RandBall

Michael Rand started RandBall with hopes that he could convince the world to love jumpsuits as much as he does. So far, he's only succeeded in using the word "redacted" a lot. He welcomes suggestions, news tips, links of pure genius, and pictures of pets in Halloween costumes here, though he already knows he will regret that last part.

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Tuesday (Mike Leach, football and Tinder) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated September 30th at 10:33am 277600501

leachStrange but true: we’ve been looking for an entry point to write about Tinder, which we describe as the casual dating app that connects people with the mere swipe of a screen.

Tinder has no use in our life, having been married for 7 years, but we’ve still been trying to sort through our feelings on the concept of it. Does it merely speed up the process of traditional matchmaking — noncommittal as it might be — or is it a hopelessly shallow means to an end that is about as romantic as calling (or texting) a “good time” phone number scrawled on the stall of a bathroom?

This is a sports blog (usually), so there wasn’t really a good way for us to express those sentiments without seeming terribly off topic … until, of course, Washington State football coach Mike Leach had his weekly news conference. Leach never met a topic he couldn’t veer toward, and this week he delved into the notion of modern romance — not specifically Tinder, but close enough. Said Leach (and yes, we swear this was at a news conference about football):

I’m not really good with technology. All this button pushing and whatnot. I mean, you can just imagine based on what’s happened in the last 15 years. Conversations won’t happen 10 years from now. There aren’t going to be people to talk to, it’s going to be this (mimics pushing buttons). ‘Do you want to go out on a date with me?’ ‘I don’t know, what do you look like?’ ‘Well I look kind of like this.’ ‘OK, what are your interests?’ ‘Well, what do you think my interests are? Looking into this thing and typing into this just like yours are.’ ‘Yeah, no kidding, that’s what everybody’s doing.’ ‘Well, where do you want to go?’ ‘Well, what  difference does it make? Because all we’re going to be doing is looking into machines anyways.’ Well, that’s true and in the end it’s going to be tough to perpetuate the species. There’s no question about that. So we’re all going to look in this box and eventually be extinct. That’s how it ends.”

Leach got pretty dark pretty quick there, diving headlong from the problems of dating in 2014 to the extinction of the species. But we can’t say we entirely disagree (not really about the extinction part), even if we’re not sure it’s fair to judge a process in which we are not an active participant.

The broader connection to football here, aside from a colorful coach going off on a tangent, is that in some ways we feel Leach’s sentiments mirror how some sports are played these days — and part of the reason some are in danger of extinction, too.

For all football’s inherent beauty, savagery, problems and triumphs, it has regardless felt wonderfully unscripted. The best athletes on a given day were going to triumph based on their prowess on the field — within a set of scripted plays, of course, but typically the plays were predicated upon players following general assignments and physically bettering their opponents.

Baseball, too, was a very intense battle of skill — pitcher vs. batter — with a “here it is, if you can hit it” mentality.

Football now feels more and more like a set of sophisticated simulations playing out on a field after coaches spend grueling 18-hour days devising the best ways to defeat an opponent — not by outplaying them, but by outthinking or confusing them.

Baseball is killing itself with information. We know exact splits and tendencies, so why wouldn’t a manager use 7 different pitchers, often more than one in an inning, if he sees a way to get an edge? It fundamentally changes the way games are played, and more so it creates absurdly long games that will eventually drive fans away in droves if it can’t be fixed. But would you stop using information and technology available if you found it to be useful? Probably not.

That brings us back to Leach and modern romance. He’s decrying something he doesn’t understand, but fundamentally he has a point. Someone who uses Tinder, though, is merely using a tool that provides a quicker means to an end … often though (we would imagine) without thinking about thinking about the consequences or even the rationale for using it other than “it exists and therefore it is progress.”

All of this probably raises some larger points about the blindingly fast pace of technological advancement in society beyond just sports and sex, but that’s a story for another time.

For now, we’re left to wonder how it will impact the sports we love, while Leach is left to wonder if there will even be people around to play them.

TFD: Firing Gardenhire is a move that will please a lot of fans but won't sell many tickets

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated September 30th at 1:48am 277509601

gardyryanTwins manager Ron Gardenhire got fired today, then showed up to his own news conference and basically agreed with the man who fired him, Terry Ryan, that a new voice and direction could be just what the Twins need.

Ryan, for his part, seemed to make the move somewhat reluctantly — in part because he thinks of Gardenhire “like he’s my brother and not my manager” and in part, we think, because he isn’t 100 percent convinced this is the right baseball move.

If he did, Ryan wouldn’t have said the next manager he seeks will have many of the same qualities as the man he just fired.

What it came down to, Ryan said, was too much losing. It’s a simple reason, a good reason, and a true reason. How much of it is Gardenhire’s fault almost becomes irrelevant at a point, particularly when trying to sell the same product to a justifiably frustrated fan base.

The paradox, of course, is that as much as this could be considered a crowd-sourced move (the Twins took the temperature and figured out they just couldn’t keep giving the public the same story), firing a manager and hiring a new one, in and of itself, does not figure to move the needle much when it comes to attendance or enthusiasm.

If the Twins continue to flounder — there are indications they could be better, but there were also indications of that this year and they still lost 92 games — the person writing the lineup card will matter very little while attendance at Target Field will continue to plummet.

If the Twins play better, fans will return and be happier. That’s not to say a new manager will have no influence over which of those scenarios play out; it’s only to say that a new manager by himself will not cure the organization’s woes.

Thad Young talks about replacing Kevin Love, says he's not going to 'be a stat stuffer'

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated September 29th at 2:26pm 277484761

rickymartinTarget is getting a lot of bang for its naming rights buck today. We spent most of the mid-afternoon at Target Center for Wolves media day, and we’re headed shortly to Target Field for the 3 p.m. news conference to hear about sweeping changes with the Twins (Ron Gardenhire and the entire coaching staff let go).

We’ll have more Gardy thoughts after the presser; for now, here are some Wolves takeaways, starting with Thaddeus Young.

The new Wolves power forward has been adamant that he isn’t replacing Kevin Love in terms of production or trying to replicate what the traded superstar brings to the table. Instead, Young plans on being his own player.

Within the context of that, though, Young did have an an interesting comment during his allotted media time. Talking about Love’s propensity to average big numbers scoring and rebounding, Young said, “26 (points) and 12 (rebounds) hasn’t got us to the playoffs. … I’m not coming out here to try to be a stat stuffer.”

Again, Young could have just been talking about the differences in their games, but it felt like he was at least taking a mild shot at how Love’s stats figured into the overall picture with the Wolves, even if Young wasn’t here to personally witness it.

*Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin were paired together in their media session (pictured, not to be confused with Ricky Martin), and we were struck by Martin’s declaration that he’s willing to be a team leader this season and that Flip Saunders will hold him a lot more accountable than former coach Rick Adelman did. Martin said he “got away with things” playing under Adelman.

*Corey Brewer was asked how much he followed the Love saga over the summer. He said he didn’t track it much, but he did say, “I knew he was going to get out of here. Let’s all be honest.” It was interesting, in our mind, that players had figured out (whether by Love telling them outright or just sensing from the environment a year ago) that Love wouldn’t be here this year.

*We asked several shooting guards/small forwards about the crowd at the wing position. The general answer is that it’s a good thing and will create competition, but that will be one of the most interesting camp battles.

*Wiggins has “Hall of Fame potential,” Martin said.

*Anthony Bennett and Shabazz Muhammad went through an intense summer workout program and look noticeably leaner. We took a picture of them when they had their shirts off because that’s totally a normal thing to do.

Monday (Breaking down Bridgewater's debut) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated September 29th at 1:19pm 277453501

teddyfridgewaterOur natural temptation after watching Teddy Bridgewater throw for 317 yards and rush for a TD in his first start Sunday — helping the Vikings to a 41-28 victory in which they amassed the fourth-most yards in team history — was to compare him to Daunte Culpepper.

Daunte was the last young Vikings QB to make that kind of a splash in his debut; Tarvaris Jackson certainly didn’t do it, and even though Christian Ponder did have flashes in his first start against Green Bay, you never looked at him and said, “This is the future, no doubt.”

We were at that first Culpepper game — in the Dome, circa 2000, against the Bears — when he ran for three touchdowns and led a 30-27 comeback victory.

What we didn’t remember is that Culpepper’s passing numbers for the day were pretty ordinary: 13 of 23, 190 yards, no TD passes and one INT. His 13 carries for 73 yards and three TDs were huge, of course, but in our memory for some reason his passing day was better.

We dare say Bridgewater was even better than that against the Falcons, which is saying a lot: 19 for 30, 317 yards, no turnovers, and some key scrambles. More than just the raw numbers, he was composed in the face of adversity. While he benefited from tremendous line play and a fantastic running game, Bridgewater also had to overcome a massive momentum swing when the Falcons took a 28-27 lead.

Bridgewater missed a key deep ball to Jarius Wright, but on what proved to be his final drive he calmly marched the Vikings down the field for a score that gave them the lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

A lot of Bridgewater’s early work came on short passes — the kind of throws that inflated Ponder’s numbers in 2012, when he had Percy Harvin to turn 2-yard gains into more. But he finished the day 8 for 12 for 163 yards on passes that traveled at least 10 yards.

We lobbied hard for the Vikings to draft Johnny Manziel (not that it mattered what we thought, but our Johnny Football love was well-documented). One start will not define the inevitable comparisons between Manziel and Bridgewater, but at least for now the Vikings (and their fans) have to feel very good about the decision.

TFD: MLB Network's John Smoltz weighs in on Twins, Gardenhire's future

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated September 26th at 4:39pm 277268701

We had a chance to catch up with John Smoltz — former Braves great, 1991 Game 7 hero and current MLB Network analyst — for a Sunday Q&A that will run in print in a couple of days. We thought we’d offer a taste here of the parts where we talked Twins:

RB: Shifting to the Twins and what I imagine is a decision looming on manager Ron Gardenhire. You played so much of your career for one manager, Bobby Cox. Where do you come down on continuity vs. change and what that stability meant?

JS: (The Twins) had a philosophy and model that worked back in the day, and they’re having to adjust on the fly based on the power arms that exist today. … They always wanted the least amount of walks and (pitching to) contact, and it worked for a while. But it doesn’t play as much, as other organizations have proven. That’s part of the issue. … But stability is huge. That doesn’t mean every manager should manage for 23 years, but with the Twins, I think they do a good job with character and developing talent.

RB: Is it possible in an instant gratification era for a manager to survive four seasons in a row of 90 losses?

JS: I think it is possible if everyone is on the same page with what they’re trying to do. Everyone thinks managers can push a lot of buttons to win. If the players don’t produce, and aren’t in the position to be evaluated correctly, then a manager’s job of winning or losing baseball games gets falsely reported. A manager’s job in baseball, more than any other sport, is managing people. … They’ve scored a lot of runs this year. It comes down to pitching. Phil Hughes has had a great bounceback year, and when you start getting some more of that you start feeling good about your chances.

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