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Benchwarmer

Parting Shots

By Gabriel Wardell | Posted 9/14/2005

The biggest problem with television, print, and radio prognosticators is that once they enlighten the world with their wisdom, there is little recourse when they are wrong. Usually, the revelation that they are completely full of shit and have an accuracy rating lower than Kyle Boller’s is followed by a three-second bite of crow and some sort of analysis about why what actually happened is a fluke. These choice words are often padded by blows like, “Not to take anything away from . . . ” or “This is just an example of why they play the games.” Yet week in, week out, season after season, blow-hards and bozos like Chris Collinsworth and Chris Berman continue to predict. Mostly because they never have to back-pedal.

This phenomenon is not unique to football of course. There is the inestimable wisdom of Fox baseball analyst Tim McCarver. The easiest way to tell when McCarver is going to be wrong about something is to note when he is speaking. A particularly egregious case in point came on May 21, as the Mets and Yankees squared off, and Mets reliever Dae-Sung Koo led off the seventh against Randy Johnson. McCarver noted that lefties bat .191 against Johnson and, seeing how a left-handed relief pitcher was coming to the plate, made a bold prediction. Just as he was telling stuffed-shirt legacy Joe Buck how Koo’s at-bat was just a formality, just as he’s yammering on about how Koo might as well take three pitches and get ready to pitch, the scrappy lefty drilled a double deep to center over the head of Bernie Williams, who must have been thinking the same thing as McCarver. Never a good idea.

Most preseason picks take the previous year’s winners and playoff contenders and essentially regurgitate them. This way, every pundit looks smart, because he or she doesn’t actually have to take any real chances—with two exceptions: 1) the hometown pick—see Tom Boswell’s irrational but now vindicated prediction that the Nationals would not be the whipping post for the National League East, and 2) the sexy underdog—perennial selections in football like the Cincinnati Bengals; in baseball the choice alternates between the Marlins, Mets, and Phillies as the team that will finally unseat the Braves in the NL East. Another sexy pick each year is the Cubs—allegedly because of the pitching, this despite the fact that the staff has spent more time in the hospital this season than the cast of E.R.

September brings with it both football season and the time to forecast baseball’s second season while there’s still a chance to get excited about the remaining contenders. If anyone in Baltimore cared about hoops or hockey, those picks would be included here as well, but there is no evidence to support this theory.

Baseball predictions first. All of the following will come to pass: American League division winners will be Boston, Chicago, and Oakland, with Cleveland as the wild card. (Note magical thinking: no Yankees, no Whammies, and George Steinbrenner undergoes Scanners-type brain explosion.) NL division winners are Atlanta, St. Louis, and San Diego, which will make it with a sub .500 record. The wild card race is between Florida and Houston, with the edge going to Florida. Note: Should Florida make the postseason, the team has never lost a playoff series. It’s 6-0 with two World Series wins in seven years.

Despite all temptation not to do so, it is time to call it for the underrated Braves to finally win another World Series. Their opponent—could it be the Cleveland Indians, for a rematch of the 1995 World Series? To keep things from being too didactic, it should be Oakland. Then the media can ruminate on the significance of two teams with the letter “A” on their cap.

Football predictions: The sympathetic pick right now is New Orleans. But though they may be the Nats of football this season and hang tough, they’ll fade down the stretch. The safe bet is New England to win it all, again. Yet, if their opening-night performance in Baltimore is any indication, then it’s a slam dunk that NFL poster child Payton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts can finally count on that big trip to the Super Bowl. Other AFC teams in the postseason this year will include Baltimore, Kansas City, Jacksonville, New England, and San Diego. (Note wishful thinking: no Steelers.)

The NFC will be a dogfight, with the Eagles and Falcons separating themselves. The Packers will be in the mix, along with Detroit, Seattle, and Dallas. It’ll be the Falcons in the Super Bowl, and, predictably, the pundits will all pick Indianapolis to win. But they’ll put in the backdoor waffle caveat—that Atlanta’s Michael Vick could be the difference-maker in the game. This way if he busts out with a 45-yard game-saving scramble, they’ll say, “See?”

All this will happen—but should it not, you’ll never see any sort of back-peddling or retractions in this space. You can take that to the bank.

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Benchwarmer archives

More from Gabriel Wardell

Macro and Micro (9/7/2005)
The "Oriole Way" has become synonymous with "half-assed."

Choker’s Wild (8/31/2005)
Wild Card Races Are Bullshit.

Fraught With Terrell (8/17/2005)
As the Ravens suffered a late-season flame-out, unprecedented in the Brian Billick era, the Owens debacle remained a festering sore spot.

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