Friday, July 25, 2008

Reason #146 Why Soccer Is Stupid

Today's reason why soccer is stupid: Here is a quote from Sports Illustrated; see if you can find out what's wrong with this:

"The Revolution tied Chivas USA to advance to the SuperLiga semis."

They tied...they tied, and advanced in the tournament! How is this conceivable!? Not only that, but the MLS championship series is two games. Not best of three, not best of seven. It is like the people who are in charge of soccer leagues around the world are consciously trying to piss me off.

To be 100% honest, soccer itself is not that bad. I used to love watching the kids play at the high school I taught at. I enjoy the U.S. national team when they play in the World Cup, Olympic or against Mexico. But there is so much around the game, not to mention the chronic flopping and the possibility that a championship game can end in a tie, that makes me hate the sport. Follow the link there for a flop that would make Sasha Vujacic weep in envy... the best part is when the announcer says it "fully deserved censure, if not ridicule." Perfect.

Plus, every field in Los Angeles is occupied by fat, ugly people playing "the beautiful game" badly. Shouldn't they all be attractive and talented if they're gonna dare call it that? It is like those "Beer Heaven" commercials. If it was really "beer heaven," would there really be other men there? Or clothing?


Saturday should be the last meaningful stage of the Tour de France and will no doubt be spectacular. On Wednesday's epic Stage 17, Carlos Sastre made an uncharacteristically bold move and blew the field away up Alpe d'Huez. He now clings to a lead of about a minute-and-a-half over four guys who are all better than him at individual time trials. Guess what Saturday's stage is?

The individual time trial is when the riders leave at set intervals from one another, with the last place guy going first and the clubhouse leader starting last (just like golf). So there is no peloton. There are 158 riders against the clock. Pre-tour favorite Cadel Evans is very good at this skill and has, in the past, made up over two minutes on Sastre in time trials of the same approximate distance.

There is also the possibility that Sunday's 21st stage into Paris will actually see some racing. Typically this is a parade for the guy who has already wrapped the thing up. But with six riders (including American Christian Vandevelde) in position to get onto the podium in one spot or another, the time trial may not be decisive enough, and the heavy hitters may be sprinting those laps on the Champs Elysees, not sipping champagne and mugging for the cameras. Cross your fingers!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pack Up The Bats And Gloves: Season's Over

Yesterday afternoon I watched live as the Mets bullpen allowed Johan Santana's 8 inning gem disappear as they allowed 6 Phillies to cross the plate in the ninth inning, and the Mets lost 8-6. Today if every sports website and TV broadcast I have seen is any indication, it seems that this painful loss has doomed the Mets to never win another game.

Here are the problems that the Mets face that will keep them from winning any more game (as I have found out today):

Billy Wagner Is Selfish - he technically could have pitched last night, but didn't want to because he had had some shoulder soreness and wanted to rest it for one more day.

Johan Santana Has Lost It - he couldn't manage to finish the game out like he would have in the olden days and left the Mets in the precarious position of leading by 3 at home in the ninth.

Jerry Manual Is A Fool - how could he take Santana out? How could he put in those relievers? Didn't he know there was no way they could hold that lead without Wagner?

The Team Has No Leaders - a true team leader would have put a stop to that streak in the ninth by the Phillies by catching all of those balls, or possibly by sending out negative brainwaves that would prevent them from hitting.

I actually read one article that questioned Wagner's heart and said that he was saving his arm for September, but "for the Mets there may be no September." Never mind that the regular season ends in October, what the writer meant (I assume) was there may be no postseason because of the four problems I mentioned earlier.

Wasn't this the same team, with the same closer, the same ace, the same manager and the same leadership that just won 10 in-a-row, making up 6.5 games in a month, and was suddenly a juggernaut that the Phillies couldn't contain? Wasn't Wagner (potentially) sacrificing a game in July to insure he could have a September (or October for that matter)? Are we really this concerned about losing game number 100 of the season?

They are 1 game back with 62 to go! I feel pretty confident that they could find a way to scrape their way back into the divisional race.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Greatest Thing You've Never Seen

I can certainly see why the Tour de France is not a major TV-audience sporting event. The perfect example was in Tuesday’s stage 16 where the top American hope was not on camera for basically the entire day because he found himself 35 seconds behind the favorites in a different group and so the announcers had no clue where he was. Had he dropped out? Had he lost 10 minutes on the leaders?

Would fans in LA watch Laker games if you couldn’t see what Kobe was doing the whole time?

The reason that Christian Vandevelde wasn’t on camera is that the TV networks are allowed three motorcycles with cameramen on board, and every network around the world who is airing the Tour gets the same feeds. There is no American producer in a truck somewhere calling the shots and asking for more shots of American riders and less of those from Luxemborg.

Despite that fair criticism of the sport, I still contest that the Tour de France really does make for great television, as long as you understand the sport and as long as you have a DVR.

So what is it that makes it so interesting? For one thing, it is accessible. They are not doing anything that any of the rest of us couldn’t do…they just do it a lot faster. During the Olympics, Americans fall in love with swimming and track and field for the same reason. I can swim, but it is amazing to watch them do it so well. Their arena is public streets that any of us can drive and ride and live on...not billion dollar stadiums where even on the paid tour you can't touch the grass! I can ride a bike, and given a week or two, I could have made it to the top of Cime de la Bonette-Restefond just like the 158 remaining cyclists in the Tour climbed Tuesday in a little over an hour.

Not impressed with that time? Never heard of that peak? It is the highest mountain pass in Europe. The climb itself is about 30 miles without any respite to a peak about 9200 feet up, and it follows 45 miles of riding that included going up and over another peak that was about 7000 feet. And in the last 18 days, the best riders had already spent about 64 hours in the saddle…the worst had spent close to 70. Having a hard time putting all of that in context?

Picture riding your bike 4-6 hours a day for three weeks straight. And for about a half of those, you get to ride on relatively flat roads (only gaining 1000-3000 feet in elevation for the most part). But you have to do it at about 40 miles an hour for the entire day, every day. Then on the other days, you have to climb over mountain after mountain, going up slopes at long as 25 miles at a time, gaining 7000-8000 feet at 10-15 miles per hour and then descending at upwards of 50 miles per hour (breaking the speed limit on most of these mountain roads), only race into a valley that leads you to the next mountain you'll climb.

Have you ever been to Los Angeles? Picture riding your bike from Pasadena up to the top of Mount Wilson and back down the other side to Palmdale, then turning around and coming back, then going back over. That’s one stage. The next day ride to Mount Wilson and then pile another Mount Wilson on top of it and ride to the top of that. Now you just went a little further than the ride to the top of Cime de la Bonette-Restefond like they did Tuesday.

One of the biggest criticisms of the Tour is that the leader board never changes in the “boring” flat stages, so why bother having them? The reason is that these guys are all so good that if they didn’t exhaust themselves on those flat stages, probably half of the peloton would have the juice to sprint up the ridiculous climbs. The flat stages sift them out and make it so that the only guys capable of sprinting up the climbs are the 7-10 “heads of state,” as the leaders of the teams are called.

There is no better argument that anyone could make for the sport of cycling than Stage 17 on Wednesday. If you miss it live (3:30 a.m. PST), it will be on Versus all day. But you will want to watch the live version or the re-air that comes on around 10 a.m. because they feature easily the best sports commentary team in any sport – Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. This one is called the Queen’s Stage because it is the hardest one, with the most, toughest climbs (despite what they went through today to “warm-up” for it!).

The stage is over 130 miles and begins with the climb that Lance Armstrong calls the hardest in the world – Col de Galibier. Almost this exact course was the one they took in 2001 when Lance Armstrong pretended to be worn out over Galibier only to crush the field up a later climb. After going over this mountain on which they gained about 8000 feet, they descend at break-neck speed even further and climb about 6700 feet up the Col de la Croix de Fer, only this one is a longer climb with steeper sections. Then they head back down the other side, matching the hardest stages they have done in the Tour if they were done at that point.

They then have a nice, easy ride through a beautiful forested valley to the bottom of the most famous climb in the sport, Alpe d’Huez which ends at a ski resort about 6000 feet above sea level (see photo). It isn't the steepest climb of the Tour (it is steeper than the other two this day), and it isn't the longest, but it comes at the end of a day on which they climbed about 45 miles and over 15,000 feet in total elevation! This is the one on which after Armstrong pretended to be worn out, he famously looked back into the face of his greatest rival Jan Ulrich, saw that he was broken and then dusted him.

Vandevelde was sitting back 35 seconds behind the leaders on Tuesday’s massive final climb, and had hoped to be able to close on them on the descent to the finish line. Unfortunately, he crashed and lost close to 3 minutes which he will try to make up on Wednesday on the most famous and grueling route in cycling, easily the hardest single athletic event in all of sports. Wednesday will be the last, best day to make up any great chunks of time and Vandevelde has three minutes 15 seconds to win back, but everyone he is chasing in the overall race for the Yellow Jersey will know what he has in mind, so no tricks will win it. This weekend someone will ride down the Champs Elysees in Paris wearing Yellow and he will likely have picked out that wardrobe Wednesday on Alpe d’Huez.

Give cycling this one day to win you over.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Mets Rolling, Randolph Was The Devil

It took the Mets exactly one month to erase a 6.5 game deficit and climb into a first place tie with Philadelphia after Willie Randolph was fired. Randolph got the axe on June 17 and on July 17th, the Mets had a spectacular come from behind win to pull even with the idle Phillies.

I have never really been one to blame Randolph for how poorly they'd played for the last year-and-a-half. I think managers get far too much blame and too much credit. The players are the ones not hitting the ball, or not pitching well, or not making heads-up plays on defense or on the bases. But you can't fire 25 players and start over, so you fire the manager and hope it shocks some life into the team. I think the manager can be blamed for attitude, not striking out. But attitude does seem to have been a problem (as well as striking out).

Thus far, the experiment has been successful with the Mets. Jerry Manuel is 18-9 in his first month as the Mets' manager, but more importantly the team is playing like they care. While I don't think Randolph is entirely responsible for their bad play and lax attitude, and it is unfair to blame his calm demeanor for their lack of heart, he certainly didn't seem to do much to change it.

Manuel is not doing anything drastically differently from the way Randolph did, he is just getting a lot more bang for his buck. And I suppose if all other things are the same except the guy filling out the lineup card, then maybe the guy filling out the lineup card is the difference.

The funny thing is that I know one of those alarmist, insane fans who wanted Randolph fired the moment he was hired because he was a Yankee. Then the Mets played well and Randolph was a genius - his aura of calm was a Godsend. Then came the collapse and to this guy, everything Randolph did was the dumbest move in baseball history. It was like when you are with someone you can't stand and the fact that you can hear them breathe drives you nuts, like they are doing something wrong.

So Manuel got hired and for the first few games, not much seemed all that different. My friend cursed the Mets for hiring a chump and blamed it all on G.M. Omar Minaya. I spoke with my friend last week after the Mets had won nine in-a-row (now 10), and he was singing the praises of all of these once-chumps.

So the moral of the story is the same old thing: in sports all that matters is what have you done for me lately (unless you are Andruw Jones, apparently). For now, Manuel's relaxed clubhouse is exactly what the Mets needed all along...until they lose three-in-a-row.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

[Insert Uggla-Ugly Pun Here]

Three hours into the player introductions for last night's All Star game, we should have realized that we were in for a long night. I am not sure if the introductions were longer, more painful and less necessary than that "Call Your Shot" promotion right before the finals of the Home Run Derby, so we will call it a tie.

Fox/Major League Baseball trotted out anywhere from three to fifteen Hall of Famers at each position and introduced them as well as the current players. I took a nap about a half hour into it and woke up when they got to third base and introduced Phil Rizzuto. I thought they were going to start naming all of the dead Hall of Famers. And speaking of dead guys, why was Rizzuto (who is a ballplayer, not a word) the only one named? If I was Babe Ruth's, or Roger Maris', or Mickey Mantle's ghost, I would be haunting Joe Buck's house so bad right now.

The funny thing was that Buck's dramatic scripted intro for the intro stated that he was going to name the "living immortals." I got a kick out of this because A: Rizzuto is not living (not that I am mocking him for being dead, I just don't see how he is a "living immortal" and B: can there be such a thing as a "dead immortal"? I mean being immortal seems like it pretty much eliminates death, being that it means "not dead."

Also during the intros, Josh Hamilton was called, "a hero last night in the Derby," and while that is completely true, if I was Justin (or Jason) Morneau, I'd be pissed.

Buck's painfully scripted and rehearsed moments did not go well for him. At one point, while fawning over Yankee Stadium, he called it "our Coliseum." I couldn't help but think that the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is our Coliseum, being that it is slightly older than Yankee stadium and is, you know, called the "Coliseum." This was the line that Buck trotted out when the game was seemingly about to end: Grady Sizemore at bat, bases loaded, no outs, bottom of the 10th. The NL then put on a defensive exhibition (thankfully, no balls were hit to Dan Uggla) and Buck's big line was wasted.

Late in the game, in maybe the 12th or 13th inning, I started to wonder who was the saddest man on earth at that moment: Uggla or Bud Selig? Uggla will likely decline the invitation to next year's All Star game, if he is invited. He struck out three times and when he did hit the ball, he grounded into a double play. He left a game-high six men on base. And he committed three errors. Ouch.

But then there is Selig. In 2002 when the game was tied 7-7 in the 11th inning and Selig had to figure out what the hell they were going to do now that neither team had any pitchers left, he looked like he would rather have cut his own leg off with a plastic spoon than have to deal with that situation, live on national television, in the front row of his own home stadium. So this time he was hiding in an office somewhere.

Did Selig think that incomprehensibly making the outcome of the World Series depend on the All Star game was going to eliminate the possibility that the game could be tied late? Did they really consider that problem fixed? They didn't change anything, they just made it matter infinitely more if the exact same problem should occur again. Clearly they need to cut the tie that binds the World Series' home field advantage to this game because it is too important of a result to have it depend on fans' fickle voting, and then potentially position players pitching to close out the game.

If the All Star game is going to decide the World Series' home field advantage, the team cannot be chosen by fans, and pitchers must be prepared to go 3+ innings. If a guy pitched on Sunday and can't go more than 15 pitches in an emergency situation, he should get his All Star bonus, he should get to enjoy the festivities, but he should not be in the dugout. Get someone who can play.

If they want it to be an exhibition where the fans get to play a major role, then cut the World Series connection. The game is fun regardless of whether "this one counts." It wasn't great theater because of the World Series (exclusively). It was also great theater because it was great theater! That bottom of the 10th inning was one of the great innings in baseball history, outdone perhaps by the bottom of the 11th! And if it had come down to it, what a wonderful, fun, fan-friendly way to end such a marathon it would have been if David Wright and JD Drew had gone in to pitch, with Brad Lidge and Scott Kazmir at DH.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

All Star Boos For Utley And Marmol

Josh Hamilton's spectacular show at the Home Run Derby is getting more than enough press, so I won't bother adding more praise to what he did. What I will say is that none of Hamilton's 500+ foot homers, nor his 28 jacks in the first round, nor Milton Bradley's surprisingly fun antics were my highlights. David Ortiz' self-serving look-at-me antics certainly weren't. Nor was it when the All-State big wig with the giant check called Justin Morneau, "Jason Morneau" as he congratulated him for winning. No the highlight of the night for me came before the balls started flying.

As the players' names were called in the introductions, they would run out to the baseline, turn around and wave to the crowd, with an ESPN camera right in their faces. These cameras have microphones on them to pick up whatever natural sound from the field that they can. When Phillie Chase Utley was announced, he received a pronounced round of boos from the Yankee Stadium crowd (presumably from Mets fans?). That wasn't the best part.

The best part was that when Utley got out to the baseline to join Marlin Dan Uggla, and he heard the boos. Utley turned around to wave to the crowd and said to Uggla, easily loud enough for the live camera to pick up the sound, "Boo!? Fuck you!"

Sorry about the language there, but it was spectacular television and a simple "f--- you" wouldn't have captured it well enough.

A close second, in terms of my favorite moments, was when Hamilton launched a ball to dead center that landed on the black tarp-covered seats and two fans ran out to snag the ball. The cops converged on the two and one went sprinting down the tunnel, presumably to his death. The other was caught and held by the throat with one hand by a cop on national television. When they showed the replay later, they cut before that part.

Finally, with tonight's All Star Game being only hours away, I want to mention how unbelievably stupid it is that Carlos Marmol was the final replacement on the National League team when teammate Kerry Wood dropped out with an injury. First of all, Marmol is a middle reliever and I understand that this may be the most under-appreciated position in all of sports, and that just because he is a middle reliever doesn't mean he isn't one of the best 25-30 players in the league. But the fact that his ERA is over 4.00 does mean that!

After a very nice start to the season, Marmol's ERA in June was 7.36 and in July it has been 13.50! He was named a replacement the day after he blew a 7-2 lead and was booed off the mound at home! This guy is an All Star?

Pat Burrell (who I hate) is fourth in the league in homers with 23 and leads the NL outfielders in slugging. Jose Reyes is hitting .302 with 10 homers and 43 RBI from the lead off spot, along with 68 runs scored and 32 steals! He is fourth in the NL in runs, 2nd in hits, 1st in triples, 3rd in steals, and 12th in batting average. If you want a pitcher, how about Johan Santana who has 8 wins, is 4th in the league in ERA (2.84), and 7th in K's. Or Kyle Lohse, who is third in the league in wins and his era is 3.39. Or Chad Billingsley, who has 9 wins, a 3.25 ERA and is second in the league in K's. If you want a middle reliever, how about another Dodger, Hong-Chih Kuo (who I absolutely hate), whose ERA is 1.69 and has almost 1 1/4 K's per inning pitched.

Carlos Marmol? Really? That said, he'll probably wind up being the MVP of the game.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Brand Losing The Blame-Game

Remember in "Jerry Maguire" when Cush (the star football player) and his father met with Jerry (the agent) in their living room and Cush's dad said that he doesn't sign contracts, but he shook hands with Jerry and said, "what you have is my word, and it's stronger than oak"? And just as the two shook hands, they flashed to a closeup of the hands coming together and you got the feeling that everything was going to be ok - or it was going to go horribly wrong - but there was no in between.

And then later, Cush's dad signed a contract with Jerry's arch-enemy Bob Sugar the night before the NFL draft. And Cush said that he was suffering from Cush-lash because he had been seeing his own picture everywhere he went. Right now Clipper fans are suffering from Cush-lash.

In the he-said-they-said battle of what really happened the week before Elton Brand signed with the 76ers, we may never know what really happened, but we can't stop hearing about it. When Brand signed, he was a little vague about what had happened but it seemed to be that he had wanted to stay a Clipper, but that he didn't hear from them, and that there had been no verbal deal made.

Clipper head coach Mike Dunleavy was adamant Thursday that the Clippers had gone out of their way to contact Brand, that they offered more money than Philly, that they were willing to offer one more year to the deal, they did not offer a take-it-or-leave-it deal, that they had upheld their end of the handshake deal they'd made and went out and gotten Baron Davis, and most importantly he was adamant that there had been a handshake deal...and Brand and his agent wouldn't return their calls. He went so far as to show that he had text messages on his phone from Brand confirming how excited his was for next year and said that other players had similar texts.

How can these sides, which had been so close and friendly only days earlier, be so far apart on what happened? The common thought right now is that just like Cush would probably never have turned his back on Jerry if not for his dad's interference, Brand would likely not have turned his back on the Clipper without his agent's interference.

The problem with this theory is that Brand wound up signing the cheapest deal offered to him. Sure agents want to get their names out there and Brand's agent did that by making this story blow up as big as it did. But they also want to get their names out there showing athletes that they will make a lot of money if they sign with him. And since the agent gets a percentage of the deal, they will go for the biggest deal possible. Why would the agent have hurt his own rep and taken a smaller cut?

I am ok with a guy deciding to go to a team closer to his home to raise his family. I am ok with a guy going to a team on which he feels he has a better chance to win, despite that his new team is worse than the one he left. Those are the two big reasons that Brand supposedly left. The problem I have is that Brand never gave those reasons, reporters suggested them.

Baron Davis was charming and laughing and said a few times in his Clipper press conference that he never thought of backing out on the Clippers because he had given his word. He even looked directly into the camera and said it with a wink. Davis got where he wanted and made the money he wanted, so he can't be too upset, but at the same time, he got screwed by his friend just like the rest of us did.

Sports is business and Elton Brand did not owe anybody anything. He can move his family any place in the world that he wants. People change their minds. But for him to say that there was no verbal deal and that it isn't his fault is insulting to Davis, to the Clippers and to the fans. He's always been a good buy and now it is backfiring because he doesn't have the a-hole in him to just come out and say, "I did tell them I was going to come back, but I decided that I didn't want to be there anymore and changed my mind."

Davis spoke his mind and explained his story. Dunleavy emotionally spoke his mind and explained the Clippers' story. Brand hasn't said a word besides almost blaming the Clippers for not bowing down far enough in reverence to him. They let their leading scorer go without a goodbye and signed the one free agent Brand had said he wanted, then offered him a more lucrative and longer deal than the team he went to did. How much more respect could they have shown?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Screw Elton Brand

This is the second time Elton Brand tried to leave the Clippers. The first time they matched the Heat's offer and and he was stuck with the contract that has just now expired. This time he said he wanted to stay if they went out and got help and they went out and got the best player available. So he bolts for more money anyway.

We all always thought Brand was somehow different. Classier. A team guy. Turns out he's just like the rest of him. Screw him.

People will blame this on the Clippers' management, which generally speaking deserves every bit of criticism it has ever received. But in the last six years, that old frugal perception is just not there. They have tried to spend the money on the right players. They have drafted well (mostly). They have made some great personnell moves (mostly). They upheld their end of the bargain here and Brand screwed them.

So they just lost 40 points from their starters with Corey Maggette leaving as well. Baron Davis is good, but he isn't that good and at this point, I wouldn't be shocked if he backs out of his verbal agreement like Brand did.

So much for following the NBA next season.

Brand New Era For The Clippers?

Tomorrow is the fateful day when we will find out if I will watch any NBA next season. With the Clippers being led by Corey Maggette and Dan Dickau last year, it was a little tough to handle, even with Chris Kaman and Al Thornton playing well. But last week there was this momentous day when it was revealed that the Clippers had come to terms with Baron Davis and Elton Brand had opted out of his contract so that he could sign back for less, allowing the Davis deal to happen.

It was huge news in Los Angeles. It wasn't the Lakers signing Ron Artest, but it was huge news. Both major sports talk stations did seemingly 24-hours of Baron Davis-talk. How good would the Clippers be? Clearly they'd be a playoff team, but what seed? 7? 6? 5? Might they even host a playoff series? One station even went so far as to recreate Ozzie Osbourne's "Mama, I'm Coming Home," inserting Baron Davis returning to L.A. as the theme - "Baron is coming hoooo-oooo-oooome..." They called it "Baron Davis Day" on ESPN radio.

We only had to wait till July 9 before teams could officially announce any deals and then it would be all sunshine and happiness until next June.

Then the next day the Warriors offered Elton Brand a max-contract. No. That couldn't happen right? Why leave LA (a dismal franchise with a suddenly bright immediate future) for Golden State (a dismal franchise)? Could the money be that worth it? Doesn't he love it here and have movie-industry aspirations? No, Elton was staying.

But little by little, as the week has worn on, more teams have come out and made huge offers to Brand. Could you turn down $100 million dollars? I mean are the Clippers really title contenders? It is not like Brand-Davis-Thornton are Garnett-Allen-Pierce, right? ESPN's Marc Stein wrote Monday night, "the Philadelphia 76ers are again 'actively involved' in the Brand hunt -- and now are a very serious threat to tempt him away from L.A." I can already see the headlines with "Elton" and "Philadelphia Freedom" references galore.

As I write this, there are about 8 hours until July 9th and I am not quite as confident about that 4-seed as I was last say nothing of the fact that even with Davis and Brand, we Clipper fans will be relying on the near miraculous recoveries of about half of the team, bolstered by the signing of a guy who makes Grant Hill look like Cal Ripken Jr., on a franchise that has seen devastating injuries to perhaps its two greatest new additions, Danny Manning and Ron Harper.

Laker fans are mad because the team came up 39 points short of Game 7 of the NBA Finals. The Clippers were about 39 games short of Game 7 of the NBA finals! So the good news is that whatever happens tomorrow, rooting for the Clippers is nice because it doesn't hurt all that much when they lose and if they finish a season .500 it feels like they won the Finals, Super Bowl, and World Series!

Monday, July 7, 2008

The King Is Dead!

John McEnroe called Sunday's Wimbledon Gentlemen's Championship match the greatest match he'd ever seen, and I suppose I would have to agree considering McEnroe has probably seen a few more matches than me. This got me thinking about the remarkably high number of spectacular championship games and stories we have seen in 2008. How often is the NCAA Tourney Final or the Super Bowl or the NBA Finals a sleeper? This year we have experienced riveting moment after riveting moment and while I think it is just a perfect storm of sport, I'd like to think it was a trend. Consider:

Super Bowl XLII: Giants 17-Patriots 14
The highest rated sporting event in American television history featured one of the greatest upsets in pro sports history, as the Giants muffled the best offense in NFL history throughout the game and drove the length of the field to score in the final seconds after the Patriots had just completed their own would-be game-winning drive. The Giants vanquished the widely perceived bad guys and stopped their run at a perfect 19-0 season as Eli Manning matched his older brother as Super Bowl MVP.

Men's NCAA Tournament Championship Game: Kansas 75-Memphis 68
A rare match-up of two #1 seeds and two preseason favorites wound up being a rare dream Final for the fans. Memphis used the second half's first minute-and-a-half to erase Kansas' 5-point halftime lead (the largest lead of the game to that point). The powerhouses then traded blows for the next 10 minutes before Memphis began to pull away. The lead stretched to 9 with 2:12 to go. Kansas immediately began fouling Memphis, a much maligned free-throw shooting team, and put on a furious charge to close the gap. Memphis missed four of its last five free throws and Mario Chalmers nailed a three-pointer with 2.1 second to go to send it to overtime. Kansas jumped out to a six-point lead in the overtime and Memphis was unable to make it up.

Stanley Cup Finals: Red Wings 4-Penguins 2
In the first ever postseason meeting between two of the most storied franchises in sports, let alone hockey, the Detroit Red Wings looked like they might cruise to an easy Stanley Cup win after blowout wins in the first two games. In Game 3, back in Pittsburgh, the Penguins were again out-shot by more than 10, but superstar Sidney Crosby made the best of two of his shots to keep the Pens in the series. In Game 4, The Red Wings killed off a 5-3 advantage for a minute-and-a-half midway through the third period to preserve a 1-1 tie and then scored the game winner with 2:26 to go to take a 3-1 series lead. Facing elimination on the road in Game 5, Pittsburgh pulled their goalie and Maxime Talbot scored an overtime forcing goal with 34 seconds left in regulation. The fifth-longest game in Stanley Cup Finals history was won by Penguin Petr Sykora in the third overtime after he had predicted to a sideline reporter earlier in the overtime that he would win it. Detroit won the Cup in Game 6 on a shot that was stopped by Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury knew he did not have clean possession of the puck so he fell to the ice, hoping to trap it underneath him. In doing so, he knocked it into the goal. The Penguins had a last second shot stopped spectacularly by Chris Osgood and the Wings took the Cup.

NBA Finals: Celtics 4-Lakers 2
The NBA Finals pitted the league's greatest historical rivals, and each Conference's best regular season team against one another. Game 1 was a good, but unmemorable game until Boston star Paul Pierce fell awkwardly and was carted off of the court in a wheelchair. Pierce later returned to the game and sparked a Celtic win only moments after it appeared their series was doomed. In a game of streaks, the Lakers led Game 2 early on, but the Celtics put together a run to lead at halftime by 10. The lead stretched to 24 with under eight minutes to go before a furious charge by the Lakers to cut the lead to 2 with 28 seconds remaining and the Lakers had the ball. The Celtics denied the ball from Kobe Bryant, blocked Sasha Vujacic's shot and held on to win and take a 2-0 lead. The Lakers held serve in game three, winning on the backs of Bryant and Vujacic (56 points combined) as Pierce and Kevin Garnett struggled mightily for Boston. In Game 4, the Lakers surged out to a 35-14 first quarter lead and led by as many as 24 before Boston threw together a 21-3 third quarter run and eventually took the lead for good with just over four minutes remaining. It was the largest comeback victory in the NBA Finals in 37 years and the Celtics now led 3-1. Game 5 saw the same pattern repeats itself as the Lakers jumped out to a 43-24 lead, but then the Celtics reversed course and took the lead with a 38-17 run. The Lakers again jumped out to a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter before Boston put together a 16-2 run to tie it again. The Lakers held on to win at home and send the series back to Boston for Game 6 (3-2 Celtics). The Celtics led Game 6 24-20 at the end of the first quarter, but their coronation began in the second quarter as they outscored the Lakers 107-72 in the last three quarters. This was the largest Finals-clinching win in NBA history (131-92).

U.S. Open: Woods -1, Mediate E
Tiger Woods won his fourth U.S. Open and 14th major despite playing on a bad knee that would eventually be revealed as a torn ACL, forcing him to miss the rest of the 2008 season. Rocco Mediate outplayed Woods on Sunday and made up a two-shot deficit to tie the champ at -1 through 72 holes. In the 18-hole playoff, Woods played his typical steady game, opening up a three-shot lead through 10 holes, largely due to the seventh hole, which Woods birdied and Mediate bogeyed. Mediate scored three consecutive birdies on the back nine, and Woods slipped before birdying 18 to force a sudden-death playoff that would begin on the fateful seventh hole. Mediate bogeyed again and Woods' par earned him the Championship.

College World Series: Fresno State 2-Georgia 1
The Fresno State Bulldogs became the lowest ranked champion in NCAA all-sports history when they won the final two games the College World Series over Georgia to win the title. In the tournament, the Bulldogs won 9 games against teams ranked in the top 10, with six of those wins coming when they faced elimination.

Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest: Chestnut 59-Kobayashi 59
Longtime rivals Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi met at the Super Bowl of competitive eating on Coney Island and the titans of this "sport" took their battle down to the wire with Chestnut finishing a dog in the final seconds to tie it up. They went to the first "Dog Off" in 28 years, in which the first to finish five hot dogs wins and the American did his nation proud with an epic win on Independence Day.

Wimbledon: Nadal def. Federer 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7
With a win, Roger Federer would tie the all-time record of six consecutive Wimbledon Championships, and 65 consecutive grass court victories. Nadal would become the first man since Bjorn Borg 28 years earlier to win the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back. The pair had met in the last two Wimbledon Finals as well. Nadal won the first set and came back from a 1-4 deficit to win the second. Neither player faced a break point in the third set, as Federer won it 7-6 (7-5) in a tie-breaker. The fourth set also saw no breaks of serve and went to a tie breaker. Nadal jumped out to a lead and was serving for the Championship at 5-2. Federer won both points on Nadal's serve and later held off two Championship points to win the fourth 7-6 (10-8). Neither of these two top-seeded men had been able to earn a service break in over three sets before the match went to the tennis equivalent of overtime. With no fifth set tiebreakers at Wimbledon, the match was level at 6-6, then 7-7 and Nadal finally won a service break at 7-7 in the fifth set and then held serve at 8-7 to win his first Wimbledon Championship in the longest match in Wimbledon history in both time elapsed and games played.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Welcome To The Bizarro Sports World

So let me get this straight: a future Hall of Fame player just opted out of his free agent contract with the Los Angeles Clippers? Yep, that sounds about right. Until I read the next sentence in an article on Elton Brand this morning, which said that he had opted out so that he could sign back with the Clippers for less money, freeing up cash for the team to go out and sign Baron Davis. And then this afternoon Baron Davis agreed to a five-year deal with the Clippers.

And the Tampa Bay Rays are fending off the Boston Red Sox and New York's Other Team for the AL East title. And Venus Williams is cruising through Wimbledon, handling herself with class, sportsmanship and grace. And the Baseball Hall of Fame has turned down the loan of the ball that was hit to break the most popular record in all of sports.

I think that by working on a Wimbledon live TV show and being away in the middle of the night and sleeping all day, I have somehow turned the sports world around backwards. The next thing you know, John Rocker will win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Assuming that this Baron Davis-to-the-Clipper deal happens (he can't sign until July 9), the Clips will be thrust into the big-time like they may never have been in franchise history. They have signed big players before, and granted Davis is a bit past his prime, but he is a superstar, he is from L.A. and he is still very good. As for the starting five (eventually) next year: Davis, Brand, Al Thornton, Eric Gordon and Chris Kaman. Then the bench has Shawn Livingston, Cuttino Mobley, Tim Thomas and DeAndre Jordan. OK, so Thomas is like walking sleep medication; that is a very good team. They are not the favorite or anything crazy because this is still the West, but they are an instant playoff lock (and this is the West!). Note: the painful Corey Maggette era is coming to a end with this signing. He has been a longtime Clipper and played through some terrible times and is a great player, but I am glad to see him go.

The Williams sisters have cruised through Wimbledon so far. They and Roger Federer are the only three people not to have lost a set thus far. While Serena has been her typical self, screeching, gigantic and overpowering, with no personality whatsoever, Venus actually seems to have blossomed into a watch-able, like-able player. I have watched her play in each of her matches, and two doubles matches, and Venus seems to have finally gotten over being that bratty, petulant brat that she has been for all these years. Granted, she is winning perhaps Ms. Hyde just hasn't shown her face yet.

She has an on-paper-tough match on Thursday against Elena Dementieva, the highest remaining seed (5). However, Venus is a terrible matchup for Dementieva because of the Russian's embarrassing bad serve. Venus will stand three steps inside the baseline and hammer returns into the open court all day. Unless Dementieva can answer and break Venus' serve three out of every four times as well, this is another 2-set cruise for Venus. Serena should roll over Zheng as well, but so should everyone else have. However, during Zheng's improbable Semifinal run, she hasn't yet played anyone who is as good as Serena and who is also played well. Ana Ivanovich is better than Serena, but she had played badly at Wimbledon. Serena is crushing the ball. Straight sets. All American final (and I may have someone to root for this time!).

Finally, the MLB Players' Union has filed a grievance saying that Shawn Chacon, formerly of the Astros, was "wrongfully terminated" by the team last week. I am not a lawyer, and I doubt it was actually written in black and white on his contract, but I am pretty sure that when an employee grabs his boss by the neck, throws him to the ground and jumps on top of him, the boss has the legal right to give the employee the boot. It is not as though he was being taunted or personally insulted; he was told he was being sent to the bullpen and Chacon blew up and went Milton Bradley on him! Chacon might be a good guy and this might be the fight time he's ever done anything like this (I don't know), but doing this gets you fired and likely blackballed (unless you are good enough that people will risk it like with Spreewell, which is a whole other issue that saddens and embarrasses me about sports).