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Soup of This Day #198: But There Are Many Seasons To Feel Glad, Sad, Mad

June 20, 2012

WIndow Tax Bricked up
In 1696 a tax on windows was introduced in England and Wales. It was designed as a tax upon prosperity in lieu of the apparently unpalatable idea of an income tax. Scotland followed suit in 1748 while in 1798 the French extended the concept to doorways as well. To get around the impost some home-owners simply bricked in windows and you can still witness this today. I’m not entirely sure what the French did with the doors – Photo: Whilesteps, 2008. Whilesteps is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

In sport there are windows. They are windows of opportunity, chances to fulfil potential.

Sometimes these windows are individual – A fringe player might get a call up to cover a injured star – In that time they will have to show that they are worth more than short-term slot – That they should be the player that nobody wants to lose for an injury time-out.

Daniel Nava of the Boston Red Sox has been a great example of this in 2012. He’d done ok as an injury replacemen player in 2010 – In fact he sent his 1st pitch in the majors out of the park for a grand slam. His last call-up to the team in 2011 was underwhelming however – So much so that he was cut from the roster and the organisation looked to ship him off. He however didn’t go, remaining unclaimed on waivers. Instead he bided his time in the minors, waiting for another chance.

He got it earlier this year when the Red Sox ran out of outfielders and man has he taken it. The lad, who had not to that point added another home run to that inaugural grand slam, had added 2 home runs, 20 RBIs and was hitting .302 when he too got injured. Such was his form that his absence made as much news as the guys he was filling in for.

The window might also be a team thing. This is most pronounced in the Australian Football League (AFL) where informed pundits refer to teams entering a ‘Premiership window’. This is a typically 3 to 5 year period in which a team is a realistic contender to win an AFL Premiership. For teams in that state it’s all about maximising the potential and making good on the opportunity that is available – Premierships are a rare beast and you’ve got to win at least 1 during your window or you’ll wear the most serious of sports tags – That of ‘The Choker’ – The team that failed in the clutch.

For teams whose window is not open the mantra has to be rebuild, rebuild and rebuild – Clear some of the older wood out but not too much – You do need to keep an experienced core that can a. Usher through the next generation and b. Keep bums on seats – Fans will be excited by a young bunch of up-and-comers but they will disappear on mass if you’re not notching up a win or 2 to throw an occasional bone to the fair-weather faithful.

Yep, it’s a fine balancing act. You want to rebuild for, say 5 years, and then you want a decent window of another 5 years for a tilt at the title. At a minimum you want to salute the judges at least 1 time out of that so 1 Premiership every 10 year period is a decent target to have.

Of course, winning a Premiership during your window is not a given – St Kilda Football Club have been around since 1873. Prior to their latest window opening in 2004 they had won a grand total of 1 Premiership, via the legendary 1966 Grand Final. Even that had been tight – They beat Collingwood by the solitary point, 10.14 (74) to 10.13 (73). Aside from that effort the tale of the club had been 1 of disappointment and heart-ache.

Then, in 2004 the window swung open for the Saints. They were a game away from a Grand Final that year. The next, they again fell just a game away from the big 1. They bombed out in the 1st week of the finals in 2006, sacked their head coach and primed themselves for 2008. Where they again made it to within 1 game of a Grand Final. And then, in 2009, they finally made it through – advancing to a Grand Final against Geelong.

Which the Saints promptly lost, by a slender 12 point margin.

Still, they bounced back for 2010 and again made the Grand Final, this time against their 1966 foe, Collingwood. In an extraordinary game underdogs St Kilda fought themselves into a winning position but when the final siren sounded they could only just match the more fancied Magpies, 10.8 (68) to 9.14 (68). A replay therefore beckoned and the Saints went back to challenge the Pies the very next weekend in a renewed battle for supremacy.

Which the Saints promptly lost, by a not-so-slender 56 point margin.

In 2011 St Kilda scraped into the finals and were eliminated in the 1st week. The window has shut and there is nowt to parade about.

At least they’ve started to rebuild now. Some clubs get sucked into believing that they can extend the window, that they can take 1 more shot at glory. Sadly such an action can lead to a mightier fall which prolongs the rebuilding phase. The Brisbane Lions are a prime example of this.

Brisbane won back-to-back-to-back Premierships from 2001 to 2003. They built a dynasty off the back of AFL draft concessions designed to build up a club in a region that is a Rugby League heartland. It worked – Crowds flocked to see the foreign code and to cheer on their all-conquering Lions. In 2004 they squared off in yet another Grand Final.

Which they promptly lost to Port Adelaide, a club seeking to take advantage of a window of it’s own.

And that was that for Brisbane. They have since plummeted to the point where they are now seen as 1 of the easy-beats of the competition – Last year they won just 4 of 22, finishing 15th in a 17 team league. More crucially, their average home crowd was 20,462. In 2004, prior to their last Grand Final, they had just over 33,619.

Brisbane’s mistake was to try and drag out their window, to go for yet more titles. It will be a few years yet before they have another shot at it.

The concept of a pennant window does not necessarily translate into other competitions. There is a ghost of such a thing in baseball but with the farm system in play and no salary cap it is less pronounced. In a sense teams are always building and the great divider is not whether they are contenders or not but whether they are sellers or buyers.

Sellers are teams who have built talent but simply don’t have the finance to make a tilt at a World Series – For all the Moneyball dreams it’s bloody hard to win it all with just talent and careful application of it. The big teams, of which the Yankees are the biggest, can simply buy in players to suit their vision, whilst the Oakland A’s, famously depicted in the movie Moneyball as charging players for a can of soda, have to trade for a roster that keeps them afloat. The end result is that the World Series window is almost always open at Yankee Stadium while it’s almost never open across the continent at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

That divide is even more pronounced in the English Premier League (EPL). There is no draft system, just a free-ish market that separates the EPL into a rich group of 4 or 5 perennial contenders and the rest, who are barely above being feeder clubs to their mightier cousins above.

So where does all of this leave the 3 clubs so beloved of this blog? Well, here now is my summary of where each of them is at and a brief prognosis for the immediate future…

The Fremantle Dockers: Freo played their 1st game in 1995 and have been in rebuilding phase ever since. They are currently in 11th with a 6 and 5 record. They are most assuredly not contenders this year and next year looks bleak. It’s ok though because the die-hard Dockers faithful are used to it by now.

The Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox should be rebuilding after a disastrous end to 2011. They sort of are doing that. But only when the old, dead wood gets injured. It’s a Claytons rebuilding and it’s barely good enough for a 34 and 33 record. There is a core of scrappy young talent, with the likes of Daniel Nava, coming through off the back of those injuries though and next year might be something to see.

Liverpool FC: It’s the off-season so Liverpool are really doing quite well right now. Last season was their worst for many a year – There should be an improvement next time round but it will not make them into a top-4 club just yet.

I’d like to end this with some words from Theo Epstein that hopefully demonstrate that rebuilding isn’t all doom-and-gloom. Epstein was the General Manager who oversaw the period that encompassed the 1st Red Sox World Series triumph in 86 years (2004) and a follow-up victory (2007) before leaving in the wake of the 2011 Sox-plosion. Recently he was asked about whether the Sox had made mistakes in trading the farm for big-named fish, such as Carl Crawford and John Lackey:

‘We joked about it all the time in the front office. We’d say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could just say, screw free agency altogether. We’re going with a purely home-grown lineup. We’re going with old-school, Branch Rickey-style, pre-free agency, pre-draft whatever?

Middlebrooks at third, Lowrie or Iglesias at short, Pedroia at second, Rizzo at first, Lavarnway catching, Ellsbury in center, Reddick in right, Kalish in left. Wouldn’t that have been fun?

We kind of clung to that in the back of our minds, knowing it was impossible, recognizing that there was an inherent tension between that approach and bigger business. I kind of kick myself for letting my guard down and giving into it, because that might be a better team in some ways and resonate more with the fans than what we ended up with.’

Yes Theo, it would have been. Some of those moves are happening now and maybe, just maybe, the window will open if these kids knock hard enough…

But There Are Many Seasons To Feel Glad, Sad, Mad

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