me an of old Joan Rivers joke about the business executive calling a tryst with his secretary an accidental affair.  His wife responds, “Did you slip on a banana peel and fall into her vagina?”

Used 2019 Genesis G80 5.0 Ultimate Sedan 4D Prices | Kelley Blue BookNone of us knows exactly what happened, but if you look at the following range of possibilities, it is hard to call what occurred at 7:12 am this past Tuesday an accident.

  • The steering rod breaks or other equipment on the Genesis GV80 Woods was driving fails.  Not a great advertisement for a car with a $48,900 base price and title sponsor of last week’s PGA tournament for which Woods was the host professional.  Though the price seems worth it based on the survivability factor in such a horrific crash and rollover.
  • Woods was late for a photo session at Riviera County Club and may have been exceeding the speed limit to make up time.
  • Two days earlier Woods had talked with CBS’ Jim Nance about his discomfort from December back surgery.  One would think he might consider a driver as the normal one hour drive from his  hotel to the Club would test his tolerance level to be strapped in, relatively immobile for that length of time.
  • There could have been an object in the road (e.g. animal or pothole) in which case the driver would be expected to slow down to avoid it.
  • Though the police at the scene claims he did not seem to be impaired, his condition and the need to get him to the Harbor-UCLA trauma center ASAP meant that normal on-site breath or dexterity tests were not employed (now known as the Bruce Springsteen defense).
  • Perhaps conditions demanded vehicles proceed at less than the posted speed limit.
  • Or Woods simply did not appreciate how fast the car was going due to the exceptionally smooth ride, quiet interior and the 375 horsepower engine under the hood.

Surely, no one believes Woods intended for this to happen.  But it is just one more example of the difference between intent and accountability.  I will leave it to the judicial system to decide if any laws were violated.  Though there is a touch of irony.  A major objection to the use of excessive force by police in several noted cases is when the arresting officer exceeds his/her authority becoming the judge and jury.  In this case, Villanueva did much the same thing, except, playing prosecutor, judge and jury, he singlehandedly acquitted the suspect.

Maybe the Stephen Sondheim musical “Into the Woods” is actually a metaphor for encounters with law enforcement.  If you are a famous athlete involved in a serious car crash which could endanger life and property or rock star arrested for DUI, the relevant song is “No One is Alone” from Act II.  The police and courts have your back.  But if you are an average Joe or Jane with a burned out taillight or you are jaywalking, you have a different take on the encounter. “Agony!”

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Fore! Play

 

There are two organizations in which the members are largely responsible for monitoring their own behavior.  The first is professional golf.  While there are rules officials on the course during every tournament, they rarely have to charge a player with a violation of the sport’s behavioral canons or assess penalties.  A professional golfer who deviates from the standard of self-policing can quickly be marked by fellow contenders as a persona non grata.

Golf: Patrick Reed accused of 'cheating' againTo understand this principle, one need look back no farther than the 10th hole at Torrey Pines during the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open this past weekend.  Patrick Reed’s second shot found the left rough, bounced and dove into the deep blend of kikuyu, rye and poa annua grass.  Reed, upon reaching his ball, believed it was embedded in the softer than usual ground, understandable considering the course had been pummeled by rain and sleet the previous day.  Instead of immediately calling for an official or asking another member of the threesome to confirm his judgment, Reed picked up the ball and examined the lie.  Immediately, the online golf community speculated Reed should be assessed a two-stroke penalty for moving the ball.

The same day, Rory McIlroy faced a similar situation on the 18th hole and took comparable relief.  However, McIlroy did not face similar protests on the internet.  Was it merely the fact McIlroy first conferred with playing partners Robby Shelton and Will Gordon before touching the ball?  Were the situations so different to suggest Reed actually violated the rules while McIlroy had not?  Not according to the tournament officials who, after reviewing video of Reed’s actions, did not assess any penalty.

Technically, both players adhered to the procedures laid out in Sections 16.3 and 16.4 in the “Rules of Golf.”  Then, what was the difference which created an uproar in one case and not the other?  Two things.  First, in golf, there is a difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the game.  While acknowledging Reed did not technically violate a rule, all four CBS commentators–Nick Faldo, Ian Baker Finch, Frank Nibolo and Dottie Pepper–said they would never have done what Reed did.  They confirmed McIlroy followed the more common and accepted practice of involving others BEFORE moving his ball.

The second is what one announcer referred to as Reed’s “pre-existing condition.”  This diagnosis was based on Reed’s history of questionable actions going back to his college days at the University of Georgia where he was dismissed from the golf team after just one year.  Subsequent behavior including arguments with course officials, additional charges of cheating and homophobic hot mic comments have made Reed one of the most unpopular players among his peers.   Therefore, if like McIlroy, the issue on Saturday had been a one-off, he too may have received the benefit of the doubt.  But one’s credibility and reputation depends not only on what you do today, but past patterns of behavior.

Which brings me to the second organization in which members are expected to self-monitor, the United States Senate.  And in this particular case, Republican senators.  They too have a Reed-like “pre-existing condition.”  When out of power, GOP members of the upper chamber of Congress beg the Democratic leadership to give a little in order to win bi-partisan support for pending legislation.  But it is never enough.  Of course, the best example is the Affordable Care Act.  At Republicans’ request, Democrats agreed to remove a public option to increase support for the bill, much of which was modeled after Massachusetts law championed by then governor Mitt Romney.  However, following adoption of several GOP-sponsored amendments, not one Republican voted for passage of the bill.

So yesterday, when the 10 Republicans who brought their counter proposal for COVID relief to the Oval Office claimed they were acting in the spirit of bi-partisan unity, should we give them the benefit of the doubt?  That depends less on what they say and do today than their history in similar situations.  If politics were golf, you might call that past behavior “fore! play.”

Postscript:  Origins of a Conspiracy Theory

Some alt-right conspiracies are understandable.  For example, Trump supporter Sal Amanda posted the following on Twitter.

Forget the misspellings and typos.  Anyone could confuse labor and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez for the late Hugo Chavez.  Right?

But how do you explain Marjorie Taylor Green’s conspiracy theory the California wild fires were started by Jewish anarchists using space lasers?  Last night, while searching for songs on Amazon Music Unlimited, I think I found the answer.  There it was, the all-Aryan cast album of the 2020 production of Fiddler on the Roof on which the eighth song “Tevye’s Dream” identifies the leader of this Hebraic cadre of international renegades as “the butcher ‘Laser’ Wolf.”

You cannot make this stuff up.  Or maybe you can.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Coach, Heal Thyself

 

In spectator sports, we are often mesmerized by the play that defies the odds.  For example, during a 2018 NFL wild-card match-up between Kansas City and Tennessee, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota caught his own deflected pass and ran for a touchdown which contributed to his team’s 22-21 upset of the Chiefs.  Catching one’s own pass is a rarity in and of itself.  But scoring a touchdown following the self-reception has only happened twice in NFL history.  The more likely outcome is a loss of yardage as the initial deflection is a sign one or more linemen were already converging on the quarterback.

I raise this issue because  the designated “goat” in Saturday’s Alabama-Auburn game, Crimson Tide place kicker Joseph Bulovas, was actually the victim of a teammate’s split second reaction in hopes of adding his name to the annuls of Alabama football lore.  With 2:05 remaining in the fourth quarter, Alabama faced a third down and goal at the Auburn 10 yard line.  While Alabama trailed Auburn 48-45, the Tide was poised to win or at least tie the score at the end of a drive that began at their own 37 yard line.

On what proved to be Alabama quarterback Mac Jones’ last offensive play of the game, Jones’ attempted pass was batted back to him by an Auburn lineman.  Jones caught the deflection six yards behind the line of scrimmage and ran towards the end zone.  However, he was tackled after gaining only four yards, a two yard loss from where the play originated.  Coach Nick Saban elected to bring on the field goal unit with hopes of forcing overtime to decide the state’s premiere football power.

Image result for joseph bulovas missed field goalFor you non-football aficionados, during a field goal attempt the holder is positioned eight yards behind the line of scrimmage.  Therefore, with the ball at the Auburn 12 yard line, Bulovas faced a 30 yard attempt as the goal post stands at the back of the 10 yard deep end zone.  (12+8+10=30.  QED)  Bulovas hooked the kick, which struck the left upright, securing Auburn’s three-point lead and eventual victory.

Bulovas hung his head as his teammates tried to console him.  In a post-game interview, he apologized for costing the Tide an outside chance to play for another national championship.  Kudos to this stand-up young man.  But the truth is his kick would have likely succeeded if not for the previous play.  The ball was still drifting left when it struck the goal post.  But for the two yard differential on Jones’ self-reception, the ball would have cleared the upright and the game would have been tied at 48 points apiece.

Now, I am not going to blame Jones for his decision to catch the deflected pass attempt.  As stated above, it was a split second choice.  And was due to reaction more than a rational thought process.  Any quarterback not named Mac Jones would have done the same thing.  You see a football in the air, you catch it and run.  And yes, a straighter kick would have nullified any impact of the two-yard loss.  But that is true only in hindsight.  So let’s give Joseph Bulovas a break.  This was a team loss.

In fact, if Alabama had not given up 48 points, I would be writing about something else this morning.  If you are still looking for a goat, maybe Alabama defensive coordinator Pete Golding is the more logical target.  Or head coach Nick Saban who hired him last February.  But leave it to Nick “It Is Never My Fault” Saban to blame the loss on confusion caused when Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn distracted the Tide with a fourth and seven fake offensive call which resulted in an Alabama penalty for too many players on the field.  Hopefully, next time Coach Saban will look to his players like Joseph Bulovas for a role model.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

He Said; He Said

 

Related imageWith the Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs taking center stage in the sports world last night, I was reminded of my first recollections of the national pastime.  As a young child, my parents would take us to Parker Field on family night to watch the Triple A Richmond Virginians, a New York Yankees farm team, compete against one of their International League opponents.  To give you some idea how long ago this was, the International League was actually international.  Of the eight teams, three–Montreal Royals, Toronto Maple Leafs (or Leaves for the grammatically picky) and (pre-Castro) Havana Sugar Kings–were based outside the United States although “North American League” might have been a more accurate moniker.

As with any baseball stadium, one’s first encounter upon passing through the ticket gates was a man or woman, behind what looked like a podium, shouting, “Get your program!  Right here!  You can’t tell the players without a program!”  And back in 1958, 50 cents would buy all you needed to know about the players and coaches on the home and visiting teams.  Position.  Career performance, e.g. batting average for hitters and earned run average for pitchers.  Vital statistics such as height, weight.

Skip forward six decades and the importance of understanding baseball statistics is no longer art, it is a science called “sabermetrics.”  The discipline, as defined in Wikipedia, is “the empirical analysis of baseball, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity.”  (NOTE: “Saber” refers to the Society of American Baseball Research or SABR.)  Michael Lewis’ book Money Ball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game chronicles how Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, relying largely on sabermetrics, turned his team of bargain basement players into a legitimate contender against opposing squads with payrolls several multiples higher.

Sabermetrics plays an equally important role as teams make mid-course corrections as MLB’s July 1 trading deadline approaches.  For example, if during the first half of season, your team consistently leads games in the late innings but still loses, it is a signal for you to pick up a quality relief pitcher or two.  If batters, swinging for home runs, strike out with men on base, you focus on players with higher on-base percentages rather than power hitters, players whose skill is measured by a combination of dexterity AND personal strength.

While the answer may seem complicated, the question is simple, “Where are the gaps on my team?”  Or lacking the talent you need at every position, how do you compensate for these weaknesses.  In last night’s National League wild card game, both managers faced that question.  Knowing he lacked the starting pitchers he needed, Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell assembled a parade of his trustworthy relievers to face the Washington Nationals. In contrast, Nats manager Dave Martinez had little faith in his second-to-worst bullpen during the regular season.  When it became clear starter Max Scherzer, former Cy Young award winner, did not have his best stuff, he went to another starter Stephen Strasberg for three no-run innings.

Dr. ESP, are you kidding us?  With everything happening in Washington you decided to talk sports.  We want to know what you think about Mike Pompeo traveling the globe to solicit foreign assistance in debunking the Mueller report.  Or the transformation of Rudy Giulliani from “America’s Mayor” to his audition to replace the current “O! A Fool” at Renaissance Festivals.

Patience dear reader.  As Shakespeare tells us in Act 2, Scene 1 of The Tempest, “What’s past is prologue.”  Remember, I said the question is simple, not just in baseball, but in understanding the dilemma in which Donald Trump and his minions now find themselves.  In fact, the question is exactly the same.  “What are the gaps on my team?”  For this analysis, I will rely on “supermetrics,” named for my newly created Society for the Unraveling of Political Rubbish (SUPR).  The study requires a benchmark, in this case the Nixon administration, which represents the ultimate bad season, when a president not only came in last, but did not make it to the final game.  To understand the difference between a winning and losing season, I will focus on the last three administrations.

Starting with Nixon, of the 42 individuals who held a cabinet level position during his six and a half years in office, all were white men.  And when it came to senior advisors such as chief of staff, chair of the council of economic advisors and legal council, you guessed it.  More white men.  There was no Condoleezza Rice at the State Department as in the George W. Bush or a Loretta Lynch at Justice or Hillary Clinton at State during the Obama years.  Which brings us to Donald J. Trump.  His current staffing of the White House and major cabinet positions more resembles Nixon’s than either of his immediate predecessors.

In other words, “Make America Great Again” includes a return to governance by the good old boys club, or in this case, the Keystone Kops.  What’s missing is a woman who might admonish Trump’s inner circle to stop acting like frat boys and grow up.  One has to wonder whether the Trump/Zelensky call would have occurred if Trump had picked Nikki Haley to succeed Rex Tillerson at State and Joanne Young, co-chair of the Republican National Lawyers Association to replace Jeff Sessions at Justice.  Unfortunately, the trading deadline passed while the owner ignored the supermetrics.  And the current situation is what you get when the internal debate is solely a matter of “he said then he said then the other he said.”

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Augusta Caesar

Image result for cbs tiger has never come back to win a majorAt approximately 2:30 p.m. EDT yesterday, everyone stopped talking about Trump or the 3,000 announced candidates for the Democratic nomination.  It was all about Tiger.  After what many, including Tiger, believed were career ending back surgeries less than two years ago, Woods restarted his quest to match or surpass Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors (now at 15) and Sam Snead’s 82 PGA victories (81 for Tiger).

With the live coverage and post-tournament recaps, one would think the media had said everything there was to say about this event.  Except for one.  CBS, earlier in the day, flashed a chryon noting Tiger had never won a major tournament when he did not lead at the end of day three.  The fact he did this for the first time in his 22 year pro career got lost in the hoopla about his comeback from personal and medical issues which had derailed his quest for major championships for almost 11 years.

It brings to mind Yogi Berra’s infamous assessment of his sport, “Baseball is 90 percent mental.  The other half is physical.”  No doubt, Tiger’s victory is a miracle of modern medicine.  Kudos to his doctors and trainers for finding a path to recovery.  But more than baseball, golf is an exercise in mental acuity.  There was something equally important going on in his head.  And without that cerebral component, it would have been just one more April at Augusta National.

So let me play amateur psychologist for a moment.  Until Tiger’s ex-wife Elin introduced the rear window of his SUV to a five iron, Woods was on top of the world.  He did not know what it meant to have to come from behind to win a major golf tournament.  On those rare occasions when he was in striking distance going into the final round, it was alien to him.  If he expected his challengers to fold as they often did when he was in charge, he was mistaken.  Even when  it looked like he might make his move, he did not.  It was not in his DNA.

Until January 2018.  His return to the PGA tour was a disaster.  Some of his most avid fans such as ESPN’s Mike Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser questioned whether the comeback attempt was a mistake.  Tiger was no longer on top, and more importantly the intimidation factor which spooked his opponents for over a decade was gone.  Not only did he need to get his health back.  He needed a new mindset.

For 65 holes this past week, nothing seemed to have changed.  Francesco Molinari beat back Tiger’s every attempt to catch him.  Announcers Jim Nance and Nick Faldo marveled at Molinari’s composure.  And then came  #12, the short par three which has swallowed up more than its share of championship hopes.  The Italian’s double bogey gave Tiger a share of the lead.  How did the four-time Masters winner respond?  Birdies on #13, #15 and #16 which game him an insurmountable two-stroke lead.

As it turned out when Tiger bogeyed the final hole, several players could have still forced a playoff with their own birdies on #17 or #18.  But Tiger was once again in their heads.  They now believed, even if they had come within reach, Woods would respond.  This was not the old Tiger who grabbed a lead early and held off any comers.  This was a new Tiger who now understands he does not always have to be on top to win in the end.

In other words, he saw; he came back, he conquered.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP