Securing top free agents force big spending

The MLB offseason signings have been pretty dramatic this winter. The Yankees especially (shocker) posted some big free agent signings.

Bartolo Colon: $20 Million, 2 years. 

Brian McCann: $85 Million, 5 years.

Jacoby Ellsbury: $153 Million, 7 years.

Carlos Beltran: $45 Million, 3 years. 

They also quietly resigned Derek Jeter to 1 year, $12 Million contract along with SS Brendan Ryan for a 2 year, $5 million contract.

In other words, the Yankees are scary; but their acquisitions aren’t surprising. The baseball world is used to Steinbrenner/Cashman dropping this type of dough on players. But they’re not the only ones spending big for 2014: the Mariners got Cano and Salty , Red Sox got Napoli back and Pierzynski with big contracts. That’s just to name a few.

Without a salary cap in place and a less-limiting luxury tax on excess expenditures to replace it, baseball clubs have room to spend loads on big names. The NFL, on the other hand, has a salary cap, and with the season winding down, I was curious how the contract salaries differentiated between the sports.

You can see the numbers here

Turns out, there’s a big difference. NFL players’ salaries can dip well below the million mark while, on average, MLB players get paid at least 2 mil. They’re still both equally over paid.

But football players are  fairly equally paid; salaries are pretty uniform (with the exception of the quarterbacks’) and range between ~$800,000-2,000,000. The average salaries for baseball players are higher and vary a bit more (~$1,000,000-7,000,000). Designated hitters–which don’t even exits in the NL–get paid over $6 mill on average, which means a select few teams are willing to spend a lot for one-trick players like David Ortiz and Victor Martinez.

Statistics from Sports Illustrated 

Sports injuries on campus are more costly than students think

Hundreds of students on campus take part in club and intramural sports to get involved in student life and stay active. Campus recreation hosts athletics ranging from ultimate frisbee to rugby–but some teams experience more risk than others. And that risk can come at a cost. Rugby involves hard hits and fast-paced plays that put students like Omar El Kurd in the emergency room. But without official athletic trainers, the students have to explore outside options for health care.

The 49ers lose gut-wrencher at home, ruin my week

The 49ers lost 10-9 to the Panthers this week and moved 2 1/2 games behind the Seattle Seahawks. Uh oh.

First of all, let’s talk about this score…10-9? Sounds like the final score to a Yankees vs. any other AL team game. But in football, these numbers scream defensive duel. And it’s true, the game was really a battle of two hard-hitting defenses. The anticipated matchup between LB Ahmad Brooks and QB Cam Newton didn’t disappoint: Brooks recorded three sacks on the slippery quarterback (the guy was escaping tackles left and right!) The 49er defense held a pretty strong front and held the Panther offense to just one touchdown and 130 passing yards. The TD came after some sloppy play in the secondary that allowed RB DeAngelo Williams to squeak into the end zone.

But the Panther defense outplayed our top-ranked one. Even with a four-man rush, the d-line managed to trample over our offensive lineman and fluster Kaepernick snap after snap. They recorded six sacks and allowed a measly 46 passing yards. But, to make matters worse for the 49ers, the Panther defense didn’t allow a single touchdown.

Or, rather, the 49ers could barely string together a steady drive down the field for a touchdown. The closest the Niners got was the 1 yard line and, on fourth down, Coach Harbaugh decided, instead of punching Dixon or Gore in for the TD, to draw an offside call. Which failed.

I was lucky enough to attend this game, and even from up in the stands, it was clear that the offensive play calling was dry, at best: runs up the middle, fades to the outside–which were consistently dropped by an apparently healthy Manningham. Where were the deep seams? The slants? The screen passes? I know I preach every week that the run game is the Niners’ strong suit, but that game means nothing if Kaep can’t connect to any receivers for an impact play.  The only attempt Roman and crew took on a deep pass play was to rookie TE Vance McDonald, who dropped the damn ball.

Around the second quarter, the loud idiot in the row behind me kept screaming in frustration, “C’mon man, get it to Vernon! Pass it to Vernon!” I check Twitter like a maniac during the game, and knew that he had left the game with a possible concussion. After I reminded the guy… who continued to call for a pass to Vernon throughout the game…that he wasn’t playing, I realized something scary: we need Vernon to win.

Though he did play in the Seattle game, Davis was injured for our loss to the Colts. And, for this game, the offense was screaming for a deep pass to the speedy tight end. He is our only explosive receiver.

Vernon and my favorite rookie Eric Reid, who also took a hard hit from Mike Tolbert, returned to practice this week. Hopefully they can keep healthy for the rest of the playoff race; a tunnel that is starting to narrow in on us.

Out with Candlestick, in with Levi

After 40-some years, this is the last season the 49ers will play at Candlestick park. Actually, this is the last time anyone will play at Candlestick park. After we win the NFC Championship game at home this year (hypothetically…of course), they’re going to knock it down. That’s it, no more ‘Stick, it’ll be kaput.

Am I bummed about this? Yes. Sure, I’ve had enough of the long, cramped lines to get an $8 hotdog; the small, singular escalator and uncomfortable seats–the old, compact jumbotron, the burnt out overhead lights and the dingy concrete ambiance. But as my dear mother always told me, what’s on the inside counts. And games at the ‘Stick can’t be beat. The field is filled with history, comebacks, cheers and jeers that make up the tumultuous 49er history and the fans who have stuck with them through it all. But now all that is moving over to Santa Clara, to a beautiful, environmentally friendly, expensive Levi Stadium.

My dad, Roger Rubin, watching the game from his seat at Candlestick Park.

My dad, Roger Rubin, watching the game from his seat at Candlestick Park.

I hate to pull the gentrification card but uh… this is a major revamp. Old San Francisco is already suffering at the hands of new, modern, tech-savvy San Francisco–our multi-culturally based and generally free-spirited identity that has been engrained in this city for decades is slowly becoming infected with the clean, sleek technology plague spilling out of Silicon Valley–and the 49ers franchise is just another casualty. Need I remind you all that Santa Clara Valley is Silicon Valley. Yeah, I’m bitching about the tech takeover, but who isn’t these days.

San Franciscans are used to having the Niners within a short car ride in tourist-hell, also known as Bayview/Hunter’s Point. It hurts many natives to see their city fall down the tech drain and have something so iconic as Candlestick flushed down to the valley as well.

But some are happy with the change–we don’t have to deal with a gross park anymore! Supporters say the move is worth the money and risk to the team’s fan base. I talked to a longtime season ticket holder, Renee Koury, and another longtime fan, Craig Lifto, who share different views about the new stadium.

Debunking the ‘read option’

Is anyone else getting annoyed with all the ‘read option’ talk?

I feel like all sports analysts and sideline reporters are consumed by this sexy alternative to pass-or-run football; it’s like, all of the sudden, “running quarterbacks” like Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, RGIII and Colin Kaepernick invented this new element–a whole different dynamic– to football and revolutionized the apparently rusted and monotonous game.

…OK, maybe it is exciting… But I’m sick of the talk, and intrigued by the play itself. It seems as though analysts spout endlessly about this term “read option,” but the concept is lost on the common sports fan like myself. When I saw Kaepernick rush for those 181 yards against Green Bay in January, it took me a while to distinguish the difference between a standard quarterback sneak/scramble and that read option hoopla reporters kept spewing about.

I grew up watching Steve Young (kind of, since he played his last game in 1999, when I was just 7)–running quarterback extraordinaire. His run agains the Vikings in 1988 is my personal favorite Young moment: he makes his passing reads, sees that no one is open and that the pocket is collapsing and with one swift motion scrambles to the endzone. With the rising hype during the 2012 postseason surrounding Kaepernick and his gazelle legs, I wondered what exactly was so new; Just 10 or so years ago the 49ers had a quarterback with similar talents, I thought, who could run just as well.

But there’s a distinction between the kind of run Young was known for and what QBs like Kap do, and it lies in a subtle, quick maneuver during the play. During the 2012 NFC Division playoff game agains the Packers, Kaepernick ran for a 56 yard touchdown–but there’s more to the play. Before the snap, Kaepernick takes a scan of the defense and calls an audible that calls on FB Bruce Miller to block OLB Nick Perry. Kap fakes the handoff to Gore who runs up the middle while Kap, who follows Miller’s block on the right, runs it for the TD. The trick to this play is the audible: Kap read the defense and slyly changed the play to an unexpected run to the opposite side.

See, Young was known more for his quick feet and ability to scramble out of the pocket for some productive yards in a pinch. But running plays from Kaepernick and Co. are devised from quick scans of the defense. An article from the MMQB by Peter King examines the read option further in an in-depth conversation with Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. He explains another tweak to the read option, in which the quarterback decides whether or not to hand off the ball or keep it and run during the play. The trick here is to monitor who the charging and uncovered defensive lineman is after. In that moment, the QB decides whether to actually hand off the ball to the RB or keep it to himself during the handoff.

And that, my friends, is the read option. To put it simply, it is a play that gives the quarterback an option to keep the ball and run it himself should the defense lineup to allow this. Pretty simple. Let the read option mania proceed.

“League of Denial” raises old concerns with new information

I’ve heard a lot surrounding this PBS  “League of Denial” doc about the effect of concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the NFL. One thing sports journalists, and fans I think frequently disregard is the other, dangerous side of the game; we get caught up in the stats, characters and excitement that we forget what the players are risking when they get out on the field. In football, especially, fans thrive on big, cringe-worthy hits that sometimes leave the victim sprawled helplessly on the field. Much of the game strategy in football revolves around strong contact and leaping tackles–and despite the padding and helmets–every hit is a big one.

The documentary highlighted a group of lineman who died from CTE, a brain disease that forms after multiple concussions and head injuries.  Neurologists Benet Omalu and Ann McKee found the disease in famed, deceased NFL stars like Mike Webster and Tom McHale who, before their death, experienced dementia-like symptoms and confusion. Football players who committed suicide, like Terry Long,  Junior Saeu and 21-year-old University of Pennsylvania lineman Owen Thomas, also had signs of CTE in their postmortem brain tissues.

The stories themselves were downright scary and depressing–they told of widows and children who lost loved ones to a supposedly fun-spirited sport and their constant battle with NFL bigwigs like Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL doctor Ira Casson, who consistently denied that the game caused their husbands’ and fathers’ deaths.  The movie portrays the NFL as a money-hungry, untouchable enterprise; no outside experts nor incriminating evidence could penetrate the system. Football is America’s sport–other than baseball, I guess–and we live for Sunday afternoons and Monday nights. Omalu and McKee were just pesky bugs attempting to infect the system, and the NFL just needed to swat them away.

The documentary exposed a coverup–though eventually the NFL openly funded CTE research at Boston University and confessed to the New York Times that concussions caused these deaths (not sure where the article is, but I found a relevant one)–and also presented football fans with a dilemma.

Yes, football is dangerous, and potentially fatal…woah…so do we give up on it? Get rid of it? Shut down the NFL and tuck football away on our historical shelf in the Smithsonian where fans can only reminisce about the game? Seriously, suddenly we have all this information, but what do we do with it?

When the movie ended, I felt conflicted. I felt bad for being a fan–I like big hits and tough play. These were guys that were risking their life to play football and at what cost? Millions of dollars for a short lifetime?

After a moment, I clicked on an article below the documentary, “What NFL Players are saying about ‘League of Denial.'” The article  was a stark contrast to the tone of the documentary; the doctors, former players and families in the movie are warning football fans and players of the game’s dangers, but the players don’t seemed alarmed at all. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, in a response to CTE issue, said “I don’t think about it at all. I’m not overly concerned.” And some players understand the dangers they face during the game, like Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who said “…I know the risk I take when I step on the field. Im risking future health and future mental health. I understand that, future physical health.”

Then I realized, perhaps all the concussion talk is old news. We know football is dangerous, and any hit to the head can cause head injuries that will stick with you for a lifetime if you are hit hard enough times. Fans know this, players know this, the NFL knows this. Should we uproot the football culture in America because it is dangerous?

Yes, the NFL is banking off of players risking a life threatening injury every time they step on the field, and that’s disturbing. We know corporate America is evil, yet there is no escaping it’s embrace; we’re in too deep, football is here to stay.

The new research found regarding CTE can answer a lot of questions, though. It explains many mysterious deaths within the NFL. But is the danger of concussions in football itself news? Nah.

49ers beat the Texans: An ode to Frank Gore

I lured you here on false pretenses. I don’t know how to write an ode…I remember learning something about them in second grade but my memory is failing me. Also poetry is bullshit. But I do want to address Frank Gore and his show-no-mercy running game he demonstrated at this weekend’s game–so instead, here’s a haiku.

A staunch running back

falls forward for the first down.

Hah, nice try Houston.

Out of our three wins this season, the one against Texas this Sunday added a springier hop to my step than the others. The opening game vs Green Bay was an exciting shootout, yes, and the win against the Rams got us back on a successful trajectory, sure, but the elements to this game in particular brought a little nostalgia back to the Niners fan base.

A few years before the Harbaugh era, Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary’s strategies revolved around the run game and a solid defense; In 2007, the team drafted LB Patrick Willis to an underrated defensive group boasting CBs Shawntae Spencer and Dennis Strickland and future impact DEs Ray McDonald and Isaac Sopoaga.  Frank Gore rushed for 1102 yards that year,  and rushed for over 1000 yards each consecutive season until 2010.  Though the Niners struggled to secure a winning record in those years, the team was defined by its run-stuffing defense and Gore-heavy offense.

When Harbaugh stepped in, and Kaepernick took the helm in 2012, the run game became less of a factor. Though Gore ran for 1214 yards that year, the read option revolution–along with Kap’s bullet throw– evolved, taking the Niners to the Super Bowl.

The offense had a shaky start this season, as Greg Roman and Jim Harbaugh grappled with the options (read, pass, run with Gore) and lost sight of the team’s core: the run.

With two straight losses coming into the fourth  and fifth weeks, Harbaugh and Co. decided to reconnect with the old Niners’ roots–pass for the impact, run for the solid movement. Gore dominated in the win over Houston with 81 yards and a touchdown.  And the defense, without 6-time pro-bowler Willis, kept Houston to a field goal and my main man Tramaine Brock got two picks, one for six.

The Niners look like their old self again, but this time with a winning record; If they keep this up, they should be back on track for the title.

I was too sick to attend the game, so my brother went for me. I’ll be at the next one against Arizona hopefully, but I did get to watch it on TV with good company.