It took me a while to recover from my trip north of the border. I’m diving into all sorts of sports on this Wednesday. Time for some fire flames takes.
I dropped the ball by not writing last week, and for that I am sorry. Sometimes the weekends get the best of you and last into the subsequent work week. That’s exactly the case for last week, and why this glorious website was sans-column by yours truly. No need for me to wax poetic about my indiscretions, so instead I plan on jumping fully into hot-take, bitch-fest mood with my return to the Chin Music Podcast. If you missed my last column (you’ve had two weeks, come on now) check it out, or if you missed Brendan’s awesome Monday Afternoon Update, get caught up on everything that’s happening around these parts.
1. Jose Fernandez’s death is our generation’s Roberto Clemente
Now before we cue the #InternetOutrage and come screaming for my head, give me a second to acknowledge the huge differences between the two sad events. When Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash on his way to Nicaragua on a volunteer mission to help the city following an earthquake, he already had completed a Hall of Fame type career. He was the star of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and one of the best hitters in the game. He died on a volunteer trip to help a leveled city after a natural disaster. Clemente was and is one of the greatest humanitarians that sports has ever seen and he was taken from this planet far too soon.
With Fernandez, the budding superstar and 24-year old (he’s one month younger than me. That really hits home) was one of the game’s brightest stars. Unlike Clemente, he didn’t have the Hall of Fame resume to his name.
All signs pointed to Fernandez dominating MLB hitters for the next decade plus, with his youthful exuberance and playful attitude shining a light on an otherwise bleak Miami Marlins franchise. And instead, he is killed in a boating accident off Miami Beach.
Clemente died on a humanitarian mission. Fernandez died on a late-night boat ride. Both players were shining stars around the country and the world, and both were killed far too early.
That’s the biggest connection between the two. Clemente and Fernandez died way too young in a means of transportation that normally is very safe. Both players were at the height of stardom in Major League Baseball. Clemente was on his way to the Hall of Fame. Fernandez looked to be on his way too. Their deaths shook the foundation of their respective teams, cities and baseball as a whole. Waking up Sunday morning to a text that Fernandez was dead seemed like a pretty sick joke at first. Then a quick Google search and Twitter scroll confirmed the awful news.
It’s an incredibly sad time in baseball as Fernandez gets remembered throughout the league. He was a player who transcended the uniform he wore. He was an outstanding talent with a mythic-like background who seemed poised for superstardom. Now, like Clemente, have to refer to him in the past sense. #RIPJF16
2. NFL ratings are down, and that’s really bad news for those in charge
Through three weeks of the regular season, the NFL has seen a pretty dramatic dropoff in ratings compared to last year. I don’t have a definitive answer as to why it’s happening, and nobody else does either. But I can say for certain that Roger Goodell, league brass and NFL owners are shaking in their collective boots with the thought of their popularity peak now seemingly behind them.
We’ve all seen the incredible growth of the NFL in the past decade. The movie “Concussion” put it best. The league literally owns a day of the week. When you think of Sunday in the United States, you think of football. That’s just bananas. But now, with ratings diving across the board, it means that the NFL as we know it might be on a trend that most saw coming.
Maybe it’s the ongoing debate with concussions and player safety. Maybe it’s the ongoing debate about player’s being fucking scumbags. Maybe it’s the owners sucking every last penny out of cities, players and fans. Maybe it’s the lack of my generation buying cable packages to watch the games. Maybe it’s the fact that sports gambling and fantasy sports are constantly under review and who knows if they’ll be legal or illegal any coming year. Or maybe it’s that people are tired of paying exorbitant amounts of money to attend/watch the 21st century edition of gladiator-style battle.
Whatever the reason is, the NFL is looking at a popping bubble of revenues and popularity that could impact the league for years to come. Sure, the Super Bowl will regularly be the most-watched program of the year (minus Presidential Debates) but the regular season and playoffs are their bread and butter. If ratings continue to drop, then sweeping changes could be coming to the No Fun League.
3. Forget the TV ratings, the World Cup of Hockey was a huge success (minus the USA being God-awful)
Maybe you had to be there (humble brag) but the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto was fucking awesome. That city really went all out to welcome in the world for some top-notch hockey talent. The city was decked out in World Cup stuff, and fans of all countries (and even Europe and North America) flocked to the hockey mecca for the two-week tournament. While the USA showing was a disgrace, the World Cup as a whole has to be viewed as a huge success for the NHL and the sport of ice hockey.
First reason why: they sold a SHIT load of merchandise. Everywhere you turned in Toronto there was someone wearing something hockey-related with an Adidas logo. There were multiple gift shops filled to the gills with World Cup of Hockey stuff. Even in the States, stores were selling WCH stuff. NHL teams are going to carry World Cup apparel geared toward the players on their team. There were some awesome designs (which Brendan and I argued about a while back) and the NHL marketed it like crazy. Those merchandise revenues are going to go a long way toward this tournament happening again down the road.
Secondly: hockey was back on ESPN. Like I prefaced this take with, disregard the actual ratings of these games. The sheer fact that professional hockey was back on ESPN is huge for the NHL. If the games drew over a 0.0 (they did) then it’s a win. Is that setting a low bar? Absolutely. But guess what, it’s something the NHL needs to do to start attracting fans in the US.
ESPN’s coverage was pretty solid overall, but their dedicated lineup of Chris Chelios and Brett Hull as studio analysts lends a pretty knowledgeable group to any telecast. I think my favorite part of the tournament was that once each game ended, the SportsCenter following the contest actually led off the show with hockey highlights. I can’t even think of the last time that happened. For the casual sports fan, seeing hockey lead off the premier sports highlight show in the country, that’s big time stuff.
NBC Sports has become the home of hockey, and they do a great job of packaging it to hockey fans. But if the sport wants to take the next step (like I want to see it do) then ESPN needs to help. This was a step in the right direction, and the World Cup played the major role in that.
4. No more lovable losers. Anything but a World Series win would be a crushing blow to the Chicago Cubs
The best team in baseball can’t play the lovable losers card anymore after this year. The 100-win Chicago Cubs, the consensus best team in baseball from Opening Day on, have to win the World Series this year. We’ve seen good Cubs teams (and a lot of really shitty ones) make a run at the playoffs, but this team is loaded. Do I think this is actually the Cubs year? You betcha. But with that said, in the event this team somehow melts down in October and comes up short of breaking the Curse of the Billy Goat, they won’t be the lovable losers anymore. They’ll just be chokers.
Last year when the Cubs were swept in the NLCS by the Mets, I jumped into the crowd of “No worries, they were a year ahead of schedule anyways.” We saw some pretty big flaws come out in that Cubs team against the Mets, and it seems as though they’ve all been fixed throughout 2016.
Deep starting rotation? Check. Lights-out back end of the bullpen? Check. Power hitting lineup? Check. World Series favorite? Check.
It’s time for the Cubs to avenge a lot of things this fall, including their longtime moniker of being the team everyone can root for because they’ve perennially sucked. Anything but a World Series for Chicago should be viewed as a disappointment. Their road in the National League looks pretty tame, considering the injury-riddled Nationals and Mets are fading, the Cardinals and Giants haven’t looked like anything special, and the Dodgers don’t have a great rotation outside of Kershaw (who has sucked in the playoffs). The Cubs seem to be in line for a Fall Classic berth. Not even Steve Bartman can fuck this one up.
Chicago fans, it’s time to embrace the end of days. The Cubs are in a great spot to win the World Series. May God protect us all from the impending apocalypse.
P.S. How crazy/insane would it be for both Cleveland and the Cubs to win a championship in the same calendar year? If you said that any year prior to this, I would have called you mentally insane. And yet, here we are.
5. LSU’s decline was expedited by Les Miles’ firing. The Tigers are geauxing to finish just over .500 this year.
Les Miles getting canned from LSU probably should have happened a while ago. But instead, he got the pink slip after Saturday’s loss against a pretty bad Auburn team. New coach Ed Orgeron comes in and fires the offensive coordinator, and it’s full blown damage control time down in Baton Rouge. And yet with all the chaos at LSU, an Auburn fan set fire to the celebratory tree in Toomer’s Corner. Go figure. College football has some weird shit.
Anyways, Miles’ departure spells the end of an era for LSU football. Records of 8-5 and 9-3 aren’t terrible, but they sure as hell aren’t going to do it for the football-rich Tigers. Barely beating Mississippi State this year and falling to Auburn are signs of a program in decline, and Miles had to be at the center of it. LSU has a pretty tough schedule moving ahead too, with games at Florida and Texas A&M, and a home beatdown coming at the hands of Alabama coming up.
For over a decade Miles guided the Tigers. He finished his LSU career with a 114-34 record, one SEC title, and one National Championship. For a program that has some of the best recruiting classes every year, that simply won’t do. He could have been axed last year but the school kept him along. Now, he’s just another former SEC coach that other programs will be drooling over to hire. He’ll rebound, but the Tigers won’t in 2016. They’ll finish just over .500 and go to some meaningless bowl game and probably win. But at the end of the day, LSU is in trouble moving forward.
That’ll do it for us. We’ll be back next week with some more hot takes for your Wednesday reading enjoyment. Follow Tim on Twitter@culvey13 and Brendan at @MurraySportTalk for more, or to tell me us we’re morons. Either way, have at it.