still had it

On May 25, 1935, Babe Ruth was playing for the first time in the National League. He had turned 40 years old, and the New York Yankees let him go to the Boston Braves. The Babe played regularly for Boston, but it wasn't going well for the aging slugger, and as he took the field at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field that day, his batting average was at .153, with only 3 homers, which gave him 711 for his career.

I'm not sure there's an explanation for what happened that day. The Braves were a terrible team with a record of 8-19 (they eventually finished in last place). Ruth came up in the top of the first with one out and a man on, and hit his 712th home run off of Pirates pitcher Red Lucas. Top of the third, same situation: one out, man on, although the pitcher was now Guy Bush. Ruth hit another home run, his 713th. By the time Ruth faced Bush in the 7th inning, he had added an RBI single ... at that point, he had knocked in all five Boston runs, but they trailed, 7-5. There was no one on base this time, but The Babe wasn't done. He hit his third home run of the game, the 714th of his career. The 4-for-4 day boosted his batting average to .206. His career record 714 home runs lasted from 1935 until Henry Aaron broke it in 1974.

Landon Donovan was arguably the greatest soccer player in U.S. history. While still a teenager, he joined the San Jose Earthquakes in MLS and helped them to two league championships in four years. He then moved to the Los Angeles Galaxy for the majority of his career. When he retired, he held the all-time MLS regular season record with 145 goals.

Chris Wondolowski was something of a late bloomer. In 2010, at the age of 27, Wondo led MLS in goals scored while playing for the Earthquakes. In 2018, still with the Quakes, he scored ten goals, making it nine straight seasons with at least ten goals, a league record. At the end of that season, he had 144 career league goals, one short of Donovan's record.

At the beginning of 2019, Wondo, now 36 years old, started the team's first four matches, all of which they lost. Wondo didn't score in any of them. He found himself on the bench for the fifth game, which the Quakes won. Wondo became a late-game substitute, and was scoreless for the season, while the Quakes were getting better every week under new coach Matías "Pelado" Almeyda.

Today, Wondolowski got his first start in awhile, due to an injury to regular starter Danny Hoesen. And this followed:

Hopefully, this marks a late resurgence for Wondo, but in any event, he has been a True Earthquake.

Since I brought up Babe Ruth to start this post, I should probably add that after that three-homer game, Ruth played five more games and never had another hit.


sports

Some context:

Liverpool is one of the most storied clubs in English soccer. They were founded in 1892. They have won the top flight of English soccer 18 times over the years, although their most recent was back in 1989-90, before the First Division became the Premier League that everyone knows today. Five times they have won the European Cup, which is more times than any other English team. Their home, Anfield, is world famous, and has been their home since their founding in 1892. Their fans are famously loyal ... they have a song, the venerable "You'll Never Walk Alone", which was originally from a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. A version performed by the Liverpool band Gerry and the Pacemakers hit the top of the UK charts in 1963, and it became the soccer team's anthem, played before every home game. That this is important can be seen whenever an Anfield match is televised here in the States ... the announcers never talk over the crowd's singing. Here is an especially spirited rendition ... their opponents were Borussia Dortmund, who also use the song as their anthem, so supporters for both teams joined in:

Today, Anfield welcomed Barcelona for the second match of two in the Champions League semi-finals. Barcelona had beaten Liverpool at home 3-0, which meant Liverpool was behind before today's match even began. Not only that, two of Liverpool's biggest stars, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, were out with injury. And let's not forget that the greatest player of all time, Leo Messi, plays for Barcelona.

Liverpool got an early goal: 3-1. Early in the second half, they got two more: 3-3. And then came a smart, tricky corner kick, when Trent Alexander-Arnold noticed that the Barcelona players were busy getting set up. He took the kick before they were ready, Divock Origi scored: 4-3.

That was the final score. Liverpool advance to the Champions League final.

That's enough context. Here is what happened after the match:


managing expectations

We attended last night's MLS season opener for the San Jose Earthquakes. Last season the team was just awful, winning only four games all year. During the off-season, their primary move was to hire the respected Argentinian coach Matías Almeyda, who has worked on three occasions with teams fallen on bad times (River Plate, Banfield, and Chivas) and took part in a turnaround. He would seem to be the perfect new manager for the Quakes, so much so that it was surprising he even came here at all.

My nephew is the most knowledgeable person in our family when it comes to soccer. He's the right age, growing up as the sport was blossoming in the States ... as a little tyke, he attended the very first Major League Soccer game ... and, unlike most people, has managed to turn a passion into a full-time job, currently with Toronto in MLS. He often suggests to me that managers aren't nearly as important as we think, that it's the players that matter (I'm simplifying here). I decided this meant the 2019 Quakes might make an interesting study of that concept. They were a bad team, and while they mix-and-matched a few players, they didn't sign any big stars outside of Almeyda. If managers lack importance, the Quakes aren't likely to be revived.

Hard to say after one game if the revival is taking place. MLS rules (and the reluctance of the San Jose front office to spend lots of money) mean Almeyda probably hasn't been given the kind of money he could use to rebuild the roster, although that is mere supposition on my part. Last night, the Quakes' play looked more positive, and a goal in the 11th minute gave fans some hope, but eventually, San Jose lost, 2-1. Their defense was erratic, and while the offense had plenty of possession, they rarely seemed like they were on the verge of scoring.

Almeyda has said from the beginning that recovering from a four-win season takes time, and he found some positives in the defeat. But mostly, the game reminded us just how far the team has to go. And outside of the never-give-up spirit the team showed (not something we saw too often last year), I can only say of Almeyda's influence so far that the Earthquakes will probably win more than four games in 2019. Here are some highlights, including a look at Matías, who if nothing else is the best-looking coach in the league:

And here is the view from our seats:

Avaya 2019 opener


world cup blog peeks out from under the covers

I'm gradually waking up the World Cup blog. I've posted a few things recently, including one from today that ranks the competing nations by "degree of civil liberties and political rights". Check it out to see the results:

Human Rights Soccer

Spoiler: Sweden is #1.

Another Spoiler: The opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia will be the worst match by this method.


brexit comes to football manager

This will be a longer explanation for yesterday’s link.

I used to post about the game Football Manager about once a year, trying to explain what it was and why so many people obsessed over it. Usually, I’d excerpt a complicated discussion about, say, motivational theory or Karl Popper and positivism. Back in 2010, I linked to an article by Brian Phillips, “The Unreal Genius of Football Manager, Greatest Video Game Ever”. And every year, about this time, I’d post something brief to explain why I wasn’t around much because the latest annual edition of Football Manager had been released.

I thought I’d done this forever, but I don’t think I’ve gotten around to it in recent years. I mean posting ... I still crank up the game (for instance, I played last year’s model, FM 2016, for 924 hours, which wasn’t even my record ... that was FM 2014, with 1236 hours played). FM 2017 beta came out yesterday, and I’ve already managed 11 hours. The game’s depth is endlessly complex, and I’ve been at it since the late-90s.

Each year adds new wrinkles to the game, and often, we’ll get preview videos that show some of the changes, like this year’s, dramatically titled “The Big Reveal”:

But there was a surprise for us when the beta was released yesterday. Miles Jacobson, the director of the series, wrote earlier this year, explaining FM to non-players:

We’ve been releasing games for 24 years, starting off as two brothers based in their bedroom in Shropshire through to where we are now, a 110 strong team based in the Old Street area of London. We make niche games, although the niche is pretty popular – we sell just shy of 2m games a year and were independent until roughly 10 years ago when we became part of SEGA. 30 of the 35 people who were with the studio when the takeover happened are still here now. We also have circa 100 contractors at any one time, some in the UK, and some in other parts of the world.

Jacobson joined the team early on, after brothers Paul and Oliver Collyer created the game. For their efforts, the Collyers were named Members of the Order of the British Empire ... later Jacobson became an officer of the order (or something like that ... I admit I don’t quite understand these things). Suffice to say that the Football Manager series has made a lot of money for those three, and a lot of money for England, and a lot of joy to the players. It’s “just a game”, but it regularly refutes that cliché ... take the title of a documentary from 2010, Football Manager: More Than Just a Game. Or Iain Macintosh’s 2012 book, Football Manager Stole My Life: 20 Years of Beautiful Obsession. Or look at the real teams that use the vast FM database for scouting purposes.

Well, the above quote from Jacobson was a prelude to a long piece about how Brexit might affect Football Manager. He wrote primarily about how it could change the way Sports Interactive ("SI", the company that produces the game) works, detailing some real-world possibilities.

Of course, Brexit passed ... and of course, it will take time for it to take effect, if it ever does. Meanwhile, FM 2017 is here, and we’re all busy trying out the new edition.

Except ... there was a little addition that didn’t make “The Big Reveal”. SI must have a pretty strong non-disclosure agreement for its testers, because this little addition was a complete surprise.

Brexit has been built into the latest version of Football Manager.

A brief explanation. Football Manager is a “management simulation”. Unlike video games you might be familiar with, like FIFA, in FM, you do not control the players during a game. You are the manager of a club. You sign new players, choose staff, run training, create tactics, manage games, try to win championships. And after one season, if you are lucky and don’t get fired, you get to do it for another season. And another, and another, etc. So the game starts in Fall 2016, but if you stay with the same game without starting a new one, it will eventually be 2020, or 2025, or 2030, or whatever.

Which is where Brexit will enter the gameplay. As one headline read, “Football Manager 2017 to simulate Brexit - fans of the game go crazy on Twitter”. Among the tweets quoted in the article: “Football Manager 2017 has put more research into the implications of Brexit on the UK in the game than the actual government have irl”, and “Brexit means harder FM. Wish I known that before voting.”

There you have it: the creators of a management simulation have built a Brexit simulator into the game. As Jacobson said, “As far as I know this is the first time a computer game has tried to predict the future of a country.”

Sometime after two years have passed in the game, the player will be informed about the implementation of Brexit in the FM world. (There are random factors involved, so each game will have its own implementation.) There are three scenarios:

  1. Soft Brexit - free movement of workers remains.
  2. Footballers are granted the same special exemptions that are currently given to ‘entertainers’. This means it is easier for them to obtain work permits than other people, and it will not have a huge impact on player movement from the EU.
  3. Hard Brexit: similar rules to those which currently apply to non-EU players are adopted for all non-UK players.

Also, Scotland might decide to stay with the EU.

I suspect most of us just want to manage our favorite team to a championship. The idea of the real world interfering with that is startling. But Sports Interactive have been successful precisely because of how accurately their game reflects the real world of football. Ultimately, I don’t think they could have left Brexit out.

And it was fun to have an actual surprise in this day and age.