Friday, May 30, 2008

Who's More Stoned Right Now: Big Brown Or Joakim Noah?

Now that the Spurs are finally, mercifully eliminated, has anyone noticed how much Kurt Thomas looks like that dude from the Snickers commercial where the guy is playing guitar and singing the "prancing nuget in the meadows" song? (click here to watch) Here they are:

Maybe it's just me but I honestly could not watch a Spurs game without humming that song to myself. And I don't know why but I think it is wierd that the guitar player is lefthanded.

The Mets crushed the Dodgers yesterday, which was nice. You always hear that certain players struggle or really play well against certain teams, but it never made sense to me. Why does Brad Penny suck so amazingly badly against the Mets and then is a Cy Young-type against everyone else? In his career against them, he has probably pitched to 100 different Mets players, and no matter who is wearing the uniform, they hit off of him. Doesn't make sense. (Note how badly I am working to avoid making a crappy pun on Brad Penny's worth when he plays the Mets)

In reverse, why does David Wright kill the Dodgers (highest batting average against the Dodgers of any player in 50 years!), or Larry Jones kill the Mets? Again it is not as though it has all been against the same 3-4 pitchers. Confidence is the answer I guess, but it still is beyond reason.

The college baseball playoffs start today (Div. I) and I am happy to say that my alma mater is ranked 7th in the country! This would really be great if they didn't get absolutely hosed on their tourney draw. The way the first round of the baseball playoffs work is that teams are groups geographically and play four-team double elimination tournaments. Example: Day one: A beats B, C beats D. Day 2: A beats C and B beats D. That makes two losses for D and they are out. A has two wins, B and C have one each. Day 3: B and C play with the losing being eliminated and the winner faces A for the Regional Championship. The next round is the Super Regional where teams play a best 2 out 3 series against another Regional Champ. That leaves eight Super Regional Champs and they play two 4-team double elimination tourneys (just like first round). Winners in each side of the bracket play a best of three series for the title.


Would it make it clearer if I said that there is no clear ranking in baseball - there are three widely viewed polls (Baseball America, Writers, and USA Today/ESPN). Also the whole tournament is not seeded - only the top 8. And although USD is the highest ranked team in their Regional, they drew the #2 seed and have to play on the road. Depending on the poll, USD is 11/7/10th. Host and #1 seed Long Beach State is 25/18/unranked. #3 seed Berkeley (who USD plays today) is 15/22/19th. How does the #7 team in the country not get to host? How does the third best team get the top seed and get to play at home? How do three top 25 schools have to play one another in the first round? There will be 16 teams left after the first round, so statistically, if only 1 out of 3 top 25 schools can advance, we will have 8 ranked schools left and 8 unranked. There is no way that more than two ranked schools should be in any one Regional bracket, regardless of how far they have to travel to make it work.

Of course, the Toreros should be able to beat up Fresno State and can certainly win 2 out of three against Long Beach State and Cal. so all of this whining may not matter.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

"Get Out Here You Panda-Jerk"

Thursday night's Lakers-Spurs game is on TNT, which means that we will see commercials for that show House of Payne at pretty much every commercial break. I have never seen this show, because I have never seen a clip in the ubiquitous commercials that was funny, but then that show is not made for me, because I am educated.

The reason I bring this up is that every time I see these commercials, and I remember when this show was first coming out, the big selling point has always been that it is "from the mind of Tyler Perry." Who the hell is Tyler Perry and how is he a brand in the comedy world? The only other times I have heard ads like this were for the National Lampoon movies, the American Pie movies and the Monty Python movies and shows. Who is Tyler Perry?

I looked him up on IMDB to see if there is something he has done that is noteworthy that gives his name the weight that TBS apparently thinks it has. For instance, National Lampoon, American Pie and Monty Python were comedy giants at some point (before all spiraling into miserable franchises). This IMDB search only confused me more.

The guy has no credits to his name before 2002 when he wrote Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Since then, he has written, directed and produced five other projects and all of them have "Tyler Perry's" in the titles. So at least he is not obsessed with himself. The amazing thing is, it is not just that I am out of touch and that the guy is a genius. According to IMDB, of his six projects, the highest rated one was a 5.1 out of 10 (Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman). Other than that they rated 3.8, 3.7, 3.4, 2.3 and 1.1. The best part is that his show, Tyler Perry's House of Payne, which TBS bills as it's flagship sitcom is the one rated 1.1!

I think the thing that makes him "famous" is that he plays multiple roles in his movies (no ego here at all) including the recurring character of "Madea" the big, fat, angry, black lady - which is always comedy gold (just ask Martin Lawrence or Eddie Murphy).

And speaking of Eddie Murphy and multiple role-movies, is there a script that he will turn down? I understand that he is making money on these loads of crap, but doesn't he have any self respect? He is currently working on his 10th Shrek-related project, his train wreck Inner Space rip-off is coming out soon and despite and Oscar nomination for Dreamgirls (totally undeserved), he just keeps doing terrible movies in which he plays as many roles as possible, none of them funny in the least.

Where have you gone Billy Ray Valentine? What happens to comedians when they gets older? Eddie Murphy is 47 and all the funny is dead already. Steve Martin was too intelligent for his own good and just melted into a serious version of himself. Chevy Chase, oh Chevy Chase. Bill Murray is still pretty freaking funny. Even Bill Cosby is a sad reflection of himself. I saw him live last year year doing stand up in Reno and all he talked about was his shoes. It was the saddest night of my life.

In a world of funny people not being funny anymore, at least we can rely on Paul Rudd though. No matter how bad a movie may be that is going on around him (Over Her Dead Body) or how good (Anchorman), the man is consistently the funniest thing on the screen. In Brian Fantana, I trust.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Referees Decide Finish By Not Deciding Finish

Clearly the play at the end of the Lakers-Spurs game was a foul. But it is basketball tradition that that foul won't be called in that situation. The thinking here is that you don't want the refs to decide the game. This thinking is flawed because by not calling a clear violation, didn't they decide the game?

Wouldn't it have been Derek Fisher who helped decide the game by biting on a pump fake and jumping into the ball handler/shooter? Wouldn't it have been Brent Barry who decided the game by drawing the foul and then having to knock down the free throws? Wouldn't it have been a Laker who decided the game when they got the ball back after the potentially made free throws?

If a guy jumps up and lands on another it is a foul. Should an umpire not call a third strike if a batter doesn't swing in the ninth inning because he wants to make sure the players decide the finish? Should a referee not throw a flag on a clip on an overtime kick return? Should a hockey referee allow a last second, game-winning goal that is thrown in? The rules are the rules. There should be no superstar rules, no playoff rules, and no last-second rules.

I thought that almost everyone handled this no-call well however. Greg Popovich said that it was not a foul and that he is not upset with the officials. Barry said that you can't call that there and took the blame himself. Phil Jackson quoted 3rd century Taoist philosophy or something but I think his point was that it probably was a foul and that he is glad his team was the beneficiary of the no-call (but that plays like this happen throughout the game and we're only talking about it because it was the last one). The consensus was that it should have been called but was not and in that situation, one cannot fault the refs. The Spurs had 47 minutes at 57 seconds before that to make one more shot and have that play not matter.

Then there was Kobe Bryant. Craig Sager, staring off into space rather than at his interview subject, asked Kobe about the play and with his adorable little smirk he said and repeated, "that wasn't a foul," as though His Eminence knew something that all the rest of us didn't (even though we'd seen the play in slo-mo from four angles at this point). He is a bad loser (remember his "there is no way I will play for the Lakers next year - I'd rather play on Pluto" comment or his famous quitting-job in game 7 against the Suns?) And he is a bad winner as this episode shows. I usually don't wish injury on anyone but...well I don't think I have to finish this sentence.

And seriously, what the hell is with Craig Sager's suits? Is it that he has given up on being an intelligent person known for his interesting and insightful interview questions and instead just wants to be remembered for anything at all? The way the guy stares off into space when he is doing interviews and the way he dresses makes me think that he may actually be blind and whoever dresses him hates him.

Finally, can we now move on from the idea that Sasha Vujacic is a great defender and has shut down Manu Ginobili? In three games Ginobili has stunk, but he went nuts in the other one. Vujacic guarded him in all four. If you do a test four times in the same beaker and get different results each time, it wasn't the beaker causing the change! If you still believe that Vujacic is a great defender and not just another annoying, flopping, soft, European whiner, you need look no further than his "defense" of Tony Parker on a fast break with about 3:30 to go in the third quarter of game 4.

He backpedaled into the lane as Parker came at him. Then Vujacic stopped and tried to set his feet to draw a charge. He prepared for the contact and then just flew backwards onto his butt when he expected Parker to be there. It looked like Parker had pulled a Frodo and vanished right in front of Vujacic's eyes. I watched it like 10 times. Parker had faked him out so bad that Vujacic flopped despite Parker not being within 5 feet of him. Classic. I found it on another site so click here to watch (sorry if they take it down).

Today is a pretty big sports day with the Pistons going back to Boston for the all-important game 5. This one will decide the series. And the Red Wings go to Pittsburgh for the Stanley Cup game 3. If Detroit wins, that series is over of course as well. And the US is in London playing England in soccer which doesn't matter for a number of reasons (it is soccer, it is not in a tournament or qualifier), but it would still be nice to beat England's butt again. We could get Thierry Henry come and play for us and it would be just like the Revolutionary War.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Mountains Win Again

Well, there wasn't any lightning. And we didn't chicken out. But we didn't climb Half Dome.

Last week the weather in Yosemite was beautiful. 80's on the valley floor with sunny skies and happy hikers all over the place. The nearer we got to our time to leave for the park, the worse the weather got. Temperatures dipped into the 30's at night, 40's in the day. Thunderstorms were projected. Snow was on the way. It didn't look pretty.

And while the weather turned out to indeed not be pretty, the park still was.

As we drove up the the Sierras from an elevation below 500 feet in the San Joaquin to a peak of about 6000 feet on the road into Yosemite, we drove right into a rainstorm. When we arrived at the park, it had stopped raining so we figured we'd get in a quick hike up to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls to warm up for our expected Half Dome hike the next day.

Somewhere around halfway up the three-and-a-half mile trail that ascends about 2500 feet, the rain started again...or maybe it was mist from the falls...or both. We reached the top and had some great views of the valley floor, but as for Yosemite's higher trademarks around us, they were shrouded behind what would become a familiar wall of gray.

On the way back down we got our best view of Half Dome of the entire weekend (see the 10th photo below). In hindsight, we were very lucky that we decided on this spur-of-the-moment hike, because the weather turned ugly Friday night and we would not have had another chance to do it again.

Snow closed the Glacier Point road and was falling at about 5500 feet, which meant we couldn't drive to any peaks outside the valley, and we couldn't really hike to them either. Pretty disappointing, right?

Despite that it didn't stop raining for all 72 hours that we were there, despite that the valley had a ceiling that was just below the height of all the things you go there to see, despite that our main purpose for going there (Half Dome) was invisible, let along unclimbable, despite that my brand-new $100 shoes performed so badly I wished I'd been barefoot, despite temperatures that climbed about as high above 45 as we did above the valley floor, despite all of that, it was predictably spectacular.

The photo above and all the rest in the slide show below prove that there really is no bad time to be there...but next time, Half Dome won't be able to hide again!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Off To The Top Of The World (Sorta)

Friday morning, I am heading for Yosemite for a nice (rainy, likely very crowded) Memorial Day weekend in one of the the most spectacular places on Earth. In the past two years, I have been blessed with the opportunity and the means to visit a number of natural wonders in the southwestern states, and this is the latest.

Last Spring Break, I did a whirlwind road trip tour of the Canyonlands, including Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, the Four Corners, Glen Canyon, Natural Bridges Park, Capital Reef, Utah's Highway 12 ("A Byway Through Time"), Kodachrome Basin, Bryce Canyon, Zion Canyon and of course the Mojave Desert. Last month I visited Death Valley for the first time and saw some of the miraculous wonders there.

But none of these amazing places compares to Yosemite and I simply don't know the words that could adequately describe the utter majesty of the place. I will let some photos do the talking when I return.

Depending on the weather, we are going to attempt to summit Half Dome on either Saturday or Sunday. I'm not sure which day because we are not yet sure which day will have better conditions (likely neither will be great). And I say "attempt to summit" because if there is an thundercloud anywhere on the horizon, you can't go near the summit.

The reason for this is that after a nearly eight mile hike up 5000 feet from the valley floor, the trail reaches the exposed granite Dome itself (see the photo above). At this point, there is no more shelter and there is no more trail. Instead, there is about 400 feet of steel cables bolted to a nearly sheer rock face and held in place with iron posts. Between being the highest point in quite some distance and the unintentional metal lighting rods sticking out, this is not a good place to be in a thunderstorm, and unfortunately they are all over the forecast throughout the weekend.

With luck, we will reach the cables early enough in the day that the storms won't have developed yet. Assuming that neither my wife nor I chicken out (I seriously doubt it if we get that close), and assuming the weather holds, we will each climb to the top of one of our longest held goals. We certainly won't be the first to make it there, but it will be our first time and that's all that matters.

So sometime around noon on Saturday (and again on Sunday, just in case) think happy, lighting-free, good-traction thoughts.

The Greatest Hall of Fame Class That Might Never Be

During last night's Dodgers-Reds game, the text-in question of the game was "When do you think Ken Griffey Jr. will make the Hall of Fame: 1st Ballot, Later than that, or Never." 7% of Dodger fans apparently think he will never be elected. I don't think you can chalk this up to stupidity because even Dodger fans are not that dumb. Maybe it is that the only people who respond to these text-in questions are that dumb.

This, and Mike Piazza's retirement got me thinking about the Hall of Fame. This year's "graduating" class includes such once-sure things as Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds (if he is officially retired) and Piazza. The fact that Mark McGuire didn't get voted in, and may never be makes raises interesting questions:

Does Sosa get in? If Mac didn't there is no way Sosa does. Sosa was caught cheating (cork) and has been tied to steroids/HGH. McGuire just used a supplement that wasn't illegal yet (andro) and possibly more but nothing was ever proven. Plus, Mac was better. Sosa is out.

What about Bonds? His numbers make him perhaps the greatest of all time, but there is no one left on the planet outside of the San Francisco peninsula that doesn't think he was juiced the whole time. So how much weight do voters place on steroid allegations? If this Federal case against him proves he lied about juicing, does that knock him out of the Hall? What does it do to his records? I can't stand him but I don't know if I could not vote for him unless the Hall makes an official stance against documented cheaters and Bonds is officially proven. For now, Bonds is in.

Clemens' situation is very similar to Bonds. I don't think anyone thinks he was clean. However, unlike Bonds, he has no fans and no city loyal to him because he was never loyal to them (not that fan support affects Hall of Fame voting). It has not been proven, but allegedly he was doped up as much as Big Brown is right now. If it is somehow proven, does the best pitcher of his generation and one of the best 3-4 of all time get denied? He should, but will he? If it goes unproven, I think like Bonds, you have to let him in. And no, the fact that he allegedly had a whole bullpen of mistresses including one who wasn't old enough to spell mistress does not play a role in HOF voting.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if Piazza was voted in (and he will, of course) and these stiffs were not? Particularly Clemens. If you remember, Piazza and the Mets used to hit the hell out of Clemens. In 2000, Clemens beaned Piazza in the head (second time) and then did the same to Jay Payton. Then in the World Series Game 2, there was the famous 'roid rage...oops, I mean the famous bat-throwing incident. Well the Mets never got a modicum of payback after those incidents. Wouldn't it be great if the payback they (and we fans) finally got was this?

On to other things - what a second half by Kobe Bryant! Not only did he score 25 points and lead the comeback, but it was mostly on good shots and wise decisions (10 for 16). I didn't know he had it in him!

So what happens now? The Lakers must be feeling a little bit bulletproof. Will their inexperience make them lax in Game 2 or will they come out and make the Spurs pay for not closing it out? Will the Spurs be despondent and feel they blew it or will they be really, really pissed off and come out and hold the Lakers to 11 points in Game 2? I expect the Lakers to come out with all guns blazing, but the Spurs will hang around. In the second, the Spurs will get a lead. In the third Kobe will try to Kobe-fy them and the Spurs will wind up winning by double digits. Spurs in 6.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Baseball Hits The 1/4 Pole

Before I get to the baseball review/predictions, I wanted to note the retirement of Mike Piazza. It took me a little while to warm up to Piazza when he came to the Mets because he was a damned Dodger for years, but when it was all said and done, he was one of the great Mets of all time. If it was not for the most steroid-enhanced teams in history, he would have won the World Series in 2000 and is one of the great stories in sports history. The guy was drafted as a personal favor to his brother's godfather (Tommy Lasorda) in the 62nd round, pick number 1390. He went on to be the greatest hitting catcher of all time, the 1993 Rookie of the Year, a 12-time All-Star, a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer and his game-winning home run against the Braves at Shea Stadium days after 9/11 will go down as one of the great sports moment of all time. Thanks Mike!

In March, in the last days before the Major League Baseball season began, I made my predictions for the winners of each division and then the playoffs. You can find my National League picks here, and my American League picks here. Now about 1/4 of the way through the season, I will take a look at those picks and perhaps make a few changes (thanks a lot Mariners).

Beginning in the AL West, I knew that when I picked the Mariners it was for stupid reasons. I said then that the Angels' pitching was banged up at the start of the year and while they may have had time to heal over the next six months, I thought that the Mariners' young pitching may get them a jump-start. Then Adrian Beltre hit .246, Kenji Johjima hit .222 and Richie Sexson hit .203 and they jumped out to the worst record in the League. I hereby switch my pick to the Angels because, of the two L.A. teams, they signed the right Torii.

In the AL Central, I chose not to drink the Tigers' Kool-Aid and picked the Indians because they had the best record in baseball last year and returned the entire team. The Tigers tripped and fell at the starting line and are only saved from the worst record in the League because they've played one fewer than Seattle. The Indians are in 3rd, 2.5 back and I am sticking with them. Grady Sizemore's OPS is .821, and while I haven't the foggiest idea what that means, it sounds awesome. MVP baby.

At the time, I said I did not care about the AL East and didn't make a pick. With the emergence of the Rays, it changes absolutely nothing. I still don't like the Sox or Yankees and the Rays simply cannot last for 120 more games. But it is fun watching the Yankees sit in last place. Of course, I heard a stat the other day that over the last three years, the Yanks are something like 20 games under .500 through May, and then something like 80 games over .500 from June through October. However, this year they have no pitchers.

As for the AL Wild Card, the Yankees' start opens the door up to the White Sox, Twins and A's. I will pick the A's since they are in an easier division and will mop up on the Rangers and Mariners.

I still don't care about the AL playoffs.

The National League West has retaken its rightful title as the NL Worst. My predictions in the West were dead on. The DBacks will run away with it (though I underestimated their win total). The Dodgers stink and no manager, not even the great Joe Torre, can win them an extra 15 games this year. The Padres are woefully under-performing and with Jake Peavy on the DL and then in recovery for who knows how long, they are not coming back anytime soon. The magic ran out in Colorado. The Giants play in a nice stadium and seem like nice people. How bad is the division? The DBacks are 20-5 against West opponents.

The NL Central is an enigma still. I picked the Cubs and they are in front with the pitching staff, Soriano and Fukudome leading the way as I predicted (I went out on a limb, eh?). But they are still the Cubs. And Houston and St. Louis are much stronger than I expected. If they can keep it together, this race could be brutal. I think at this point, I still have to stick with the Cubbies, but the Central will be a fun race in September.

The NL East is a train wreck. All five teams stink. Washington is truly terrible and is already out of it. The other four are all neck-and-neck and none is showing any signs of pulling away. I don't see the Marlins hanging around but isn't this what the Marlins do every five years? When was their last World Series? It will come down to the Mets, Braves and Phillies as usual. Among them, none is playing remotely close to how they should, although the Phillies and Mets have suffered far more injuries. I think if the Mets are still within a few games when Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez come back, it's over. They are not the Greats they once were, but the lift that will give the team and the depth it will put in the bullpen will go a long way. Also, they are playing the worst baseball of the bunch and are still in it. If they make any steps towards waking up, they will start to pull away.

The NL Wild Card is pretty wide open. Initially I picked the Braves because they're good again. But the West is far worse than I expected and if the Dodgers can clean up against the Rockies, Giants and Padres, they could amass a lot of wins. Plus, with the East and Central likely being three-horse races, the Dodgers will have an easier time gaining separation from the pack in second place in their division.

NLDS: It wouldn't be the postseason without the Dodgers getting swept. The Dbacks will have the best record, but they cannot play a Wild Card team in their own division, so the Cubs will have the honor of sweeping the Dodgers this year.

NLDS: Mets over DBacks in a sweep also. I called in March and I am sticking to it. Screw Dan Haren and Brandon Webb.

NLCS: See my prediction on this from March. From here on in, my picks hold.

In other news, the NBA had the Lottery and the Clippers got #7. They'll take Indiana's Eric Gordon. The Celtics arrived in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but they are in Boston so it's no biggee. If the Pistons win Game 2, it's over. If the Celtics do, they'll win in 7 and then beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Stars Lay An Egg, Spurs Lay Doubts To Rest

I was very excited all day on Monday for the Spurs-Hornets game and the Stars-Wings game. Sadly, both were pretty much over in the first half hour.

Yes, the basketball game wound up going down to the wire after New Orleans scraped their way back into it, but tell me: did you ever really think San Antonio was going to lose that game once they got a lead? The Spurs were never going to lose a 9 point halftime lead. Even on the road against a "better" opponent.

The Lakers cannot be happy with this match up. Derek Fisher can't handle Tony Parker at either end. Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol can be cancelled out by Fabricio Oberto, Kurt Thomas and Tim Duncan. Vlad Radmanovich sucks. And Kobe Bryant is always an impossible cover, but Bruce Bowen is as good as anyone at doing it. And I didn't mention Manu Ginobili. The Lakers won't be able to run away and hide from the Spurs, and remember what happens to Kobe when games are close or they are down? The "new" Kobe vanishes.

In the Jazz series, in games that the Lakers won (none were particularly close) here are Kobe's average stats: 33 points per game, 8.5 for 15.8 shooting (54%), 1 for 2 on three-point attempts (50%). Here are Kobe's stats in Laker losses: 33.5 points per game, 11.5 for 29.5 shooting (39%), .5 for 8 on three point attempts (6%).

The Jazz did not do anything differently defensively in the two losses. Kobe just starts trying to take over and single-handedly erase leads...he stopped playing the offense and his teammates started watching. In losses he doubles his shot attempts, but his shooting percentage drops 15%! Forced offense leads to bad shots, which only lets the other team get layups at the other end.

Sure, the Spurs do not have great depth, and that is supposedly a great strength of the Lakers, but seriously, which bench would you rather reply on: Kurt Thomas, Ime Udoka, Michael Finley, Brent Barry and Robert Horry or Jordan Farmar, DJ Mbenga, Ronnie Turiaf, Luke Walton and Sasha Vujacic?

Spurs in 6. I don't think San Antonio can win three straight at home, or I would say Spurs in 5. The Spurs will win one in L.A., the Lakers will win one in San Antonio and the the Spurs will close it out in game six in L.A. (remember the Conference Finals mysteriously switch to a 2-3-2 format).

As for the other big game last night, Dallas pulled one out of Philadelphia's playbook and didn't show up for their big elimination game. I stopped watching after the first period. But how good is the Stanley Cup Final going to be?

Stay tuned for a recap of the Major League Baseball First Quarter-Season coming tomorrow.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Baseball Celebrates Interleague, And No One Notices

Major League Baseball's first interleague series blew by without really making any particularly interesting news. I think the honeymoon is over for Interleague and the fans. I am sure ticket sales were solid in most series (LA vs. LA, NY vs. NY for instance), but in general, did anyone really care?

When the Mets and Yankees used to play and ESPN would cover it, leading up to the game we were seemingly bombarded with commercials, animations during other games, etc. for weeks. I didn't see any ads for Sunday night's game besides their normal Sunday Night Baseball teasers.

When the Mets and Yankees used to play, the games carried all kinds of weight with them. The teams seemed to hate one another. Roger Clemens used to throw things at people all the time. It was big news!

Last night we went to a sports bar-ish restaurant and where there is one giant tv screen (that can be split into four different channels) with two large TVs on either side and then a few more big TVs scattered around the walls. The big screen was split up and the Mets-Yankees game was on one small portion of it. The other three were NASCAR, ESPN News, and the NFL network and the other two large TVs had ESPN News and the NASCAR.

That's right, the Steelers-Browns game from Week 10 got as much attention at a sports bar as the live Mets-Yankees game. This brought me to three conclusions:

1- Interleague is no longer any different for the casual fan than any other baseball game is. And for the devoted fan, is it really any different either? Was I more interested in this game than a Mets-Braves or Mets-Phillies game? Perhaps a bit, but it is just not as timeless and interesting as it once seemed.

2- The ratings of the 2000 World Series were some of the lowest for a World Series of all time. No one cared about New York playing New York despite that it was one of the more intrigue-filled Series in a long time. If that was the case, then the ratings were last night for a regular season game featuring two teams that were a combined 1-game under .500 must have been horrible.

3- The NFL Network is totally and completely wrong in their argument with the cable companies. NFL Network wants to be given a spot in the basic cable line-ups so they get wider distribution (thus they can sell commercials for much more money). Cable companies say it is a specialty-channel and won't get the wide-spread audience that basic cable channels typically get, so they want to add it to their sports packages (thus shrinking distribution and making commercials less valuable). I am a huge sports fan. I love the NFL. I would basically watch any team play any team on Sundays in the fall and winter. However, besides the eight live NFL games that the network carries, there is absolutely nothing that that channel airs that even I want to watch. They want NFL Network to go on basic cable, which would raise cable rates by the price of a cup of coffee (as the NFL network likes to say). If I don't think it is worth it to pay more for "24 hours per year of live NFL football and about 8,736 hours of filler," then do you think a non-sports/NFL fan would be willing to pay?

The Mets vs. Yankees and the NFL were not the only sporting events this weekend that no one cares about until they mean something.

-The NBA has finally gotten to the Conference Finals (once the Spurs finish off the Hornets tonight) so NBA games will be interesting even in the first quarter now. Isn't it funny that after all the BS of the last seven months, we ended up with the four teams that it was always going to be? This is further proof that the NBA season should be two months long, with only four teams from each Conference making the playoffs.

-The NHL has reached the Stanley Cup...well almost. Detroit roared out to a 3-0 lead but Dallas is now scaring the hell out of them. Dallas now plays at home in game six with a chance to tie it up. Note: when looking for NHL coverage on, even though they are in the most important two weeks of the season, the NHL is listed 10th behind women's basketball, NASCAR, racing (not sure what the different is there), college football (which will start in six months) and general college sports. Ouch.

- Big Brown won the Preakness and made NBC very, very happy because now someone will watch the Belmont in two weeks. No Triple Crown winner since 1978 and now horse racing (in perhaps its darkest hour) may Crown a champion. Never mind that Big Brown is widely considered one of the worst champs racing against easily the worst field in history.

Finally, can we all agree that baseball needs instant replay in the instances of home runs and foul balls? It is a good thing that the Yankees bullpen sucks as bad as it does or I would likely have strangled someone if that Delgado home run-blown call had come back to hurt the Mets.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Amateur Hour At The NCAA

Yesterday I read a column about the O.J. Mayo scandal at USC. The writer claimed that the NCAA abuses athletes and uses them for their own financial gain, as do the universities. And the NBA is unfair in forcing them to wait at least one year after high school before being drafted or signed. It wasn't Mayo's fault, the writer claimed, because he only allegedly accepted benefits that he rightfully deserved.

Since this Mayo case hasn't been proven to be true yet, I won't use that example because typing "allegedly" that often is annoying. Instead I will discuss a fictional basketball player named D.J. Mustard who attended the unusually and suspiciously named fictitious University of Sneaky Cheaters (also known as USC). Let's say Mustard was a star in high school who would have gone pro after graduating if it had not been for the NBA's one-year out rule.

First of all, is it age discrimination that the NBA has this rule? No, because they don't say you cannot work in the profession, they just say they won't hire you. If a young person wants to be a professional basketball player (or football player) right out of high school, he can go find work at leagues around the world, just not immediately in the NBA or NFL. They could also sit at home and play video games or work at McDonalds for a year if they wanted.

Mustard has scholarship offers thrown at him from around the country but chooses USC because it is in L.A. and his media exposure will be better there than most places. Through the course of his one year there, he accepts various gifts and cash totalling somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000. In the grand scheme of things, it is not that much money, but it is illegal and he is caught.

Mustard is smeared in the press (pardon the pun), but that is the most negative consequence that comes his way. However, USC received sanctions from the NCAA because this is not (close to) the first such violation in the last few years and it is ruled that they have a lack of institutional control. They lose scholarships and are banned from postseason play for three years.

So the only people punished are the coaches and administrators who did not do anything wrong, but also did not stop bad things from happening, and an entirely different group of kids that have nothing to do with it. Mustard walks, and more importantly the adults who handled him and used him despite knowing it was illegal walk.

This situation is a mess and needs to be fixed, but where do we start? Clearly the universities need to do more to keep these things from happening, but there is only so much they can know is happening. We can make the players pay back all the money (or donate the value to charity) but what lesson does that teach: you can cheat as long as you get ahead and then when you are rich, you can just pay your way out of it. Or we can crack down on the agents, coaches, parents, friends, boosters and confidants that are the real guilty ones. Take away part of the rookie's salary (which takes away part of the offending agent's commission), but they won't bat an eye since they'll make it all next year anyway.

Should the NCAA allow universities to pay athletes so they won't be tempted to take money under the table? Should we cling to the idea that college athletes must be amateurs? Isn't calling them "student-athletes" a sham anyway? Should the NBA start drafting kids at whatever age they feel like it? Should Mustard be excused because he is a star and stars get star treatment?

College athletics have become a business. A huge business. But ultimately, they are still extracurricular activities offered by schools. Perhaps it is the former teacher in me, but I tend to think that education in general is a good thing. Perhaps the NBA, fans, sports industry and media can scoff at the education side of it all, but the universities cannot. Their reasons for being are to educate young people in order to improve the lot of all of us. Every concession they make against that mission hurts our society.

Yes, the schools make money off of the athletes' exploits, and they reinvest that money into their facilities, programs (athletics and otherwise), staff and into the kids themselves. Those kids are given free educations. This fictional USC that I created, like most real schools, offers free tuition scholarships, free housing, free books, free meal plans, free career counseling, and free tutoring to athletes. Add that all up and it is more than the average American's annual salary. So they do pay their athletes.

People say that that is great but the kids have no money for their social lives. So get a job. People say they can't get jobs because they have practice and school. School is about 3 hours a day. Practice, weights, the trainers, etc. is about 3-4 hours a day. You sleep about 8 hours a day. That leaves around nine hours a day for meals, homework and whatever else. If you have time to go to a movie and hang out with friends some days; you have time to work to pay for it on other days. I am a lazy bastard and I was a four-year college athlete, graduated in four years, worked 5-15 hours a week and was active in the student government and university ministry.

Are the NCAA's illegal benefits rules a little too sweeping? Should it really be illegal for a student trainer to buy a birthday present for an athlete she met in the training room and became friends with? Perhaps not, but that is the way laws work too. Stealing a candy bar is not as great an offense as stealing a car, but either way it is still stealing right? A line has to be drawn somewhere and they drew that line.

Is the NBA's age rule just a way to make colleges make more money because the stars bolt for the pros? Do you really think the NBA would rather have another institution making boatloads of money instead of themselves if it did not benefit them somehow? It benefits the NBA because teams have a far more realistic understanding of a players' abilities before they sign him to multi-million dollar contracts. And if the kids go to five classes in the first semester and then drop out once the season ends, at least they went to five college classes. The alternative is opening the doors and letting NBA teams draft sophomores in high school thus insuring their utter failures in life once their three-year NBA careers are over.

So is Mustard at fault for taking the money? Absolutely. So are all the people who gave it to him and those who turned a blind eye. Is the NBA wrong for insisting on getting an extra year to scout its prospective employees? Absolutely not. Teams can offer contracts to whomever they want whenever they want, just like any other business. Is the NCAA wrong for insisting upon amateurism? Absolutely not. They are students who play sports, nice visa versa.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Kraft Pleased: Paper Says He Only Cheated A Little

I am glad that Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, feels "vindicated" after the Boston Herald published an apology for reporting that the team had taped the Rams' 2002 Super Bowl walk-through as a part of the worst-named controversy in history - Spygate.

Apparently the paper printed that among the eight tapes that a Pats former employee was turning over to the league was of the practice, which would have amounted to cheating in the Super Bowl. The NFL would not have taken the Super Bowl title away. They didn't force forfeits in of any of the games they have proof that the Pats were cheating in, and they wouldn't have started with the Super Bowl!

The report wound up being false, the tapes showed they cheated in eight other games, including the 2002 AFC Championship game, but not the Super Bowl. So I can see why Kraft feels vindicated. I mean, anybody would be ok with cheating and then being called a cheater, but how dare they call him a huge cheater!

After reviewing this new set of tapes, the NFL has ruled that the Pats cheated a number of times between 2000-2002 and then again in the first game of 2007 (when they got caught), but no other times. Never mind that between 2002 and 2007, a number of teams said they suspected the Pats and the Packers even said they caught the Pats cheating but didn't report it. Never mind that it was essentially the same staff during all of this time. Never mind that it was apparently working very well when they used this strategy, and they didn't get caught until a former Pats assistant didn't like them doing it to his team.

It makes complete sense that despite all that, the Patriots just stopped cheating for five years and then resumed at the Meadowlands last Fall. It makes sense that Belichick would wait all that time and then break out the old illegal video-taping technique again against a very bad team that was coached by his former protege, who now hated him, and who would have known the Pats would likely cheat. It also makes complete sense that Belichick stopped the apparently effective taping for five years despite that he insists he was not aware that it was illegal.

I am sure that the Patriots did not cheat in every single one of those games between 2002 and 2007. I am sure that the fact that Walsh did not have tapes, and the Pats did not turn in tapes from those years means that there are none and it never happened. That makes complete sense. Even though they cheated and got caught, then lied and said those were the only times they'd done it...and then it was discovered that tapes from at least eight more games existed, why can't we all trust them on their word that now they really mean that there were no other instances?

How dare the newspapers accuse the Patriots of being huge cheaters and liars when it is clear that they are only big fat cheaters and liars. Good for Kraft to come out of his castle to show his disdain for the press at having the audacity to call it like they saw it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Not Just Like Old Times For Mets (Thank God)

I read an article today about how Hank Steinbrenner wants the Yankees to play harder. Having watched them lose to the Rays in 11 on Tuesday, and then watched the Rays celebrate taking over first place like they'd won the pennant, he was frustrated that his (now sub-.500) team wasn't that emotional. Maybe he should pay them more. Or less, what do the Rays' make? $20 an hour? They were celebrating after the game because it went to extra innings and they got an extra $20!

Another article talked of how the Mets need to be jumping all over crappy teams like the Reds and Nats (3-2 in the last five games against those two) to prove that last year's collapse was an anomaly. While that is true, I think winning 95 games and making the postseason is enough pressure, let alone the fact that they are allegedly the NL favorite. I don't think dumping the added weight of last year's collapse is a good thing. It happened. It doesn't affect tonight's game...go win.

Thankfully, they are doing some things that Mets teams of late have been unable to. For instance, after Roger Clemens earholed Mike Piazza and Jay Payton in 2000, the team did not respond. Later that year in the World Series, Clemens went on a (alleged) steroid induced rage and threw a broken bat at Piazza. The Mets did not respond and Clemens threw an 8-inning gem (though the Mets scored 5 in the ninth to lose 6-5). Two years later, Clemens came to bat for the first time against the Mets. It was all over the news: will the Mets plunk him? Shawn Estes was the starter that day and the bastard missed.

It was one of the more embarrassing moments for me as a fan. All that built up frustration with at (alleged) cheater and Estes (who wasn't on the Mets in 2000) missed. Yesterday, a day after a Mets pitcher felt he was disrespected by the Nationals' bench, John Maine opened the game with a first pitch fastball right and plunked the Nationals' lead-off man. That's how it's done. There were no other distractions for the rest of the game and everyone knew where they stood.

In related news, the day after Nelson Figueroa called out the Nationals, calling them a bunch of cheerleaders, he was let go by the Mets. I think it had to do more with his pitching than his mouth, but you can't help but wonder. Kris Benson's wife was an embarrassment and he got canned. Lastings Milledge's "music" was an embarrassment and he got canned. I don't think what Fig said was all that bad but he was dumped a day later.

Players who try to hit through a defensive shift make me so mad. Carlos Delgado gets the lefty-shift nearly every time at bat and he just swings away. This is a guy who is a 3-time Silver Slugger award winner - he is good with the bat. But he just tries to power through the defense despite that the entire left side of the field is wide open.

Why not bunt to third? Sure, Delgado is paid for power. But he is also paid to get on base, score runs and win ballgames. If he bunts every time they put the shift on, two things will happen: he will have an on-base percentage of 1.000, and they will stop shifting. Which will allow him to swing away and find twice as many holes on the right side of the field.

Yesterday, he had a bunt single in the second inning. The inning resulted in the Mets' first run.

Does John Maine plunking a guy, and Carlos Delgado laying down a bunt mean they're over the funk of the last 10 months? Who knows? If they lose tonight 10-1, yesterday's win is wiped out, but if they are playing smart and with heart, it will be a win in the long-run. Hank Steinbrenner is a jerk, but he is right. The Yankees (like the Mets) are coasting and with what they are being paid and how they are playing, maybe they deserve to be told off by their owners and mocked by opponents.

Interestingly, Shawn Estes pitched yesterday for the first time in two years. And another crappy Mets' pitcher from that era who ruined my life, Armando Benitez, also made his first appearance in some time last night. The years have not made Benitez wiser however, and he gave up a home run to his first batter on a fastball. He should get a movie deal because that dude can act though. Every time his fastball gets turned into a souvenir, he spins around shocked as though he never could have imagined that it could have happened.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Showboating Vs. Sportsmanship

Monday night, during the Mets - Nationals game, the Nationals bench was apparently doing little chants and cheers that got under the skin of the Mets' journeyman starter Nelson Figueroa. Figueroa said the Nationals were "cheerleading in the dugout like a bunch of softball girls...Truly unprofessional. That's why they are who they are."

So is this unprofessional? Is there a difference between playful exuberance and classless showboating? I suppose it depends on the situation. I didn't get to watch the game so I don't know exactly in what spirit that chanting was. Apparently it was loudest in the third inning after Figueroa walked in a run. Perhaps Figueroa was a bit sensitive in his press conference after the game since he'd blown three leads in the first four innings.

These controversies seem to be following the Mets over the past few years. Jose Reyes was bush for giving too many high-fives. Lastings Milledge was bush for giving fans high-fives after his first career home run (among other things). Carlos Delgado was bush for not taking a curtain call. Is it possible that we are looking at these guys a little too closely?

No, the Nationals should not be taunting the opposing pitcher, especially being that they are a last place team. But Figueroa should probably keep his yap shut and just have John Maine put one in Nick Johnson's back (the guy hitting at the time) and let it be done. Now it will live on in the press for the rest of the season.

Sure Reyes and Milledge were being a little over the top, but they were young and how offensive are high-fives really? Ozzie Smith used to do running cartwheels and back-flips when he took the field!

As for Delgado, he was absolutely right to not take a curtain call. He is having a terrible year following the worst year of his career. He booed constantly by his own fans for months. So he has one big game and they fall in love again and expect him to thank them for cheering for him? Screw those fans! The only thing they are entitled to from Delgado is effort because they pay his salary. He doesn't have to crawl around under the table and be thankful for scraps of cheers leftover after David Wright leaves! Delgado didn't give them the finger. He didn't say anything in the media. He just didn't stand up one time. If he wakes up, starts hitting and carries the team to the postseason, then maybe he will feel he has done something worthy of a curtain call.

Joba Chamberlain is in the news for acting like an imbecile on the mound, but he is bringing that on himself. The guy is a middle reliever who celebrates every strikeout like he just won the World Series. What if a hitter did that arm-pump at first base every time he got a single or a walk. He'd get plunked every other at bat.

There is nothing wrong with being excitable and getting excited. We all get on players who don't seem to play with any joy (Jeff Kent, Garret Anderson, Andruw Jones, Gary Sheffield, etc.) but then we can't stand players who play with too much! I guess it is a fine line, and maybe the fans and media are a bit overcritical. It seems like Baseball takes care of this kind of stuff better than other sports though. If some guy gets too high on his horse and shows someone up, there is no need to whine to the press about it - just go tell your pitching staff to take care of it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

NBA Action: It's The Same As Always!

The NBA should consider a new motto: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same.

The league saw quite a shake-up among the Who's-Who this season. The Lakers floated to the top on the backs of nobodys like Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic, and near stars like Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher (let's face it, Kobe was the same amazing Kobe as always). Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler became superstars in New Orleans. The Suns and Mavs sputtered for most of the season before both bowing out early. The Spurs and Pistons aged before our very eyes. The Celtics looked like the best (and most fun) team in a long, long time. Denver and Golden State and Cleveland were cute, but were never a threat to anybody. And Utah just kept its head above water with Deron Williams looking more and more like the real deal.

The further these NBA playoffs go along, the more things seem the same as they have always been. Despite all the regular season shake-ups, with only eight teams left it now appears that it will be the same final four and same Champion as last year.

The Cavaliers have a chance to tie their series up with the Celtics tonight and although the Celtics have been the team to beat since before day one of the season when Kevin Garnett arrived, he quickly turned into Kevin Garnett when the postseason arrived. The dominating Celtics are 0-4 on the road in the playoffs and escaped one of the NBA's all-time worst playoff teams by the skin of their teeth. The LeBrons are not a championship team, but they are still better than the the Celtics have turned out to be. I think the Cavs will win tonight, and win in Boston, and then come home and close it out in Cleveland with LeBron getting at least two triple-doubles.

Orlando had a chance to even the series at home with the Pistons' best player not suited up. They lost - series over. I am tired of hearing how amazing Dwight Howard is going to be. Yes, his points and rebounds totals have improved in each of his four years. But it has been four years and his claims to fame are: he wore a Superman cape and won the dunk contest despite not actually dunking the ball, he lead the league in dunks in 07-08 and he didn't get swept out of the playoffs by the Pistons in 07-08. He's not Superman, he's the Invisible Man. 8 points in the biggest game of the season? The Pistons will win it Tuesday night and rest up before stomping on the Cavs in 5 games.

The Lakers have finally shown their true colors as well. Before the season, they were the best soap opera in town: everyone hated one another, no one trusted one another, and they all talked behind each other's backs. They came out and won a few games early and suddenly they fell in love with one another. Late in the season, Lamar Odom was asked before a game why the team chemistry had improved so drastically. The answer wasn't, "Kobe grew up," or "we just gelled as a team," or "Phil finally got through to us." It was, "well, we're winning." In Game 4 vs. the Jazz, it was the post-Shaq Lakers again. Kobe shot 33 shots and only made about a third of them. He was hurt, but on plays when he missed shots, made turnovers, got burned or wanted a foul, he was hurt much, much worse than on plays when he succeeded. Phil Jackson listlessly cried "run the offense" over and over from the sideline as Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar and Vlad Radmanovich (combined 7 points, 3-14 shooting) stood around watching the MVP sink the ship, and Ronny Turiaf was not even on the bench (though it was due to stupidity, not injury this time). Yes, the teams are even and the Lakers still have home court. But if Kobe really has a lower back injury, as tough as he is, he can't win two more games by himself. The problem is, we have now seen that when the chips are down - the New MVP Kobe becomes the old Kobe...the one that didn't win a single playoff series since Shaq left.

The Hornets - Spurs series is supposed to be the ultimate Showdown of the New NBA vs. the NBA of the last decade. The Hornets came out in the first two games and shut down the Spurs. San Antonio looked old, bored and just done. Apparently the Fountain of Youth was not in Florida, as the Spanish explorers believed; it is in San Antonio. After returning home, the Spurs dominated Games 3 and 4, so it's all tied up. So what is more likely in the final three games: The Best Team of the last decade will show their age and get run out of the building at least two out of three times, or the upstart Hornets will show their inexperience and get lulled into a close game and get outfoxed two out of three times?

After all the upheaval in the league this season, the Finals will be awfully familiar: the Spurs over the Pistons.

Lastly, has anyone else noticed the NBA Cares commercials where players talk about how they work with kids to teach them the importance of reading and education? The great irony being that the player reading the script has a reading level only slightly higher than that of the 10-year-olds he is seen talking to, and the NBA is among the lowest education levels of any profession. What percentage of players have college degrees? How many have even a second semester of completed college coursework? But I suppose who teaches a good lesson is not as important as the lesson itself.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Anatomy Of A Playoff Series

All day on Thursday I was looking forward to sitting down and watching Game 3 between the Spurs and Hornets. There are so many reasons to watch it! Chris Paul vs. Tony Parker. The Hornets were up 2-0. The Spurs and Hornets are both likable teams with likable coaches and likable fan bases. It was a key game in the series that would prove if the Hornets really were 20 points better (as they were in Games 1 and 2) or if they were just holding serve. It was a 2nd round playoff game.

Early in the first quarter I realized that I didn't care at all. Maybe it was the unwatchable colors (all white crowd, white Spurs and fluorescent yellow Hornets). Maybe it was that somewhere deep inside I knew that The Office was coming on later. Or maybe it was just boring. Why should I spend 2 hours of my life watching the teams size one another up for the fourth quarter when I can just watch the fourth quarter?

If I rooted strongly for one of these teams, of course my reaction would be different, but it led me to thinking about how playoff series work, thus:

The Anatomy of a Playoff Series

The following is the result of a painstaking research project (at least 10 minutes this morning) into the way NBA and NHL series stack up. A Major League Baseball series is a totally different animal because the starting pitcher changes a team's identity completely from game to game. Additionally, Baseball uses a 2-3-2 format while the NBA and NHL use 2-2-1-1-1. This also does not refer to MLS series because of two things: it is soccer and I couldn't care less, and their playoff format is a disaster (winning games doesn't matter...they just add up your goals totals).

Home court advantage is statistically about the same in the NBA as it is in the NHL despite certain rules in hockey that favor the home team (frozen puck substitutions and face-offs). In both sports, home teams win about 64% of the time. Numerically, being at home equates to 3.7 points in the NBA and about .4 goals in the NHL. Realistically, almost entirely psychological - a bed is a bed, a crowd is a crowd, a net is a net. In football and baseball, being at home means infinitely more.

Also note: the score never matters in the next game. There is no telling what effect a blowout or buzzer beater or quadruple overtime game will have on individual players or teams, if any. It could always be positive (win or lose), if could always be negative (win or lose), and it could always not play a role. And there are an infinite amount of other variable that can throw all what you are about to read out the window. It ain't science, folks.

Game 1: Sizing Them Up
This is mostly a statement game. Expect lots of rough play as teams try to show one another who is going to be the more physically dominating team. Coaches won't show their strategic hands too much. As long as the home team wins (whether by 50 or 1), the game doesn't really matter at all though. If the road team wins, it changes everything as home court/ice shifts.

Game 2: Settling In
In a sense, this may be one of the most crucial games of a series, but it is so early it is often overlooked. If the home team goes up 2-0, it may seem statistically irrelevant since they just held serve. But NBA teams with 2-0 leads at home go on to win nearly 70% of the time. If the road team goes up 2-0, that stat is likely much higher. If the series is split 1-1, it favors the underdog since they gain home court/ice. This shift becomes more important as the playoffs wear on since a 1-seed should be able to travel to an 8-seed's home and win. A 1 vs. a 2 is a different story.

Game 3: New Crowd
With the underdogs getting their first taste of home cooking, game 3 is a crucial one for them. You have to win game 3 at home. If either team goes up 3-0, it's over. One baseball team, two hockey teams and 1 basketball team have ever comes back to win. It ain't gonna happen. If the favorite goes up 2-1, they are on serve and the favorites hold a huge advantage still. If the underdog goes up 2-1, it is also a huge advantage, unless they lost game 3 at home. Regardless, unless it is 3-0, I am still betting on the favorite to pull it out.

Game 4: No More Flukes
The teams now know everything there is to know about each other and while any one guy can go nuts on any given night, the coaches now know what to game-plan for. Being the favorite or underdog, and holding home court or not does not matter if you go up 3-1; the series is yours. If it is the favorite up 3-1, they go home to close it out, and have two freebies before the pressure is on them in game 7 at home. If it is the underdog up 3-1, they get one freebie on the road before the pressure shifts and they have to win at home (and they have to win game 6 in this case). If it is tied 2-2, bet on the favorite, even if they just lost two games in-a-row.

Game 5: Taking Control
If the favorite is up 3-2, it is over. They get one chance to win pressure-free on the road and the road is no longer foreign to them (see Game 6). If the underdog goes up 3-2, they know they must win game 6. But in either case, knowing that you just need one win is a huge psychological advantage...for now. Game five will feel like the heaviest game because of the fear of losing and having your back against the wall (or being out 4-1, of course).

Game 6: No Such Thing As Home Court/Ice
The visitors have been in that building twice the week before and know their routine - the hotels, the restaurants, what the crowd will be like, what the sight-lines are like. There is no surprise in it. The better team will win. There is something to be said for a team down 3-2 playing with desperation, but if the team up 3-2 is prepared, that won't matter. An underdog up 3-2 must win this game or they will lose on the road in Game 7 and they know it. A favorite up 3-2 may not get up for Game 6, and the underdog must jump all over them. Also interesting is the idea that the favorite has been in their own homes, in their own beds for at least 60% of the time during the series. You would think this gives them an extra advantage in game 6 when the underdog has been traveling more frequently and could be more tired (although this shouldn't matter at this point!).

Game 7: For All the Marbles
Throw out the stats (except one). Regular season records don't matter. Scoring differentials don't matter. Who won in what city doesn't matter. All that matters is that the favorite is at home and in a Game 7, being at home matters again. Again, the advantage diminishes with each successive series, but even in the NBA Finals or Stanley Cup Finals, if the players think they have the advantage in Game 7 - they do, and if players think they are at a disadvantage - they are.

In all sports, pressure is in the minds of the players. In basketball and hockey, the home court/ice advantage is almost all in the minds of the players. That is not to say they are not real, because believing you are at an advantage gives you an advantage. But with pressure and home court/ice, it is all how you respond. If a team like the 07-08 Jazz thinks they can't be beaten at home, maybe they can't. And if a team like the 07 Giants thinks they can't lose on the road, maybe they can't (although again, in football the advantage is far clearer and more measurable). Ultimately, being at home or on the road is only as valuable as how confident it makes the players.

I also took no account of momentum here, because there is no telling what any certain win, play, call, injury, etc. will do to a player's or team's confidence. Just look at the '04 Red Sox. They had been crushed in game 3 by the Yankees and had every reason to fold up the tents. Then Dave Roberts stole second and it sparked the greatest turnaround in sports history over the next week (and over the next four years, as it were). Of course, had Roberts been picked off of second on the next play - there goes the momentum!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Triumphant Finish To A Miserable Trip

Wednesday morning I was beginning to doubt if what I wear to the games makes a difference in the Mets' performance on the field. Clearly, I was in a state of utter desperation after having attended five consecutive losses by the Mets in Los Angeles (two this week and all three last season). The game before that was the 2006 NLDS clincher when the Mets swept the Dodgers, but I can't remember what I was wearing (I know it was a black jersey, but which hat and t-shirt escape me).

Well it took a while to decipher the code and figure out what my wardrobe has to be in order for the Mets to beat the Dodgers. It is quite simple really: I wear my bright orange Mets t-shirt with a blue t-shirt underneath, I carry my Mets jacket (but do not wear it), and I wear my Mets visor. And the Mets' starter throws 8 innings of two-hit shutout ball, while the offense scores 12 runs. That will work every time; I am convinced.

What a perfect day it was to mark my first ever weekday day game. I showed up two hours early because I am currently retired. The teams did not take batting practice because they had just played about 11 hours earlier. I walked over towards the Mets bullpen and the pitchers and catchers were all practicing in right field. Mike Pelfrey, Duaner Sanchez and Pedro Feliciano were all mimicking Johan Santana's motion (I witch they'd mimic more about him!) until Santana arrived and showed them that they were all wrong. The photo above is Santana correcting Pelfrey.

Later Santana and Pelfrey were in the pen with pitching coach Rick Peterson working on mechanics. Peterson was working with Santana on getting him to make his leg kick more pronounced and not just sliding through it. Pelfrey was not actually throwing a ball; he was just going through his routine since is the starter for the Mets next game.

When Pelfrey finished, he could have walked through the stands and not been noticed, but when Santana finished practice, he was predictably accosted by fans for autographs. He signed a few balls on his way to the clubhouse but one particularly annoying kid threw his glove out of the bleachers into the Mets bullpen right near Santana. He either pretended to, or actually didn't notice, but he left and the little brat sat there wondering how the hell he was going to get back his glove. I like to think he didn't, but I am sure some security guard got it for him.

The ceremonial first pitch was thrown by some girl on Friday Night Lights. Blake DeWitt caught the pitch for her, apparently at her request. She was clearly desperately in love with him. It was like watching a cheerleader flirt with a star player at a high school game. DeWitt was apparently distracted by the affair because he didn't hit a home run Wednesday as he had on Monday and Tuesday. I can only imagine the crap he took from his teammates after she ran over to the dugout afterwards in order to get his autograph.

Once the game started, it wasn't long before Dodger ace Brad Penny started to look like a Wii Baseball pitcher when you get a rally going. Sweat was pouring off of him and exclamation points shot out of his head every time he threw the ball. As if being yanked from the game in the fifth after having allowed seven earned runs wasn't bad enough, Scott Proctor promptly walked the first hitter and then gave up a double to David Wright and a wild pitch, clearing the bases and adding three more earned runs to Penny's line. Apparently P-r-o-c-t-o-r does not spell relief.

Wright had entered this series as the active career batting average leader against the Dodgers. After this series, in which he went 1-for-13 with six K's and six left on base, he no longer holds that title. I'd still name a kid David Wright Bergen if my wife let me (I doubt she'll be cool with Edgardo Alfonzo Bergen either).

The Mets crushed the Dodgers on Wednesday, 12-1 with John Maine only allowing 2 hits in the first 8 innings. After getting one out and allowing one run on two hits in the ninth, he was yanked and Sanchez mowed down Delwyn Young and James Loney to end the blowout win. It is amazing how quickly frustration and hopelessness can disappear with one good win. After two horrible games for the team and fans on Monday and Tuesday, the Mets came out Tuesday and just erased it all. Sure they lost the series, but they're going home and Santana is pitching on Saturday. All is well (note: I reserve the right to whine more next week if they don't beat up on the Reds this weekend).

Finally, Andruw Jones was boo-ed throughout this series despite actually getting a few hits (2-for-8). His swing is awful and he has had way too many Dodger dogs however. Allegedly, he asked management if he could be driven to and from centerfield in the old bullpen helmet-cart each inning. Dodger fans were actually doing the FSU/Braves tomahawk chop-chant to make Jones feel comfortable so he'd hit like he did for the rest of the decade before last year. Jones doubled down the right field line and scored the Dodgers' only run.

For comparison, Juan Pierre is hitting .304 with 12 RBI. Jones is .170 with 4 RBI. John Maine (who got his first hit of the season on Wednesday) is .067 with 2 RBI.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

My Wardrobe Keeps Malfunctioning

On Monday I wore an orange Mets t-shirt, a white Mets jersey, a blue Mets cap and my new birthday Mets jacket. They stunk it up and left men on base in almost every inning. 5-2 loss.

On Tuesday I wore a black Mets jersey, a black Mets cap and my Mets jacket. They choked away a 4-1 lead and lost 5-4.

Today I will wear a Mets t-shirt and Mets visor. We'll see how it plays out.

But I am starting to think that what I wear to the games might not have any bearing on the outcome, and frankly that is not a world I want to live in.


I think Dirk Nowitski winning the MVP last year was a bigger crock, but I am disappointed in the NBA for choosing Kobe Bryant. He had another terrific year. He played through injury. The team wound up finishing first. He was probably the best player in the league. But if you replaced him with any of probably 5 guys, they result would have been similar. Interchange Kobe and LeBron and you'd have had the same results.

Put someone else in Boston to fill Garnett's shoes and see where they'd have finished. His presence on the team was worth about 10 wins, let alone his actual play. Garnett got robbed because he'd won it already and Kobe hadn't, just like Nash got robbed last year because he'd won it already and Dirk hadn't.

They should take all of the names out of the equation and have the voters look at the stats and the overall team performances. The Lakers won the West after making the playoffs last year with the addition of some all-stars. The Celtics tripled their win total and won the East after nearly imploding last year with the addition of two guys (and really only one was a really significant impact player.

Does this make the Laker fans look like brainless sheep or what? Remember that loud, boisterous "boo" for the man who wanted out on Opening Night? Pathetic. So Kobe won a lifetime achievement award and hopefully he'll stop being such an ass all the time (I won't hold my breath).

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Andruw Jones: The Man Who Can Stop The Tides

The Mets have lost the last four games they have played at Dodger Stadium (the one before that was a win, completing a playoff sweep). I have been to all four games and, to say the least, I am getting a bit of a sour taste in my mouth about the stadium. Even David Wright, who had the highest batting average of any active player against the Dodgers, went 0-4 last night, so it isn't just me that hates that God-forsaken building.

The Top 10 Reason Why I Hate Dodger Stadium

10. The Dodgers play there.

9. I know the beach balls are fun for kids and everything, but there must have been 20 that made it to the field last night. I will count tonight.

8. The interminable wave begins for no apparent reason in the fifth inning and finishes with a flourish when 2/3 of the crowd stand in unison and head for the exits in the 8th.*

7. There is no way that shack survives another 6.0 earthquake. It is as though it is built out of cracks, not concrete.

6. $15 parking that leaves me 3/4 mile from the stadium with no hope of leaving within 30 minutes after the game ends. They actually announce at games that in order to avoid a parking mess, fans should arrive two hours before the games!

5. Worst sound system of any stadium I have ever been to, including high school gymnasiums.

4. I don't speak Spanish.

3. I feel like if I put the sandwich-board sign that Bruce Willis wore in Harlem in Die Hard 3 on the roof of my car and parked it in Watts overnight, it would be safer than leaving it in the parking lot at Dodger Stadium for three hours.

2. $5.75 Dodger Dogs that are simply terrible. I like to think that Dodger Dogs are something special too, but it is all nostalgia. Those things are nasty. On top of that, Monday night, I got to the counter with 2 outs in the bottom of the 1st; they were sold out of Dodger Dogs. It was cool though, because I'd only spent the entire inning in line.

1. Generally speaking: the least knowledgeable fans on earth.*


* After 24 years of ballgames at Dodger Stadium, I finally discovered the Wave's kryptonite. It was the 8th inning and the wave was really rocking. It had been around 5-6 times and was as solid as you will ever see it. Then this announcement was made: "Now batting, center fielder, Andruw Jones." I swear on the Home Run Apple that the Wave stopped instantly and the loudest boo I have ever heard from Dodger fans arose in its place. Jones grounded into an inning-ending double play to complete an 0-fer day. For those scoring at home: Jones is hitting .158 with an RBI every 25 at bats. The guy he was brought in to replace (Juan Pierre) is batting .324 with an RBI every 7 at bats. At least the fans have picked up that that...or maybe the smart ones have and the rest think Chin-lung Huuuuuuuu is up to bat.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Momentum Screeches To A Halt

It is kinda hard to find anything to write about besides the Sharks/Stars game last night. And that is really saying something because this was an amazing all-around sports weekend.

Stars 2-Sharks 1: Game 6 Quadruple overtime. This was easily the best goaltending performance I have ever seen. Evgeni Nabakov and Marty Turco combined for over 100 saves, but it wasn't just how many saves they got, it was how many spectacular saves they got when any one mistake would cost the game and possibly season. Not a hockey fan? Think of it this way: a catcher has to add about 20 pounds of weight to his pads and then stay in his crouch for 20 minutes at a time for a total of a little over 2 hours. The pitcher will then throw at him, but will try to get it by him, instead of hitting the mitt. If he drops any ball, he loses and his team is eliminated. It was the 8th longest playoff game in history and was the best I have ever watched.

The four best quotes from the 5-and-a-half hour game:
4. Vs. studio host during the 6th intermission: "If you're just tuning in, where the hell have you been?"
3. My mom as the second overtime began: "If I have to watch this crap, we're opening another bottle of wine."
2. My dad as the goalies were peppered with shots, but only 2 scored for the first 125 minutes: "It's like basketball with no rims."
1. My wife, a die-hard sharks fan, after the game: "I hate the Cowboys so much more than I ever did. I'm never going to Dallas. Stupid city."

I feel like this game was a disappointment however, because the Sharks should have won and it should have gone to game 7. How amazing would one last showdown for all the marbles, two days after this marathon be? Could Turco and Nabakov even have started? Of course they would have, but could they possibly have been effective? Would the Sharks momentum continue after having won 3-straight to tie it up? Would there be payback for the clean but hard hit by Scott Morrow on Milan Michalek? Too bad we will never know. One thing we do know: Detroit is going to destroy Dallas in game 1 of the West Finals.

I did get to thinking about momentum in sports this weekend. I have heard the expression that momentum is only as good as tomorrow's starter. I came to the conclusion that momentum is a misnomer and what we actually are talking about when we bring it up is confidence. For instance:

The Dodgers had won 8-in-a-row on Sunday. The Rockies had lost 11 of 13. Both teams' momentum was allegedly taking them in opposite directions. But the Rockies got 3 hits to start the game, they found themselves ahead, and bang: two streaks ended.

No one regular season game ever means anything more than any other. And even if the pressure feels greater in a game 7, it is no more important than game 1 was. Momentum does not build...only confidence is tested.

A 30-point win or a 10-run loss is just a win or a loss unless the players think it will or will not happen again. Either way, you have to go out and make something happen...momentum won't just do it for you.

If there was such a thing as momentum, why did the Rockets ever lose a game once they got on that amazing roll? Why did the Sharks not blow through Calgary and Dallas after entering the playoffs on a similar roll? How does a guy ever break out of a hitting slump?

They talk about momentum much more in the playoffs than any other time. Will the Celtics finally playing like a decent basketball team give them some kind of advantage over the Cavs in round 2? Not really, but if everyone on the team thinks so, and the Cavs get intimidated by what the Three-Party did to Atlanta, then yes, it could have an effect. But it is the players' heads only (which is, of course a very important factor).

The talking heads are all questioning whether the Hornets' game 1 blowout will give them a momentum advantage? The playoffs don't start until someone loses at home. The Hornets merely held serve. Does anything think the Spurs think they are out of it? It's all about confidence, not momentum.

If momentum existed, how could you account for Mission Impossible being great, the second one being an absolute travesty, and the third one being great? The answer here is simple: John Woo is the worst director in the history of film, and screwed up a perfectly good script with incessant slo-mo-diving-shooting scenes. I mean two guys with guns played chicken and dove at one another instead of just shooting each other. Didn't they watch Indiana Jones shoot the dude with the two huge swords? As Shakespeare said, "more matter, less art." But I digress...

If momentum existed, how do you explain the Celtics this year? Last year they were dead in the water. Then they got a crappy spot in the draft lottery. Then they tried to trade for Kevin Garnett and he said no and everyone said Boston was a racist city and no black players want to play there and no great black players have ever played there (never mind that that isn't true and their coach and 4/5 of the team was black). The franchise was toast. Then Garnett changed his mind. Then Ray Allen signed. Suddenly they all thought they were NBA champs, and Bostonians loved black people. Not a single ball was dribbled. Not a single shot was taken. It wasn't was confidence!

In some instances, I suppose momentum does exist and confidence can mislead you. Like when Carlos Beltran hit a pop foul Sunday and the third baseman sprinted over, slid on the track under the ball and it landed about 10 feet behind him. I hope that wasn't on national TV...whoops.

Friday, May 2, 2008

My Holy Grail Of Sports

Next Wednesday I am going to what I believe is my first mid-week day game when the Mets play at Dodger Stadium. I am pretty excited about this, to say the least, because it just seems like this is where the magic of baseball lives. Every other professional sport plays at night and on the weekends, but Major League Baseball hangs on to one of its better traditions with the get-away day game.

This got me thinking of all of sporting events I have been to and all those I would still have to, which seemed like a ranked list, so a ranked list there shall be.

Best Sporting Events I Have Been To Live

1. Game 7 - 2001 World Series: A month and a half after 9/11, a Stealth Bomber buzzed the stadium and then it got good: Curt Schilling faced Roger Clemens in each of their hey-days. Both threw 8-inning gems before turning it over to their ace relievers. When Randy Johnson began warming in the 8th inning to pitch the ninth, it was one of the greatest reactions I have ever seen in a crowd. Mariano Rivera came in for the save and Luis Gonzalez hit that little squibber to win the World Series.

2. Game 3 - 2006 NLDS: Not only did I get to see the Mets play in a playoff game, but it was 15 minutes from home, they won it, it was a blowout, they clinched the series at it, and it was a sweep over the Dodgers. Perfect.

3. Monday Night Football: Rams at Packers. My sister-in-law was a trainer for the USC football team, so when she mentioned that she, my brother and I were going to a Packers game at Lambeau, USC's equipment guy called his buddy Red, the Pack's equipment guy. Long story short: we got a free dinner in the fancy restaurant inside the stadium before they opened the building to the public, we got about $100 of Pakcers gear each, we sat in the second row in Ahman Green's family's seats (he wasn't suiting up that game), we stood at midfield after the game, we toured their training facilities, dining room and locker room, and we each took a picture standing in Favre's locker wearing his helmet. And it was Favre's 200 consecutive game, in which he crushed the Rams.

4. USD vs. #24 Gonzaga: The Richie Frahm, Matt Santangelo, Casey Calvary led Zags came to USD on a Thursday after having moved into the national rankings for the first time in a decade three days earlier. The game was live on ESPN. Afterwards, Stuart Scott coined the name for the old USD Sports Center "High School Gym." Also, because of the TV coverage there was a good Greek showing (till halftime of course). The ladies of Alpha Phi hung a poster in the gym that spelled the name of our own mascot incorrectly, which gave way to my second favorite prank I ever pulled.

5. Game 5 - NBA First Round: Clippers vs. Nuggets. Carmelo Anthony's post-season impotence was in its infancy, and the new look Clippers with Elton Brand, Chris Kamen, Corey Maggette, Quiton Ross, and newly acquired Sam Cassell, Vlad Radmanovich and Cuttino Mobley carried the Clippers to the franchise's first series win in history.

Others in contention: my only game at Shea (Mets beat Houston 4-2 and Armando Benitez did not blow the save!), Notre Dame High School vs. Saugus High School (teams traded four game winning drives in the fourth quarter), UCLA football over Alabama at the Rose Bowl (and my friend who painted "A" on his chest had an "A" tan line for months), seeing Jordan, Bird, Magic, Gretzky, Ripken, etc., Piazza's grand slam in his return to Dodger Stadium as a Met, McGuire homered at Busch Stadium on the Fourth of July, free (donations requested) Monday Night Football in Tempe when they actually ran out of beer in the stadium (note: college kids + free admission = order more beer), the finish of the 2006 Boston Marathon, Wrigley, PacBell Park (or whatever it is called now), "Jeter Sucks" chant at Fenway during a Red Sox-Devil Rays game, Ducks eliminated the Stars.

Sporting Events I Need To See (Even Though Some Are Probably Better On TV:

Playoff Football, Final Four, Super Bowl, Hole-In-One (hitting it would be great), No-Hitter, Perfect-Game, Hitting for the Cycle, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Finals, all four Majors, all for Grand Slams, Olympics (swimming, downhill skiing, bobsled, hockey, track and field, baseball, tennis), Tour de France (Alpe d' Huez, Col de la Colombiere), Ryder Cup, Davis Cup, College World Series, BCS title game, the Rose Bowl, World Cup final, Triple Crown win at the Belmont, MLB All-Star game and Home Run be continued...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Slowest Home Run Trot In History

Sometimes being a sports fan can start to make you turn somewhat cynical. I used to think that you needed to be pretty fluent in the language of sports, but it often seems you need a criminal law degree to understand SportsCenter. Most of the problems in sports today have been around for decades; some are only really finding their strides of late.

-The player who refuses to play for the team with whom he signed a contract. He will either sit out or just not try until they trade him.
-Performance enhancing drugs.
-Self promotion being more important then winning.
-Winning being more important than respecting opponents, fans, officials or other players.
-Daily DUI arrests, domestic abuse, parole violations, being on parole in the first place, shootings, brawls, drug use, rape, and the list goes on and on.

Sports and criminal behavior seem so intertwined that we are shocked when athletes don't act like the inmates have taken over the asylum. It is funny though, because in the midst of all the big money, big egos and big federal investigations, you can still find the great stories that made you fall in love with playing and rooting for sports in the first place.

Western Oregon softball player Sara Tuchalski was a senior playing in one of her last games. Her team trailed by 1 game going into a double-header at first place Central Washington. Of course Western Oregon won game one so the two faced off in the second game, now tied for the conference lead, with both schools' first ever NCAA Division II playoff berth perhaps on the line.

This game would not be remembered by anyone but the girls involved, but it would be the most important game of their lives. The stage was set for a typical hero and a typical goat to emerge. In the second inning, the score was 0-0 and the typical hero stepped up to the plate - rarely used Tuchalski, mired in a season-long 3-34 slump, standing at just 5'2", her bat nearly as tall as she is.

Of course, Tuchalski hit a bomb to dead center field, driving in three runs. Of course it was her first career home run, hit with only four games left in her career. Of course the hero had emerged. Of course she never made it to second base - not on her own at least.

Tuchalski was so excited as she rounded first that she missed the bag. She stopped to go bag, but her knee gave out and she feel to the ground after tearing her ACL.

If a teammate, coach or trainer assisted her to stand and run the bases, she would be disqualified and the play would go down as a 2-run single, since that was what base she got to before the play ended. The umpires mistakenly ruled that a pinch-runner could be put in, but the result would be the same.

So there was nothing anyone could do. Tuchalski needed a stretcher and an ambulance. Western Oregon needed a pinch-runner and the game was 2-0. Flashing forward to the bottom of the inning, Central Washington scored twice, so Tuchalski's run would have been the one to hang onto the lead, had she been able to score it.

Now here's where the story gets good: Mallory Holtman was a four-year starter for Central Washington at first base. This was her last home game and the conference title was on the line, so you can imagine what it meant to her to win it. Holtman holds nearly every offensive record her school has, but she probably remembers what hitting your first homer feels like. As she stood over her fallen foe and listened to coaches and umpires quickly run through the possible outcomes of this play, Holtman stepped up with her own solution.

She and shortstop Liz Wallace picked Tuchalski up and carried her around the bases, stopping to lower Tuchalski and allow her to touch each base with her foot. Of course they didn't know that when they lower her onto home plate (just before they lowered her onto a stretcher), that that would wind up being the winning run that completed the sweep and knocked them out of first place. But you get the impression that they would have done it anyway.

But that is not the best part of the story either. The best part is that Holtman doesn't understand why she is getting national attention. She doesn't see why this morning she had appearances on CBS' and ESPN's morning shows. When it seems like the only instinct you see in sports anymore is the same one a 2-year old displays when you show him a toy, Holtman acted instinctively in a completely selfless way.

"She hit the ball over her fence. She's a senior; it's her last year. … I don't know, it's just one of those things I guess that maybe because compared to everyone on the field at the time, I had been playing longer and knew we could touch her, it was my idea first. But I think anyone who knew that we could touch her would have offered to do it, just because it's the right thing to do. She was obviously in agony."