Texting-while-driving Detection Device Being Developed

driving-sms

There are many jurisdictions where you’re not allowed to text while driving. It makes sense: the practice kills. But of course, illegal doesn’t mean people don’t do it. Now a Virginia-based company, ComSonics, is developing a radar-gun like device that can detect the telltale radio frequencies emitted from a cellphone as it sends a text. Law enforcement officers will be able to point it at passing cars and know if the occupant has been sending a text. It won’t be able to say which occupant is guilty, however, so maybe it’ll only be used with single-ocupant vehicles. It’s also unlikely to be able to detect when you’re using data-based text applications, like iMessage or WhatsApp. But considering how dangerous distracted driving is, we’re kind of happy to see tech like this in development.

No, it’s not illegal everywhere to text while driving. But it is in the following states: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada. New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

VIA [ UberGizmo ]

The post Texting-while-driving Detection Device Being Developed appeared first on OhGizmo!.

Atlanta Braves’ 2014 Minor League Awards

The bad news for Atlanta Braves fans is that the team is playing itself right out of playoff contention.

The good news is there's help on the way.

The Braves have been respected for creating one of the top minor league systems in the game over the past few years. While some are not as high on the system as a whole, there's no denying there are some talented players who can help Atlanta in the near future.

This will not necessarily be a look at the top prospects in the organization. Rather, which prospects had the best seasons.

With that said, let's take a look at some minor league awards for the Braves' 2014 season.

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Gatorade Sends Off Derek Jeter with ‘Made in New York’ Commercial

UPDATE: September 19 at 12:06 p.m. ET

Chris Carlin, host of Sportsnet NY's Loud Mouths, spoke out against Gatorade's "Made in New York" spot after the commercial took on viral status Thursday morning.

For The Win's Ted Berg spotted video of Carlin's #HotTake.

Calling Jeter a "fraud," Carlin explained that the commercial doesn't ring true with Derek Jeter's character and requires a suspension of reality from consumers to be believed.

“It’s that this has never been what Derek Jeter has been about," Carlin said. "He has been about team, not me. He has never let us into his personal life because he’s always been about the team. He frankly is being a complete fraud right now.”

Carlin goes on to assert that Jeter is enjoying the publicity more than Jeter is letting on, which is a strong take concerning the Captain's reigning preference for privacy. 

---End of Update---


Oh sweet, ineffable Jeter. What will giant, hulking sports brands do once your farewell tour comes to an end?

Gatorade released a new commercial Thursday, paying homage to the New York Yankees captain and his final days in a Yankees uniform.

Titled “Made in New York,” the commercial is set in—hold…HOLD—New York City, thus calling for black-and-white filtering and a Frank Sinatra soundtrack.

Jeter, feeling a wild hair as the sun sets on his career, decides to hop out of his taxi and see how the common folk live.

He chums it up with neighborhood kids, visits Stan’s Sports Bar for the first time and is greeted happily by the citizens of the Bronx. He enters the stadium to rapturous cheering and gives a nod to you at home before taking the field.

“Made in New York” is the latest product of the Jeter Farewell Tour consortium, a veritable cottage industry of sports goods and apparel companies scrambling to wring every last drop of publicity out of the shortstop’s final days in the league.

So did Gatorade show Jeter enough “RE2PECT”? Does this ad stand up to Nike’s celebrity-stuffed spot from the summer?

Probably not, although letting Jeter wander around greeting fans in his neighborhood is less contrived than yanking Michael Jordan into the studio to tip his hat in front of a green screen. It’s also not a blatant last-minute money grab, a la New Era’s Jeter patch hats.

As for the Captain, he’ll be taking his final bow in a Yankees uniform 10 days from now against the Boston Red Sox. We’ve entered the final stretch for Jeter nostalgia, and we’ll surely see a continued scrum of Yankees affiliates vying to give the future Hall of Famer the classiest send-off.

 

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture news. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Previewing the Free-Agent Names the Reds Should Be Chasing This Offseason

The Reds won't have the dollars to make any major splashes this offseason, at least not if they plan on making any substantial offers to any one of four different starting pitchers set to hit the free-agent market after the 2015 season.

There have been plenty of sources suggesting the Reds will indeed try to move a pitcher before the start of next season, and while that has the potential to weaken what is undoubtedly the strongest facet of this team, payroll flexibility is often a trait demanded by small-to-mid-market teams. 

The following are a few suggestions of who the Reds should be chasing this offseason. The order will range from most likely to shocking development, but a plausible, realistic case will be made for each.

To begin, here is a list of the potential free agents at every position from Baseballprospectus.com. With that in mind, browse a short list of free-agent names the Reds should be chasing this offseason:

 

All stats, rankings and salary information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Updated 2014 MLB Award Race Odds with 2 Weeks to Go

The 2014 Major League Baseball season may be winding down, but like the pennant races and wild-card chases, a lot of the individual award competitions are gearing up. As the 30 clubs make their way toward the finish line, players are wrapping up impressive campaigns that soon enough will result in some hardware.

Yes, it's time again to check in with an update of the 10 prominent individual awards races as the final two weeks play out. Since last time, another week of performances has gone a long way toward clarifying where things stand in each league in terms of front-runners and challengers for Manager of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young Award winner and MVP.

Even though there isn't much time left in 2014, some of these end-of-year honors will come down to, well, the very end. That's why, on the pages to follow, the top candidates for each category have been assigned odds to specify their chances of taking the trophy.

Because there is no award for participation.

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Each MLB Contender’s Biggest Roadblock to Reaching the 2014 Postseason

There are less than two weeks to go in the 2014 MLB regular season, and while teams have begun to punch their tickets to October, a number of playoff spots are still up for grabs.

The Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Angels and Washington Nationals have all secured their spots in the postseason, and the Los Angeles Dodgers are not far behind, as their magic number shrunk to four Wednesday night.

That leaves six spots up for grabs, three in each league, and entering play on Thursday, four teams on each side appear to be battling for them.

There is at least one area that can be pointed to as a clear issue for each of those eight teams. With that in mind, what follows is a look at the biggest roadblock to each MLB contender reaching the 2014 postseason.

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Re-Ranking All the MLB Farm Systems After the 2014 MiLB Season

As we put a final bow on the 2014 minor league season, it is a great time to look at the state of the farm systems.

Many of baseball’s top-ranked preseason prospects debuted in the major leagues this season, with promising young hitters such as Oscar Taveras, Javier Baez, Gregory Polanco, George Springer and Joc Pederson each receiving his first taste of baseball’s highest level.

When it comes to impact prospects such as Taveras, Baez or Springer graduating to the major leagues, there’s inevitably a glaring hole left down on the farm.

But which teams are best prepared to replace their top prospects with a new wave of young talent?

Our farm system rankings are based on two criteria: impact potential and depth. Since a team may have more of one than the other, it's therefore necessary that it has more than a couple players that project as quality big leaguers, ideally hitters and pitchers.

As you will see, the systems that rank within the top five are those with multiple impact prospects, other notable talent in upper levels and overall depth from top to bottom.

Young players in the major leagues yet to qualify as rookies by league standards (fewer than 50 innings pitched or 130 at-bats) were treated as regular prospects, though consideration was given to whether they’d exhaust prospect eligibility by season’s end.

We hope you enjoy Prospect Pipeline’s end-of-season farm system rankings.

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Inside the Locker Room of an MLB Team with Nothing to Play For

The best thing about being on a winning team is that it distracts you from how much you want to kill your teammates.

Look, I've heard a lot of coaches' speeches in my day, from how we were like a band of brothers, to how we were a family, to how we were solders in the trenches trying to kill the enemy and bring glory to our tribe. Play for pride. Play for honor. Heck, even the base and selfish-sounding "play for money."

In a job where just about anything goes as long as the results are there come the end of the season, anything that might spur on a player to victory is fair game.  

Unfortunately, brothers fight. Families feud. Soldiers desert if they know they're facing a losing cause. And getting pounded by the media is no way to incentivize a warrior to bring honor to his tribe. The one steady, sure thing you can count on during a 162-game marathon season, however, is that it will see more losers than winners.

That means, for every "go forth and conquer" speech, it's good policy to have a "so you got conquered" speech on standby.

When I came up to the Padres for the first time in 2008, the team was awful. We weren't brothers, warriors or family. We were losers, and the atmosphere that swirls around a bunch of losers can be downright toxic.

Oh, don't get me wrong: We wanted to win. Winning was, and is, just plain better than losing. But we were so far out of contention for anything other than losing 100 games that we'd become numb to losing. Win or lose, it was mostly shrug-worthy. 

On most teams, when you win, you come into a clubhouse of roaring music (the clubhouse attendant has it playing to greet you; the victory jam, it's called). When you lose, the clubhouse is dead silent like a funeral, with all players expected to keep an atmosphere of quiet out of reverence for the loss.

It's considered professional to sulk—even if you just sat in the bullpen and in no way contributed—because it supposedly gives the appearance of caring. When September came for that Padres team, the sulking went out the window.

Professional quiet time was something you did only when winning and losing meant something. Being mathematically eliminated meant the rest of the games were, at least from that team's perspective, irrelevant. The end result: Even when we sucked, the music still played. Screw it. 

I don't mean to sound crass. There were guys on the squad who cared about winning and losing despite the absolute math of it all. They can be found on every team, every season, and you can typically break them up into three categories: veterans, impending free agents and rookie call-ups.

I once heard baseball manager Joe Maddon say that there are five steps in the evolution of big league players.

Step one: You're just happy you've made it to the big leagues.

Step two: You're focused on trying to prove you can stick.

Step three: You've proved you can stick, and now you want to prove to the world how good you are.

Step four: You've proved to everyone what you can do, and you want to make as much money as possible.

The final step, five, is best summarized as: You just want to win—period.

Veteran players have the career accolades and the money. What matters to them now is winning something that crowns their careers. In short, legacy.

Trevor Hoffman was the undisputed veteran lord of the Padres when I was there. While he was relentlessly positive, you could tell he was frustrated to be part of a losing effort. He said all the right things and made all the right moves, but there was a distance there.

He'd been a part of something bigger before and knew the clock was ticking on his career, yet he was stuck with us. All he could do was sit and watch us wide-eyed inept misfits play out what was already decided a few months ago.

Looking back, I'm sad we weren't a better club because Hoffman was such a remarkable person and player. I'm sure there was a lot more there for rookies like me to glean, but there wasn't much reason for him to get involved. The course was already charted before I got there. Because the team sucked, there wasn't much reason for him or the other veterans to shepherd it.

That's not to say there weren't players who wanted control of the social dynamic. Whenever there is a gap, someone will step in and fill it—usually the second category of caring player: the impending free agents.

They actually do have something to play for—their next contracts. That makes them invested. Sometimes, it makes them too invested to the point where they start to push other players along who are fed up with the whole season.

Think about it: If watching a season sputter and die two months before September isn't bad enough, mix in some guys who are all about the great things they're doing, prodding the others who are frustrated. Even if it's meant to be encouraging, it still comes off as talking down to the incapable, which in turn feels like having your face rubbed in failure.

Pathetic, huh? You'd think that a group of men who grew up in a "survival of the fittest" environment would understand that there will be winners and losers even among teammates. And because the entire industry is "what have you done lately," they'd understand those winners will get rewarded—but they don't understand.

Wanting to be the best is, by nature, an "us versus them" approach. It's a separator of talent and ideals about how talent should behave. It works when the team has a chance at being the best. Sometimes, it can even settle for being really good.

But if a team can't be the best and is full of players who can't even so much as contribute to being good—sputtering and wallowing in their failures—well, that's when the rift forms and differing but tolerable personalities become outright enemies.

And this, believe it or not, leads us into the third category of player, the ones that get caught in the crossfire: the rookie call-up.

Among a bad team full of broken focus, disengaged veterans and self-interested free agents is a minefield for clueless "just happy to be there" rookies.

A veteran is not happy about being on another losing squad when he knows he's only got so much life left in the game. Contrast that with rookies who are glad they've made it, and everything they do is a first-time, never-been-done-before experience they want to celebrate.

"Act like you've been here before, rook!" But how can you when you never have?

For the free-agent player already mired in class warfare, rookies become pawns. If there is one thing baseball loves, it's unwritten rules, that age-old baseball mantra of "playing the game the right way."  

Impending free agents get to tell young rookies how to play the game the right way because they're currently successful. Veterans get to tell rookies how to play the game the right way because they were successful enough to become veterans. So do coaches, general managers and everyone else who has more time than you, which, for the record, is everyone! 

Furthermore, you, young rookie, represent the future of the organization. A loss of playing time, a possible replacement, forced retirement; it's not so much that they hate you, per se, as much as they hate the concept of you!

Good luck with that.

Yes, when you're a losing team in September, there are lots of things that suck. The stadiums are at a fourth of their usual capacity and bereft of any electricity or intensity. The media beats you like a dead horse and then beats you into dead-horse paste. Fans boo you, mock you and even cheer for the other squad.

As a matter of fact, when I was with the Padres that 2008 season, Manny Ramirez had just gone to the Dodgers. When Manny's Dodgers came to Petco Park, there were more fans in the stands that night than in all the nights I'd been with the big club—all of them wearing Dodgers blue and chanting Manny's name! Talk about adding insult to injury; I gave up a home run to Manny, and the fans cheered for him as he circled me around the bases.

Then, instead of mourning another butt-kicking, one of the impending free agents got me drunk on imported sake that, in turn, one of the veterans brought into the clubhouse postgame as part of the catered sushi spread he paid for.

Yet after they saw me drunk, they were upset I didn't take the loss more seriously.

It just goes to show you that no matter how bad the atmosphere gets for a losing squad on the outside, it's much worse on the inside. In fact, as I look back over my career, nothing made me want to win more than knowing how bad it can get when we don't.

Actually, I'm surprised that hasn't been turned into a speech. I guess saying, "win, because if you lose, you'll be a backstabbing, selfish, disconnected mess in September," just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Cuddle workshops: the latest solution to loneliness

Could it be that, in a digital age, people are left missing physical touch? Sophie McBain goes under-cuddle to find out.

Group hug: people embrace during a Cuddle Workshop in London. Photo: Getty
Group hug: people embrace during a Cuddle Workshop in London. Photo: Getty

Are you going to the cuddle workshop?” For a moment I was tempted to say no – the prospect of an afternoon spent embracing strangers seemed suddenly terrifying – but I followed the man up a flight of metal stairs and into a dance studio. We walked past two women hugging in the hallway, and my stomach tightened.

The first official “cuddle party” was held in 2004 in New York, hosted by relationship coaches Marcia Bacyznski and Reid Mihalko in their Manhattan apartment. The idea quickly spread, first across the US and Canada, and then to London in 2006.

I had signed up for a four-hour cuddle workshop in north London run by newlyweds Anna Shekory, who started doing this in 2010, and Tom Mayer. Anna also runs private cuddling sessions; Tom is a Harley Street hypnotherapist. An afternoon of cuddling costs £29 and the aim is to help people “rediscover nurturing touch and affection”.

It is no coincidence that cuddle workshops have caught on here. According to OECD statistics, Britain is the loneliest country in Europe: we are the least likely to report having close friendships or knowing our neighbours. The number of people living on their own has doubled since the 1970s, with single-person households now making up a third of all homes. We often imagine older single people as being the most isolated, but a 2010 survey found that 60 per cent of those aged 18-34 described themselves as lonely.

Which left me wondering: what exactly do people mean when they talk of loneliness? In some ways, we have never been more connected: the internet has made it faster and cheaper to contact distant friends or to make new ones. Could it be that, in a digital age, people are left missing physical touch?

The people I met at Cuddle Workshop think so. I spoke to a trendy thirtysomething who said he had lots of friends and a big family but still felt “disconnected”; he was looking for a “healthier” way of finding affection. I asked what he meant and he looked embarrassed and then explained how he sometimes takes the Ecstasy-like drug MDMA as an excuse to “hug it out with his mates”. Another participant, a nurse, felt that the workshops helped her care for others because she left feeling valued and loved. Many described the cuddle sessions as “life-changing”.

When I first arrived, ten minutes early, about thirty people were already milling around the studio, reading out “ice-breaker questions” from multicoloured strips of paper. “What is the bravest thing you’ve ever done?” I asked a nervous-looking, middle-aged man in a tight black T-shirt. “Stand-up comedy,” he replied, unexpectedly. Whatever stereotype you might have of the kind of person who pays for cuddles, few people would fit it. There was a roughly even split between men and women; some cuddlers were in their early twenties and others were much older.

We started by sitting in a large circle and meditating. Anna asked us to close our eyes and to focus our attention on whatever we were feeling. “Perhaps you’re feeling sadness, and those feelings are welcome, too,” she said at one point, and the sound of ragged breathing suggested that two people had started crying. Then we were invited to do warm-up exercises: we danced around the room and touched body parts on command: “Everyone, high-five the person next to you”, “Touch your hips together”. It was excruciating.

Still, I had promised myself I would try to “get into it”, so I focused really hard on giving another woman a “loving” back massage. “I was really moved by that. Thank you,” she said, and I found myself cheered.

During the tea-and-biscuit break, we were assigned the task of asking at least three people for a cuddle. I couldn’t face it, but I was halfway through eating a Bourbon when someone asked if I wanted a hug, and I said yes as cheerfully as I could. I ended up cuddling four people, and it did feel nice. Then I turned someone down, which is OK, too, because it’s important to “honour yourself” and know your boundaries.

I might, in retrospect, have been better off leaving then. I must have reached my cuddle limit. Instead, I ended up stroking a woman up and down her body like a cat, while she purred, and then caressing a man’s face. We finished with a huge “cuddle huddle”, in which everyone lay on the floor caressing each other.

Almost everyone, that is. I sat on my own in a corner, hugging my legs defensively against my chest. “Are you happy where you are?” Anna asked me, looking quietly concerned. I nodded. And then I had a strange realisation: I felt lonelier than I have in years. 

SF Giants: The 1 Big Question Still Unanswered 2 Weeks from the Postseason

The San Francisco Giants have 10 games remaining in the 2014 regular season. Barring a major collapse, the Giants should make the playoffs either as the NL West division winner or as a wild-card team. 

Looking ahead to the postseason, there is one major question that still must be addressed. 

Should Tim Lincecum be on the Giants playoff roster?

The answer to this question will be cause for some hot debate, as there are two distinct sides.

On the one hand, Lincecum has a history of stepping up and performing well in the postseason. His stellar relief appearances in the 2012 playoffs and World Series were instrumental to the Giants winning the world championship.

Lincecum is a beloved figure among Giants fans and a big fan favorite. He is also a tough competitor and has shown the ability to rise to the occasion in many instances.

The flip side to this is that Lincecum seems to have lost his mechanics and the ability to throw quality strikes consistently.

As he has gotten older, Lincecum's velocity has tapered off, so his ability to command his pitches is absolutely critical to his success.

Lincecum headed into the All-Star break with a record of 9-5 and a 3.66 ERA. He also dazzled everyone by throwing his second no-hitter against the San Diego Padres in late June.

However, since the break, Lincecum's performance has declined dramatically. His record is 1-4 and he has been hit very hard.

Lincecum has pitched 38.1 innings, allowed 56 hits and 19 walks, while striking out 31. His 36 earned runs allowed gives him an ERA of 8.45. His WHIP is an astronomical 1.969. These are not the numbers of a pitcher that manager Bruce Bochy can trust in the postseason.

With the Giants still trying to win the division, or at worst lock up home-field advantage for a one-game wild-card contest, Lincecum may not have many more chances on the mound. However, if given the chance, he must prove to Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti that he is back on track.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News reports that the Giants will likely have 12 pitchers on the postseason roster. The 10 that look like sure bets include Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong, Yusmeiro Petit, Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Jean Machi, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez.

That leaves Lincecum competing with Juan Gutierrez, George Kontos, Hunter Strickland and Erik Cordier for the final two spots.

Although Gutierrez has been shaky at times, he has fared a lot better than Lincecum. Assuming he makes it, one spot is available. He has thrown 61 innings this year, allowing 57 hits and 12 walks, while striking out 41. His ERA is 4.13, which is too high, but he has a decent WHIP of 1.131.

Cordier has a cannon for an arm and can exceed 100 mph with his fastball. However, he sometimes has trouble with his control and as a rookie, it's unlikely that the Giants will put him under the intense pressure of the postseason.

Strickland, like Cordier, was a September call-up. He has been impressive and shown good poise on the mound. He is a very intriguing option and although a rookie, has an outside chance to make it.

Kontos has been shuttled back-and-forth from Fresno to San Francisco this season. When given the chance, he has pitched well. In 29 innings, Kontos has allowed 23 hits and eight walks, while striking out 25. His ERA is 3.10 and his WHIP is a solid 1.069.

If the Giants do not add Lincecum to the roster, look for Kontos to win that spot.

It will be interesting if Bochy and the Giants have the confidence in Lincecum to put him on the roster. This is a tough decision, as the Giants know how valuable Lincecum can be, if he's right. However, his struggles over the past two months do not engender any confidence.

If Lincecum gets an opportunity to pitch in a couple more games before the season ends and if he performs well, it is my belief that he will make it. He has built up too much goodwill not to. 

On the flip side, if Lincecum pitches poorly and Bochy cannot trust him in a tight game, Kontos may get the nod. This is a very fluid situation and bears watching over the Giants' remaining 10 games.

Stats courtesy of ESPN.go.com.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

This week I am trying to get inside the head of a young woman who’s new to London

Learning that someone is new to the city you live in calls for reassessments of it; or even assessments.

Soho’s characters have gone – what now? Photo: Getty
Soho’s characters have gone – what now? Photo: Getty

So the new inhabitant of the Hovel is here, and much though I might have been apprehensive of the effect her arrival would have on my own arrangements, I had failed to think of the effect it would have on hers. For she has never really been to London before: she is a country girl. And indeed there is something about her that is more suggestive of giving a horse a sugar lump than an aggressive driver the finger. (I had a lovely London moment the other day: a tourist coach charged through a red light on Gloucester Place as I was crossing it and I quickly gave the driver a proper V-sign; and he – fat, old, white – gave me one back. It kind of bonded us, you know?)

Learning that someone is new to the city you live in calls for reassessments of it; or even assessments. Having been born in London and then lived here for the vast majority of my life, I think about it roughly as much as I do about my knee: in other words, never, really, unless something goes wrong with it.

I have had some times of being plonked down in a new city and being left to get on with it. The longest time was in Paris, when I was barely 18. I couldn’t let language be too much of a problem because: a) I had an A-level in French and b) I didn’t know any French people, and the city, at least within the Boulevard Périphérique, was instantly livable, as if London had been purged of shitholes like East Finchley and shrunk to manageable proportions.

The second-longest was New York, which was like London on speed, in space and in the movies, also purged of shitholes like East Finchley but with shitholes that were amazingly dangerous instead. As for the university town I lived in, that was like being dunked in treacle, and you could only have felt urban alienation there if you’d been raised on an asteroid.

Anyway, I try to get inside the head of a young woman new to the city. And the first thing that strikes me is how indifferent London is to everyone; it is neither particularly friendly to visitors nor unfriendly, if you steer clear of the rush hours. It is, though, unnecessarily full of rich wankers, true, and when Daisy, for that is the new lodger’s name, mentions she has been walking around the place and says she has been to Soho, my thoughts about the city begin to coalesce; or, rather, curdle.

I used to love Soho; it was London’s pineal gland, somewhere deeply embedded in its folds, impossibly tiny but impossibly influential. It was where all the mischief of the city was concentrated, where its character was held. Daisy said she liked it; which made me think how much Soho must have changed.

I first really found Soho in my early twenties, forging bad habits at the counter of the Coach and Horses and then, during the afternoons when the pubs were shut, at the various louche private clubs that sprinkled the area, until the pubs opened again. Most vices I took to as a duck to water, save betting, whose pleasures I quickly realised I was immune to, and to whose risks I became immediately alive.

Now, Soho is tamed and governable. Largely. I find myself thinking of the late Sebastian Horsley, the top-hatted junkie, failed artist and champion of prostitutes, who was actually delightful company; probably the last Soho character, and even then a little too self-consciously voulu to qualify as such, but let’s be generous. Last Christmas, recovering from some shopping, and hiding from rain, I ducked into the Chinese restaurant diagonally opposite the Coach and saw there a framed photograph of Jeffrey Bernard, the last King of Soho Characters. As I waited for my hot and sour soup I asked the waiter if he knew who the man in the picture was, but he’d turned and left before I had finished the question. I thought it best not to press the matter, in case the management decided the photo was now superfluous and chucked it out. And the picture had been taken in his last years, when he really was unwell.

I doubt that such people exist any more. The job of their own extinction that their unhealthy habits could not achieve has been completed by economics. Which is a pity, really, for the characters who exist in a city’s cracks are often the grouting that holds it together. Now they’re gone – what now?

“Go to Hampstead Heath before the weather turns,” I tell Daisy. “It’s a bit like the country there.” 

I drove up to Carlisle, armed with treasures to prove that, once upon a time, small clubs made it to the top

I still can’t believe that Carlisle were ever in England’s premier league – with a small p – yet on 24 August 1974 they were top of Division One, having beaten Chelsea, Spurs and Middlesbrough.

The stand at Brunton Park, home of Carlisle United. Photo: Getty
The stand at Brunton Park, home of Carlisle United. Photo: Getty

How are the mighty fallen. Hmm, not quite the right cliché. How the humble, the modest, overachieve and then tumble back down again?

I was driving in to Carlisle from Loweswater for the Carlisle United-Luton game, wearing shorts and sandals, but with trousers, jacket and tie in the boot. In the directors’ box, where I was going as a guest of David Clark – a member of the first Blair cabinet, well, for ten minutes – you have to be properly dressed. And I should think so, too.

I also had with me some of my football memorabilia – from exactly 40 years ago, the home and away programmes for the same fixture, Carlisle United-Luton, during that wonderful, marvellous season, 1974-75, when both were in the First Division. Won’t the directors of both teams be excited to see my treasures, so I was thinking to myself as I drove through the isolated Caldbeck Fells.

I still can’t believe that Carlisle were ever in England’s premier league – with a small p – yet on 24 August 1974 they were top of Division One, having beaten Chelsea, Spurs and Middlesbrough. After that, don’t talk about it. Both Carlisle and Luton got demoted that same season.

Now, they are both in League Two, the fourth tier of the English league. Carlisle have dropped from League One, while Luton have just come up from the Conference, ie, the non-league. How does this happen, that clubs can fall through so many leagues?

In Carlisle’s case, for a club in such a small, rural area, it was a miracle they ever got there. In London, or industrial Lancs or Yorks, it is easier to attract players on loan when the bigger clubs want to offload. And with small gates, averaging just 4,230 last season, and no millionaire owners, Carlisle can only ever pay small wages.

Will such a club ever get to the top division again? Burnley, a similar-sized town, have managed it this season, but they are in a more industrial area, with a long tradition of top-level football. They have lots of big clubs nearby, such as Man United, from whence they can borrow young players on the way up, or good players not getting a game.

Luton are a different case. They should always have been much higher than Carlisle. Luton has a population of about 203,000, almost twice the size of Carlisle’s, with two MPs and a thriving airport. The team did return to the First for ten seasons in the Eighties, when it had some star players, like Brian Stein and Ricky Hill.

Carlisle has of course had its star players, too – Ivor Broadis, Peter Beardsley, Hugh McIlmoyle – and a star manager in Bill Shankly, but never the wealth or glitter that Luton had . . . Well, now and again. Eric Morecambe was a Luton director and today Nick Owen, the TV presenter, is chairman.

Mismanagement, financial problems and irregularities led to them being docked 30 points in 2008, causing all their problems in recent years. But even in the Conference, Luton averaged crowds of 7,387 last year. Today, they had brought with them a huge support of about a thousand, swelling Carlisle’s gate to near 7,000. As their heroes took the pitch, the crowd immediately started shouting in Spanish, “Shampiones!” This was presumably because they had won the Conference Premier League, which is now called – hold on, I am sure it has a name; some passing firm always thinks it will turn itself into an everlasting household name if it connects itself with football – Skrill Conference, that was it. Lasted only one season. Every time I saw it I thought it was a misprint.

At half-time, I showed all the Luton directors my treasures. And they were indeed awfully interested – even a breathless Nick Owen, who’d been caught in traffic and missed Luton’s goal, the only one of the game.

David Dent, Carlisle’s honorary president, former secretary of the Football League, said he’d been at both Luton games in 1975, home and away. And he’d got Eric Morecambe to sign his programme. He told Eric that he’d left Carlisle at six o’clock in the morning.

“I don’t blame you,” replied Eric, quick as a flash.

Ah, they don’t make them like that any more . . . 

Previewing 5 Free-Agent Names the Boston Red Sox Should Chase This Offseason

The Boston Red Sox may look to rebound from a disappointing 2014 season by making a significant splash on the free-agent market this winter.  After dealing away a majority of their rotation at the trade deadline, replenishing their starting pitching looks to be the Red Sox's top priority.

There are three big-time arms available this offseason that will undoubtedly be at the top of every team's wish list—James Shields, Jon Lester and Max Scherzer.

Beyond these three, who else might be on Boston's radar?  Here are five other free agents the Red Sox would be wise to pursue in the months ahead.

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Previewing 5 Free-Agent Names the Boston Red Sox Should Chase This Offseason

The Boston Red Sox may look to rebound from a disappointing 2014 season by making a significant splash on the free-agent market this winter.  After dealing away a majority of their rotation at the trade deadline, replenishing their starting pitching looks to be the Red Sox's top priority.

There are three big-time arms available this offseason that will undoubtedly be at the top of every team's wish list—James Shields, Jon Lester and Max Scherzer.

Beyond these three, who else might be on Boston's radar?  Here are five other free agents the Red Sox would be wise to pursue in the months ahead.

Begin Slideshow

Pirates’ Josh Harrison Has Risen from Complete Unknown to MVP Candidate

Utility men are not supposed to garner MVP consideration, no matter how super. 

Josh Harrison, however, is changing that thinking. And it is not in spite of him being the best utility man in baseball. It is because of it.

Harrison’s rise as one of the National League’s best players is about as unexpected a story as there is in the game this year, and his ascent is helping push the Pittsburgh Pirates back into the postseason while garnering the 27-year-old do-everything MVP attention.

There is no chance of Harrison winning the award, of course, but a top-10 finish in the voting would cap off quite a year. He was never considered a top prospect and had a .250 career average entering the season.

“When you look at the MVP and assess the definition what it means, he’s definitely been the most valuable player for us this year,” reigning NL MVP and Pirates teammate Andrew McCutchen told Bob Nightengale of USA Today. “You look past the numbers, you don't have to hit the most home runs or have the most RBI to consider yourself an MVP.” 

Harrison is second in the league with a .318 average—he was first until Wednesday night, when Colorado’s Justin Morneau went 3-for-4 to raise his average to .320—and his .506 slugging percentage is fifth, his .857 OPS is sixth and his 141 wRC+ is eighth. He has also played five positions for the Pirates, playing all of them well but none of them for more than 60 games through Wednesday. 

If Harrison wins the batting title, he would earn the distinction of having the lowest career average (.250) for any NL batting champ heading into their winning season.

“If we don't have J-Hay here, how would we be doing? You take him away from this team, and that would answer your question,” McCutchen told Nightengale. “He really is the most valuable player for me.”

It looked nothing like in April. Harrison started only two games in the first month—that includes one game in March—and was 5-for-23 (.217) entering May.

Since then, beginning with a start in right field on May 3, Harrison is hitting .324 in 476 plate appearances with an All-Star selection sandwiched in between.

Those numbers, the versatility and the overall story of a non-descript utility man-turned-All-Star have caused Harrison’s popularity to soar in Pittsburgh. He has his own hashtag—#JHayAllDay—that explodes in the city whenever he does something memorable, such as escaping seemingly impossible-to-escape rundowns. 

Fans love Harrison for obvious reasons, even if they didn’t really know who he was or what he could potentially bring to the big leagues when the Pirates acquired him from the Cubs in a 2009 deadline trade.

At the time, Harrison was proving he could hit Class A-level pitching, but he was also 22 when he was traded, old for a player at that level. But as he advanced through Pittsburgh’s system, his hitting prowess did as well. By the time the Pirates called him up the first time in 2011, he was establishing himself as one of the better hitters for average in the minors. 

Now that Harrison is a regular in the Pirates lineup—another part of his value and versatility is he can hit anywhere in the order, and he has this season, literally hitting in every spot from 1-9—his season is not looking so fluky that he shouldn’t sustain his performance into 2015. He is duplicating the lines he had in the minors, and having a consistent spot in the lineup every day has clearly helped his major league production.

Harrison’s BABIP is .352, way up from his three-season major league average of .275. Usually this kind of jump means a regression to the mean is on the horizon, but Harrison’s expected BABIP, or xBABIP, comes out to .349, according to Dayn Perry of CBSSports.com

There are reasons for this beyond luck, as there have been telling changes in other areas of Harrison’s game. He is popping out to the infield less, hitting more line drives and is hitting the ball farther on average.

He is also making far less contact when he swings at pitches out of the strike zone. Maybe that sounds like a negative attribute, but consider that making contact with pitches out of the zone often leads to weak batted balls and outs. Take away those average-dropping balls in play, and you can see how it can help Harrison’s overall production. 

It is entirely possible we are seeing a player’s evolution and development into a premium hitter, and along with that comes stardom and all of its benefits. That includes a nice salary raise and possibly an extension to give the Pirates cost control through his arbitration years while giving Harrison, 27, financial security.

Regardless of how the Pirates handle Harrison’s contract situation, they have themselves a fan-favorite star that gives manager Clint Hurdle a world of flexibility when writing out his offensive and defensive lineups.

He is also giving the team plenty of reasons to call him their MVP.

“I always knew that given the opportunity to play everyday, these are the things that I'm capable of,” Harrison told USA Today. “I just wanted to show what I can do.”

 

Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent the previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News, and four years before that as the Brewers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB ‘Spoilers’ That Are Poised to Shake Up the 2014 Pennant Race

Timing is everything when it comes to playing the role of a MLB spoiler. 

Teams not only have to be firing on all cylinders as the season nears its end, but the schedule also has to line up so that those clubs will face off against contenders. From Jorge Soler and the Chicago Cubs to Carlos Santana and the Cleveland Indians, there are players and squads all around the league who are ready to shake up the playoff race.

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C.J. Wilson Gives Angels Reason to Celebrate Along with Clinching AL West Crown

The Los Angeles Angels need this to be a corner turned.

C.J. Wilson gave the Angels the kind of dominant performance Wednesday night they believed they were buying before the 2012 season when they signed the lefty to a five-year, $77.5 million contract. Since the signing, Wilson has been a major disappointment despite a not-terrible 3.89 ERA in 95 starts heading into Wednesday’s game against the Seattle Mariners.

In his latest outing, Wilson pitched seven shutout innings, striking out seven and allowing just one hit. With the help of another meltdown by the Oakland A’s bullpen, the Angels clinched their first American League West title since 2009.

With October less than a couple of weeks away, it was Wilson’s most promising start of the season.

If this is the C.J. Wilson the Angels are going to get in the playoffs, the rotation will be fine. And while it will miss Garrett Richards no matter what, his season-ending injury won’t devastate the team’s World Series chances as long as Jered Weaver, Matt Shoemaker and Wilson are throwing like front-line starters.

Since Richards' knee injury on Aug. 20, the Angels’ rotation has held up fine and the team has gone 20-7, although now there is more concern as Shoemaker has a strained muscle in his side and will miss his next start Saturday.

If that injury lingers into next month, it makes Wilson’s spot in the rotation infinitely more important as the magnifying glass will be put to his postseason exploits with the Texas Rangers. In 10 playoff appearances, Wilson is 1-5 with a 4.82 ERA and 1.433 WHIP and has allowed 10 home runs as the only Angels starter with World Series experience.

Wilson has now won three of his four September starts, but before Wednesday’s gem, his ERA in those previous three starts was 6.14; opponents hit .317 against him and .400 on balls put into play. In Wilson’s last 13 starts before Wednesday, dating back to June 24—a stint on the disabled list limited him to two July starts—he had a 6.64 ERA and opponents hit .333/.414/.484 against him while he struck out 49, walked 35 and gave up eight homers in 62 1/3 innings.

He also leads the AL with 78 walks this season.

All of that led manager Mike Scioscia to express serious concern about Wilson in the middle of that ugly stretch that included only three quality starts.

“This is probably the worst C.J. has struggled since he’s been a starting pitcher, so naturally you’re concerned,” Scioscia told Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times last month. “There’s certainly been some head-scratching over his last seven or eight starts.” 

That is why Wilson’s latest start is so important beyond being the division-clinching victory. His success is no longer just a luxury or icing for the Angels. For the first time, this team is truly going to need Wilson to be the sort of top-of-the-rotation starter they expected him to be when they committed to him at the winter meetings of 2011.

That contract is back-loaded, so Wilson will make $18 million next season and $20 million in 2016. That is the kind of money earmarked for aces, not guys putting up ERAs north of six.

But one October, one big run, one month of lights-out stuff can completely change the perception of Wilson as an Angel and as a postseason bust. It can also change perception that Wilson’s contract is little more than him swiping money from an organization badly in need of a return on its investment.

The Angels have lost three-fifths of their rotation since the start of the season—Tyler Skaggs, Richards and Shoemaker—and they have been in starter-by-committee mode since Richards went down.

While that has worked so far, mainly because the Angels have scored 17 runs in their three wins in the five times Richards’ spot has come up since his injury, if they have to do it in October, the odds are stacked against continued success. It is also sapping the bullpen, and come postseason, they don’t need that group to be worn out.

An effective Wilson and healthy Shoemaker behind Weaver would turn a weak playoff rotation into a formidable one.

If Wilson can be one of the guys to pick up this rotation when it matters most, he can make himself a legend in Orange County. Wednesday night, Wilson’s best start of the season, gives hope that he can accomplish that goal.

Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent the previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News, and four years before that as the Brewers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Angels Clinch 2014 AL West Title: Highlights, Twitter Reaction to Celebration

The Los Angeles Angels became the second American League team to clinch a division, winning the West on Wednesday night.

The Angels beat the Seattle Mariners 5-0 earlier in the night and took home the division with the Oakland A's 6-1 loss to the Texas Rangers. Los Angeles celebrated its ninth division title on Twitter:

In the hour or so after the Angels' win and before the A's game was over, Los Angeles fans and players waited with bated breath to see the result of the A's-Rangers game, with the contest shown inside Angels Stadium, per Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times:

This was the scene inside the stadium:

Once the Rangers sealed the victory, Angels players ran out from the clubhouse and celebrated with the fans:

Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times had more:

You can see the fans enjoying the lap of honor below, per SportsCenter:

Greg Beacham of The Associated Press also provided some photos of the on-field party:

Garrett Richards, who suffered a serious knee injury in August, was on hand to partake in the celebration:

It looked for the longest time like the Angels' celebrations would have to wait until at least Thursday.

Oakland clung to a 1-0 lead heading into the ninth inning. Jeff Samardzija pitched eight innings and made way for Sean Doolittle in the ninth, and things quickly went off the rails. Rougned Odor hit a double with one out that tied the game at 1-1. He advanced to third on the subsequent throw.

The fans who stayed around in Los Angeles have never cheered more for the Rangers:

J.P. Arencibia delivered the fatal blow in the form of a three-run home run to give Texas a 4-1 lead in the top of the ninth, and the Rangers poured it on from there. Rotoworld's Matthew Pouliot summed it up best for the A's:

You can view the full postseason picture on MLB.com. As things stand now, the Angels have the top seed in the AL and would play the winner of the wild-card game.

According to FanGraphs, Los Angeles ranks fourth in team batting average (.262), fifth in slugging (.411) and first in runs (739). The Angels are also 11th in FIP (3.57), sixth in opponents' batting average on balls in play (.285) and fifth in strikeouts per nine innings (8.20).

The Angels have the balance to win the World Series, and in manager Mike Scioscia, they have somebody who's already taken them to the mountaintop before. Los Angeles will be considered a serious threat come October.

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