Shaun Hill, from Parsons, Kansas, finally got to play again for the St. Louis Rams after getting hurt in Week One.
Coach Jeff Fisher threw Shaun to the lions (no, not his old team Detroit) in going up Peyton Manning and a 7-2 juggernaut in the Denver Broncos. Denver came into the game as 10-point favourites.
Hill not only went toe-to-toe with Hall of Famer Manning, he actually beat him … badly 22-7. OK, the St. Louis defence had a lot to do with it — but Hill had a GREAT game … he went 20-for-29 for 220 yards and a touchdown and zero interceptions, for a quarterback rating of 102.7. Meanwhile, Manning went 34-for-54 for 389 yards, but two interceptions — that was only good for a QB rating of 75.
It was maybe the biggest, highest-profile win of Shaun’s career. It reinforces my point that every time Shaun gets a chance to play, he seems to shine. I was so happy for him after he got hurt in the first week of the season (and then Austin Davis ended up playing pretty well at times for the Rams.).
Shaun is 34 and I don’t know if he will ever get a chance to start full-time at this point in his career. But, in 28 career starts, he is 14-14. No win bigger than this one.
As an aside, St. Louis is a weird team. They have beaten the Broncos, the Seahawks and the 49ers, but are only 4-6 and likely won’t make the playoffs. They seem to be the kind of team that can literally beat anybody, while at the same time they can literally lose to anyone, too.
Very much under the radar all season in baseball was a really great story in Colorado — the comeback of Justin Morneau, one of the best Canadian players ever in baseball history.
Morneau was putting together a solid Hall of Fame career with the Minnesota Twins when he suffered a major concussion in 2010 after he was kneed in the head in a play at second base. His post concussion symptoms were so severe there was talk about whether he would ever be able to play again. A second concussion in 2011 nearly ended his career.
Morneau was very much talked about in the past sense the last few years. He was called a shell of his former self. It was tragic. He hit more than 30 home runs three times with the Twins, drove in over 100 runs four times, hit over .300 twice, won an MVP in 2006 and finished second in the MVP vote in 2008. Really, he seemed certain for the Hall of Fame. He hit for average, he hit for power, he drove in a ton of runs (470 RBIs in four seasons). He even helped Team Canada beat Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. He wasn’t just the best Canadian in MLB, he was one of the top 5 players in the game, period.
Then 2010 came along. Morneau was having his best year ever — he was hitting .345 with 18 HRs and 56 RBIs in early July (literally the 81st game of the year — the midpoint of his season) when he took a knee to the head while making a hard slide at second base against the Toronto Blue Jays. He developed severe post-concussion syndrome symptoms and did not return to play the rest of the year.
Morneau tried to play in 2011, but a variety of injuries held him back, including a second concussion. For anyone who has dealt with concussions knows, when they pile up, they become more severe. Morneau had two in less than a year (plus a third concussion in 2005).
After playing only 69 games in 2011, and only hit .227 with four home runs, he managed to come back to the Twins in 2012, but he was nowhere near the same player who was dominant from 2006-2010. He hit .267 with 19 home runs and 77 RBIs. Not bad for a lot of guys, but down considerably from his glory years where Morneau was almost an automatic .300/30/100 guy.
The next year, Morneau, despite signing a huge, long-term deal with Minnesota in 2010, was traded. He had another OK year, hitting .259 with 17 HRs and 77 RBIS. Late in the year, the Twins parted ways with him and traded him to Pittsburgh, where he played 25 games and didn’t hit a single home run. The end appeared near for Morneau.
Morneau quietly signed a two-year deal with Colorado for $14 million, well down from the 6-year, $80 million contract he signed several years earlier with Minnesota. He simply wasn’t the same player he once was and couldn’t demand a huge contract any longer.
Well, amazingly, without hardly anyone outside of Colorado noticing, Morneau went out and had a great year. He didn’t hit a huge number of home runs (17), but he did bat .319, his highest average since 2010 and the highest in a full season since 2006, which was good enough to win the National League batting title. So, on top of his MVP award, Morneau is now also a batting champion in a different league. Not very many people have ever done that. He also had 82 RBIs, the most he’s had since 2009.
So, is Morneau all the way back? 2015 will tell. He didn’t show the same power he had between 2006-2010, but the .319 average showed he is finally all the way back from his concussions and post-concussion syndrome. A guy who essentially lost four years of his career and who was counted out repeatedly the past four years won the batting title.
At this point, I don’t know if Morneau is headed to the Hall of Fame. He’d have to have four or five really good years to make his case. He is still only 33 and could have several more years left.
Later this month, a special committee will be voting on baseball’s “Golden Age” Hall of Fame nominees. These are players primarily from the 1960s and earlier (though a few played into the 70s). At the top of that list is yet again Gil Hodges.
I’m part of a Facebook group of very dedicated people working hard behind the scenes to help get Hodges finally into the Hall of Fame (I mostly just read and learn). Why he isn’t is in the Hall of Fame is beyond me, there are a few flaws in his overall statistics, but honestly, they’re minor, and his numbers stack up pretty well with a LOT of players who are in the Hall of Fame. Frankly, his numbers are pretty comparable to his teammate Duke Snider’s, who made the Hall of Fame 34 years ago.
The only reason I can think of is Hodges died quite a while ago, in 1972, a relatively young man at 47. At the time, he was a fairly successful manager. I believe if he had lived longer and had been in the public spotlight longer, he might have been in the Hall of Fame by now. Unfortunately, “out of sight, out of mind,” likely hurt him with a lot of voters over the years. It’s such a huge oversight that he isn’t in the HofF.
One thing hurting Hodges in the Golden Age Committee vote is there are some extremely strong candidates in the 2014 nominees (the committee now only votes every three years, so if Hodges doesn’t make it, his family will have to wait until 2017.). The vote is taking place later this year.
(As an aside, I noticed there seem to be a LOT of Chicago White Sox on this list. I think White Sox players tend to get overlooked because the Cubs get more attention.)
Here’s some of the biggest names being considered, including a couple of Steve Lardy’s Minnesota Twins boys! I use sort of a guide as “HofF worthy years,” “Good years, but not HofF,” and “Injured/bench player/poor years”. One thing most of these players had in common was relatively short careers that ended in their mid-30s, which is why they have trouble getting in the Hall of Fame. It’s totally subjective, but I just use it as a point of discussion, nothing more:
HofF worthy years: 7
Good years, not HofF: 4 (tough one, because of a couple of these years were actually pretty good — .254, 32, 102 and .265, 32, 87 — and could easily go in the HofF category, but I’m trying to be tough)
Injured/bench player/poor years: 7
370 HRs, 10th all-time at the time of his retirement
370 HRs, No. 1 for right-handed home runs all-time at the time of his retirement. Yup, No. 1.
30 or more HRs, 6 times
100 or more RBIs, 7 straight years
80 or more RBIs, 10 times
20 or more HRs, 11 times
Was a big part of a team that won 7 pennants and two World Series titles
3 Gold Gloves
And this helps, too … managed a World Series winning team in 1969 with the New York Mets.
Hodges even walked a lot (he had seven seasons of 70 or more walks, I see him as a prototype of the high walk/high strikeout power hitters that are the rage today), to make up for an OK batting average. His career OPS was .846 (higher than HofF’ers Carl Yazstremski, Reggie Jackson, Kirby Puckett, Roberto Clemente, Eddie Murray and several others.)
Never won an MVP, never even in the top 6
The only other weakness I can find is his career batting average was just .273, and he only ever hit over .300 twice. However, he did hit over .280 six times and his career OBP was a solid .359 — hey, that’s the same as Ichiro’s OBP! Keep in mind Harmon Killebrew is in the HofF with a batting average of .256 and Reggie Jackson with .262, Cal Ripken Jr. with .276 and Andre Dawson with .279.
Other very good candidates
Tony Oliva (A Steve Lardy boy!)
HofF worthy years: 6
Good, not HofF worthy: 4
Poor years/bench/injured: 4
Won three batting titles
Hit over .300 6 times
.304 career average
Twice finished second in MVP vote
Rookie of the Year winner
Led AL in hits five times
Led AL in doubles four times
20 or more HRs five times
80 or more RBIs eight times
Only two seasons with over 100 RBIs
Only one Gold Glove award
Only seven seasons with more than 500 at-bats
Oliva had a very short career, only had 6,300 at-bats (the equivalent of 11 full seasons), and he played in fewer than 1,700 games. He didn’t become a full-time player until he was 25 and was done by the time he was 36. This has likely kept him out of the Hall of Fame; he simply didn’t compile a lot of numbers. Oliva got hurt a lot — he only had seven seasons in which he played more than 132 games. You can see why Tony Oliva is in a grey area for the Hall of Fame. A brilliant, yet short, career. Playing in Minnesota likely didn’t help him, either with the lack of publicity.
Jim Kaat (Another Lardy boy)
Jim Kaat actually got the most votes during the Golden Era Committee’s last vote in 2011 for someone who didn’t make the Hall of Fame. Only Ron Santo garnered enough votes to get in.
HofF worthy years: 6
Good, but not HofF-worthy: 6
Poor years/injured: 13
15 Gold Gloves
Won 283 games
Won 20 games three times
14 or more wins 11 times
25th all-time in innings pitched (4,500, the equivalent of 250 innings a year for 18 years)
Led the AL in wins in 1966 (25)
Had 13 bad and/or injured seasons or was coming out of the bullpen
Only made 3 All-Star teams
Never won a Cy Young (his best year, there was only one award, and that went to Koufax, other than that, never seriously a Cy Young candidate)
Career ERA of 3.45 in pitching-heavy era is just OK.
Jim Kaat, another of Steve Lardy’s boys from Minnesota, is what’s known as a “compiler,” the opposite of Tony Oliva, guys that aren’t necessarily considered elite players of their era, but they avoided a lot of injuries and played a long time. Kaat was a horse who started 625 games and completed 180. Kaat pitched into his early 40s, though his last really good year was at the age of 36. He had some poor seasons (9-17, 13-14, 12-14 and 6-11).
My feeling is many of Kaat’s statistics are comparable to Burt Blyleven’s (other than strikeouts). Blyleven only was an All-Star twice, only won more than 17 games twice, but made the HofF with 287 wins by sticking around forever, pitching a ton of games and innings and compiling a lot of stats in the process. Blyleven’s election to the HofF will make it easier for guys like Kaat, Tommy John and Jack Morris to get in. Guys who were good for a long time without necessarily being elite. Kaat’s amazing 15 Gold Gloves helps him, too.
HofF-worthy years: 8
Good, not HofF-worthy: 3
Poor years/injured/bench: 4
.298 career hitter
Hit over .300 8 times
Led league in stolen bases three times
Four times in the top 4 in MVP vote
Finished second as Rookie of the Year
Won three Gold Gloves
Good power/speed combo numbers: 10 times 10 or more HRs, 9 times 10 or more steals, 7 times 80 or more RBIs, 11 times 89 or more runs scored
Led AL in triples three times
Like Oliva, a very short career, only 6,579 ABs in his career. Wasn’t a full-time player until he was 25 and was done as a full-time player at 35.
For a speed guy, actually had a poor percentage of successful steals — barely 60 percent
I have to be honest. I never heard of Minnie Miñoso until recently, but in looking up his stats, they were very solid. Very similar to Oliva’s. (And they are both Cuban, too) More speed numbers, not quite as much power, but close.
Miñoso is definitely a solid candidate. A guy with decent power, drove in runs, scored runs and hit for average. He simply didn’t have a long enough career to compile numbers, which is why he has waited so long to get in the HofF. That and he played a lot of his career in Cleveland and for the White Sox.
Luis Tiant (A Pepe guy)
Pepe’s favourite player when he was a kid.
HofF-worthy years: 6
Good, not HofF-worthy: 5
Poor years/injured/bullpen: 8
Won 20 games four times
Twice led the AL in ERA, including an incredible 1.60 one season
3.30 career ERA is solid
187 complete games and 49 shutouts (21st all-time)
Only made 3 All-Star teams
Only won 15 or more games 6 times in 19-year career
Had some bad seasons (9-20, 1-7, 8-9, 11-11)
Never won a Cy Young, never finished higher than fourth in voting
Tiant is another borderline guy. He had a few really brilliant seasons, but had a number of mediocre or bad years, too, which is why he is a fringe Hall-of-Famer. His career reminds me a bit of Curt Schilling’s, only Schilling has a postseason resume Tiant wasn’t able to compile.
HofF-worthy years: 8
Good, not HofF-worthy: 3
Poor years/bench/injured: 4
Solid .292 batting average
Hit over .300 7 times
Career OPS of .912 (Still 53rd all time despite all the inflated OPS’s of the Steroid Era, ahead of Mike Schmidt, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Harmon Killebrew and many other Hall of Fame sluggers)
Rookie of the Year award
1 HR title; 1RBI title
30 or more home runs 6 times
20 or more home runs 10 times
351 HRs; 25th all-time at the time of his retirement
Only 6,330 ABs, only played in 1,750 games. His last full-time season was at the age of 30 and he was out of baseball by the time he was 35. He only had 1,597 ABs after the age of 31.
Only had five seasons in which he played more than 128 games
Played for five teams
Very much like Oliva and Miñoso, one of the reasons Dick Allen isn’t in the Hall is his relatively short career (and the fact that he was controversial and was embroiled in a lot of conflicts with teams he played for). He had some astonishing power numbers in the middle of his career (40 HRs in 524 ABs in 1966, 32 HRs in 438 ABs in 1969, 34 HRs in 459 ABs in 1970, , 37 HRs in 506 ABs in 1972, 32 HRs in 462 ABs in 1974). Those are some amazing numbers.
I was chuffed beyond belief when earlier this week I discovered that Italian animator/director Bruno Bozzetto had linked on his Facebook wall to a story I posted three years ago about his 1977 movie “Allegro Non Troppo.” He posted the link to our original blog, which we were forced to abandon in January because of issues with WordPress hosting.
The story was about how I saw this movie when I was in a hospital with a really high fever and I couldn’t remember anything about it except for the dinosaur scene, which was done to Ravel’s “Bolero.” It took me nearly 20 years to stumble on this movie again, I had almost completely forgotten about it.
Well, I wrote about this in 2011, and Bruno discovered it. Here is what he wrote on Facebook (with bad Bing translation):
Toccanti parole, scoperte casualmente in un blog, grazie alle quali ti dici che è valsa la pena di vivere..
Which, translated means:
Touching words, discovered accidentally in a blog, thanks to which you say is worth it to live …:)
Bruno later left a comment on the old blog:
Dear Haruko, your story touched my heart and I’m glad I can thank you directly here for your beautiful words. I hope you can read this post because this means a lot to me !
Here are some of the comments on Facebook, with bad translations:
quanto di buono c’é in noi viene sempre letto dal cuore, da ogni cuore (how much good there is in us is always read from the heart, from every heart:) )
che storia!!!! (that story!!!!)
Capita Che storia! Dovresti davvero contattarla! Ciao (What happens to the story! You really should contact her!)
Che bella storia! Anzi, che bel brano di vita… davvero dà un senso alla vita e a tanto lavoro What a beautiful story! 🙂 (Indeed, what a beautiful life song … really gives a meaning to life and much work:-) )
Una meraviglia di racconto. Un abbraccio (A marvel of story. A hug)
Veramente una soddisfazione che premia una vita! Condivido.. (Truly a satisfaction that rewards a lifetime!)
Anyway, I’m honestly humbled Bruno Bozzetto found my blog post and was touched by it. What a sweet, kind man. I honestly did not realise he was even still alive (he is also younger than I realised –76).
Here is the Dinosaur scene from Allegro Non Troppo, you can’t get it on YouTube (YouTube quickly takes it down):
The St. Louis Rams’ starting quarterback Sam Bradford tore his ACL in a preseason game last week, his third major injury in five years, and will be lost for the season.
This means that Steve Lardy’s friend Shaun Hill will be the starting quarterback for the Rams for the entire season. After 13 years in the league, it will be his first chance to go into a season as a starter and show what he can really do. I wrote about Shaun a couple of years ago.
Hill, from tiny Parsons, Kansas, has been a backup his entire career in San Francisco and Detroit, (with high priced high draft picks Alex Smith and Matthew Stafford ahead of him on the depth chart) but when he gets a chance, he puts up good numbers. He isn’t particularly big, nor has a particularly big arm, which is one of the reasons he has never been a full-time starter. He has started 26 games in his 13-year career and gone exactly 13-13 as a starter, with good stats — 41 touchdowns, 23 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 85.9 (an average QB rating is about 83-85). In 2010, Hill started 10 games for the Detroit Lions.
Rumour is the Rams will try to get Mark Sanchez to replace Bradford, but his career QB rating is a paltry 71.7, way below the NFL average and way below Hill’s. Another rumour is that the Rams will try to get Kirk Cousins from Washington, which would make more sense, because in the limited amount he’s played, he has shown that he can be a good quarterback. Cousins will likely be a starter someday for some team.
But, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher immediately came out and said that Hill is his guy:
Shaun has a great feeling for the offense right now, and we’re gonna move forward with him,” Fisher said. “We’re not gonna change anything. He knows the system. Everybody knows, we’re gonna run the football first. And we’re gonna do that, and we gotta do that well, and we gotta do that to start the season. And then everything else will come off that.”
So, here is Shaun’s big chance at last, after 13 years in the league.
Grady Sizemore, in case people have forgot, was one of the best players in all of baseball about 7 or 8 years ago. But, he had a devastating series of major knee injuries that completely derailed his career. From 2005-2008, Sizemore average 27 home runs, 81 RBIs, 116 runs, 41 doubles and 29 steals a year, with an eye-popping OPS over .860 (Sizemore is a not a big hitter for average, but has always walked a lot). Real Hall of Fame type numbers over four years. But, then the injuries starting mounting. He had seven surgeries to his knees and back, barely played in 2010 and 2011, and had not played a single game since as he rehabbed from his multiple surgeries. He has only played 104 games since 2009. There’s almost no comparison to a player missing two full seasons and then actually making an Opening Day lineup.
But, thanks to hitting .333 in spring training, Sizemore will be starting today in centre field. The Red Sox had anticipated Jackie Bradley Jr. would take over in centre for Jacoby Ellsbury, but Sizemore outplayed him in spring training. Expect Bradley Jr. to be back in the Red Sox roster by June or so as a utility player.
Sizemore is still relatively young at 31, so it’s not like he’s a creaky old veteran, though his knees likely must seem like they are 60 years old. He is only making a base salary of $750,000 this year, though he could make up to $6 million.
Sizemore will not go out and steal 50-plus bases the way Ellsbury can, so he won’t totally replace him. But, if he can play 120-plus games and play at 80 percent at what he produced from 2005-2008, it will go a long way toward helping Red Sox fans forget Ellsbury. He even has a little Red Sox beard started.
Ellsbury was the only major loss for the Red Sox in the offseason. They also lost Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Stephen Drew, but they expect phenom Xander Bogaerts to take over as their longterm shortstop (the Red Sox have had at least 6 different Opening Day shortstops since trading away Nomar Garciaparra in 2003). And Boston signed A.J. Pierzynski to be their catcher (after losing out in the Bryan McCann sweepstakes, but the Red Sox were never going to offer him 6 years, $100 million like the Yankees did), who is probably an upgrade over Saltalmacchia, while they groom Ryan Lavernway to be their longterm catcher.
I also like the Boston approach, after getting badly burned by the Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett deals, to not sign free agents to ridiculous 7- to 10-year contracts. The Red Sox pay handsomely, but other than Dustin Pedroia, no one on their team is under contract for more than the next two years (they are working on a longterm deal for Jon Lester).
On paper, the Red Sox should be equal to or stronger than last year — on paper, at least. On paper, the Red Sox looked like they were going to completely suck last year, but shocked everyone with a scrappy group of scruffy players who hate to lose and a vastly improved pitching staff. Also, remember, the Red Sox were definitely NOT lucky last year. They had an epic rash of injuries. They lost their No. 1 closer for the year, they lost their No. 2 closer for the year, Clay Buchholz, their best pitcher, was on his way to winning the Cy Young but was lost at midseason to a shoulder/neck injury, free agent pickup Ryan Dempster was terrible, Ortiz started the season on the DL, Pedroia played the entire season with a broken thumb, Ellsbury broke his leg in August and Shane Victorino battled a bad hamstring all year. This year, they only have one player — Victorino — on the DL entering the season (again with hamstring problems). They STILL somehow managed to win 97 games.
The Yankees, after spending an astonishing $450 million this offseason on Ellsbury, McCann, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka (who went a frightening 24-0 in Japan last year), ought to be better than last year, if for no other reason than because their lineup was absolutely atrocious sometimes last year with all their injuries.
But, the Yankees are also hoary as the hills. They are really old. Their entire Opening Day starting lineup is over the age of 30. Not one guy 29 or younger in that starting lineup. And their Opening Day lineup averages about 34 1/2 years old (someone told me the 2006 San Francisco Giants managed to be older — they went 76-85, btw). They will have 7 guys 33 or older and 4 guys 36 and older in that lineup (I’m not even counting 40-year-old bench player Ichiro). That’s not a recipe for success in the post-steroid era. Guys that old are going to have a hard time staying healthy.
One thing I saw in the offseason that I am starting to find alarming is the ridiculous money being thrown around in baseball. The Tigers and Angels on consecutive days spent $436 million (Cabrera 10 years, $292 million, Trout 6 years, $144 million). Clayton Kershaw got a $215 million contract and Robinson Cano got a $240 million contract.
I’m not one to get caught up in money or contracts or whine about the old days when the owners treated players like slaves and paid them $50,000 a year while they made millions, but I worry that these outrageous contracts are going to price regular folks out of baseball stadiums. One thing that is nice about baseball is you can still take a family of four to a game for under $200, but I’m concerned that is doomed with the increase in gargantuan contracts out there.
Second Life is many things to many different people. It has gaming areas, adult areas (which I avoid), music areas (where I tend to go, I like to listen to new music in the background while working), and even areas celebrating some pretty amazing digital art.
Second Life recently advertised a different kind of area I hadn’t seen before — one for cystic fibrosis. I was curious and I decided to check it out.
Cystic Fibrosis University on Second Life is connected to the Boomer Esiason Foundation. Boomer Esiason, a former NFL quarterback and now a football analyst on CBS and a CBS radio commentator, has a son, Gunnar, with cystic fibrosis.
The intent of Cystic Fibrosis University seems to be mostly to use Second Life as a platform to steer people toward plenty of other online resources about cystic fibrosis. There’s a “wishing well,” where you can donate to Cystic Fibrosis University; there’s also a ton of links to Facebook and Twitter where you can connect to the Boomer Esiason Foundation. There’s plenty of links (disguised in Second Life as desktop computers or plaques on the wall) where you can get lots of information about cystic fibrosis, what it is, how it can be treated, what the symptoms are, etc.
Cystic Fibrosis University even had a dance floor where perhaps they host live events like a lot of Second Life areas do, but the two or three times I visited, it was pretty quiet. It’s a very well designed area; lots of time and energy went into it, with apparently some grant help.
I joined the group on SL and the Facebook page. Cystic Fibrosis University on SL seems to serve mostly as a conduit to other online resources, designed I’m sure to a degree to attract people who are into SL and spend a lot of time gaming or listening to music there. It’s an interesting idea and I wonder how many other charities have tried using Second Life as a means to attract followers and get out information. I continue to be fascinated the different ways that people find to use Second Life. Up to 150,000 people are on Second Life on any given day and more than 550,000 regular users in monthly log (those numbers pale by comparison to Facebook and Twitter, obviously, but the 3D world of SL has much more potential than Facebook and Twitter), but it remains a valuable resource in getting the word out about your cause.
Read this book and I guarantee you’ll never watch football the same way as you did before.
Mark Fainaru-Wada, who wrote about Barry Bonds’ steroids use, and Steve Fainaru, investigated the NFL longstanding cover-up and obfuscation over concussions in their sport. The result is a shocking expose of callousness and hypocrisy not only from NFL officials but from “jock sniffers” the NFL used to defend their product. The story is very similar to how the tobacco industry operated in the 1950s. The tobacco industry enlisted the help of a few scientists, several of whom were literally bought off, to create “junk science” to raise doubts that cigarette smoking was causing lung cancer. The industry did this well into the 1970s.
The NFL did almost the same thing. The league started up a committee, led by someone with zero experience or background in neurology, and reached a number of ridiculous conclusions that there was no risk of brain damage from playing NFL football — all while the league was quietly paying out thousands of dollars every year in disability payments to former players who had become brain damage from playing football.
Instead of taking the problem seriously and working to try to prevent brain damage, the NFL instead took the tack of trying to sweep the evidence under the carpet — and smearing and attacking the researchers and scientists digging up evidence that football was destroying men’s brains.
The book reads like a detective novel, as researchers try to get to the bottom of what’s causing a number of former players to behave erratically years after they retired. The book details the huge, and at times petty, fights between different researchers determined to get their hands on former players’ brains after they die so they could take credit for furthering the research into brain damage.
The book focuses at length on the heartbreaking story of Mike Webster, a Hall of Fame centre who played on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl teams of the 1970s. After he retired, Webster — always a friendly, engaging guy — started acting strangely. He became a drifter, sleeping in bus stations, bunking at his son’s apartment. He became moody and had terrible tantrums. He would vanish periodically, he abandoned his family, etc. At times, he was lucid, and knew full well that something was wrong with him, other times he was lost, sometimes in a rage in which he would write long rambling letters attacking people with the Pittsburgh Steelers organisation. It was a very, long slow and painful journey into madness and despair and “League of Denial” pulls no punches detailing his harrowing descent. Finally, Webster died at the age of 50 in 2002.
The book shows how big ideas often start small. Knowing that Webster had suffered from erratic behaviour and mental illness, an assistant coroner in Pittsburgh — an immigrant from Nigeria named Bennet Omalu — did some tests on Webster’s brain and found damage similar to what was seen in boxers or people with Alzheimer’s. Omalu concluded that football caused this brain damage, the name given to it was Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Omalu became a central and controversial figure over the next decade as he blazed the trail into research of football and brain damage. He originally found the damage in Webster’s brain and his work led to a lot of the knowledge we have today about the brain damage caused by football, but his contributions were quickly overrun by forces out of his control — namely the NFL, which had a multi-billion dollar industry to protect.
The NFL around this time formed its concussion committee, and Fainaru-Wada and Fainaru explain in detail how, primarily by packing the committee full of “jock sniffers,” the NFL simply used this committee as a public relations tool to try and downplay the dangers of playing football. It was nearly 50 years after the tobacco industry established its “Council for Tobacco Research” to obfuscate and confuse the science around cigarettes, and the NFL stole heavily from the tobacco industry’s playbook. Fainaru-Wade and Fainaru make several references throughout “League of Denial” to the remarkable correlations between the NFL committee and the long-defunct and discredited tobacco industry front group. The NFL simply did not learn from the example of the tobacco industry that attempting to create fake science to cover up the real science will not work, especially in the long term. The football helmet industry also got involved, falsely promoting new helmet designs as “concussion proof.” The science behind what few studies had been done on these helmets turned out to be every bit as bad and half-baked as what the NFL concussion’s committee was putting forth.
Meanwhile, NFL players continued getting concussions and continued being put back in gamea while still suffering from the effects of their concussions — putting them at risk for even further brain injury. The billion-dollar NFL money-making machine just kept churning … as it became pretty obvious that the league’s concussion committee was all part of protecting that machine.
Several brain specialists, however, weren’t buying the outrageous and unscientific conclusions being reached by the NFL committee. This group became known as the “Dissenters.”
After Mike Webster’s death, there were a number of other high profile deaths by formers players — notably Dave Duerson and Junior Seau, both of whom committed suicide — and notably committed suicide by shooting themselves in the chest, because they both knew something was wrong with their brains and they wanted their brains studied after they died.
What the Dissenters found was that in case after case, a number of deceased NFL players had varying levels of CTE. (CTE explained). Some researchers wondered if perhaps every single player in the NFL had this condition from the repeated pounding of the game.
Even amongst the Dissenters, there were a number of battles and wars as researchers in this area literally scrambled in a disturbing race to gain possession of former NFL players’ brains after they died. Suddenly, players’ brains became a hot commodity. To a degree, and “League of Denial” is fairly sympathetic to Omalu, but none of the scientists involved, Omalu included, were really completely innocent in this unseemly battle over players’ brains.
In the end, these battles proved to be a sideshow, as the real story began when former players, many of whom had been struggling for years with depression, memory loss and Alzheimer’s, began banding together to sue the NFL.
In the end, the NFL disbanded its discredited committee, very much like the tobacco industry disbanded the Council for Tobacco Studies. The NFL imposed a number of new controversial rules trying to ban late hits and helmet to helmet contact.
Several thousand former players sued the league, winning a $765 million settlement against the league. Many people exclaimed that the NFL got off ridiculously easy with this settlement. A judge recently threw that settlement out as inadequate. The NFL will likely have to pay former players considerably more than $1 billion to settle the litigation.
League of Denial is definitely an engaging and fascinating read, and after you’ve read it, you’ll never watch football in quite the same way.
I don’t have the answers myself. Some people have speculated that the concussion litigation could bring the NFL down. The NFL is an awfully huge entertainment industry, and won’t go away easily. It’s too exciting and too popular.
I don’t buy the argument that the players knew what they were in for. They chose to play football. No, they didn’t chose to suffer from dementia and early onset Alzheimer’s and clinical depression in their 40s … and remember most football players don’t play for long — 5 years or less, and most football players really didn’t make that much money in the 70s and 80s. They didn’t choose to be lied to about how much damage was being done to their brains.
They’ll never totally get rid of the concussions; the game is too violent and the players too big and fast (I suspect the rise of concussions has something to do with the rise of PEDs in sports).
What the NFL needs to do is start taking the concussions seriously. Stop putting guys in games when they are obviously hurt, start taking the science seriously, ban hits to the head. Maybe a billion dollar settlement will be enough to wake up the NFL. Who knows?
I wanted to post something about Nujabes, a very influential and amazing Japanese jazz/rap artist and producer.
I’m not a music expert, so I don’t even know what to call Nujabes’ music. Bass once called it “acid jazz.” To me, it’s almost kind of space music. but, I think the best definition is simply “Japanese Jazz.”
Nujabes’ music was very dreamy and ethereal, almost ghostly. I’ve included a couple of videos to two of my favourite Nujabes compositions: “Counting Stars” and “Arurian Dance.” But these two songs are just the tip of the iceberg, he literally composed hundreds of jazz songs. He was incredibly prolific.
Update, my friend Bass is a HUGE Nujabes fan and here is his blog post about Nujabes. He knows a lot more about music than I do:
Where Nujabes became familiar to some people in the West is he was one of the composers to the soundtrack of Samurai Champloo, a big hit on Adult Swim several years ago. (It continues to be a solid hit through rentals.), a very good 1800s Japanese anime by the same director of Cowboy Bebop.
Tragically, Nujabes died in 2010 at the age of only 36 in a traffic accident in Japan. He was just starting to become a big deal, and spotlighting a lot of attention on the emerging Japanese jazz scene. So sad. He remains beloved today. While researching Nujabes, I found a whole bunch of posters and other artwork people made of him and so I decided to focus my post around that.
Baseball has three different panels it uses for selecting people to the Hall of Fame — the Baseball Writers of America, the Veterans Committee (which votes in people who played 50+ years ago who were overlooked for the HofF and a new panel I never heard of before called the Expansion Committee, which looks at players overlooked by the writers after 1973.
Which ones do I think deserve to be in the Hall (and am surprised are not in the Hall?). I love these sorts of debates. They’re so fun:
1) Dave Parker. I think he’s a definite Hall of Famer and I’m surprised he didn’t get more attention from the writers. He was a .290 lifetime hitter, hit 339 home runs in a deadball era, drove in 1,493 runs, won two batting titles, won an MVP and came in second in the MVP race another year (and came in third in the MVP race two others times), had 2,712 total hits and had a solid career OPS of .810. He also made 7 All-Star teams. He also won two championships with Pittsburgh and Oakland. He was simply one of the most feared hitters of the 1970s.
2) Joe Torre. No brainer. A lot of people don’t realise that Torre was a borderline Hall of Famer as a player. He hit .297 for his career with 252 home runs, a batting title and an MVP — and 9 All-Star games. He then went on to win 2,326 games as a manager with 4 World Series titles and 6 AL pennants.
3) Tommy John. Tommy John I believe has the most wins as an eligible pitcher without being in the Hall of Fame — 288 (Ok, some guy in the 1800s has 297 and he isn’t in — can you figure out who, Steve Lardy?). He won 20 games three times, and twice finished second in the Cy Young voting and made the All-Star team four times. If you put Burt Blyleven in with 287 wins (and zero Cy Youngs and two measly All Star appearances), then Tommy John deserves to go in too. And he had a breakthrough surgery named for him.
4) Tony La Russa. Unlike Torre, La Russa was not an outstanding player. But, as a manager, he won 6 pennants and 3 World Series (with Oakland and St. Louis) and won 2,728 games, third all time.
I think these four are all no-brainers. The next few are a little tougher.
5) Bobby Cox. Bobby Cox won 2,504 games as a manager, fourth all-time behind La Russa. However, he didn’t have a lot of postseason success. In 30 years as a manager, he won 15 division titles, but only won 5 pennants and only 1 World Series. He made the postseason 16 times total but managed only one World Series title in those 16 opportunities, in other words. I guess he gets in based on the 2,504 wins, but it appears to me he got outmanaged quite a bit in postseason.
6) Steve Garvey. Garvey is very borderline. He hit .294, won an MVP, hit over .300 seven times and made 10 All-Star teams, hit 272 home runs and had just an OK OPS of .775. He basically had eight really good years from age 24-31, but after the age of 31, his numbers declined and he became a pretty mediocre player and he was done at 37. I don’t think 8 good years and 7 or 8 mediocre years quite gets you in the Hall of Fame. I think he comes up a bit short.
7) Dan Quisenberry. I personally have a bias against relief pitchers in the Hall of Fame. The only eligible relief pitchers I think belong in the Hall are Mariano Rivera and maybe Trevor Hoffman. It’s just such a specialised position, and saves are the most overrated statistic in baseball. Quisenberry led the American League in saves five times and four times finished in the top 3 for the Cy Young award. But, his career was short –12 years, and in only 10 of those years did he appear in more than 32 games or 40 innings. Again, not enough for the Hall of Fame, especially for a relief pitcher.
8) Dave Concepcion. I also have a bias against good players who got a lot of attention because they played on great teams. Concepcion’s offensive numbers are simply too mediocre — .267 batting average, 101 home runs, two full seasons hitting over .300, a horrid career OPS of .679. He did win 5 Gold Gloves and made the All-Star team 9 times. But, he didn’t win 13 Gold Gloves like Ozzie Smith. So, I think he is primarily on the list for playing most of his career on powerful Cincinnati Reds teams.
9) Ted Simmons. I have to be honest, I never heard of him before. I looked up his numbers and they were very solid — .285 lifetime hitter, 248 home runs. He did drive in 90 or more runs 8 times. But, the highest he ever finished in the MVP race was sixth and he never hit more than 26 home runs in a season. Not good enough for the Hall of Fame, IMO.
The rest) The rest of the eligible are non-players, Steinbrenner was a longtime owner of the Yankees, Billy Martin was an average player but is on the list for being a longtime manager and Marvin Miller is a longtime union leader. I don’t have any strong opinions about whether they belong in the Hall, other than Marvin Miller was a big architect of free agency and therefore changed the game dramatically. I don’t think owners should go in, personally.
It will be interesting to see how my picks match up against the Expansion panel, which is mostly made up of former players — so I guess their opinion matters more than mine.