The season of the (L)East’s discontent

This winter is a tough time to be a fan of franchises in the Eastern and Northern U.S. The East has the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox (in case you hadn’t heard, but there is something about this winter that puts the L in East.

Look at these overall records:
NBA: Eastern teams are 55 games under .500. Just 4 of 15 Eastern teams have winning records.

NHL: Eastern Conference teams are 35 games under .500. Again, just four Eastern Conference squads have more wins than losses.

NFL: East and North Division teams in the AFC and NFC combine to go 13 games under .500, and earn none of the 4 wild cards.

That’s because, wait for it, just the 4 division winners have winning records. They then go 0-3 in the first playoff weekend, leaving New England as the only remaining team from those four divisions.

But no city is feeling the pain worse than New York – in the Big Apple, major league sports franchises are 0-6 this fall and winter when it comes to having a winning record. Throw in the New Jersey Devils for an unlucky 0-7. (Heck, add in baseball and the 85-77 Yankees are the only team above .500 in New York this season. OK fine, New York is 2-8 if you include the Red Bulls of MLS, too. The top seeded Red Bulls got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.)

In Boston (4 of 5 teams over .500 – Sox and Revs, Bruins and Patriots, and quite happy to see the C’s move down the standings and up the draft board), there likely aren’t many tears being shed for the trials and tribulations to our south. But there’s not a lot of cheering in the cities that could most use that warm feeling of winning.

Red Sox heart failure starts at the core, not the free agents

So, here we go. September 29 and Red Sox Nation begins the months of anger, loathing and frustration airing that won’t end until the next World Series title.

But as I was watching the game last night, I can’t help but be struck by what is a colossal failure of leadership. Here’s my take:

Sure – blame the usual suspects.

The Sox front office – There is no question that the Boston mantra was to buy the next title. In a perfect world, another Series regenerates interest in the club, and the added TV and merchandise revenues easily exceed the additional payroll. It’s pure business, and it backfired because baseball isn’t pure business. Good teams on paper don’t always win. The most expensive teams don’t always equal the best teams. And in the end, if it makes you feel better, the team dumped millions of new dollars into the club and actually find themselves losing money and finding themselves now having to work even harder to win back the fan base. (See my post from the beginning of the season: “A team that’s tough to love.”

The free agents – OK. Carl Crawford didn’t live up to expectations. He was never dynamic. He never took over a game. In short, he was closer to Paxton Crawford in terms of impact. John Lackey: You didn’t really expect much better, did you? J.D. Drew? Ditto. And Adrian Gonzalez, for all the gaudy numbers, failed last night to step up and take the blame:

God has a plan,” he said. “And it wasn’t God’s plan for us to be in the playoffs.”

I respect his religious beliefs, but that’s a cop out, Adrian, unless you’re about to add, “…and I didn’t help.”

All three of these highly paid athletes have not stepped up and said, “Hey, I am sucking wind.”

That’s part of leadership – owning up to your own mistakes.

But the biggest hole in the Red Sox heart? Leadership in the clubhouse.

And I’m not talking about Terry Francona. Firing Terry Francona would be an easy way to overlook the bigger problem. A lack of leadership from all the Red Sox fan favorites. Youk. Pedroia. Lester. Ortiz. Beckett. Varitek. Papelbon. These are the seven guys who are supposed to be the fire for this team. Terry Francona ripping this team in the clubhouse would have blown it up, and Francona knew it. This wasn’t a failure of strategy, and the biggest fires burn from within – from the players themselves.

So where was it? Where was Pedroia? Playing his heart out, sure, but not ripping other guys to do the same. Where was Youk? Again, on a personal level, he was showing fire and gutting it out, but it wasn’t inspirational, because he’s not the kind of guy to rally the team around him. Papi? Great year, but he’s never been someone to lead in the clubhouse. Not his style. As for the pitchers, it’s tough for guys who aren’t there every day to lead in an everyday capacity – but all three could have done more to inspire a bullpen that needed a little team spirit. And ‘Tek? When the C is on your shirt but not next to your name in the lineup card, it’s tough to inspire.

Put it another way – this team needed the kind of player you look at and say, “He’d be a good manager someday.” The only one of the seven you might say that about right now is ‘Tek. But it’s the 2004 and 2007 model, not the current one.

Bottom line – this team had skills, but it lacked leadership. It didn’t need a third starter (OK, it did). But it really needed leadership – Mike Lowell. Victor Martinez. Varitek the Younger. And yes, even the King Idiot, Kevin Millar. The 2011 Red Sox tried to rally as individuals. They never rallied as a team.



Reuters scores points with new commenting system

Visitors to this space may recall that I wrote this summer about the issues Reuters and other news organizations face in dealing with reader comments on stories.

I’ve become increasingly concerned about the quality of discourse in comments on news stories on and on other major news sites.  On some stories,  the “conversation”  has been little more than  partisans slinging invective at each other under  the cloak of anonymity.

I believe our time-challenged, professional readers want to see a more rewarding conversation—and my colleagues who lead are introducing a new process for comments that I believe will help bring that about.

The new process, which gives special status to readers whose comments have passed muster in the past, won’t address the anonymity issue, but I do think it is an important step toward a more civil and thoughtful conversation.

Let me introduce Richard Baum, Reuters Global Editor for Consumer Media, to tell you about the new process:


Like many major news publishers, we’ve agonized over how to balance our enthusiasm for reader comments on stories with our belief that few people would benefit from a free-for-all. Most of our readers respect our request for comments that “advance the story,” by submitting relevant anecdotes, links and data or by challenging our reporting when they think we’ve fallen short of our editorial standards. It’s rewarding, sometimes even exhilarating, to see the way our audience builds on our coverage.

Where we struggle is with comments that we believe contribute nothing useful to the conversation. I’m not talking about obscenities and spam — we have software that aims to block the publication of those — but something more subjective. Most of our readers are business professionals who value their time highly. We believe they want comments that are as rewarding to read as they are to write. The challenge is how we deliver that experience in a way that doesn’t delay the publication of good comments nor use up resources that might be better deployed on other parts of the site.

I’ll explain how we’re tackling that shortly. But first, here are some examples of the type of comments that fall foul of our moderators:
– racism and other hate language that isn’t caught by our software filters
– obscene words with letters substituted to get around the software filters
– semi-literate spelling; we’re not looking for perfection, but people shouldn’t have to struggle to determine the meaning
– uncivil behavior towards other commentators; debate is welcome, schoolyard taunts are not
– incitement to violence
– comments that have nothing to do with the story
– comments that have been pasted across multiple stories
– comments that are unusually long, unless they’re very well written
– excessive use of capital letters

Some of the guidelines for our moderators are hard to define precisely. Mocking of public people can be fair sport, for example, but a moderator that has just approved 30 comments calling someone an idiot can rightly decide that there’s little incremental value in publishing the 31st. When we block comments of this nature, it’s because of issues of repetition, taste or legal risk, not political bias.

Until recently, our moderation process involved editors going through a basket of all incoming comments, publishing the ones that met our standards and blocking the others. (It’s a binary decision: we don’t have the resources to edit comments.)

This was unsatisfactory because it delayed the publication of good comments, especially overnight and at weekends when our staffing is lighter.

Our new process grants a kind of VIP status on people who have had comments approved previously. When you register to comment on, our moderation software tags you as a new user. Your comments go through the same moderation process as before, but every time we approve a comment, you score a point.

Once you’ve reached a certain number of points, you become a recognized user. Congratulations: your comments will be published instantly from now on. Our editors will still review your comments after they’ve been published and will remove them if they don’t meet our standards. When that happens, you’ll lose points. Lose enough points and you’ll revert to new user status.

The highest scoring commentators will be classified as expert users, earning additional privileges that we’ll implement in future. You can see approval statistics for each reader on public profile pages like this, accessed by clicking on the name next to a comment.

It’s not a perfect system, but we believe it’s a foundation for facilitating a civil and rewarding discussion that’s open to the widest range of people. Let me know what you think.

Applause for Reuters. I came across this effort by Reuters in a post from Stowe Boyd – one of my favorite and most prolific journalism bloggers out there.

NECN has had issues with having comments on our site, because of people spewing bile instead of contributing to the conversation. So eventually, we turned them off as some of our bile spewers were so determined to ruin the conversation that they would work hard to get around any and all efforts to ban them.

But this Reuters idea is a nice hybrid approach. We’ll approve your comments until you earn enough points to be considered a responsible commenter. Then your comments go through, and someday, you could have extra privileges.

If you misbehave, you lose points and maybe your commenting privileges. It makes good sense. (And don’t go all “What if they’re just approving the comments they like?” on me. Reality is that we all would much rather have an interesting debate. It generates more conversation and therefore more page views.)

Now to find a way to give it a try…

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Back in the saddle, in many ways

So, time to get back on the blog. I have been tied up with training for the Pan Mass Challenge, and more, but I miss this space, so I’m back.

I also missed the past week on NECN with a broken nose and some other cuts after an unfortunate biking accident (I hit a car during a training ride) – but now with a new front fork and a week of rest, I am climbing back on the bike. And as I get back on the bike, I am seeing a lot of similarities between the way I have reacted to my bike crash and other times when I have had an unfortunate result from something I have been doing. And I’m realizing I took away more than a few injuries from my bike crash – I was reminded of some lessons that apply in my work as much as they do on the road.

1. Failure is expected.

No one wants to crash a bike. But crashes happen. They hurt. But the only way to be perfectly safe with a bike is never to touch it. That means you won’t get any of the benefits of the riding, either. Anything you do comes with a risk of failure/pain/suffering. But if you don’t do anything, you won’t get anywhere, either.

2. Be prepared.

A couple of weeks before my crash, I got a flat while on a group ride – and needed help from my ridemates to get me back on the road. I didn’t have a tube for my tire. I didn’t have my pump. Considering the likelihood that a “failure” (flat tire) will occur – I was woefully unprepared.

That said, when my crash happened, I had the one biggest piece of preparation I could have – I had a helmet. It took the brunt of a blow that would have probably given me a concussion or worse. I still took a good whack to the nose, but this little bit of preparation saved me a far worse fate. Doing what you can to protect yourself matters.

3. Keep your focus on the tasks at hand.

So what happened? Plain and simple. I was riding with my head down and sailed into a car. I had a good reason – I was checking my form as I rode, because I was putting some strain on my knee by riding with poor form during long training rides. But I lost focus on my immediate task, which was to propel myself at 18 mph without hitting anything. There are plenty of supplemental tasks that come with any work. But if you lose your focus on what’s immediately most important – there’s a car up ahead you won’t see.

4. Look for the damage you don’t immediately see – and seek expert advice.

Somehow, I walked away from the crash. And other than my nose and some quality bruises on my arms and torso, I was unhurt and damn lucky. My bike even appeared to be OK – the wheels spun true, the brakes still worked. But just in case, I went to the ER (no concussion) and the bike shop. I’d had three other people look at the bike, but it took the bike mechanic to say, “Dude, you bent the hell out of the front fork”, which I had. The telltale sign? Cracked paint on both sides of the fork. The metal bent, but the paint didn’t. Riding with a bent fork is a big problem waiting to happen. But without going to an expert who knew better than I the signs to look for, I wouldn’t have known.

5. Learn from your mistakes – but don’t get overly cautious.

I admit it. A part of me is not excited to get back on the bike. It hurt. And I don’t want to hit another car. But if I get extremely tentative on my next ride, I could be creating a larger risk than I am avoiding, especially as I ride in a large group on Pan Mass Challenge weekend. I am trying to remind myself that having a crash doesn’t change the overall (small) odds of crashing. And if I am vigilant, rather than cautious, I actually reduce those odds. Learning from mistakes is good – but retreating from what you want to do over the fear of making mistakes may make it even more likely you will fail.

6. Keep your eyes on the prize.

In all of this – I need to remember why I started riding this summer. It wasn’t to get from Point A to Point B, although it’s a nice side benefit. It wasn’t solely to get in shape. It was to raise money. To fight cancer. And that is the ultimate prize. That’s why I started this.

And as I write these reminders for myself, I realize how often these same lessons can apply to other things I am trying to do with social media, technology and more. If you try something – there is always a chance you will fail at it. Or something bad will happen. All you can do is minimize your risks, take as many precautions as you can, learn from your past, and remember why you wanted to try in the first place.

Time to get back in the saddle.

Fast footnotes from fleet Marathoners

marathonthumb-041One of my favorite things to do each Boston Marathon is dig into the numbers at the back of the pack.

Because really, that’s where some of the best stories can be found.

Like the story in the photo above. Richard Whitehead of the U.K. ran a 3:02 today. I don’t know enough about him or his background right now – I’m looking, but I can tell you that he has cut his marathon time nearly in half in just five years. Then again – what more do you need to know beyond the picture to be inspired by him? Wow.

(Photo credit: Rob Larsen,, under a Creative Commons license)

It’s in the stories of people like Terry McCluskey of Vienna, Ohio. He cranked through the 26.2 miles in 963rd place. Out of 20-odd thousand runners, that’s pretty good – especially when you consider that at 60 years old, he was the oldest runner in the field to break 3 hours.

Not to be outdone, Susumu Ichida of Japan put up some nice numbers, as well. At 71, he ran a 3:16 – good for the Top 4000, and great for any age.

And who was the fastest guy on the course today? Not Deriba Merga, that’s for sure. It wasn’t Ernst Van Dyk, either – although the 8-time winner put up a speedy 1:33:29. (Actually, for him, that was a little slow – his slowest pace in any of his Boston victories.

The fastest person on the course was Arkadiusz Skrzypinski. He cranked a handcycle over the 26 miles, up Heartbreak Hill and down into Kenmore Square to the finish in 1:24:44. Let’s do the math. He cranked a handcycle – a piece of equipment most of us would be hard-pressed to move a half-mile – over 26 miles at an average speed of 18.5 miles per hour.

Ever try to drive the route on a good day in a car? An hour, 24 minutes wouldn’t be bad. And then you’d have to pay for parking.

It wouldn’t be right not to recognize the oldest woman on the course. Katherine Beiers of Santa Cruz, California beat a lot of people literally half her age. At 76, she finished in 5 hours, 50 seconds.

As for the elder statesman on the course? He’s a local. John Di Comandrea of Revere was one of two 81-year-olds on the course. He finished in 6 hours, 6 minutes.

Only a handful get laurels – but all 20,000+ plus who ran, walked and raised a ton of money for charity deserve a tip of the hat – and a good massage.

(I posted this on the NECN ‘Boston Score’ blog, too… but I liked it enough to get it here as well.)

Farewell to “The Bird”

It’s official – I’m old. I caught myself yesterday saying “back when I was a kid” while talking about Mark Fidrych. And this morning, I found myself reflecting that baseball may never have a Golden Age like the late 1970s again. The Sox-Yankees feud was as ugly as it ever got (when was the last time you remember players actually getting hurt in a baseball fight?), the spectre of steroids hadn’t sullied the game, and the number of stars on the scene seems seemed in retrospect to shine that much brighter.

And then there was the Bird. Peter Gammons yesterday called Fidrych “one of the great pop phenomenons in baseball history”, but in my 9-year-old head in 1976, he was just the guy you wanted to be. On the mound in summer camp, kids talked to the baseball like Fidrych. They smoothed the dirt. They paced, they gesticulated, and then they uncorked a 40-mile-per-hour fastball to the backstop, because they screwed up their motion so much trying to be like Mark Fidrych they couldn’t actually throw.

Sadly, it turned out he wouldn’t be able to for long, either. In 1976, the funny looking, “Big Bird”-like character won 19 games and the AL Rookie of the Year award. But in 1977, Fidrych hurt his shoulder, and his career sank like a stone, even though his enthusiasm didn’t. After struggling through the late-70′s in Detroit, he ended up in Pawtucket, where he was a fan sensation, but never was able to quite put it all back together.

And no wonder – his shoulder was in pieces.

Turns out that back in 1977, Fidrych had torn his rotator cuff. By the time it was diagnosed in 1985, Fidrych was past his prime, and came back to central Massachusetts to be a farmer.

In a way, I’m glad he had let it go by then. That way, the image in my mind is still the untarnished one of the crazy man from Detroit – if you were a Boston kid, you loved Lynn, Rice, Yaz and Tiant. You hated Munson, Jackson, and the Bronx. And on the mound, for one hot summer – you wanted to be “The Bird.”

It’s game time for Twitter at the ballpark

ballplayerthumb-029So Women’s Pro Soccer is going to start trying Twitter during soccer games. As a way to drum up some attention for the fledgling league, it’s an interesting idea, but soccer may not be the right sport to embrace the technology.

The sport that should? No question. Baseball.

Cover of "Bull Durham"
Cover of Bull Durham

Here’s my suggestion to anyone who wants to listen out there in the minors. At most levels, there is that player who is a little older, a little more savvy, and maybe just maybe, a little less likely to make their way to The Show. Sort of a Crash Davis-type from the movie “Bull Durham”, maybe without the good hair and hip 80s garb. He can read, he can write, and he’s the guy you’d name “Most Likely to Become a Manager” someday. Ideally, he’s a pitcher, so he has some time during games to share his wisdom. Give him a Blackberry or a laptop, sit him in the bullpen or dugout when he’s not pitching, and publicize his Twitter account – both during and between games.

Unlike soccer, where the game is constantly moving, baseball has the perfect tempo for Twitter. You have time in between pitches and in between hitters to discuss and explain strategy. It’s a living, breathing clinic for strategy and technique, and there is an audience that is tech-savvy, slightly nerdy and deeply into the game. We call them fantasy geeks. You could also try to use the platform to engage kids at the ballpark with their parents. Let them ask questions. Give them a chance to interact with their “stars”. Give them a taste of life on the road when you are on a 12-game road trip. It’s a great way to keep involved with a community you won’t see for two weeks.

And the strategy is flexible. One could argue that Facebook might be a better choice – since ballclubs could create a feed on their fan pages, and despite Twitter’s buzz, Facebook still has about 25 times the number of users. Maybe you limit it to a few innings as a way to engage people in the 4th-to-6th innings, when the game starts to drag. Let the radio/TV announcers read some items from the tweetstream, or even field some of the questions themselves (which could be especially great if the announcer is a well-known former player.)

I discussed the WPS idea and a good list of Twitter athletes on NECN this morning:

But let’s go back to baseball. What’s to stop the idea? Well, a few potential obstacles could be:

a) fear – What if the player says something negative? That’s the same fear that every company who embraces social media has to overcome. It’s called transparency, and it causes a little discomfort. But it also builds a great base of fans.

b) unions – Is asking someone to tweet a violation of their baseball contract, even if they volunteer? I have no idea – but I would like to think in my world of rose-colored glasses that we could work around that.

c) control – At some level, taking this on means giving up a little control. You’re working on a third-party platform outside of the MLB/league silo. Get over it. This is about building a new audience – and if you do it right, maybe engaging a young audience more dynamically. It’s something that everyone needs to do in this day and age.

And if you’re a New England team (I’m talking to YOU, Pawtucket Red Sox, Portland Sea Dogs and Lowell Spinners), I’m happy to consult.

What do you think, Twitterverse and blogosphere?

FInally – getting out and riding… and a little more Tweetgrid

While the rest of the social media world was in Austin, those of us left in Boston actually had a pretty good weekend. In my case, it was a chance to catch up on a number of things – not many of which were computer-related. I paid taxes, organized the office, did laundry, and more importantly, finally got the bike out for my first Pan-Mass Challenge training ride. It wasn’t a ton – just 15 miles – but it felt great just to be out and about, after a winter that was less than wonderfully productive for me athletically.

It was a relaxing weekend, one without my wife (which made it a little lonely), but a good recovery from a week that was a little chaotic at times. Thursday, since I haven’t posted it until now, I talked a little more about our Tweetgrid implementation on, and gave a (too) quick explanation of Google Voice – watch the video for more on Tweetgrid. You can skip the Google Voice part – go search it on Google, instead.

Taking on a Pan-Mass Challenge

After four years on the sidelines, it is time to get in gear.

The last four years, I have worked at NECN on Pan-Mass Challenge weekend, helping make good things happen in our broadcasts and online while thousands of riders test their pedals and their meddle on the roads from Sturbridge to Provincetown, and all points in between. If you aren’t sure what the PMC is – in a nutshell, as it enters its 30th year, it is perhaps one of the most successful fundraising events in history. Last year, cyclists raised $35 million dollars for the Jimmy Fund and cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. The riders come from all over the globe, now, and from all walks of life, and the stories they share with us each year as the ride approaches are awe-inspiring.

Or apparently, just inspirational.

They inspired me to sign up, and on August 1 and 2, you will find me planted in the saddle, raising money and awareness on the road from Sturbridge to Provincetown. 192 miles for those who are counting. Did you see the “raising money” part of that sentence? Just checking. It’s right there, between “saddle,” and “and”.

I just wanted to make sure.

Like thousands of other riders, I will be asking for your help to meet my fundraising goal of $4200, in a lousy economy where people are feeling the pinch of lost jobs and lower wages. I hope you will find it in your budget to give just as much as you comfortably can to me, or to any other rider this year. Because unfortunately, cancer doesn’t really have an economic cycle. It doesn’t have booms and busts. It just is. And it takes its toll on the old and young, on the rich and poor, on moms, dads and kids, on friends and neighbors, on doctors and teachers, on lawyers and mechanics – on every group you can think of.

Unless we find a way to cure it.

When it comes to cancer, I’m relatively fortunate. It hasn’t hit my family with nearly the force it has hit so many others (including my wife’s family – her father died of brain cancer, and her stepmother is a bladder cancer survivor). Over the next few months, you’ll gt to read my stories of training, of people I get to meet (or those we at NECN cover), and much more. I’m excited to take this Challenge on – both as a personal one, to ride, get in shape and make a difference, and as one to do what I can to help people much smarter than me find a cure.

So stay tuned. And click on the link on the right side of the page if I have inspired you – to donate.

(Featured post image from The SWellesley Report)