Monday, June 30, 2008

Prognostications: 81 Games To Go

Nearly every Major League Baseball team has played at least 81 games this year, which means it is time to once again look back on my preseason (AL and NL) and 40-game predictions for how the divisions would wind up.

AL West: Preseason Pick - N/A; 1/4 Season Pick - Angels
Despite struggling to score runs at times, the Angels are still in the hunt for the best record in baseball (thank you AL West-laden schedule). The A's are hanging in there and the Rangers are within a hot two-weeks off of the lead, but this division is over and I hereby disavow any knowledge of whether I did or did not pick the Mariners to win the division before the season started. The Angels pitching is too deep (and getting deeper with Kelvim Escobar sooner to return) to allow even this disappointingly mediocre offense to screw it up.
81-Game Pick: Angels (95-67; currently 1st - 49-33)

AL Central: Preseason Pick - Indians; 1/4 Season Pick - Indians
While I was very proud of my choice to leave the Tigers out in the cold and then they jumped out to be one of the worst teams in baseball, they have since rebounded and are currently the hottest team in baseball. That said, they have won 17 of 21 games and are still five games behind a very good White Sox team. Their pace cannot continue and when they come back to earth and play a few games over .500 for the rest of the way (10-15 over probably), the Sox will likely just match their pace and hang on. I still like the Indians team but they are so listless, I don't know if they can put a run together. Though that's what I might have said about the Tigers. I am sticking to my guns with this division and staying with the 4th place Indians who are 9.5 back, but it will be a barn-burner.
81-Game Pick: Indians (90-72; currently 4th - 37-45)

AL West: Preseason Pick - N/A; 1/4 Season Pick - N/A
I still don't really care about the AL East. While I respect the Red Sox for finally getting the better of the Other Team that plays in New York, they are almost equally obnoxious now. Almost. I would love to see the Rays hang on - they just moved back into first place with the best record in baseball (49-32) yesterday - but I don't have great hope. As for my noting a stat that the Other NY Team goes nuts after April and May, they were a pedestrian 16-11 in June, with one game to go. Most of that success was in Interleague (8-3 against NL teams that are not the Mets), which they are now done with for the season.
81-Game Pick: Still don't care.

AL Wild Card: Preseason Pick - AL East Runner-Up; 1/4 Season Pick - A's
I am sticking to my guns on this one. I don't think the Rays can keep up with the Red Sox, and I don't think the Yankees can last with their pitching problems. The AL Central is too tough and they will all beat the hell out of one another down the stretch. That leaves the West. The Mariners are already mathematically eliminated from the playoffs for the nest three years (sorry Jim Britt), and the Rangers aren't closing on anyone in September. So the A's and Angels will have the only 2-team race for the finish, with the Angels winning by 5-10 games, but pulling the A's along with them.
81-Game Pick: A's (90-72; currently 3rd - 44-37)

NL West: Preseason Pick - Diamondbacks (92-70); 1/4 Season Pick - Diamondbacks
After jumping out to a 200 game lead through the first month and a half, the Diamondbacks have apparently remembered what division they play in and now absolutely stink. The Dodgers are 14-22 since I last made my predictions and are closing in on the front-running D-Backs who are are 12-24 in the time. They now lead this miserable excuse for a collection of professional athletes by just 2.5 games. I nailed the picks of the Rockies' and Padres' seasons so far, and the 36-46 Giants are actually the team playing best in relation to expectation! Currently now team in this division is over .500 and the division is 52 under collectively. It is time to move the Marlins to Portland and the NL West, move the Rockies to the Central, and move the Pirates back to the East.
81-Game Pick: Diamondbacks (88-74; currently 1st - 41-41)

NL Central: Preseason Pick - Cubs (97-65); 1/4 Season Pick - Cubs
Where the heck did the Cardinals come from? They were absolutely rolling until Albert Pujols went on the DL and ruined the season. Oh wait, they played over .500 and closed the Cubs' lead to 2.5 in that time. I still don't believe in the Cards (perhaps it is because Braden Looper pitches for them), and the Brewers (who were supposedly dead in the water) are now 7 over .500 and right in the hunt. All that said, it is still the Cubs' division to lose. They've scored 50 runs more than any other team in the division and they have the best team ERA.
81-Game Pick: Cubs (97-65; currently 1st - 49-33)

NL East: Preseason Pick - Mets (95-67); 1/4 Season Pick - Mets
As I wrote in May, this division is easily the most disappointing of the...oh wait, I forgot that the NL West still counted as a "Major" league division. The Marlins continue to play over their heads and they in the race, but I cannot see it continuing. If they have two bad weeks this month, the ownership will cut and run again like always. The Phillies have missed a golden opportunity to run away and hide while the Mets dealt with the Willie Randolph situation and the Braves lost Larry Jones for a spell. The Mets are now settled, they have Ryan Church back, they have Pedro back and everyone's roles seem to be solidifying. I hate to make a statement like this before the All-Star break, but their season hangs in the balance of what happens in the next eight days (four games in St. Louis and four in Philadelphia). If the Mets can win three in each city, it will go a long way towards making them gel as a team and will get them five over .500 and likely in a tie for first place. If so, game over.
81-Game Pick: Mets (87-75; currently 3rd - 40-41)

NL Wild Card: Preseason Pick - Braves (90-72); 1/4 Season Pick - Dodgers
Why I gave the Dodgers any respect will haunt me for a long, long time. They are a two-man team and one of them (Furcal) hasn't played for most of the year. They've allowed the 3rd fewest runs (A's and Red Sox), but have scored the third fewest as well (Padres and Nationals). Considering how poorly the big three in the East are playing, I can't see the second best of them making any noise down the stretch, especially since they are already currently five games behind the Cardinals and in third for the Card.
81-Game Pick: Cardinals (90-72; currently 1st - 47-36)

Red Sox host A's and win in 6. Angels host Indians and win in 5.
Angels host Red Sox and win in 6.
Diamondbacks host Cardinals and win in 5. Cubs host Mets and lose in 3 (it will blow your mind)
Diamondbacks host Mets and lose in 4.

Angels host Mets (because K-Rod will knock down the All Star game save), but Mets will in in 4.

Looking back at my picks from May, I saw that that was right after the NBA Draft Lottery balls were picked and the Clippers got the #7. On May 21, I called that the Clips would draft Eric Gordon and the Celtics would beat the Pistons in 7 and then win it all over L.A. Look it up (scroll all the way to the last paragraph). Suck on that Chad Ford.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Whose Morning Was Worse? Ivanovich Or The Yankees?

The top ladies' seeds kept falling on Friday at Wimbledon leading possibly to the only match-up that would make me truly not give a damn: Venus vs. Serena. Granted, Jelena Jankovic is the highest remaining seed (2), but with the Williams sisters both playing very, very well, and with one on either side of the draw, things are shaping up to be an all men's Ladies' Final.

On Friday top seed Ana Ivanovich looked just as terrible as Maria Sharapova did when she got destroyed on Thursday. But at least Sharapova lost to someone I had heard of! Considering how badly Ivanovich struggled in her second round match against a relative unknown, and then how terribly she played Friday, she was apparently not too comfortable with the #1 target painted on her back!

The NBA Draft was Thursday night and every single team drafted at least one player with "tremendous upside," which is nice. Actually Atlanta didn't because they had already traded away both of their picks. Some teams, like the Clippers, Celtics, Pistons, were lucky enough to draft three guys with "tremendous upside."

The strangest pick of course was the Lakers at #58 who drafted Joe Crawford. I am not sure about this, but I believe this is the same Joey Crawford who is a long-time NBA referee (and noted technical foul giver and television time hogger). I was not aware that drafting refs was legal, but kudos to Mitch Kupchak for finding this little loophole. Now Crawford will not only clearly be on the Lakers' payroll while at home, but on the road as well!

So Pacman Jones is upset with the world for not allowing him to have a second chance (or seventh, as it well). He wants everyone to call him Adam Jones - his real name. Last I checked, his jersey has always read "P. Jones" and the dude has been arrested six times since joining the NFL. I think I speak for everyone when I say, show me you've changed before getting pissed at me for not noticing you've changed, Pacman. Pacman, Pacman, Pacman.

Floyd Landis' arbitration ruling is set to be released on Monday. This will be his last chance to officially clear his name and claim his 2006 Tour de France win. I am a big fan of cycling, and I watched every second of that Tour, and I have read every word of the case against him and the case for him (yes, even the famed slide show presentation). That guy is innocent. I don't care what the test showed on the day he pulled off the greatest turnaround in sports history. The test the day before showed nothing. The test the day after showed nothing, and what Landis is alleged to have done would still show up long after the initial day he allegedly did it. It also would have had no physiological benefit had he done it the morning of a race (it is a long term technique that had not long term presence in his body according to multiple tests).

And finally, the Mets played at Yankee Stadium today as a makeup for a rain-out in a series last month. That Mets won the other two games of the series and they won today, officially completing the sweep. They also scored 15 runs today, with Carlos Delgado (9), Carlos Beltran (3) and David Wright (3) accounting for all 15 runs batted in. It will be a lot less sweet if the Mets do not win Game 2 of the double-header that is being played across town at Shea this evening, but either way - this is the last time the Mets will ever play at that rathole, Yankee Stadium. Way to send it out in style.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Greatest Upset In Sports History?

Working on the Tennis Channel's Wimbledon Primetime show, I have not had too many chances to watch any sports, let alone write about them (besides tennis), so it has been a quiet week on this site. But for anyone who has checked in to see if there were updates, at least you got to see a picture of Marisa Miller on the top of the page each time.

Last weekend Turkey beat Croatia in one of the more excruciating endings I have seen in a long time, and this game highlights many of the reasons that soccer is the stupidest sport on the planet. Croatia led 1-0 in this European Championship Soccer Tourney and in gave up a slop goal with no time left on the clock...or in overtime. You see, the clock in soccer is really only a suggestion. They play 90 minutes and the freaking clock counts up, and the goal was scored at about 90:30 or so. The game was later won in penalty kicks.

Let us count the ways in which soccer is stupid: While it provides some spectacular highlights each game, these account for approximately 5-15 seconds of the game. The other 89 minutes and 55 seconds are painfully dreary, uneventful, and annoying, full of flopping and whining and even the goal celebrations are obnoxious. The clock is an approximation of what the referees keep on the field. Really? We can land people on the moon, but we can't figure out a way to have the ref's clock send a signal to the stadium clock? Penalty kicks decide games, which is the equivalent of a basketball game being decided by dueling half-court shots rather than actual game play.

Steve Hartman was screaming in his normal radio voice today about how dreamy Dodger Stadium is, particularly the parking situation. I will give you that the parking is better than last year as the new policies seem to be finally taking hold (because they repainted the traffic lane lines to match the new system instead of last year: new system - old lanes). However, it still stinks. Hartman's example was last night's game against the White Sox. He said he stayed for the whole game, and when they left he expected a madhouse, but instead was pleasantly surprised.

Has he ever been to a Los Angeles sporting event before? Everyone knows that in order to miss the traffic you leave when it's over! The only time LA fans have stayed till the end consistently is when Eric Gagne was on his hot streak (and I am not only referring to the streaks on his forearms at the time). Not to mention that the game last night was a blowout loss so there were probably 5000 fans left at the stadium at the end.

While Hartman was blathering on about this, Vic the Brick Jacobs was screaming "If there is a problem, the McCourts fix it," "they fix it" like he had some form of non-obscene Tourettes syndrome. Apparently Vic was not referring to the roster.

Marat Safin decided to show up this morning at Wimbledon and absolutely destroyed the world's #3 Novak Djovovic. If Safin plays the rest of the tourney like he played today, that semi vs. Roger Federer will be wonderful. Speaking of Federer, perhaps Djokovic should have thought twice before offending the tennis gods by saying last week that Federer's six losses in 2008 prove he is ripe for a downfall.

You should have heard the director and producers of Wimbledon Primetime on the headsets as #1 Ana Ivanovic faced two match points against her. Let's just say that the general consensus is that Ivanovic is good for ratings. Her reaction after her shot hit the net and dribbled over on the second match point and then her kiss of the net after she won the match an hour and a half later made my crush on her deepen considerably. How nice to have the best player in the world also smile and laugh and seem to enjoy herself, but also handle herself with class! We've been spoiled with Federer, Justine Henin and now Ivanovich. I hope another Serena Williams doesn't rise through the ranks.

With the NBA draft coming up tomorrow, the sports talk radio shows in L.A. are all buzzing about the Clippers trading Elton Brand and the#7 to the Heat for Shawn Marion, Shawn Marion's contract, and the #2. I hope they don't because I'd rather have a good guy who is a great player and a possibly great pick than a jerk who is a great player and a possibly great pick. I can't imagine that the Clippers are really looking into a trade with Miami (unless Brand is not involved or Dwyane Wade is), but they have done dumb things in the past so I won't rule it out.

The other big talk is of the Lakers trading up to get Miami's pick (or someone else's). Supposedly they would unload Lamar Odom. Right, I am sure there are a lot of G.M.'s calling the Lakers clamouring to get their hands on Odom after his NBA Finals series. No doubt Miami wants him back, right?

I saw a headline online for Chad Ford's NBA Mock Draft Version 6.0. Seriously? 6? How many times can you openly admit that you were totally wrong and still be considered publishable, let alone an expert?

Remember the loudmouthed trainer who guaranteed the Triple Crown and openly used steroids on that horse as well as many of his others? I won't bother writing his name because you won't remember him, but here's a shocker: he was just suspended because one of his horses tested positive for twice the legal limit of a blood doping drug. This makes eight consecutive years he has been fined or suspended for many, many violations. Here's hoping he gets another shot at glory. Everyone deserves a 20th chance.

Finally, Fresno State's comeback victory yesterday, facing elimination in the Final round of the College World Series against of the best teams in the country, could go down in history as the penultimate crowning achievement in the greatest upset story in Sports history. Yes, that was a lot of hyperbole, but think it through:

Putting their seed in college basketball terms (since most people are more familiar with that 64-team tourney than this one), they would likely be a 15 seed. They would not have made the tourney had they not won their conference (an upset, by the way). In the first round of the tournament, beat the #7 team in the country twice (my USD Toreros) as well as the #22 team on the road (Long Beach State). Then after losing game 1 in the second round, they beat the #4 team in the country on the road twice in a row to eliminate them. In the next round they beat the #6 and #2 team (twice). And now they face the #8 team for a final game to decide the whole thing (after having split with them in the last two games).

An unranked team has beaten nine top 25 teams in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova was an eight-seed when they beat Georgetown and probably faces 2 or three ranked schools in the tourney. North Carolina State over Phi Slamma Jamma was the same. At least the 1980 U.S. Hockey team was made up of the best players in their own country - Fresno State was not top 10 in their state. The Giants-Patriots or Jets-Colts are not remotely close to that. Miracle Mets? Fresno State doesn't have Tom Seaver. If the "Under-Dogs" win today, it is the greatest upset story in Sports History. Don't miss it - 4 p.m. Pacific time on ESPN.

This is all a reminder of how insane the BCS is. In what other league in any sport in the world are the two finalists selected at the end of the regular season?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Encarnacion: En-car-na-cion

I am not sure if the Dodgers have asked their announcers, Steve Lyons and Charlie Steiner, to rave about their new starter Clayton Kershaw, or if Steiner is just desperately in love with him. Either way, it is kinda creepy watching Dodger games and listening to Steiner fawn over the poor kid, who incidentally was seven months old when the Dodgers last won a playoff series.

I occasionally work at KCAL as the profanity censor, and when I do I have to listen very closely for fans, players or announcers who fire off swears. Dumbest job ever, but they pay me so what the heck! So I can't just mute Steiner and watch the ballgame in peace. Well actually I could, but then he'd be muted for the rest of the viewing audience at home and while that would no doubt be well-received by the fans, I doubt KCAL would like it. I have to listen to him intently every single time he mispronounces Edwin Encarnacion's name, and every time he rambles dreamily about Kershaw's earth's-rotation-slowing curveball, or his strong, supple thighs.

Seriously though, Steiner can't say "Encarnacion." This is the third time I have worked a Dodgers-Reds game this year (once in April and twice this week) and he says "Encanarcion" every time. It is a subtle difference, I admit. But I noticed it in April and thought it was funny. After last night, when Encarnacion hit a solo home run and accounted for all of the Reds' offense (and was therefore mentioned a lot), I wanted to do that lawnmower trick from "The Happening" just so I wouldn't have to hear that human-turtle say that very simple, common name wrong again.

Apparently there was a fire alarm at the Dodgers' hotel yesterday morning and Steiner longingly told (and retold) the story of how Kershaw came down from his room in "gym shorts and a t-shirt" with no shoes on like it had been Marisa Miller (above) without a top on.

The only thing more annoying than this is that Steiner constantly misses plays when talking and tries out little catch phrases all the time. He missed the first pitch in Tuesday's game and on the second pitch said, "Pierre swings at the first pitch he sees and grounds out to Encanarcion." Is it that hard to pay attention to the first at bat of the game? Then last night I nearly threw up when Steiner tried yelling the catch-phrase, "Kuo, don't you know!" when Hong-Chih Kuo struck someone out (the best part of course being that it was a foul ball, so he wasted the line anyway).

Adam Dunn of the Reds is one of the left handed power hitters that always gets the shift put on when he hits. Before the game, Lyons apparently asked Dunn why he doesn't just bunt down the third base line, which I would require of my players if I was the manager in that situation. Dunn gave the same old line: "If we're down two in the eighth, I'll bunt. I do it 6-10 times a year. But they don't pay me to bunt, they pay me to get on base and drive in runs."

Dunn led off the second inning, trailing 2-0 with the shift on. He struck out looking. I don't think they pay him to do that either. Then he hit in the fourth, down 3-1. He grounded out. In the sixth inning he came up with first and third and one out and they still put the shift on. He struck out. They were giving him a free squeeze bunt for a run and a hit. By the time he came up in the eighth, they were down five runs and his bunt single wouldn't have mattered (but he flew out, just for good measure).

My final rant of the day is for Dusty Baker, the dumbest man in baseball. This is a man who once explained his disdain for the on-base percentage stat by saying that extra base runners "clog up the bases," but at least he ruined Kerry Wood's and Mark Prior's careers by overworking them. In the sixth inning, his Reds were trailing 4-1 and the Dodgers had runners on second and third with one out and speedster Juan Pierre hitting. Baker played the outfielders in like it was one out in the ninth with the winning run on third. Predictably, Pierre lifted a fly ball over the center fielder's head, two runs scored, and Pierre got a triple. Game over.

Had the outfield been at regular depth, this would have been an easy pop fly, likely not even deep enough to get the runner home from third. Of course, Pierre's swing was likely influenced by the defense that he was presented with, and he perhaps would not have hit the same pop fly had they been back at regular depth. But the point is that Baker positioned his defense so that the worst possible result was the most likely possible one.

I couldn't find a video or photo of Kobe Bryant wearing it, and I couldn't find the actual item on Nike's website, but when Kobe arrived in LA on the team plane yesterday, he was wearing a sweatshirt with a tire-tracks design on the front that was made to look like it had been run over a bunch of times. Never in human history has a person accidentally worn a more perfectly accurate metaphor for their professional performance.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Somewhere Shaq Is Very Happy Today

Why was it that in a series that featured so many amazing comebacks, there was no doubt that Game 6 of the NBA Finals was over by the time the first quarter was over. During Game 2, I was even so leery of Kobe Bryant's ability to make amazing things happen that I said it wasn't over when the lead was 20 with something like 8 minutes left. But with a lead smaller than that and with 36 minutes left, it was over in Game 6.

My favorite moment was with about 10 minutes left in the 4th quarter, the Celtics were up by 28 and Kobe was sitting to start the quarter when the crowd started chanting "Where is Kobe?" The Celtics crowd sounded like a single voice. I don't ever remember hearing a crowd so clearly enunciate it's cheers and taunts. And not only that, but they were so confident that it was over and that Kobe had been shut down, that they were not afraid to actually call him out - to dare him to do something about it.

This chant was broken up by three consecutive three-pointers from Ray Allen that must have left Sasha Vujacic questioning his value as a human being. I think Vujacic is a fantastic athlete; he must be to have gotten to where he is. But I think he chose the wrong sport. I have never seen someone kick the basketball to the officials or the inbounds guy more, and the way he goes down and throws his hands to his face like someone has just thrown acid at him all the time makes me think he is looking for a red card. Man, I hate soccer.

Yesterday was a huge day in sports around the world actually, with France and Italy playing soccer for the first time since the famed World Cup final game in which some guy headbutted some guy for a sister-joke, not even a mom-joke...and it wasn't even a headbutt to the head. If you saw the highlights from yesterday, the team known as The Azzurri (named for the azure blue jerseys all Italian national teams traditionally wear) wore white jerseys, while the nation known best for white fabric ("we surrender") wore blue jerseys. It was a wonderful game between two of the world's blah blah blah... One of them won. Or maybe they tied. Seriously, soccer is so lame.

I know that the game was out of hand by the start of the fourth quarter, but Phil Jackson should be fined by the Lakers, with the money being distributed among their fans, for forcing the Lakers' fans' hopes to rest on the shoulders of Ariza, Farmar, Turiaf, Vujacic and Odom. What was he saving Kobe, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher for? Why bother with Odom, why not slap a jersey on MBenga and stick him in there to round out the five. I saw Kobe Carl back there in the third row, he's on the roster, right? The Clippers would have loaned Smush Parker back to the Lakers for the night. This guy is the "best coach of all time"?

I cannot believe that the Clippers finished the season with Smush Parker and Dan Dickau running the point.

It is hard to tell if Kobe was more upset about losing the Championship, not being named MVP, or the fact that the game was played late on the East Coast so his daughters couldn't be propped up next to him on camera afterwards. Regardless, the guy looked truly upset in the post-game interview and you could barely tell that he is already scripting his offseason trade demands.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Erosion Wears Down Mediate And Randolph

Last week, Rick Reilly wrote a typically inspired column in which he urged fans to root for Phil Mickelson to beat Tiger Woods. Essentially his point was that it is too easy to root for Tiger because he wins all the time. "It's like rooting for erosion," he wrote. It's just gonna happen whether you want it to or not. Watching Rocco Mediate try to beat Tiger in the U.S. Open playoff was a perfect example of a guy getting worn down by erosion. Mediate played beautifully, and of course the run he put on to go up by a stroke through 17 was incredible, but he had to be perfect on every shot in order to be close.

Mediate gained over 100 spots in the world rankings and is now in the 50's. Tiger hasn't played in two months and is firmly planted as #1. So you knew going in that it was going to take a miracle. They battled back and forth all day but the final two holes were a microcosm of this entire playoff.

Tiger teed off on the par five 18 and landed about a mile-and-a-half down in the fairway. Mediate teed off and came up well short of Tiger and in some trouble. Mediate's second shot put him back into the fairway, one shot from the green and in front of Tiger's ball. The trouble is, no matter what Mediate did on his drive, it was going to take him three shots to get to the green. It was a par five, so that is appropriate. But it was only going to take Tiger two shots to get there.

So now they were both hitting onto the green, Tiger from a little over 200 out, Mediate from around 140, with Mediate's one-stroke lead essentially gone already. If those two guys play that hole 100 more times, Tiger gets there in two 90 times and Mediate wouldn't get there in two once. It is like the guy plays on a different course. It is like watching two guys play one-on-one basketball, only one guy is shooting at an 8-foot hoop.

Granted, Mediate is not the biggest hitter in the world, and lots of other guys would be able to do just what Tiger did. But the thing with Tiger is that he doesn't miss shots. His putt on 18 wasn't great - he left himself a tough 6-footer to finish with, but the first one was from about 40 feet!

So like erosion, Tiger just did what he always did and steadily continued along until his opponent couldn't match him anymore. The difference this time was that his opponent never really crumbled, he just was playing on a different course at the end.

Speaking of golf, it looks like Willie Randolph will have some time on his hands to pick up the sticks. I like Randolph. He seems like a good guy. And the expectations placed upon him were impossible to fulfill. But the team stinks and he simply makes no changes to fix things. They can't score runs and he doesn't change the line-up to shake things up. The pitchers struggle and he just keeps running the same relievers in the same scenarios out there until it's too late. The team has no energy and while he may get a bad rap for seeming to be calm when in reality he may be much more fiery, it is his job to get them to wake up, and whatever he has been doing isn't doing it.

It is not necessarily the manager's fault when a team struggles, but you can't fire 25 players so someone has to go, and when the biggest problem with a team is that their attitude stinks, that is the manager's fault. But really, has there been any doubt this was coming?

That said, Omar Minaya had better work some magic very soon because he must be on a very, very short leash. The way Randolph was fired was cowardly and few of the big moves Minaya has made have benefited the Mets in the long run at all. He's been give the money to "win now" for four years in-a-row and they have nothing but an NLCS loss and a monumental, historical collapse to show for it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

NBA Action: It's Soporific

I finally got to watch the Lakers-Celtics Game 4, and between that and his Game 5 performance, I see why Kobe Bryant has always pretended he hated the Michael Jordan comparison. Kobe has utterly disappeared in this series. I haven't the foggiest idea who scored enough points for the Lakers to beat the Celtics in Game 5 because I don't remember any of them playing well.

The Celtics had a meltdown in Game 5; they just gave the game away. Perhaps they were tired (after about a week and a half since the last game), or perhaps they were looking ahead to the trophy ceremony, or perhaps they just wanted to go home. Regardless, they stunk. But the thing is, the Lakers didn't have anyone really go out and win the game either. The series is a pretty big snoozer to be honest.

Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, Vlad Radmonovich, Ronnie Turiaf, and Derek Fisher still play for the Lakers; I promise. I know you haven't seen or heard anything from them in a long time, but they're still there. Sasha Vujacic has made three shots in two games, which isn't that big of a deal for a guy coming off the bench. I mean you can't expect him to get too many shots...what's that you say? Those three made shots came on 19 attempts?

Ah, the old Sasha is back. The one who plays basketball like a soccer player (suffering life-threatening, debilitation injuries anytime someone comes within a few feet of him). Seriously, I know 3-year-olds that freak out less when they get bumped into. They also throw fewer temper tantrums and cry in public less. Maybe his poor shooting in Game 5 is a result of his slapping that chair in his weeping anger after Ray Allen undressed him to close out Game 4? Or maybe his poor shooting is a result of his crappiness. Either way, it was funny to watch him cry on Thursday.

Rounding out the crappy play of this series, you have Jordan Farmar who is just simply a terrible basketball player. The amazing depth of the bench has apparently hit low tide, because it ain't deep anymore. Pau Gasol is boring and steady and good and scores 15-18 every game, while making almost no defensive contribution for huge sections of the games. And finally, Kobe has vanished on the big stage.

As for the Celtics, it is more of the same. Pierce is hit and miss, but gets all the credit for the Game 4 comeback (why, I am not sure: he had 20 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists. Kevin Garnett kinda plays like Tom Chambers. Ray Allen has been steady and smooth and great, but he just doesn't pound his chest, so you don't notice him. Kendrick Perkins was playing ok before getting hurt. Rajon Rondo's injury was the best thing that happened to him - he doesn't have to keep going out there and embarrassing himself by missing undefended jumpers and throwing passes out of bounds.

Eddie House, Sam Cassell, P.J. Brown and Leon Powe are all over the map. There was a stretch last night where Cassell looked like he was going to score 30 points, but most of the time these four are just on the court because you aren't allowed to play with four. James Posey has been pretty solid, but not great enough to become the story.

The stars haven't shined and the benches have just filled time for the most part. It isn't bad basketball, per se. It just isn't great basketball. Maybe I expected too much because of the whole Rivalry story that the league pushed despite that these two teams couldn't have cared less about one another for the last 15 years. Maybe I expected too much because of the Big Three's Battle. Maybe because it is the Championships, I expected greatness just to happen (like the Super Bowl this year). And it certainly isn't over. If the Lakers come back to win, it will go down as one of the great Finals of all time (despite being pretty crappy for most of the series).

I just hope that whatever happens in Game 6, that both teams play well at the same time at any point so we can actually see what it would have been like had the Spurs and Pistons made the Finals.

Lastly, has anyone else noticed that Kobe now stations his wife and kids in the tunnel on the way to the clubhouse after all of the games, so he can be "caught" being a loving father and husband? How much time do you think he spends in front of a mirror every day?

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Collapse Of The Year (And It Doesn't Involve The Mets!)

I am not sure what I am happier about in regards to this Lakers-Celtics Game 4. For one thing, the Lakers lost, thus all but clinching a series lost. That is fantastic. But because it happened, it kinda washes clean the memory of the Mets' third consecutive save blown by Billy Wagner yesterday. Also related to the Mets, the word "collapse" has been used to describe my beloved baseball team's 2007 season quite a bit, but I think the Lakers just put a new trademark on the word. And finally, I wasn't at home for the second half, so I have it TiVo-ed, so I get to watch every Jack Nicholson shot with relish as Lamar Odom shrivels into a tiny, little ball.

I watched the first half at home and was not thrilled with what I was watching. To be honest, it did not seem out of reach that the Celts would get back into it. They had a 12-0 run in the second, and there was simply no way that the shooting percentage could stay as high for the Lakers or as low for the Celtics. But then Kobe Bryant hadn't made a single hoop yet either.

So at halftime, I set the game to record and left for my Ultimate league game (in which we stomped on the team of a huge jerk, closing the game on a 14-5 run). My intent was to not listen to the radio and not find out the score so I could go home and watch Game 4 after my game. Of course midway through our second half, someone yelled out, "What? At home? No way!"

News got around that the Lakers had collapsed (see, I used it) and all I could think of was how fun it would be to watch it when I got home now that I know what was coming, and that what was coming would make me very, very happy. On the way home from my game (and the ensuing team trip to a bar), I listened intently to AM570 - the Lakers' broadcast station - as callers tried to make sense of their lives in the wake of this collapse. "We would have won with Bynum." "At least the Spurs didn't win it." "Garnett may win the title, but Kobe is still the MVP" (which is probably what Kobe is thinking too).

This weekend I am working at the Special Olympics in Long Beach, and thus missing out on the free tickets my wife just told me she got at work yesterday for the U.S. Open (ouch). But during those hour car-rides down and back, I will get to listen as all the L.A. sports radio guys' heads implode. I cannot wait to hear Vic the Brick Jacobs choke this one down. He may honestly be dead.

Of course the bad news in that the obnoxious Bostonians get to enjoy a title (it is a foregone conclusion now, right?), but I think it means less to them than the Patriots winning the Super Bowl would have, so I take considerable solace in the fact that my Giants screwed that up for them.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Milton Bradley Lost It, The Sun Set, And Other News This Week

It has been over a week since I have written anything sports related because this page was not loading properly and I couldn't post to it anyway. To say the least, it has been an eventful week, so today will be just a quick recap of the biggest sports stories of the week in my world:

Everyone is piling onto Mets' manager Willie Randolph because the team stinks. For a long while I thought this was mostly unfounded, but the more they lose the more you realize that something needs to change. I wonder though, why is Omar Minaya's job so safe. After all, he is the person who spent all the money and equipped Randolph's clubhouse with all of these chumps. So Carlos Delgado seems to be hitting again, but the Mets' regular bench consists of Damion Easley, Endy Chavez, Marlon Anderson, Fernando Tatis. Granted, there have been a lot of injuries and the team has had to dig deeper into the bench than Minaya could have expected, but these guys combine for a .209 batting average, with 32 runs, 27 RBI, 16 extra base hits, 15 walks and 49 strikeouts in the equivalent of about 90 games played.

Granted: if Pedro Martinez, El Duque, Ryan Church, Moises Alou, Angel Pagan, and Luis Castillo hadn't all been on the DL for extended periods this season, they could easily have accounted for the 6.5 games that the team trails the Phillies, but every team gets injuries. This team fills holes with old, slow, injured, has-beens with no minor league prospects to be found. When do we start blaming Minaya?

It is hard to give any credence to what Tim Donaghy says about games being fixed in the playoffs because Donaghy is a crook who could likely just be throwing blame around, but the guys sure picked interesting games to mention. And not that I think we should go around believing every scrumbags conspiracy theories, but didn't the world react the same way to Jose Canseco's wild claims until they turned out to be almost 100% true? And David Stern is not doing the league any favors by being a smug, arrogant prick that almost makes you root for the other scumbag to bring him down.

Soon I will research the worst current contracts in baseball. The Dodgers' announcers were ripping the Mets last week for having this crazy payroll and I have a feeling they would not be happy with that I discover (I am looking at you Esteban Loaiza, Andruw Jones and Jason Schmidt).

The Orioles sent Steve Trachsel to the minors the other day. Since he has been gone, the league-wide average game time has dropped by 11 minutes.

Kevin Garnett did a commercial for ABC's Finals coverage in which he makes sweet love to the Finals Trophy. I don't like players holding a trophy they haven't won and talking about how good it feels to hold it. You don't touch it until you deserve to touch it.

Through three games, the Lakers' fans are proving what everyone things about L.A. sports fans: lazy, unintelligent and uncreative. They don't cheer unless the scoreboard tells them to, and the best chants they came up with were "Boston Sucks," and "MVP." Really? OK, so "beat L.A." is not much better than "Boston sucks," but it is better somehow. But Laker fans cannot compete with a Boston crowd that chants "No means no" at Kobe Bryant on the free throw line. Absolutely classic.

ABC pulled the most shameless in a long line of shameless promotional plugs in Game 3. They actually had a 3-D cardboard Wall-E ad in the seats for the game. This makes Fox look tasteful and dignified. Well, not dignified...actually, just forget I wrote that.

Chris Simms has asked to be released from his contract because he says he doesn't see himself fitting into their QB plans and wants to play somewhere. I have two thoughts here: the Giants should sign him and win Super Bowls with father and son (son on the bench of course), and why did Simms feel no hope for playing time in Tampa? San Diego Torero Josh Johnson, baby!

Michael Strahan pulled a John Elway and retired at the pinnacle of his career. Thank you Michael!

Dontrelle Willis was sent to the Minors because he was struggling. Not big news there. Except that he wasn't just struggling: his ERA was 10.32, and he had 5 strikeouts and 21 walks in 4 starts. And he wasn't just sent to the Minors, he was sent to Class A! Ya think his $29 million contract will be on my list?

Kobe Bryant got a technical foul in Game 2 and another in Game 3 for whining for calls on the only two plays that there probably was no actual contact. He hasn't punched anyone yet though, so thus far his behavior has been well above standard, except the pouting, screaming at teammates to stop shooting and give him the ball, whining, posing and almost total avoidance of the team's actual offensive strategy.

The Celtics are not as bad as everyone thought they would be and the Lakers are not as good. It is very likely that Kobe will not pass the ball once for the rest of the series (1 assists in the "must-win" Game 3). And as long as I watch the games with my friend Justin (who went to Gonzaga but I am the forgiving sort), the Celtics will win if the pattern holds.

5 points goes to any reader who can remember the first and last name of Big Brown's trainer without looking it up. Post it in a comment to this post. It has only been 5 days and already no one cares. But hey, at least everyone thought he was a complete ass during the duration of his 15 minutes.

It is weird to think that I have played golf on the course on which the U.S. Open is being played today/this weekend. That almost makes me a pro. I want free clubs. When I played at Torrey Pines, it was the week after the Buick Invitational in 2000. The course was tough and long, the rough was deep and the empty grandstands and T.V. towers were very intimidating. This week, the course is playing a lot tougher and a lot longer, the rough is probably 2 inches deeper and the grandstands and T.V. towers will be full. I am starting to think that professional golfers might be better than I am.

Milton Bradley blew up and tried to kill someone yesterday. Not news, I know, but it is a funny story: the Royals announcer said that Bradley would be well served to own up to his mistakes and move past them like Josh Hamilton has done. Bradley went nuts when he heard the comments, stormed through the clubhouse and had to be restrained from going into the booth to apparently take the guy's life, thus proving the guy right. He then was dragged back to the clubhouse and began sobbing about how no one thinks he's changed and gotten over his anger problems.

Maybe it was the scouting report on the Diamondbacks, but on Tuesday John Maine threw 104 pitches. 80 of them were fastballs. How about mixing in an off-speed pitch once in a while (that said, he struck out seven and was in line for a win before the bullpen blew another lead and the offense feel asleep in the last half of the game again).

Milton Bradley just screamed at me from the street. He's coming upstairs...I have to go.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

White Collar Sports Take Center Stage

[I wrote the following post on Thursday, expecting to post it on Friday before the events that I wrote about. However, this page got screwed up and I was unable to until Sunday. Thus, I added *’s in a few places with updated news on various things.]

With the NBA Finals in the midst of its second sabbatical (only having played one game, which is amazing!), and the Stanley Cup Finals over, and baseball being 100 games from the postseason, and my school knocked out of the College World Series, the only things to watch this weekend will be the French Open finals and the Belmont Stakes.

The French Open will pit Ana Ivanovic and Dinara Safina in the women’s and Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal in the men’s. Both should be great matches (Ivanovic* and Nadal** will win), but both will air live very early in the morning and there is a really good chance I will miss both. After all, I have an ultimate game and my parents’ Senior Olympic*** meet to go to on Saturday.

But the Belmont Stakes sits right in the middle of the afternoon on Saturday and that is most definitely the big sports story of the day. Big Brown will attempt to do what blah blah blah. It's on tv for like 12 hours on Saturday. Just wait till they start and watch the race for two-and-a-half minutes. Also note that there are only two ways this event can be worth watching: Big Brown wins, or someone goes under 2:24. Otherwise, it is barely worth the 2:28 that it will take (except the overhead-blimp replay which is always awesome).****

Horse racing is a sport, if you call it a sport, designed entirely for betting. Sure, there are the people who enjoy it because the horsies are pretty – the kind of people who donate to racehorse retirement charities. To me giving money to ensure the happiness and comfort of retired racehorses is absolutely insane, but this became big news when Barbaro was injured and on Death Row.

It is not as though after their careers are over, they are forced to go back to the ghetto with their fortunes and entourages lost, and they have to take crappy jobs because they never went finished college because the Game came first. These are animals bought and raised by millionaires, pampered for the first few years of their lives, who are then retired and sent to farms where they spend their lives eating and having sex with the finest physical specimens in their species.

So realistically, the sport is truly a business, even more so than baseball and the rest because the players don’t even know they are playing. The only purpose of the races is for owners to win prize money, and bettors can try and get rich while the tracks take all of their money. There is no personal drive in the horses, or pride or glory. They just know want to get dinner and to stop getting whipped and kicked. With that in mind, Big Brown will go for history this weekend on three good hooves and I see only three possible outcomes to this race.

1) Big Brown does not win. Horse racing will slip further down the totem pole of the collective sports fan’s consciousness and legislation to protect the horses from cruelty (no more steroids and no more whips) will make it far more humane, but far less impressive in the future.*****

2) Big Brown wins. Horse racing leaps into public consciousness in a big way, like it has not seen in decades and then quickly fades away sine there is no other event worth watching for 47 weeks and none of the players we’ve come to know will be around then anyway. The same legislation is enacted and the sport is never the same.

3) Big Brown reinjures his hoof and is euthanized on the track (win or lose). Horse racing’s public image devolves further as the second high profile horse is put down in about a month, the third in as many years. People learn more and more about the treatment of the horses and how many actually are euthanized week in and week out. PETA grows even more self-righteous than ever before. If trainers and owners are lucky, the sport is eventually seen the way we look at dog racing; if they are not lucky history views it the way it sees bear bating, dog fighting and cock fighting.

Frankly, I think that the first option is the most likely. If the trainers think he can run, his hoof is clearly in decent shape because he is worth too much in the baby-making business to run him on a cracked hoof that will wind up forcing him to be put down on the track. Then again, is he worth anything if he has the stigma of weak genes and couldn’t even run the Belmont?

* and ** - Ivanovic and Nadal did win.
*** - Mom and dad took home four medals though neither was thrilled with their performances. Such prima donnas.
**** - The winning time was a somewhat slow 2:29.65 and there was no blimp cam, which is a total disaster as far as I am concerned.
***** - He didn’t win and wasn’t euthanized. The trainer is throwing the jockey under the bus blaming the last place finish on him. Who’s really at fault? Who cares. See you next May, Horse Racing.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Two Hall Of Fame Pitchers And Some Fat Guy

I can't believe I am about to type this, but I completely agree with Hank Steinbrenner. He said after Joba Chamberlain's first start n Tuesday that he doesn't understand why everyone is making such a big deal out of it. "Any other player on any other team" wouldn't have drawn so much attention, so why did Joba? Steinbrenner says it was all media hype.

The problem here is of course that Steinbrenner is about 98% responsible for this media hype because he called his general manager and his manager idiots for not having Joba start and demanded that the poor bastard be yanked out of the bullpen. But that is besides the point. The crux of it is that the last place team in the AL East made a desperate, brain-dead personnel move and took an irreplaceable, lights-out reliever and are going to turn him into a run-of-the-mill #3 or #4 starter. Would that story make SportsCenter if it was the NL East instead of the AL East?

The Yankees are far from out of striking distance with a paltry 104 games left, so why the move now? Granted: this Yankee team is not like the Yankee teams of old that could roll out Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and David Wells in their primes and turn a 2-game losing streak into a 10-game winning streak. But Joba Chamberlain is also not Roger Clemens. What is his mediocre start every five days going to gain them? A lot less than his presence in the pen every day would have! Don't the Yankees have some Minor Leaguer somewhere that could get the same 5-5 record and 5.30 ERA that Joba will wind up with?

Until yesterday, you knew you had to get to the Yankees' starter because if the game went to the 8th (or sometimes the 7th) and you were behind, it was over. Now, you know you have until the 9th, but the starters are all still pretty average, so Mariano Rivera won't likely matter too often anyway. But at least we will see Joba's ERA and belly get fatter and fatter as he ages. His starter-ERA may dip down under 4.00 someday, but for this season, it should hover in the 5.00-5.50 region.

But hey, I am sure those 6 2/3 innings he made the five guys in the depleted bullpen work yesterday after he got yanked in the third were worth the loss they took and the subsequent losses it will cost them since those relievers are now that much more used up.

Speaking of important pitching roster moves. The Mets won the NL East yesterday with Pedro Martinez' return. Mark this date: Pedro's return was June 3 and the Mets were at .500 in 4th place and 4.5 back.

And the bittersweet pitcher-related story of the day is of course that John Smoltz season has come to an end after it was announced he needs shoulder surgery. This could be the end one of the most unusual and amazing pitching careers of all time. I say it is bittersweet because Smoltz is a Brave, so I am more than happy to see him go, but he is also a really good guy by all accounts and it is too bad to see him go.

Wouldn't it be great if Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine all retired this season and went into the Hall together? Of course, I'd like Glavine to stick around because he's on the Braves and sucks now.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Promises Are Like Babies: Easy To Make, Hard To Deliver

Predictions get tossed around in the sports world all the time. Guys guarantee their teams will win a game or a series. They guarantee that they will not be back with a certain team. They guarantee postseason appearances. The say that their team is the team to beat before the season starts.

You always hear announcers talk about how that makes great "bulletin board" material and occassionally a player will say that it was a motivating factor, but it seems like all the guarantees are so run-of-the-mill these days that few bat an eye at them.

When Jim Fassel angrily declared to the New York media that the 7-4 Giants were going to playoffs, it wasn't so much that it was a groundbreaking prediction; coaches and players say this type of thing all the time. What makes this moment memorable was that the normally mild-mannered Fassel blew up and essentially told the world famous New York sports media to sit down and shut up for the rest of the season...and then he backed it up.

Before this last Super Bowl, had Plaxico Burress given a run-of-the-mill "we're gonna win" prediction, no one would have cared...likely any player would have said the same thing. But Burress gave the score as 23-17, which was so far below the Patriots' average that it raised some eyebrows, but was still mostly laughed off as harmless fun. When the Giants wound up winning, holding the Pats to a lower score than Burress had predicted, and Burress himself scored the winning touchdown, that became an all-time great prediction.

Perhaps the three most famous sports predictions are Babe Ruth famously calling a home run by pointing to the bleachers right where he hit the ball on the next pitch (or maybe he just stretched his arm, no one is sure). Joe Namath called the Super Bowl upset in 1967. And of course Kramer's two-home run prediction on behalf of Paul O'Neil to a sick boy.

But every year some guy you haven't really heard of says his crappy NBA East team will beat some other crappy NBA East team and no one cares. So what makes a great prediction? What makes it memorable? Why was Joe Namath's Super Bowl III prediction a seminal moment in sports history but so many other guys have done the exact same thing and been forgotten?

First: the stage has to be big. Boldly declaring that your 7-year-old son will score in a YMCA league basketball game is not exactly the stuff of legends.

Second: the odds have to be against you. If a first place team's manager declares his team will make the postseason when they have a 10 game lead with 11 to go, no one will really take notice.

Third: you get points for originality. Hundreds of coaches have probably told writers at some point that their struggling teams would put it all together and make the playoffs, but Fassel did it with fire, with (apparently real) anger, and most importantly with style.

Fourth: the predictor needs to have first-hand impact on the game. No one cares what the owner's dog walker says will happen. But if the shortstop guarantees a World Series sweep, that's getting in the papers. Abe Lincoln once said, "We must not promise what we ought not, lest we be called on to perform what we cannot."

Fifth: it has to come true. If you make a bold enough prediction and use bold enough words and fail, you will perhaps be remembered, but not how you want to be. Had the Patriots beaten the Giants 41-17, do you think there would be any stories on Super Bowl Monday about how Burress' relatively mundane prediction had been wrong, or would the press have written about the 19-0 story?

Sixth: there has to be an intangible endearing quality to it. If Roger Clemens came back and predicted that he would lead the Mariners to the World Series this year, it would come off as arrogance from a world-class jerk - not a prediction. If he pulled it off, history would find a way to cheapen it (steroids, etc.) so we wouldn't have to appreciate it like we do the Jets in Super Bowl III or Base Ruth's possible shot-calling.

Recently Big Brown's trainer, Rick Dutrow, Jr., has been proclaiming that his horse winning the Belmont Stakes is a "foregone conclusion." He boldly stated, "Forget about it. There's no way in the world there's any horse that's doing any better than Big Brown. It's impossible...I don't even care about the post position...We don't need to worry. He will handle things."

So how will this prediction be remembered? This passes the first three tests with flying colors: it is the biggest stage in his sport, and one of the biggest in all of Sport. While his horse will be the odds-on favorite, the odds are against him that he'll win - no one has done it in 30 years and there have been odds-on favorites many, many times. Originality! Even Bob Baffert never mouthed off like this.

Where Dutrow's prediction gets hurt starts with #4- he doesn't have enough to do with the prediction coming true. Sure, he knows better than anyone what his horse can do. He knows better than anyone how much steroids have been pumped in him. But he won't be the one running, nor the one riding. If the jockey made this kind of prediction, that would be interesting. If the horse did, it would be astounding! If he doesn't win, Dutrow will likely be a laughing stock (for a day or two until we all forget about him) for being too bold. And if Big Brown does win, because the prediction is just so sleazy and self-righteous, and the guy keeps yelling it into any microphone he can find, we won't remember this fondly. We will blame it on a weak field and overt steroid use, and we will likely remember this more clearly as the last of the old-fashioned, inhumane Triple Crown seasons.

Now Petr Sykora's prediction in Monday's Stanley Cup Finals should be remembered as one of the all-time greats, and may be the best ever depending on the series plays out. Sykora played his shot-calling down later, saying he was just trying to loosen up his teammates, but regardless this is a classic:

The Red Wings were 35 seconds away from a Stanley Cup win. The Cup was polished and in the tunnel leading to the ice. The champagne was chilled in the home locker room. But the Penguins spoiled the party by pulling their goalie and scoring to tie it up with the extra attacker. Midway through the first overtime period, NBC's sideline reporter Pierre McGuire announced that Sykora had told him that he was going to "get the next one." Two overtimes later, he did and the Penguins won, sending the series back to Pittsburgh for Game 6.

Now this is a fantastic story, but if the Penguins go on to come back and win at home and then go back to Detroit and steal the Cup, it will be immortalized in sports legend. Stay tuned.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Hard To Keep My Eyes Open For The French Open

I have been working for the Tennis Channel on their coverage of the French Open, so I have seen a lot of tennis. During this time, I have not really been all that entertained...of course our live coverage starts at 2 a.m. because France is stupid and doesn't go by Pacific Standard Time, so that may be contributing to my sleepiness.

Maybe it is the same old generational bias thing (even though these players are my generation), but only one of the matches has been very interesting. Granted, we are not even to the quarterfinals yet, but there are no players who are really all that captivating. There is no must-see player. Roger Federer is great, but he is like a surgeon - it is a science out there and he just methodically puts his opponents to bed. Rafa Nadal is much more fiery, but I can't watch him and his clothes for two hours. He also plays at a slower pace than John Kruk working his way through a buffet line. Nikolay Davydenko is pretty fun to watch, and Novak Djokovic is very entertaining, but then there is no one else really.

The Americans are just depressing. Andy Roddick is unwatchable. James Blake, Robby Ginepri and Mardy Fish are just never going to get over the hump. Watching them play and thinking about how 10 years ago we had Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi makes it even sadder.

And the women are just as bad. This is supposedly a great time for women's tennis and while I could have watched Sunday's Ana Ivanovic-Petra Cetkovska match all day long, it isn't necessarily for the tennis. Justin Henin, one of the more graceful athletes and champions you will ever see retired at the ripe old age of 26 last month. Maria Sharapova is a fantastic player but listening to her is like hearing a puppy rolled down a hill in a bag. To say the least, I was not sad to see her lose today, and actually you can say the same of most players on tour (men and women). The Williams sisters are just as implosive as always, but they are not as good as they used to be. Venus is whithering away and will soon look more like Pluto (get it? Cuz Pluto is small?) and Serena looks like she is on the same diet as Andruw Jones. I cannot distinguish (or easily pronounce) all of the -Ovas and while there is some good talent spread around, the fact that the average fan can't remember who any of them are is telling. None of them is all that interesting (the exception being Ivanovic or course). After all, the biggest news in tennis this week was that American Ashley Harkleroad is posing for Playboy, not anything that happened on the clay.

That said, there is nothing better than the meltdowns that occur regularly on tennis courts. Tennis, like most sports, is very mental. But unlike many sports, the players are completely on their own and there is no helmet to hide behind. There is a lot of dead time and there are a lot of cameras. Dinara Safina almost went supernova this morning in her match against Sharapova when she lost four straight games after they returned to the court after an hour-and-a-half rain delay. Safina (famed for her emotions being very clear, to say the least) had already taken a warning for "racket abuse" because she had slammed her racket to ground, breaking it during the first set tie-breaker.

In a stunning turn of events, Safina composed herself, stormed back into the match, defended a match point in the second set to come back and win a tiebreaker, and then bull-rushed Sharapova in the third set to win 6-3. If Safina can keep from erupting and turn it all that emotion into whatever she turned it into today, she is a sure-fire Grand Slam champion.

All that said, tennis still makes for spectacular drama and wonderful television. It is easy to choose sides because you always wind up not liking one of the players even if you'd never heard of them before. For instance, the French men with their mediocre play but constant fist pumps make them eminently hate-able, to say nothing of their whining or frequent surrenders.