Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Favre-Watch 09 Hits ESPN, And MLB Blows Its Awards Season

Well, you can write it down. Week 11 was the first time that ESPN mentioned Brett Favre's future in the NFL and also the week that Mercury Morris was first mentioned in relation to the undefeated Titans. November 19 was the date of the Favre article and November 17th for the Morris article. Let the hype begin.

Sports Illustrated took a different tact in hyping the World Series champions. To be honest, I didn't really notice this when it happened because I was a little bitter that the freaking Phillies won the Series, but yesterday I got the NFL's official catalogue (35 shopping days till Christmas) and in it were quite a few Super Bowl items for the Giants. After subtly circling about 30 items in it and "accidentally" leaving it open on my wife's nightstand, it occurred to me that SI never did a "Phillies Win!" World Series edition.

I went back through the magazines from this month and found that I was only sorta wrong. The November 3rd edition features Rocco Baldelli colliding at home plate with a catcher with red protectors on - I assume that was the Phillies catcher. The headline is "The World Series" - not "The Phillies Win!" The article inside was a tribute to a well played series that no one watched, not to the champs' season. No where in the entire magazine was there a sentence that actually said that the Phillies had won the World Series - the assumption being that you already knew that. If I was a Phillies fan, I would be freaking pissed about all of this! But I would probably also be illiterate, so I wouldn't get SI and it wouldn't matter.

The November 10 edition kinda made up for this oversight. It did say "Phillies Win!" on the cover, but that article wasn't really about the team either. Rather it was about how to fix the Series, not a glorifying recap.

When did the World Series Champ start getting second-billing to the NFL's Midseason Report on fat guys getting paid more than they used to? If baseball is slipping into the background of the major American sports consciousness, the way they announce their awards doesn't help. They announce the managers of the years, Golden Glovers, Silver Sluggers, Rookies of the Year and MVPs weeks after the season ends. By this time, the NFL has taken complete control of ESPN, the NBA is in full swing, college basketball is already started and baseball fans have already put last year behind them and are already bitching about next year's roster.

And they don't even have press conferences where the winners are given trophies and get to thank their dads and high school coaches! They get interviewed over the phone most of the time. Clearly the intent is for baseball to stay in our collective consciousness between the Series ending and free agency beginning, but it doesn't work. It trivializes the importance of these mens' accomplishments, and being that these are the most accomplished men in the Game, it trivializes the Game.

As does the fact that most of the time, the MVP award is give to the best player, but not necessarily the Most Valuable one. I would pick Albert Pujols to start my fantasy team, or my real franchise, over anyone else in the National League, but how valuable was he to the Cardinals this year? They took 4th. I don't think he should have been eligible because he didn't play enough games, but Manny Ramirez was eligible and was third in the voting - how did he not win? The guy joined a team struggling to play .500 that was slowly withering and never going to put it all together and carried them to the NLCS. And keep in mind as you read the following argument that I hate the Dodgers and think Manny is overrated.

So the Dodgers only finished a few games over .500 - the moment he arrived in L.A., the West was won and everyone knew it. Then he went out and hit .400 for two months just to make sure. He made you think James Loney, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier could be All Stars. Sure, Pujols carried the Cardinals, but he carried them to a crappy finish. The measuring stick for MVP is this: if you took the guy in question out and replaced him with any other above-average player of the same position, what is the difference?

Put Conor Jackson, Joey Votto, Loney, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, Carlos Delgado, Lance Berkman or Derek Lee in St. Louis, and they still finish fourth. But put any left fielder from any team in baseball in L.A., and the Dodgers miss the playoffs and possibly wind up behind Colorado.

Friday, November 14, 2008

If The Jets Beat The Patriots, And No One Was Watching...

Thursday night, the Jets got to get a real look at Brett Favre for the first time since he joined them. Sure, they've won six other games Favre threw six touchdowns in one of them and won another by 44. But this was one of the bigger games in regular season franchise history: on the road, tied for first, at New England, in the latter half of the season. And from what I've read, Farve was his usual spectacular self. Of course it wasn't on TV, so how would I know?

This was the second of the NFL network's eight televised games this season. Few people really noticed that they missed the Browns and Broncos last week, but this one hurt a little. You may remember from last year (when the debate got hot) and the year before that the NFL network is not carried on most cable companies so a huge majority of football fans cannot watch their programming.

The reason for the debate is that the NFL wants its network to be carried on basic cable like, for instance, ESPN. If placed there, they maximize their viewership and can charge boatloads more for advertising. However, the cable companies do not think that the channel is a viable choice for their basic packages since it is niche programming, it will fit better in their sports packages, and it is too expensive. The cable companies will have to pay the NFL network for the programming, so they will have to raise rates for their customers. Their argument is that rates should not raise for all basic cable customers, rather only the customers who want this channel. Clearly at some point, someone will notice that the way to solve this is a la carte pricing for cable. Until then, we are stuck.

Dish and DirecTV both bought into the NFL network and offer the channel on their basic services. But only around 20% of homes in the U.S. have satellite (and that number is a high estimate).

As a pretty big sports fan, I can say whole-heartedly that I do not want to be forced to pay extra for the NFL network and am thrilled that the cable companies haven't bowed to the NFL's pressure. So I missed last night's game. Bummer. But if I was paying for this network, that would be three-and-a-half hours of program I watched, followed by 164.5 hours till next week's game that I wouldn't watch. And next week is Cincy vs. Pittsburgh which I wouldn't watch. In fact, the only other game this season I might watch on NFL network is Arizona at Philly, but it is on Thanksgiving day, so I'd probably miss it anyway.

The NFL network folks like to say that for the price of a cup of coffee a week, you could get 24-hour NFL coverage. The problem is that makes 3.5 hours I want, and 8756.5 hours I don't this year. No thanks. Either put it into the sports package and let sports fan pay the bill or just put the games On Demand and I'll buy them individually (which is also where TV programming is going).

The funniest part of this debate is last season in Week 17: the Giants played the Pats with the undefeated regular season on the line, the Giants playing their starters in a "meaningless game," New York vs. Boston, etc. etc. There was so much of a stink raised around the country about that game only airing on 1-in-5ish TVs, that Congress stepped in and told the NFL network that they were being stupid and forced them to air the game on network TV as well.

So the moral of the story is that while most of us can't get this channel, if we really cared we would make it happen and still not have to pay for it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

First Two Amendments To The Sports Constitution Ratified

Last week, I wrote the Bill of Sports as the new (self-appointed) president-elect of Sports and made a few major changes to some of the big leagues. My chief of staff/brother suggested one change and while at the Kings-Stars game last night, I realized one other key error that I made.

Amendment I: If the NBA did not begin until after the Super Bowl, as I previously mandated by Article I of the Bill of Sports, once baseball ends there would be nothing to watch during the week from early October to Mid November when college basketball begins. In order to fill this gap, college basketball will be moved forward and will begin in the first week of October, the baseball awards will be announced during the first two weeks of October, and the NHL will now be televised on ESPN every night. The NBA is still banned until the day after the Super Bowl.

Amendment II: As noted in Article IV of the Bill of Sports, the NFL is fine and does not need to make any changes. However, two new rules shall hereby go into effect: A. Touchdowns are worth seven points. If a team chooses to go for eight, the current rules for a "two-point conversion" apply. No more extra points. Extra points will be required in the playoffs and overtime. B. The overtime rules shall hereby be amended to follow the college rules more closely: At the end of regulation, there will be a coin toss called by the home team. The winner of the coin toss chooses whether they want the ball or not, the loser chooses which side of the field they want. The first team starts 1st and 10 on the 25. Whatever their result is, the other team starts with the same scenario. Extra points must be attempted in overtime. If still tied after the first overtime round, teams must attempt a two-point conversion if they score touchdowns.

The Kings-Stars game last night was a perfect example of how exciting new rules changes can be when the league acts responsibly to make changes that are both fan-friendly, as well as fair to the teams. With one minute remaining in regulation and the score tied 2-2, there was a brawl. Two players were ejected and after all of the penalty minutes were handed out, the Kings had to play 4-on-3 for the final minute of regulation and the first two minutes of sudden overtime, before play returned to 4-on-4, with both teams still down a man due to the fighting penalties.

The Kings desperately held on to the tie during a frantic overtime and the teams then lined up their three best penalty-shot takers for the shootout. Of course, they were still tied after these first three rounds, so it went to a sudden-death shootout and the Kings won in the fifth round. What does this have to do with the Second Amendment, you ask...

The NHL changed the rules a few years ago to reward teams for losing in overtime to eliminate what had a a terrible tradition: in overtime, both teams used to play defensively and basically just made sure they didn't lose and go the point for a tie. Boring! So the league made it so that an OT loss counts in a different column as a regular loss. It encouraged teams to go for those two-points for a tie. unfortunately this made the records unwieldy: Detroit had the league's best record at 48-21-11-2 with 101 points in 2004. No wonder they lost fans.

So the league made more changes that eventually included the brilliant shootout. There is no such thing as a tie: just wins, losses and overtime losses. And the overtime was shortened from a full extra period (20 minutes), to just five minutes...then it is off to the shootout. This does not work in soccer because the goals are too easy to score in the shootout. But in hockey it is perfect. So again, what does this have to do with the Second Amendment?

It points out to key flaws in the NFL that were overlooked when Article IV was written: the games are too long (thanks TV) and the overtime blows.

By eliminating extra points, you save as much as five minutes per touchdown (lining up, "icing" timeouts, the play itself, potential penalties, etc.). Plus, kickers are converting extra points at a rate of 99.5% (660 out of 663) this season.

By changing the overtime rules, you address that fact that currently the overtime is a fan-unfriendly field position battle where one time just tries to go to the 30, then runs the ball into the middle and sits on it till third down, at which time they invariably win with a field goal. Boring. Perhaps the statistics do not show that the team that wins the OT coin toss has an unfair advantage, but that it not the inspiration behind this rule change.

That hockey game last night was between the two worst teams in the Pacific Division, indeed two of the worst in the League right now. But for the entire overtime and shootout the entire crowd was on its feet and from what it appeared, very few people had already gone home (even on a week-night). That kind of excitement rarely happens in an NFL overtime because it seems more like a procedure, a technicality, than a competition. When was the last time a college football overtime didn't make the crown go nuts? After all, under current NFL rules, an overtime can still end in a tie (as it almost did between the Jets and Raiders earlier this season).

Monday, November 10, 2008

USD Was Robbed, The Cubs Can't Buy One, And Raider Fans Steal Things

Similar to how the New York Giants won the Super Bowl and returned the next season with a chip on their shoulders after being written off as repeat-contenders and picked third in their own division, my alma mater's men's basketball team has been slighted after winning their conference tournament.

The San Diego Toreros knocked off two top 25-ranked teams (St. Mary's and Gonzaga) to win the West Coast Conference Tournament and then another when they beat UConn in the Tourney before falling in a heart-breaker to fellow Cinderella Western Kentucky.

So coming into this season, you might think that USD would get some respect in the national polls, or at least within the Conference! Rather, they were picked to finish third in the league and received just 1 vote for the AP top 25. Granted this was the first vote in school history, but it is still something of a slight. After all, they did not graduate a single player, nor did they lose their coach, and they added two top recruits (one of whom - Roberto Manfra - scored 21-points on 9-of-10 shooting in their season opener last weekend).

They are clearly not national title contenders, but for fans of college basketball, USD is one to watch this year (which won't be difficult since 15 of their games will be televised).

On Saturday, my wife and I watched Fever Pitch (which is a pretty good romantic comedy to fall back on if you are stuck having to watch a romantic comedy) and afterwards I was explaining why the "Curse of the Bambino" was such a big deal and how long it had been, etc. She said that it is just like that with her San Jose Sharks because they can't get out of the first round of the playoffs, and I didn't bother explaining that the Sharks have only existed for 17-years so it is not exactly the same thing.

But we got to talking about long losing streaks and curses in sports and of course, I mentioned the Cubs. I told her that they haven't won now in over 100-years. She asked if they'd ever been close and I said a few times, but mostly they have just stunk. Her response to this cosmically-cursed, haunted, agonizing situation was simply, "Why don't they do something about that?" I guess they just never thought about that - stop whining and go win something!

Finally, while I was in the San Jose airport last night (missing the freaking Giants game, but I am not bitter), I was watching a little boy who must have been about 1-year-old sitting in his stroller playing the the straps of the purse of the woman next to him. After a minute or two, I realized that he didn't know this woman, but he was just playing with her purse. I thought it was a cute moment until I moved up in line and got a better look at what was going on.

The kid had a Raiders' shirt on and I couldn't help but wonder how early Raider fans start teaching their kids to be criminals, if this 1-year-old was already working on purse-snatching.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Commissioner Of Sports Gets A Promotion

Earlier this week on Monday Night Football, Chris Berman asked both presidential candidates what they would do first in the sports world if they were elected president. Both predictably took pretty easy, populist choices. John McCain said he would get rid of performance enhancing drugs (a novel idea!) and Barack Obama said he would institute a playoff system in Division IA, thus eliminating the bowl championship system.

This got me thinking what I would do for sports if I was elected President. Earlier this year I wrote a column as the World's Commissioner of Sports and have re-posted that below. I still hold that these things would make sports better and in fact, at least one of them (instant replay in baseball) has been instituted in real-life. One thing I realize about that list, and about the new additions I will be adding to it now, is that I tend to be pretty anti-business. That is to say, many of the suggestions I make are to fight off the intrusion of money into the purity of the sports. So without further ado, as President of the United States of Sports, I hereby enact the following Constitution and Bill of Sports into law:

Article I: The NBA preseason will begin January 1. Teams may play as many preseason games as they wish. The regular season shall begin the day after the Super Bowl, and the opening game each year will be a rematch of the previous year's NBA finals. The regular season will consist of 30 games, and the playoff make-up will change slightly- the top eight teams from each conference, seeded by record, home court given to the team with the better record. There is no bonus invitation or home-court given to division winners.

The reasons for this change are many. For one, despite its current renaissance, the NBA still blows. The season is three to five games old and it is already clear which teams will make the playoffs. They will also tread water until February, when they will start jockeying for playoff position. To combat the utter boredom that is the first three months of the season, they will be eliminated. This will make the regular season games far more important and therefore they will be far more interesting. Currently only the fourth quarter seems to be relevant, but if they only have thirty games to get in and get home court, that intensity will be ramped up from the opening tip.

Article II: Any reporter or commentator who argues that Major League Baseball is out of touch and is a dieing sport shall be fined $500 for each incident, with the money going the the charity of his or her choice.

This past World Series was the lowest rated ever. This past NBA Finals was one of the highest rated ever. And only in that perfect storm of ratings did the NBA Finals out-rate the World Series. That had not happened previously since the ultra-popular Michael Jordan's Bulls were in the NBA Finals. The team with the lowest attendance in the Major League baseball in 2008 was the Florida Marlins, with 16,688 per game over 81 games. A full one-third of the NBA could not get that many people at only 41 games in 2007.

Article III: All divisions of college football shall have 16-team playoffs to determine their champion. In the case of Division IA, the first round will be played at the higher seeded team's home field. The quarterfinals, semifinals and championship game will be called "Bowls" and may keep their corporate sponsorships. The National Championship game and semifinals will rotate annually among the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl and Fiesta Bowl. The names FCS and BCS will be eliminated and replaced once again with IAA and IA, respectively.

The major pro-BCS argument is that a playoff would generate less interest and less money than the Bowls do, and it would be bad for the student-athletes because they'd miss more class with a playoff system. Currently, there are five major divisions in college football (BCS, FCS, II III, NAIA), all but the BCS has a playoff with no negative consequences. Also, by allowing the playoff games to be called Bowls, the games keep their sponsorships and keep making money hand over fist. And if anyone really thinks that a college football playoff would not generate interest, they shall be deported. As for the argument that this only allows 16-teams to compete in postseason and eliminates many current sponsorship deals, any school not part of the tourney can play in any other postseason tournament (think NIT) or unaffiliated bowl of their choosing. This system allows for a far more fair way of choosing a champion and eliminates the problem of a team like USC this year losing once in September and being out of the running for a title despite clearly being among the top 5 (if not top 2) in the country. It also allows for smaller conferences to be represented in the field.

Article IV: The NFL and College Basketball can keep doing what they're doing.

Article V: Major League Baseball shall eliminate Interleague play and thus shorten the season by 15 games and approximately two-and-a-half weeks. The World Series shall continue to be played at the home stadiums of the two teams involved, but the All Star game shall not determine home field advantage, it will alternate every other year between Leagues. In addition to the replay rules listed below by the Commissioner of Sports, if both managers agree before the game, managers shall have one challenge per game on any play. They shall receive another after successful challenges. Post season games shall begin no later than 7 pm Eastern Standard Time.

Interleague play does provide a level of intrigue to the season, but it is inherently unfair. For instance, as part of the Interleague system, teams play local/natural rivals every season as well as one other full division. So if a team has a local/natural that is good every year, they will automatically play a harder schedule than teams in their own division that have weaker local/natural rivals. For instance, the N.L. East and A.L. east play one another next season. So the Mets play their rivals, the Yankees once and then they play the entire A.L. East as well. The Nationals play the entire A.L. East and then play the Orioles.

Additionally, eliminating Interleague fixes the problem of the season running too long. There has been debate about how the 2008 World Series was ruined by bad weather and the World Series should therefore be played at a more temperate, neutral venue. The fact that there was a rain-suspension for the first time in the 105-year history of the event does not mean the event is flawed; it means it rained this year. However, next season the World Series will potentially in the second week of November. This invites the weather to cause more problems (especially for fans) and also hurts the hallowed tradition of October being synonymous with the World Series.

A second baseman for a fourth place team having a bad inning in July should obviously not determine something as significant as the home field advantage for the World Series. Considering how advanced our television technology has gotten, it seems silly that it cannot be used to determine the correctness of calls on the field. When the managers exchange line-up cards before a game, they should also decide whether they will be allowed their challenge that day.

No doubt, there will be an Article VI and as both President and Commissioner of the United States of Sports, I hereby claim the to amend this Constitution at any time.

The World's Commissioner Of Sports

This was the last entry I wrote for my column at back in March.

March 31, 2008

Today is my last day writing for CBS, so I thought I would give a list of some of the many things I would do if I were named World Commissioner of Sport.
-Introduce the following sports into the Olympics: lacrosse, golf (four-person teams, best ball, round-robin tournament), ultimate Frisbee, rugby, baseball (no, it is not in the Olympics anymore),
-Each team gets three video-appeals on ball/strike calls per game, plus one every three extra-innings. They can use the same triangulation technique that is used in tennis, with the results shown instantly on the jumbotron.
-Institute a home run trot clock. If he doesn't make it in time, it is a ground-rule double.
-Shorten and enforce the pitcher's clock, and put it on the scoreboard somewhere.
-Allow immediate group celebrations in football, but don't televise them.
-Any player who holds out while under contract is automatically ineligible for a raise in next contract (all sports).
-Any player that I determine tanked in order to force a trade will be suspended for one year (all sports).
-A single positive performance enhancing drug violation will result in a two-year ban (all sports)
-The New England Patriots forfeit their season-opening win over the New York Jets for cheating.
-If a league finds a positive test for an illegal substance, it must hand the evidence over to the police for prosecution.
-All athletes who make more than $1,000,000 must give at least 5% of their after-tax salary to charity.
-College athletes will not be paid or compensated in any way besides academic scholarships, housing, equipment, on-campus meal plans, and priority class registration.
-The Division IA college football champion will be determined the same way that the champion of every other level of college football determines its champion – tournament. In this case, a 16-team tournament of the top 16-ranked teams at the end of the season.
-The NCAA men's basketball tournament will be comprised of 64 teams.
-Major League Baseball umpires will have access to instant replay for home runs, foul balls and catches.
-Television timeouts are hereby banned. If the teams don't want timeouts, they should not have to take them.
-Volleyball must use the side-out rule, not rally scoring.
-NBA officials will enforce the no-complaining rule, as well as traveling and carrying-over.
-Dunks are worth 1 point.
-The Olympics are only for amateur athletes.
-Public colleges and universities may only give scholarships to American citizens, unless voters in that state vote to allow it.
-All athletics venues must offer a hamburger/hot dog, soda and desert combo for no more than one hour of minimum wage.
-All venues must allow tailgating in their parking lots.
-Car racing, poker and fishing may not be called sports.
-No one can be disciplined for missing work the day after the Super Bowl.
-The football national championship game will be played on January 1.
-Announcers who repeatedly use improper grammar will be fired.
-More swimsuit editions

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Report: I Have Been Elected President In 2012

What is perhaps the most amazing part of the elections each time is the predictions that the networks and Associated Press make, or more accurately: how early they make them. Whatever formulas they are using to make these predictions need to be manipulated by someone so they can be used to predict sports outcomes and make a lot of money. And by "someone," I mean "me."

One thing that I discovered yesterday, while working in CBS' newsroom for the election coverage, is the the AP is far more conservative with their predictions than the networks are. It is relatively simple to deduce why: AP is a news organization dedicated to getting the story right. The networks are news organizations dedicated to getting the story first, and preferably right as well.

Now some of the time, these predictions are kinda obvious. A state like Oklahoma, which is a Republican stronghold and has polled very strongly Republican leading up to this election, was always going to be won by John McCain. So when AP called that results when not a single vote had been counted yet, perhaps it wasn't that surprising. McCain ended up getting 66% of the vote there.

During the course of the evening, AP called Oklahoma, New York, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington D.C., Vermont and Delaware before a single vote was counted in any of them. Every one of these was correct and every one was a blowout:
New York: Obama - 62%
Minnesota: Obama -54%
Wisconsin: Obama - 56%
Washington D.C.: Obama - 93%
Vermont: Obama - 67%
Delaware: Obama - 61%

There were some other amazingly early predictions as well: Maine was called with three votes counted. New York was called after just 405 voted were counted. But the most amazing thing about these predictions is that every single state was predicted correctly (with Missouri and North Carolina still up for grabs as I write this). The biggest winner for the prognosticators was New Mexico: This state was accurately called for Barack Obama after just 4% of the vote was in...and McCain was leading by 7,000 votes!

I firmly believe that these early predictions do hamper voter turnout and could be seen as borderline voter tampering. Yesterday's presidential election was called at about 8 p.m. PST, before a single vote was counted from the western states (although some were included in Obama's winning total at that point). But the race was reported to be all but over by 6:30. So for the last few hours of polling out west, the election was seen as over already - why bother voting?

This doesn't seem to affect the election too strongly, it doesn't favor either party, and the networks are not going to hold off on getting a scoop in the interest of journalistic integrity (how sad is that?), so this will not change in the future. In fact it will likely get worse: the President-elect will accept the concession speech by noon!

The best line I have read this morning with regards to the election is this, a headline from The (a satirical "news" source, if you are not familiar)...and you will have to pardon the language:
"Nation Finally Shitty Enough To Make Social Progress - President-elect Barack Obama did very well among women and young voters, who were most sensitive to the current climate of everything being fucked."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Cowboys To Play In CFL Until They Get NFL-Caliber Talent

With baseball season over actual real-life rain falling in L.A. over the weekend, it seems a little silly to still write about Andruw Jones' unfathomable contract, but it is one of my favorite topics so I am torn. Fortunately, the Knicks' Stephon Marbury is proving that his deal is perhaps worse.

Which contract is a bigger burden is a tough call. Jones costs a lot of money and actually hurts his team when he plays. Marbury costs even more money but isn't actually on the roster. You make the call. As for now, the Knicks are 1-2 and Marbury has earned exactly $762,461.89 despite not playing at all. In fact he hasn't suited up for the last two. But it isn't because of injury, actually it is because coach Mike D'Antoni thinks he is such a cancer to the team that he refuses to play him so Marbury asked to be placed on the inactive list. Marbury is set to earn $20,840,625 this season and says he will not be bought of his contract for a dime less.

While I don't blame him, after all it's not his fault that Isiah Thomas was an idiot and agreed to the deal, I guess this will be the end of Marbury's run at being seen as a good guy for signing a sneaker deal that made inexpensive (around $20) sneakers instead of the normal NBA star shoes that retail in the hundreds. But then, I don't think there was ever a chance that this guy would be seen as a good guy. That ship sailed when he was run out of his second or third NBA city and then again when he tattooed his shoe-logo on the side of his bald head. Mike Tyson is jealous of this lunatic's committedness to lunacy!

Speaking overpaid, self-serving lunatics, did anyone else see the Cowboys get demolished yesterday? You know, when you root for a team and they win a game really, really easily over a long-time, hated rival, you might think it would be only natural to kinda wish it was a better game. You know, to root for the spirit of the rivalry. Perhaps that makes me unnatural because I revelled in every glorious moment of that game.

The talk among my co-workers at CBS was that it is a soft win because the Cowboys are so depleted. I think this is being a little generous to the Cowboys. How depleted are they? The offense is completly in tact besides Tony Romo. The defense is missing two starters. This is a team that had 12 Pro Bowl-ers last year. The Giants had three injured starters on defense: a defensive end, a cornerback and a linebacker, and the defensive end was the team's only Pro Bowl-er last year. So nearly everyone's preseason NFC favorite, the deepest, most talented team, with all those Pro Bowlers, couldn't move the ball or stop the other team from moving it.

Every team suffers injuries. Not every team rolls over like the Cowboys did Sunday. The last time the Giants beat the Cowboys, T.O. cried afterwards. That was pretty enjoyable as well.

This is why football is great: I have a full week to enjoy this.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sports This Week: Racist Writers, Soggy Fans, Soporific Announcers, And Naptime At Staples Center

Al Sharpton is at it again. Apparently on Monday well-known New York Post sports columnist Steve Serby was writing about how the Giants have handled the Plaxico Burress-primadonna issues this season and he wrote, "Good for [head coach Tom] Caughlin for tightening the noose around Plaxico Burress." Sharpton of course called the comment, "blatant racism," and a "media lynching."

So my question is this: is there any possibility that the writer had anything remotely close to racism in mind when he wrote that? ESPN's Michael Wilbon (who is black) said no. Or did he perhaps use the wrong term? If he had said, "tightening the reins," would it have been different? Would Sharpton then be upset with Serby for comparing an African American man to an animal? Seriously, there are so many problems in the world that we should be worried about. Is a guy using the wrong turn of phrase one of them?

Similarly, in West Hollywood there is a guy who hung an effigy of Sarah Palin from his chimney as a part of his Halloween decorations. Clearly it is a political statement, but it is also kinda funny. Had it been John McCain or Bush or Cheney or Osama bin Laden or Tom Cruise or the guy's neighbor or any other man, would it have been offensive? Of course not. I can see how the same thing with Barrack Obama would be crossing the line because in our overly politically-correct world, I doubt many people could look at that and see the statement about a political candidate and not a black man being hung. Probably rightfully so. But the fact that people are lining up in front of the home to protest a scene that is less ghoulish than many homes and nearly every Halloween store-front in town is completely insane.

Speaking of insane, I am excited for the Rays to win Game 5, the longest game in baseball history, and return to St. Pete for Game 6 so DirecTV can give us those fabulous blimp shots of the outside of the dome. Money well-spent there!

Bud Selig has been getting ripped for how he handled the rain-delay of Game 5. Honestly, what could he have done differently? The forecast called for 1/10" of rain over four hours and they wound up getting about 3". His fault? So maybe they could have delayed the game after about 4 innings when it got pretty wet out there. It was clear that they were not going to get a respite from the rain on Monday and that meant they'd finish Tuesday (or later), thus wiping out the innings that had been played - they'd start over from the first inning by rule. Is that what anyone wanted to have happen? How many plays were affected by the rain? They keep showing Jimmy Rollins drop a pop up and B.J. Upton steal a base as effects of the rain. Rollins dropped the ball because the wind blew it in, and Upton should have been slowed down by the rain.

The only problem out there was the mound; everyone else can get muddy. But with pitchers not being able to plant, there is a good chance someone will get hurt. But does anyone think that they should have called it after five and end the World Series there? Selig got lucky by having the Rays score to tie it up - he got bailed out. But what else could he have done? And besides, he had had a meeting with both G.M.s and managers and explained that what they would do in this scenario is exactly what ended up happening. The sportswriters are just upset they weren't in on it, but they should get over themselves and remember that they are there to report what happens, not to be involved in decision-making.

I have been trying to put my finger on what it is about Tim McCarver that I don't like (and that most people don't seem to like). He is a little full of himself, but they all are. His southern drawl is a little annoying, but I like to believe that I am not that prejudiced against southerners sounding stupid no matter what they're saying. I think I have figured it out though: he doesn't really give any commentary. Joe Buck just seems utterly bored with baseball and there is more dead air than any other broadcast team, but McCarver just doesn't say anything. He says what just happened, yes, but with no commentary. Being a commentator, this is a problem.

Listening to Harold Reynolds on TBS (and formerly ESPN), is a treat because he tells you what the coach should do on every pitch. He gives stories about similar scenarios. He reacts to plays like a fan and talks about the significance of things without every moment having to be the most important moment in American history like Buck seems to do. McCarver barely responds to what has happened and almost never gives any insight into what the managers or players might be thinking strategically. He just reads the graphics on the screen and gets pissed at Dion Sanders for spraying champagne on him. But at least Fox has those stretching, warming-up robots to keep us entertained.

Fox is now famous for their crowd-shots. The moment a play ends, we get two or three crowd shots and they return to the pitcher just in time for the next pitch. I don't like this for a few reasons: I don't give a crap about the fans for one thing. I want to see the players' reactions; those are the people we all sat down to watch. I want to see a pitcher's frustration. I want to see a guy stealing signs. I want to see a manager yelling at the umps. I don't want to see a baby sleeping on daddy.

However, it would be funny if Fox broadcast a regular season Laker game, because it is so dark in Staples Center for Laker games, you wouldn't be able to see anyone and the producers wouldn't know what to do with themselves. For the playoffs, the Lakers turn the crowd lights up so the celebs can get on camera, but in the regular season it looks like they had a power outage. It is as though they figure the Laker fans are pretty much napping the whole time anyway, so they may as well turn the lights off for them and hope the players don't make too much noise and wake everyone up. Last night's season opener wasn't a good game, but it was without a doubt the worst crowd I have ever seen (or heard, I suppose) at a professional sporting event. The Expos' crowds, all 4,000 strong, were louder. People always say that L.A. crowds don't cheer until the scoreboard says to and last night the scoreboards must have been turned off with the lights.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Patti LaBelle Clangs Out The Anthem

It is normally pretty easy to find something to write about on Mondays in the fall. After all, this weekend we had some huge NFL games, college football games, NHL games, final tune-ups for the NBA season, and of course the World Series! But to be honest I was in such a state of shock yesterday after hearing Patti LaBelle's rendition of what I am pretty sure was the National Anthem at Game 4, I couldn't really get my mind straightened out enough to put coherent thoughts down.

I don't think it is a stretch to say it is the worst National Anthem in major sports history. Roseanne Barr set the previous bar pretty low, but she wasn't a singer and was singing it as a joke - almost in character. Shameful, sure. But you had to expect that. People who sing OK but forget the words are bad, but that is more embarrassing than anything else.

This was the perfect storm of terrible National Anthems: Patti LaBelle is a singer. That's her career. So you'd think she could knock out the Anthem without too much trouble. And you'd think she'd be able to remember all 100 words or so.

Granted: she was never a very good singer and granted: the Anthem is not an easy song. But this was astonishing. She sounded like your crazy aunt who is in the choir at church and who just belts out everything she sings with complete confidence (hands up, eyes closed, pained expression on her face) because she's tone deaf and has no clue how far off she is.

I understand that the thing to do when singing the Anthem seems to be to go put one's own personal touch on it: add notes, add words, add pauses and generally stretch it out as long as possible, but honestly at some point doesn't it become absurd? Isn't it a little weird to show such feigned emotion for the words you are singing when you aren't even singing the right words, so you clearly don't know what the song means anyway?

It starts out OK, but the first word of the second line, "by the dawn's early light," you know this one is gonna be a doozy. So without further ado, here is a link to the performance. The link I had found with the entire version was taken down, and this is the best I could find. Sorry about the advertisement. Be careful about playing this if you have dogs or small children around.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Getting Away With Murder" Isn't Just An Expression For Ray Lewis

As if I needed more reason to root against the Baltimore Ravens.

Not only did they embarrass my Giants in the Super Bowl in 2000, which is pretty insignificant in scale with the fact that Ray Lewis murdered two people before suddenly becoming Mr. Nice-Guy on TV to fix his image, but now they're adding fuel to the fire.

If you don't know the story, Lewis and two men were brought in for questioning after two other men were stabbed and killed following a bar fight. Lewis denied knowing the other two suspects and when it was determined that he'd lied about that and that the three were friends, were together then night of the murders, and had gotten into a fight with the dead guys, all three were arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault. As it turns out, Lewis and a group of friends got into a fight with the two victims, and as many as six men beat the two up before stabbing them and piling into Lewis' stretch-SUV limo and fleeing the scene.

The prosecution had the case won, with witnesses who would testify that they saw Lewis at least punch, and at most stab one of the victims and then brag about it later. As the trial came, all of the witnesses changed their stories, and suddenly Lewis was alleged to have been trying to stop the fight. Lewis was given a deal that he'd serve no time if he plead guilty to lesser obstruction of justice charges and testify against his friends. He took the deal, though he did not implicate in his testimony. No one was ever convicted of the murders, and if Ray Lewis did not do it himself, he was there and knows who did. The NFL didn't even suspend him, after all he was the Super Bowl MVP!

Later Lewis avoided civil trials with the families of the men who were killed by buying them out. After this, Lewis went on a massive P.R. tour, recasting himself as a prayerful, soulful, responsible leader, taking young players under his wing, being the dutiful team veteran. Every announcer I ever heard seemed to buy into this show. Lewis was seen as "a passionate leader," "a warrior," and a "spiritual leader for his team," a role model.

It always seemed to me that while Lewis was clearly the team's leader, and he helped cultivate a proud, fierce and effective defense, he also helped create a bunch of thugs. And this season, they have shown their true colors.

Steelers' rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall, who had been thrust into the starting lineup due to an injury to Willie Parker, and who hadn't played all that well yet, allegedly sent a text message to a friend and former college teammate saying he was expecting a big game against the Ravens that following week. Unfortunately for Mendenhall, his friend (or former-friend, Ray Rice of the Ravens) passed the joke on to his teammates who decided to make bulletin-board material out of it and eventually went out and fractured Mendenhall's shoulder, knocking him out for the season. Adding insult to injury, Mendenhall insists the text never happened in the first place.

Ray Lewis was the player who delivered the hit that fractured his shoulder and afterwards was quite proud of himself. In Sports Illustrated last week, Dan Patrick gave this quote from Lewis: "After the play I wasn't screaming, 'He's hurt.' I was screaming, 'He's done.'" Lewis revelled in the young man's pain, and didn't bother to call for medical help. Patrick went on to write, "The Ravens linebacker said he'd take a hit like that over a sack or an INT any day...Lewis says after a big hit he recites the Lord's Prayer on the way back to the huddle." Quite a role model.

Linebacker Terrell Suggs said of the hit, "We definitely like to send our messages to rookie running backs who think they've made it. We did a good a job of sending a message."

Now the plot has thickened. On a syndicated radio show, Suggs was asked if the team had had a "bounty" on Mendenhall after his text-comments. Suggs replied, "Definitely. The bounty was out on him and the bounty was out on [receiver Hines Ward]." To Suggs' surprise, the league frowns on that type of thing and is now investigating. Suggs attempted to clear up the situation today by telling the Baltimore Sun, "There wasn't any bounty. He [the talk show host] asked me if there was a bounty and I just said I'm going to keep a watch on the guy." So apparently, when Suggs said, "definitely," he meant, "of course not."

No doubt the Ravens did have some sort of bounty on Mendenhall. No doubt Lewis was behind it. No doubt he'll will slip through this one too. After all, the guy already got away with murder, why would a little thing like assault get him down (which is what it would be if they went out with the intent to hurt Mendenhall and then did it)?

Baltimore wound up losing that game against Pittsburgh. Then they lost the next week, and were embarrassed (particularly their defense) by Indianapolis 31-3. They play the Raiders this week, and I truly never thought that this would ever happen in my life, but I will be rooting for the Raiders.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

World Series Sleeper Or Another 2008 Classic?

The World Series starts tonight and has a lot to live up to. 2008 has been a year of spectacular championships, from the Giants' Super Bowl, to Kansas' overtime NCAA championship, to Tiger's overtime U.S. Open, to Lezak saving Phelps' gold medal quest, to that last minute flurry by the Penguins in the the Stanley Cup, to Federer/Nadal at Wimbledon, to Fresno State winning the College World Series, to Celtics' Game 4 comeback in the NBA Finals, to the ALCS drama, almost every major sporting event saw a spectacular finish (except college football, once again).

So will the Rays and Phillies live up to that expectation? A lot of things say yes: great pitching staffs, great hitting, great speed on both clubs; young, exciting players on both clubs; monkey-off-the-back drama for both clubs. But a lot of things say it will be over early too: the World Series never goes long anymore; the Phillies were red hot and took a full week off - so did the Rockies last year; the Rays might actually truly be by far the best team in baseball; Dan Uggla of the Marlins committed three errors three months ago, so the Rays get to play at home.

It has been sad that the World Series has stunk every year. I haven't even really watched one since the Angels beat the Giants in seven in 2003. Since then, I was either too bitter about the Mets losing, hated one or both teams so much that I couldn't watch them, it was a foregone conclusion, or it just wasn't interesting. For instance:
2007 - Red Sox over Rockies (foregone conclusion, bitter about Mets)
2006 - Cardinals over Tigers (bitter, forgone conclusion, hated both)
2005 - White Sox over Astros (couldn't care less)
2004 - Red Sox over Cardinals (foregone conclusion)
2003 - Marlins over Yankees (bitter, hate Yankees too much to watch)
2002 - Angels over Giants (good series)
2001 - Diamondbacks over Yankees (great series)
2000 - Yankees over Mets (Roger Clemens is the devil)
1999 - Yankees over Braves (foregone conclusion, bitter, hated both teams)
1998 - Yankees over Padres (foregone conclusion)
1997 - Marlins over Indians (zzzzzzzzzzz)
1996 - Yankees over Braves (like choosing which eye to gouge out)

So the World Series is never good anymore. Though we all say the same thing about the Super Bowl and yet in retrospect, there have been some stellar ones in the last decade. And one thing that is good about the WS is that in the last nine years, 15 teams have played. Everyone has a shot in any year, and no one proves that better than the Rays.

So I will watch. Ultimately I am a baseball fan, these are two real baseball teams (built from the ground up, small ball, etc.), and it is for all the marbles. The problem is that this series kinda feels like a cosmic "f-you" to Mets fans. Consider:

-The Rays' Game 1 starter was a Mets prospect traded for a guy whose career with the Mets predictably looked like this: 3 seasons with the Mets - 10-14, 4.42 ERA, one season with more than 5 appearances (since then he is 0-6 in 26 appearances with a 10.17 ERA). The Mets traded a raw, young prospect with good mechanics for a raw, young prospect with bad mechanics because Rick Peterson was sure he could fix him. Guess, what: the experiment ended in Tommy John surgery and Peterson has since been canned. And Kazmir never needed any fixing - he was an instant starter in Tampa. At least Kazmir was only the AL All-Star Starter and World Series Game 1 starter so far. No Cy Youngs yet.

-The Rays are stealing the thunder of one of the great accomplishments in Mets franchise history: the worst-to-first 1969 Amazins. Other teams have done this since, but none like the Mets or Rays - without big name free agents or even big name trades.

-The Phillies are the Mets' new nemesis now that the Braves stink.

Prediction: Rays in 6. I think it will be a good Series, not a classic. The Rays pitching is very good, but not sweep-good. And the Phillies will struggle in the first two games, being at the Trop, and having had a been off, but they'll find themselves when they get back to Philly. Too little, too late though.

Lastly, I gave Frank TV a try yesterday, something that I am deeply ashamed of. "How bad could it be," I thought? I mean the guy does do some pretty accurate impersonations. Having watched an episode (entitled "Frankapalooza," so you knew it was gonna be utterly devoid of creativity) I now know that what Caliendo and the producers of the show do not seem to grasp is that accurate (sometimes) impersonations do not equal funny television in and of themselves. There has to actually be something funny done or said. This was thirty minutes of people wearing costumes and saying things while mimicking other people's voices. They forgot to tell jokes.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Once A Linebacker...

It's been three days, so I assume that anyone who cares about this already saw it, but on the off chance that someone did miss it (despite ESPN creating a new network just for this clip), check this out: Ref Decks South Carolina Quarterback

It is really not a very good tackle and as a former linebacker at Kentucky, Wilbur Hackett, Jr. should have known better. You need to wrap up; don't just expect the guy to go down when you hit him high. But then, he did have the element of surprise going for him, since there is no way the QB thought the ref would shuffle his feet into position and drop him with a fore-arm.

This reminds me of the scene in Rushmore where Bill Murray is walking through the school on his cell phone, smoking a cigarette and suddenly jumps into a basketball game with little kids, chases the ball-handler down and swats an 8-year-old's shot off the court before calmly continuing on his way. I couldn't find a good clip of it, but Check it out here (skip to about 1:58 if you don't want to watch the whole trailer, though I can't imagine why not).

The best part of this is clearly the fact that a referee appears to have sized up a ball carrier, used textbook footwork to get into tackling position - knees bent, arms at the ready - and delivered a Madden-style truck-stick tackle inside the redzone in a game that was eventually lost by a touchdown. But the second best part is that the SEC looked into the matter and ruled that it was inadvertent contact.

Which is similar to when I walked into the bank with a gun and a ski mask, demanded they give me all their money, and inadvertently robbed it.

Or perhaps the SEC officials were confused what "inadvertently" means. You know, like how "flammable" and "inflammable" basically mean the same thing. Maybe "inadvertently means "in a careful and deliberate manner" just like "inadvertently" does.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Somewhat Bitter Potpourri

After a typically busy weekend in sports, I can't decide what to write about today, so instead I will simply throw out random thoughts about lots of the stories that have been going on, most of which are still tainted by the fact that the Phillies are in the World Series and not the Mets.

-Chip Caray used to call the Rays' James Shields, "Big-Game James Shields." This would have been a decent nickname for the guy if he had ever pitched in a big game before this week, and it it wasn't already James Worthy's nickname. So I figured that Caray was just calling anyone with the name James, "Big-Game James." And then in Game 7 of the ALCS, he called Rays' pitcher Matt Garza, "Big-Game Matt Garza." I don't even know where to begin with this.

-I am not sure which was my favorite TV sports programming moment of the weekend was, and both are up there for best moment of the year as well: 1) Little-brother-sports network TBS apparently forgot that they were in charge of broadcasting Game 6 of the ALCS. For the first 20 minutes (just long enough to miss B.J. Upton's first-inning homer), they instead were airing a repeat of the Steve Harvey show. I am sure folks in Boston handled this well. 2) The Cowboys sucked so bad on Sunday that Fox was worried that no one wanted to watch it anymore so they switched away from the blowout on their national broadcast. It wasn't just great that it was the Cowboys getting beaten, or beaten by the Rams, or publicly embarrassed, or that the game they switched to was the Giants. The best part is that the game they switched to stunk too, but was still more competitive and watchable than the Cowboys. I am very happy right now. That said, I could watch a 24 hour network of Cowboy losses, so it was a kinda six of one, half a dozen of another for me.

-I watched SNL this week because I thought that Sarah Palin's appearance might be worth it, and I thought, "you know, there are a lot of funny people on there now. Maybe it is coming back." Nope. The opening was another Tina Fey-as-Palin sketch and then Palin walked in and talked to Lorne Michaels' about the impersonation. Not that funny. Then Marky Mark appears (no Funky Bunch) to pile onto a joke from last week. Not funny. Then Alec Baldwin appears! He doesn't recognize Palin and thinks it is Tina Fey and starts bad-mouthing Palin's politics right to her face unintentionally. Not funny. Then I watched a few sketches and wanted to destroy my TV so this could never happen again. Weekend Update was, as usual for the last 33 years, the funniest part of the show, which is now simply an embarrassing obvious form of advertising for whatever crappy movies the hosts are starring in.

-Speaking of movies, Saw V is out this week. There have been four Saws? Has anyone ever seen one of these? Didn't the first one come out last year? Does anyone know what the premise is? And of course, it will be the top box office movie this weekend despite that no one knows anyone who sees it.

-How is it that movies are compared to movies by money generated, not tickets sold? We are all aware that movie tickets cost double what they did 15-years ago so this box-office stat is totally irrelevant, right?

-LaDainian Tomlinson's average fantasy draft pick number was 1.3 on Yahoo. So of the hundreds of thousands of leagues, he was pretty much picked first in 90% of them or more. This means that he is single-handedly ruining the seasons of more fantasy sports players than anyone in the history of fantasy sports. 58-yards per game? Apparently Lorenzo Neal was the Chargers' MVP, because he is gone, LDT stinks and so do the Chargers. Whoops.

-I had Adrian Peterson ranked #1 on my board and I am in first place. My two older brothers picked right behind me in the first round and got Steven Jackson and Brian Westbrook - both good picks. Yet they are both fighting it out for the bottom of the league with my two buddies, neither of whom has checked his team since June.

-This will be a spectacular baseball-fan's World Series but will undoubtedly get the lowest ratings in the history of the Series. Both teams steal bases, hit-and-run, play great defense, have great pitching and big power. Guys like Shane Victorino and Evan Longoria, who seem to absolutely love that they are playing baseball, make it fun to watch even the guys like Pat Burrell, who looks like he just left a lobotomy. You have to wonder how full Tropicana Field will be now that all the Red Sox fans will be gone. Here's a fun stat, which will be higher: Rays stolen bases + homers or Phillies strikeouts?

-I am sure Fox is thrilled that they got this matchup instead of the Dodgers and Red Sox, which would have crushed the best-ratings ever because there is something for non-fans to watch - the potential for Manny Ramirez to hit 20 homers as the Red Sox fans completely turn on his as the series progresses and they forget that he played a bigger role in winning those two World Series than anyone because he made them have to pitch to David Ortiz. I was thinking that it would have been interesting to have the Dodgers and Sox, but would it have? The Dodgers were not a very good team, even with Manny. And the Sox fans are so obnoxious now that they've forgotten what losing was like. They don't deserve more magic for a while.

-I didn't like the numbers on the Cleveland Browns' helmets last week. Maybe it was because they beat up the Giants, but even before it was out of hand, I definitely remember thinking that those are some of the coolest uniforms in football, and part of the reason is that they'd helmets are blank.

-A few weeks ago, I was in the Glendale Galleria on a Saturday afternoon and saw a big group of people with Fresno State shirts on. Fresno State had played UCLA at the Rose Bowl that day. That tells you a lot about Fresno when their fans go to L.A. for a football game and then their postgame activity/sight-seeing is a mall, and not even a cool mall.

-Top 2 Worst Scripted Live TV Sports moment of the year: 1) David Stern handing the NBA championship trophy to the Celtics' owner and using the NBA's "There can be only one" tagline as his speech. At least he got booed loudly. 2) Jim Nance's NCAA Finals call of, "Rock Chalk Championship!" when Kansas won it all. What can that possibly have meant? It doesn't even have a nice ring to it. That's what he stayed up the night before coming up with? I was expected Caray to best both of them with a painful pun on the Rays dropping the "Devil" from their name and becoming good. He failed me.

-No Florida baseball team has ever lost a playoff series.

-Pastors, priests, rabbis, etc. around the country are no doubt working up sermons for next week about what happens to your life when you get rid of the "Devil" thanks to the Rays.

-There was just a fundraiser at the Hollywood Park Casino to raise money for a charity that supports the Hollywood Park Casino. What? Has there ever been a less-worthy cause for charitable donation than a casino?

-Last week, Blake DeWitt came to bat at one point trailing 5-0 with no out and runners on 1st and 2nd. It was at Dodger Stadium and it was a big moment so the crowd was rocking. DeWitt leads the universe in runners left on, so it was not all that surprising when the rookie grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. But it was sad. You had to feel kinda bad for the guy. The crowd was dead, the threat was dead, the series was dead, and he must have felt like it was all his fault. I was watching with my dad, who said, "You almost feel bad for the kid. But he's a Dodger, so screw him." Dad, here's to them finishing their 50th year in L.A. unhappily, and to all prospects for #51 being truly miserable!

-Seriously, the Rays are in the World Series, are probably going to win. Seriously. Tampa Bay. The Devil Rays.

-The photo above has nothing to do with anything today. I just throught it was really funny and somehow that fit this spastic, non-sequitor-filled drivel.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Mind-Blowing Underperformers Of The Week

I suppose at this point, no one should be surprised at what Tim Wakefield's pitching looks like. The guy is the only pitcher in the league who throws pitches that are the same velocity as his age. We all know that when a knuckleball is working, it is near-unhittable and when it is not, well let's just say it's hittable, and the pitcher seems to have little or no control over whether it is working or not. None of this is new and I have seen Wakefield pitch probably 30+ times, and yet I watched in utter amazement last night at his pitching.

Without any exaggeration whatsoever, Wakefield looked like a high school coach throwing batting practice. If this was the home run derby, they'd ask him to throw harder. Watching him on a bad night makes me think without question that I could have been a big league hitter, or pitcher for that matter. Watching everyone else makes me realize I couldn't have been a varsity high school hitter.

I like to listen closely for the real train wreck moments for announcers, and Chip Caray has really put himself head-and-shoulders above his colleagues in this area during his career. In Game 3, Paul Byrd came in as the long-man to relieve Jon Lester. At one point Caray said, "In a lost cause for Boston, Paul Byrd is doing some valuable work." Never mind that he had given up a three-run homer in the previous inning that blew the game wide open, nor that he gave up a solo shot on the next pitch after Caray said that line (apparently reading from the play-by-play announcers' handbook). Byrd was doing valuable work, but it was for Tampa Bay.

In Game 4, the Rays erupted for back-to-back homers off of Wakefield in the first inning. The second one was hit over the Green Monster, over the Monster seats, over the ad-banner above the seats, over the camera that is at the height of the top of the foul pole, and out into the night. To say the least, it was a bomb. Caray's call: "That one's got a chance!" Yeah, a chance to land in Connecticut!

After Juan Pierre started in center field for the Dodgers in Game 4 of the NLCS (seriously, that happened), and considering that tonight will be the Dodgers' final game, I thought that today would be a good day to break down Andruw Jones' season from a financial point-of-view. Sadly, the Dodgers had to fake a season ending injury for Jones to save face for himself and the organization, so his statistics don't quite add up to a full season's worth...but his paychecks still do!

Keep in mind that he was brought in for top dollar after a dismal offensive season last year in the hopes that he would bolster the Dodgers' power numbers. Enjoy:

Batting Average: .158
2008 Salary: $14,726,910
$ per Game Started: $267,762 (55 starts)
$ per At Bat: $70,463.68 (209 AB's)
$ per Home Run: $4,908,970 (3 homers)
$ per RBI: $1,051,922.14 (14 RBI)
$ per Run Scored: $701,281.42 (21 runs)
$ per Hit: $446,270 (33 hits)
$ per Extra Base Hit: $1,227,242.50 (8 doubles, 1 triples, 3 homers)
$ per Pitch Faced: $14,409.89 (1022 pitches)
$ per Donut Eaten: $.04 (368,172,750 donuts*)
Another stat of note: three times as many K's (76) as walks (27).

*-Donut stat is approximate.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I Still Hate Baseball, But Football Is Making Me Happy

It has been tough to bring myself to writing about sports lately because of my utter disgust at the way the baseball postseason has gone. Not only did the Mets not make it, but the Brewers embarrassed themselves in the Mets' place, and now I have either the Dodgers or Phillies to root for...both of which are among my five least favorite teams in the game. I could also root for the Rays of course, but they are in deep trouble even after winning game 2.

When the final pitch was thrown in Game 1 of the ALCS and the Red Sox had won it on the road in Tampa Bay, I said to a co-worker, "well there's your World Series champ." He told me that it was a little early to say that and the memory of him cursing the Dodgers' season months ago flushed back into my memory. I looked through my sports-notes that I write and found the game.

The Dodgers trailed 2-1 in the 7th inning and were 2-games behind the Diamondbacks at the time. There were 54 games left. I hadn't been watching and asked him the score and he said in all seriousness, "Who cares? They suck. It's all over." This is the voice of reason telling me I am jumping to conclusions about the Red Sox winning the World Series after winning Game 1 of the ALCS on the road.

It is funny watching the playoffs from a relatively neutral observer's position. When Steve Phillips described Brett Myers Game 2 game-winning, 2rbi single as a "Chris Evrett two-hand backhand down the line," I thought to myself how much I would hate him at that moment if I gave a damn about that game.

Sometimes I think that the TV stations are having contests to see who are the least knowledgeable, least well-spoken, most arrogant people they can put on the screen and still get ratings. It is like a social experiment to find out if the sports are really important enough for us to watch despite being angered at their incompetence the entire time. Seriously, how else can you account for Chip Caray, Stu Lantz, Shannon Sharpe and DeMarco Farr's careers?

On the lighter side, the Redskins and Cowboys both lost in painful and embarrassing ways this weekend, and the Eagles narrowly escaped another tough loss. And the Giants are now everyone's favorite team. This does scare me a bit because being the one that no one respected fit their team psyche well and this is a new mode all-together. But this Giants team doesn't seem like the type to have an ego-induced collapse. A huge win over the Browns tonight will make me happy. No one seems to be mentioning it, but the Giants are the team that pretty much destroyed the Browns' season earlier this year.

If you remember, the Browns were one of the up-and-comers last year and actually had more Pro Bowlers than the Giants did. Big things were expected from the great Derek Anderson, the warrior Kellen Winslow, and the talented trio of Brylon Edwards, Donte Stallworth and Jamal Lewis. They were going to score a lot of points and have a bruising, physical defense. Then they went to New York and the Giants surged out to a 30-3 lead early in the second quarter and knocked Anderson out before before pulling their starters. Then the city of Cleveland sunk meekly into Lake Eerie.

Of course, they could be out for revenge and could ruin the Giants 19-0 season tonight back in Cleveland. The Browns are coming off of a bye week and at 1-3, this is pretty much a must-win if they want to play in January at all. But for the Giants, they are two-up in the loss column and have almost already made the playoffs. But I don't see the upset happening. Anderson has thrown twice as many picks and touchdowns and his longest completion of the year was barely a first down. Winslow has just been released from the hospital after an undisclosed illness (that allegedly had to do with one of two reproductive organs and the term "grapefruit sized"). Jamal Lewis has one touchdown and is averaging a little over three yards-per-carry. All of which has culminated in the defense spending more time on the field than Chad Johnson has spent coming up with touchdown celebrations that he doesn't get to use.

Giants 27-Browns 13

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

No More Divisional Series - No More Frank TV Ads

Really, there is only one thing that I take away from watching pretty much all of the LDS games: I have never hated any television show that I have never watched more than I hate Frank TV. And that includes that Tyler Perry show, which apparently uses the same advertising company. Who the hell is Tyler Perry to have "Tyler Perry's [fill in the movie/show name here]" as the title everything he works on? Seriously, who is he?

But I digress. Frank Caliendo is pretty funny. The Charles Barkley impersonation on TNT when he was talking about Kim Jung-il was fantastic. His John Madden on Kevin & Bean every week is better than the real John Madden. I would have voted for his President Bush. And then, there are the rest of his characters. None of them look like who they are supposed to look like at all, and a few of them kinda sound like it.

There is one ad (the one where the character asks Frank for a hug) in which I have no clue who he is supposed to be. It seem like a cross between Robert De Niro, William Shatner and Robin Williams.

The point of this rant is that I can't believe that TBS thinks this shotgun-style ad campaign can possibly work. I love ice cream. But if I had two servings of it during every commercial break for 3-10 hours a day for a week straight, I would probably never want ice cream again.

Towards the end of the week, they started to release commercials where Caliendo sorta apologized to viewers, saying basically, "I know you are sick of these commercials, but watch my show." Then apparently yesterday he released a statement saying that if the ratings were better for the show, they wouldn't have to bombard us with ads. To use a medical metaphor, the reason that people don't race out at every chance they get to have a colonoscopy is not because it isn't advertised enough. So maybe if the show didn't suck, we'd watch it. After all, there have been lots of shows that did really well in the ratings that did not have up to 10 commercials an hour.

They are turning off their audience and while I would probably watch the show every now and then when I caught it, I will now go out of my way to avoid it.

The saddest part of all of this, of course, is that the rest of the playoffs are televised on Fox and they are the grand-daddies of this type of advertising. So I hope you are excited to see the stars of Fringe, House, Prison Break, 24, Bones, Terminator and the whole slew of reality shows in which the titles are complete sentences as they sit in the stands reading magazines because they were sent there so Joe Buck could "happen to notice them in the crowd" at coincidentally the same point of every game, which is also right when a promo for that show was about to air. And with games in L.A. this time, it could be even worse than normal.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Most Overrated: Cubs, Torre Or Francona?

The baseball playoffs are not exactly going as I had hoped. For one thing, Omar Minaya is ruining my life and the Mets are not in the playoffs. For another, the only teams I don't like keep winning.

Although there are two sides to the coin that was the Dodgers-Cubs series. On the one hand, the freaking Dodgers (who let's face it, are a crappy team having a good week) won the series and are in the NLCS. This makes me sad because it has been fun getting to tease obnoxious Dodger fans by saying, "At least the Mets have won a series in the last two decades." No more fun there. On the other hand, I can now pretty much expect to stop reading and hearing about the Mets "collapse" this year because of what the Cubs have done. Sure the Mets led the East by a few games and were out of the Wild Card race entering September. Sure the Phillies went nuts and passed the Mets, while the Mets ran down the Brewers before tiring at the end and getting passed up in the last two days. But the Cubs had the best record in the league and were a sure thing to make the World Series since Spring Training. Thank you Cubbies!

Joe Torre is getting a ton of credit for the Dodgers' late success, as he always got in New York, and while I like Torre a lot, I think it is pretty unfounded that he is considered such a managerial genius. His records on teams that did not have the highest payroll that year (including this year) is pretty poor. When he won in New York, he had the perfect teams: youth/experience/defense/pitching/chemistry all rolled together. As his payrolls grew, his players got more talented, his chemistry waned and his teams couldn't win it all.

So he came to L.A. and took over an extraordinarily average team. They were inconsequential for most of the season and reports started to leak out that he and third base coach Larry Bowa were not happy with the Dodgers because the team stunk. Apparently they were unaware that it was their job to do something about it. Then they got Manny Ramirez (and Casey Blake) dumped into their laps and the team suddenly surges, with Torre suddenly a genius again. The common denominator between their pathetic first half and their torrid September was Torre and the everyone but Manny basically. So why is Torre getting credit for the change?

I think managers get far too much credit when things go well. Really what do they do besides get out of the way of guys who get hot? Pitching coaches and hitting coaches deserve credit/blame more often than managers because they tinkering with people's games. They are instructing. How many managers actually do anything during the course of a game that is not by the book? Pitching changes, pinch-hitters, when to steal, etc. It is all predetermined and everyone in the building knows when they're coming. But managers can make unusual decisions which either make them lucky geniuses or get them fired.

In Game 3 of the Angels-Red Sox series Terry Francona made a very strange move. Francona is considered a great manager, but he has also benefited by spectacular pitching and Manny Ramirez/David Ortiz in their primes. A horse could have managed these teams. The score was tied in the eleventh, and Ortiz was on first base. The series-winning run was 270 feet from home in the form of a nearly 300-pound man. Clearly the right move was to pinch-run, then you can either steal second and score on a single (like how the Sox beat the Yanks in THE series), or bunt him over and score on a single, which was less likely since their had the heart of their line-up up, and for some strange reason, logical decision-making is thrown out the window when the guy hitting has a 1 in 15 chance of hitting a homer (and incidentally, a 3 in 4 chance of making an out). Even if you do not steal or bunt, a pinch-runner could go first-to-third on a base hit, and Ortiz could not.

But Francona didn't pinch run for the portly Ortiz. Maybe he didn't have a deep enough bench left. Then it was first and second with two outs...certainly you pinch run for him in this scenario! Screw the bench, the game ends with a speedy runner on second and any hit...what is the bench being saved for if not a game-winning hit!? But no pinch runner came on.

Then Mike Lowell walked and the bases were loaded with Ortiz at third with two outs. Not much need for a pinch-runner for Ortiz now. Even he could score from third on a ball into the outfield. So out comes a pinch-runner...for the guy on first!

I understand that Lowell is slow and has a bad hip so he's really slow, and having a speedy runner there makes it harder for the Angels to have an easy out at second on a ball in the infield. That is not a bad play. But can a fast guy at first really be expected to beat out a ball to the short-stop? And if he does, won't they just throw to first for an easy out anyway? And why was Ortiz running for himself all that time if you had a pinch-runner to waste all along?

With speed on first, the pitcher has to respect it and worry about it and throw over and be distracted. With Ortiz there, no problem. With speed on second, the pitcher is even more stressed because he knows any base hit means the series is over.

You can't say it actually cost the Sox the game because Ortiz did not get thrown out at the plate, or make a base-running blunder to end the inning. But it definitely changed the situation for the pitcher and made it easier for him to relax and focus on the guy at the plate. Terrible move by Francona and the Sox eventually lost in the next inning.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Baseball Playoff Preview

I was asked to write a preview for the baseball playoffs for CBS and since I was going to do basically the same thing here anyway, I figured it was silly to write the thing twice. I linked to that other site, but you might find it eerily similar to what follows here...

National League Playoff Preview
In a field full of have-nots, the Cubs have gone the longest (100 years) since winning it all. The Phillies won the World Series in 1980. The Dodgers have just one post-season win since winning the World Series in 1988. The Brewers have never won it all, and haven't played a postseason game since they lost the World Series in 1982.

National League Divisional Series - Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs
The Dodgers are a franchise steeped in a winning has just been a while since they last added to it. The Cubs are a franchise embroiled in a 100-year-old curse. Something has to give!

The Cubs began 2008 as the favorites in the National League. They got out of the gate fast and stayed solid throughout the season, never being bitten too hard by the injury bug. Carlos Zambrano threw a no-hitter two weeks ago but was crushed in his next outing, leaving manager Lou Pinella with no sure idea what he will get from game to game. But the Cubs didn't finish with the best record in the league for no reason. They both a legitimate MVP candidate and CY Young in Derrek Lee and Ryan Dempster. They have a fearsome bullpen, scored the most runs in the National League and gave up the second fewest (the Dodgers gave up 23 fewer).

The Dodgers have ridden a solid second half into the postseason and must feel confidant after putting the division in their rear view mirror in August and September. Manny Ramirez proved pop in the middle of the lineup that they were sorely lacking and has woken up a lethargic offense. However, the Dodgers only went 7-7 down the stretch and but for a stretch earlier this month where they won 12 of 13, they would have finished the season five game under .500.

Prediction: Cubs in 3. The Cubs are loaded and the Dodgers have not played well of late and even since Ramirez has rejuvenated L.A., they have had the seventh best record of the playoff teams.

National League Divisional Series - Philadelphia Phillies vs. Milwaukee Brewers
Neither the Phillies nor the Brewers were sure they'd be in the playoffs until games 161 and 162 respectively, and both must have breathed sighs of relief come Monday morning. Both franchises, and indeed both cities, have been devoid of a title in decades, and their fans are hungry. One of these two snake-bitten towns is going to the NLCS.

The Phillies won the East largely because of the bat of Ryan Howard down the stretch, but Howard is not alone. This prolific offense features Chase Utley and the last two NL MVPs (Howard, Jimmy Rollins), and tied for the second most runs scored in the National League behind the Cubs. But it isn't all offense with the Fightin' Phils. They also allowed the third fewest runs in the League and feature the ageless 16-game winner Jamie Moyer and the game 1 starter Cole Hamels. If they lead late, it's over - Brad Lidge was a perfect 41 for 41 in save opportunities this season.

The Brewers are quite a story. Last year they came out on fire and withered late to miss the playoffs. This year, they came out cold and little by little worked their way up the ranks past the Astros and Cardinals and Mets and into the playoffs. They are rare in that they made the playoffs after firing their manager mid-season. They also have the single greatest weapon in the NL - CC Sabathia who was 6-0 at home with four complete games in 10 starts. The Brewers have five players with 20 or more homers including Prince Fielder with 37 and Ryan Braun with 34.

Prediction: Brewers in 5. Sabathia and Ben Sheets are a brutal 1-2 combo and match up well against a potent but strike-out prone Phillies offense. Look for a lot of balls leaving the yard in Philly.

National League Championship Series - Milwaukee Brewers vs. Chicago Cubs
The Brewers spent the last 150 games of the season tracking down the Cubs and ran out of games to do it they will use these seven to finish the job. The Brewers will be hard-pressed to rearrange the rotation to get Sabathia three starts in the series, but considering he is a free agent next month and they don't have the cash to keep him, they will ride him as far as they can get with him. Fielder, Braun and Mike Cameron are a powerful combo and the Cubs' Zambrano is too erratic to rely upon. Brewers in 6.

American League Playoff Preview
The Rays are crashing the October party for the first time in franchise history and will face three teams that are used to playing well after the weather turns cold. The Angels, Red Sox and White Sox have each won the World Series since 2002. So who's gonna survive to battle it out in the Fall Classic?

American League Divisional Series - Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Angels
The two World Series favorites square off in the opening round after Tampa Bay's surprising win the the AL East. Last year the Red Sox swept the Angels out of the first round on their way to winning the World Series, but the Halos have a lot more offensive firepower this year and the Sox have question marks hanging over the heads of some key players.

Starting right fielder JD Drew has been suffering with lower back strain for much of the second half of the season but is expected to play. Starting third baseman and last year's World Series MVP Mike Lowell has had two trips to the disabled list and is questionable for this week. Ace starter Josh Beckett is suffering from a strained oblique and while manager Terry Francona, Beckett has been pushed back and will start game 3. The Sox will rely heavily on John Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka to carry the load for the first two games in Anaheim, but even without Lowell, Drew and Manny Ramirez, the Sox can still put up a lot of runs.

The Angels were cruising along this year and looked like presumptive favorites in the west before they traded for slugger Mark Teixeira, who not only brought his own big bat but also provided some protection for Vlad Guerrero and Torii Hunter. They rolled along to 100 wins behind one of the best starting pitching staffs in baseball, complimented by perhaps the best bullpen. Even after locking up the division in April, they still kept the pedal down and are ready for the big time. The Angels are a complete ballclub and are playing at home for the rest of the month - and they will be playing for the rest of the month.

Prediction: Angels in 4. The Angels are too well-rounded and the Red Sox are too thin right now to compete.

American League Divisional Series - Tampa Bay Rays vs. Chicago White Sox
After perhaps the most improbable season in Major League Baseball history, the Rays are sitting at home as October begins once again. Only this time it is because they are hosting a playoff series, not watching on T.V. They face the White Sox who had to play an extra game Tuesday against the Twins to claim the AL Central's spot. The Sox survived what looked like a colossal collapse last week to make the postseason for the first time since winning the World Series in 2005.

The Rays had one of the great single-season turn-arounds of all time and did it without any major signings or trades. They are a home-grown, young team with talent at every position and now, with confidence as well. They held off the Red Sox and Yankees despite missing their brightest star, Carl Crawford, for much of the season. The Rays have had a few days to rest and set their pitching staff while waiting to find out who they would play, and while they had a great regular season, they are facing a team with far more postseason experience.

The White Sox won two uplifting games with the entire baseball world watching on Monday and Tuesday and will arrive in Tampa on a wave of emotion. Having recovered from the brink of elimination last week, they will feel like they are playing the postseason on house money. John Danks threw an eight inning gem on Tuesday to send the Sox to October, but more importantly, he allowed the bullpen to have a day off heading into the postseason.

Prediction: Rays in 4. The Rays are hot, while the White Sox are 2-6 in their last eight games against winning teams and 7-9 against losing teams - but they're good for a win at home in game 3.

American League Championship Series - Los Angeles Angels vs. Tampa Bay Rays
It would make for a great story if the Rays won this series and went to the World Series. It would be fun to watch an epic seven game slugfest between these two nice-guy franchises. Sadly, it ain't gonna happen. The high powered Angels will be too much for the team formerly known as the Devil Rays. The Angels have more experience, better pitching, better defense, better hitting and a better bullpen, and that pretty much says it all. The young players from Tampa will be able to cut their teeth against the White Sox, but Angels' balance will prove too much for the new kids on the block. Angels in 5.

Monday, September 29, 2008

I Hate Baseball

Today is one of those days that I wish it was socially acceptable for a grown man to cry in public at the drop of a hat like those two guys in the double-stroller in the Taco Bell commercial.

While the word "collapse" seems to be the word-o-the-day for sports writers and talk radio folks when talking about the Mets, I hardly think that that is fair. After all, the Mets were 13-12 in September. By comparison, the Brewers (who are the heroic September-survivors) went 10-16. Yes, the Mets went .500 for the final month and that wasn't enough to get it done, but keep in mind that they were out of the Divisional race by 7.5 games two months ago and out of Wild Card by four games three weeks ago and roared back into both races, surviving until the last day.

That said, they should never have been in either race and should have been able to run away with the division in June, thus making September irrelevant and that is why Omar Minaya absolutely needs to be fired. Of course if you have been paying attention, you saw that he apparently was just given an extension.

Minaya takes flak from some fans for supposedly being too Latin-player-centric in his personnel moves. Personally, I think this is ridiculous. His flaw is that he is too over-the-hill-player-centric and expects big name moves to solve all of the small problems. Anyone can sign big names to huge-dollar contracts. A good general manager find diamonds in the rough, and Minaya doesn't. Many of the star players on the team had good years, in fact David Wright and Jose Reyes had arguably their best years, but there were so many glaring holes that they simply couldn't overcome them.

The team won 89 games despite some huge, obvious problems that were clearly evident in last year's team and not fixed in the offseason or at the trade-deadlines. There was no doubt that the bullpen was a problem last year, yet Minaya made no significant move to fix it. It is unfair to pin the whole season on the bullpen, but look at it statistically: this season there were 654 blown saves in 1837 save opportunities in the Majors - so saves are blown 36% of the time. Among playoff teams (including the Twins and White Sox since they are both still alive), they blew 195 out of 600 opportunities, 33%. Mets relievers blew 31 saves in 72 opportunities - an average of 43%! They blew one save almost every five games. Essentially, they lost one game that they had a lead in late per week. By comparison, the Phillies blew 16 of 66 chances, 24%. Had the Mets' bullpen completed this task at the League average, they would have won the East by three games. At their divisional rivals Phillies' average, they would have won the division by 12 games, won 103 games, and had the best record in Baseball.

But we all knew the bullpen stunk. This isn't news. So the Mets bullpen was far worse than the league average, let alone a playoff team's average. The offense was among the league's best, so that should have cancelled it out. Or were they? Of the players who usually started for the Mets (Ryan Church, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado), all had good seasons. They made up for 73% of the home runs hit and 63% of the RBI by Mets this season. They also made up about the same percentage of the team's payroll. By no means am I suggesting that any of these five should be dealt, but the point is that nearly any G.M. with this payroll could have found these types of players. The problem I have with Minaya is that the role-players all stink.

The team was decimated by injuries during the course of the season. Four starting left-fielders were injured for the remainder of the year in succession (Moises Alou, Angel Pagan, Trot Nixon and Fernando Tatis). Church was injured and missed nearly half of the year as well. But Minaya did hardly anything to replace these players and in the end, the Mets bench consisted of players like Endy Chavez (.267), Robinson Cancel (.245), Argenis Reyes (.218), and Marlon Anderson (.210). Most of the players who were injured for significant time (Alou, Orlando Hernandez, Damion Easley, Tatis, Nixon, Pedro Martinez, Billy Wagner and Anderson) are in the waning years of their careers and injuries like these could easily have been foreseen.

In the offseason, Minaya traded for Johan Santana to fix the starting rotation. This was a good fix for a huge concern for 2007, but anyone would have made the same move. Minaya also planned on using Martinez and Hernandez despite that it was clear neither would be any use in 2008. No players were brought in to fix the hemorrhaging bullpen and it proved disastrous. Ryan Church replaced Shawn Green and was only a moderate improvement (thanks largely to his injury) and Brian Schneider was brought in to replace Paul Loduca and was hardly an improvement. Midseason, the manager was fired and this proved to be a key move that catapulted the team into the playoff race that they'd eventually lose by a nose. However, they should have already won that race by that time and Minaya is to blame.

My only solace in this whole situation is these three things:
1) Dodger fans and the L.A. media seem to whole-heartedly believe that this is their year despite not apparently realizing that their "amazing, Manny Ramirez-fueled August/September run" is the seventh best record among the eight* playoff teams in that time. They are actually worse than the Brewers who overcame a massive collapse to survive, and the Mets who supposedly blew it down the stretch! Whoops.
2) While CC Sabathia's 2 wins, 26 K's and 1.88 ERA over the last two weeks ultimately doomed the Mets, they helped my fantasy team win the league.
3) My Giants won the Super Bowl, so for at least a decade more, I am good to go.

*Winning percentages in August and September: Red Sox .641, Rays .618, Cubs .615, Phillies .611, Angels .593, Brewers .569, Dodgers .556, White Sox/Twins .519; Mets .574