Thursday, August 28, 2008

The World's Commissioner Of Sports, Vol. II: Olympic Games

With the XXIX'th Olympic Games now only a Phelps-infused memory, I thought that now is a good time to examine the Olympics and find XXIX ways that they could be improved. In a sense, these are XXIX ways to make it to London's door, for those of you who know Marc Cohn's music.

I - Never go back to Beijing. The Games were hosted by a country that fundamentally rejects almost everything that the Olympics stand for: fair-play, equality, brotherhood, peace, human rights and human dignity, and freedom. That said, the facilities themselves were top-notch, the Games went smoothly and although it was quite hot and quite smoggy, neither affected the events drastically.

II and III- Keep baseball and softball. I wrote this last week, but it is crazy that arguably the world's second favorite sport (and it's twin sister) is not an Olympic sport. I understand that the best athletes are not there, and I understand that the U.S. women absolutely dominate, but are we really going to dis-include a sport because only amateurs play, or because one country is really good (and our women lost anyway)?

IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, and XI- Realistic sports that should be added: The rule is that a men's Olympic sport must be played in 75 countries on four continents, and a women's must be played in 40 countries on three continents.

So how the hell is golf not in the Olympics? Four players per country, four rounds of best ball where each player must have at least 10 shots used per round.

Lacrosse, ultimate (a.k.a ultimate frisbee) and dodgeball are more fringe sports, but are certainly more watchable and have to be more widely played than rhythmic gymnastics, equestrian, taekwondo, judo, ping pong, sailing, and weightlifting, all of which are medal-sports in the Olympics! Hell, these three are more watchable than soccer too. Ultimate may be the, ahem, ultimate Olympic sport: physically demanding, heavy reliance on skill, strategy and finesse, team game, no officials - players call their own penalties (like golf), and there is even a behavioral/ethics code built into the rules of the game (Spirit of the Game)!

I am on the fence with bowling, but who in the world has never played? Its status as a sport may be questionable (vs. a hobby), but so could all of the unwatchable ones I named above, as well as gymnastics, diving, and boxing.

While I personally couldn't care less about cricket, it is among the world's top 5-10 favorite sports and should be included. India and Pakistan deserve an event to crush everyone in.

Tell me that you honestly think that Capture-the-Flag would not be the greatest thing ever. Who hasn't played this? It is war without the shooting! Every child in every nation has played some variation of this sport.

XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII and XVIII- Less realistic additions:
Centathlon, as derived by The Office's Dwight in those NBC commercials. A 100-event sport including, "broad jump, side jump, front jump, back jump, animal mimicry, wall-climbing, cup-stacking, coal-digging, hide-the-hamster, boat-repair, projectile spitting, Q-tipping...nasal projection, fugitive-track, rabbit hunt, pain tolerance, die-casting, knuckle-chuck, Turkish luge, pizza-making, Battleship, bow-hunting, boating, taekwondo, cabinet-making, flapping, hair-cutting, murderball, murder-checkers..."

Calvinball, as invented by Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes. The only rule is that it can never be played the same way twice, but competitors may make new regulations on the fly (out-loud or in their own heads). There is no points system and while singing and flag-capturing are generally important, they don't come into play every time.

Guitar Hero and Marco Polo are two fine competitions that could easily catch-on in the Olympics, though Guitar Hero is admittedly not a very good spectator sport.

There needs to be more alcohol in the Olympics and in the pantheon of drinking games, the only reasonable choices are Beer Pong and Flippy up. I would favor Flippy Cup, but really either would be spectacular.

In the movie Top Secret!, there was a game called Skeet Surfing that honors the time honored Olympic tradition of combining other sports with gun play (modern pentathlon, winter biathlon). The game is somewhat self-explanatory and while I am generally not a fan of judged events, this one makes the grade for me (you lose points for shooting spectators, which is sportsmanlike).

XIX- The Russians have to wear red uniforms with "CCCP" on them. This year they did a good job of being "The Russians" by invading another country for no apparent reason during the Olympics, but in general they are not a fearsome opponent and having them wear red-white-and-blue is really upsetting for me. I wanna be scared of them like I was as a kid.

XX- All U.S. athletes must wear red-white-and-blue. What the hell was with our gymnasts?

XXI- Events decided by judges do not count for medals. NBC can keep the gymnastics on the air for their ratings, but it shouldn't count because it, diving and boxing are and always will be fixed (this counts for figure skating and ice dancing as well).

XXII- The modern pentathlon (swimming, target shooting, equestrian, running and fencing) should be renamed the "Turn-of-the-Century pentathlon," but should remain in the games. I like these multiples-events.

XXIII- The "modern pentathlon" will not consist of running, swimming, cycling, home run hitting, and slam dunk.

XXIV- Andrea Kramer may not interview anyone who doesn't win so she doesn't make people cry anymore.

XXV- The Olympics must be held within 10 time zones of me, wherever I may live.

XXVI- Each country should get three entrants in each even in swimming. If they can do in it Track and Field, they can do it in swimming.

XXVII and XXVIII- NBC's Coverage can improve. More sports coverage, less personal interest stories. Since NBC uses six or seven networks to air the games, there should be a "Personal Interest" channel, so they can run that stuff 24/7. Also, all announcers must be former athletes in that sport. Find someone who can talk and knows something, not one who can talk and one who knows something.

XXIX- Enough with the Roman numerals. The Olympics were Greek. I know they make it seem important, and make those of us who can read them feel smart, but seriously...let it go (I am looking at you too, Super Bowl).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The World's Commissioner Of Sports, Vol. I

In March while I was still writing for, my final post was called, "The World's Commissioner of Sports." With my "How to Improve the Olympics" edition coming this week, I thought now is a good time to revisit this. The following is that post with a few changes.

"Today is my last day writing for CBS, so I thought I would give a list of some of the many things I would do if I were named World Commissioner of Sport.

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

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pulled Muscles, Choking Filling Beijing Hospitals With Sprinters

Now that the Olympics are over, it is a good time to take a look back at what we've experienced.

Alright, so technically the Games still have five more days left, and technically I will still watch a lot of it because as soon as someone puts "U.S.A." on their shirt, I will watch them compete in almost any event, but for all intents and purposes, the Olympics are indeed over.

The swimming, water polo, handball, cayaking, road cycling and volleyball are done, as are the 200, 400 and 1500 in track, and the U.S. men's and women's 4x100 teams dropped the batons are out after the first round (oops, did I spoil tonight's NBC "Live" coverage?). Although, the best event in the Olympics - the men's 4X400 relay - is yet to come, I have grown so sick of our primadonna sprinters, and of sprinting in general, and I don't know if I really care anymore.

I coached a high school track team for four years and I wound up coaching different sets of athletes nearly every year: 800/1600/3200 kids, long/triple jumpers, 100/200/400 kids. Now, these were just high school kids, none of them particularly good (besides a 4:19 miler), but without a doubt the worst attitudes, worst work ethics, and worst teammates were the sprinters. They were always hurt, they were always complaining it was too hard, and they were always strutting around like they were any good.

I walk a fine line here, because my mom is a world-class Masters sprinter, but in general (Olympians are no exception of course), sprinters are the worst athletes to deal with! How many Olympian sprinters got hurt? How many Olympians in all other sports combined got hurt (including the weightlifter who dropped the bar on his own head)? In 2004, an Olympic marathoner got tackled by some lunatic after having run 25 miles. He got up and finished the race, swerving down the home stretch with his arms out like a little kid pretending to be an airplane. And how many sprinters blew out a muscle within five steps of the blocks? These people can't hand a stick to one another, they can't stay in their lanes, they can't stretch properly. How do they feed themselves?

I admit that there are some interesting finals still to come: basketball, soccer, etc., but really if I miss those, it is no big deal. I tried to watch the U.S. softball team play but they aren't all that exciting. They have allowed two runs in the whole tournament, while scoring about 60. The gold medal game is against a team they've drubbed twice already. Ho hum. And besides that, the screaching, squealing cheers from the benches makes softball basically unwatchable anyway! As long as Jenny Finch is pitching, I can just mute it though.

Speaking of softball, I just want to point out that the IOC has decided that baseball and softball are not viable Olympic sports and have taken them out of the line-up for 2012 in London. So let me get this straight: baseball (perhaps the world's second most favorite sport) is not a valid Olympic sport, but ping pong, synchronized diving, badminton and weightlifting are? Weight lifting isn't a sport, it is training for all the other sports! Why don't they have competitive stretching, hydrating, or ankle-taping - the Pregame Triathlon.

Next week, as the World's Commissioner of Sport, I will spell out how I would improve the Olympics. Post comments or email with your ideas.

Finally, the special Olympic gold medal that is awarded for sportsmanship should go to one of two people. This first is American hurdler Lolo Jones, who was the favorite in the 100 and clipped the last hurdle, dropping her from Gold to seventh in the last 10 steps of the race. Afterwards, during an interview in which she said, "I was shocked. My mind was numb. I worked so hard for this, and it disappeared in less than a second. All I could think of was just getting back on my two feet and standing strong...It's the hurdles - if you can't get over all ten, you can't be the champion," she stopped mid-sentence to congratulate Australian Sally McLellan, who won the silver. I can't wait to see her crush everyone in London.

But my pick for the person who best exemplified the Olympic spirit is Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The guy invaded another country, just like back in the good 'ole days, right when the Olympics started. Many people say that interest in the Games has waned since the Cold War ended because there are no clear villains to root against. Well, Medvedev did his part to bring back a little of that Miracle On Ice fervor, and I salute his effort!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Jeff Kent's Career Recovering After The Former Slugger Again Tries To Kill It

Over the weekend, Los Angeles Dodger, and likely Hall of Famer, Jeff Kent's career was tragically crushed and suffocated under the considerable weight of his enormous ego. It is now heavily sedated but likely sustained fatal injuries in the apparent career-suicide attempt.

The health of Kent's career had been suffering over the last few seasons, and signs had recently pointed to a possible remission in his cancerous personality, but alas his recent success behind the plate appears now only to have been the death rattle. The end of Kent's career may finally have come Sunday when he harshly criticized venerable Dodgers announcer Vin Scully for saying that Kent's hot hitting (.410 average) over the past 16 games was the result of hitting in front of Manny Ramirez instead of James Loney. Kent, a free agent at the end of the season, insisted that he had always been a great hitter and that Ramirez' .424 average with the Dodgers is the result of hitting behind Kent.

While Kent's career has not officially been ruled dead by league officials, there is no question that his services as a former-power hitter, with little defensive range and world-famous clubhouse cancer and poor off-the-field decision-maker, will no longer be needed by the Dodgers following his vitriolic verbal assault upon easily the most well respected and possibly most beloved voice in Sports over the past 50 years.

Always humble and eloquent, Scully had no response to Kent's claim that, "Vin Scully talks too much," but one must assume that he is confused by Kent's bizarre apparent insult seeing as Scully's job is to talk. One can assume that Kent meant that Scully "talks too much trash," but one cannot imagine what the hell Kent would be talking about in that case.

There was also no word from Kent's people (he must have people because he makes a lot of money) on whether he is aware that he was hitting .255 at the time of Ramirez' arrival in Los Angeles, and had nearly doubled that average in the games since (now .279 on the season).

Since it is a near certainty that Kent will not be back in Los Angeles now, and since a vast majority of General Managers do not have Manny Ramirez or Barry Bonds on their teams, he will enter the off-season pedaling a .255 pre-Manny contract year batting average. He is also on pace for 14 home runs and 71 RBI. While those numbers are decent for Kaz Matsui, Kent will likely not be willing to play for Kaz Matsui-money, thus dealing what might become the final blow to his career.

Kent will go down as that rarest of star athletes: a Hall of Famer with the fans of no team he ever played for having thought kindly of him, nor missing him when he left, only ever being truly loved by the general public for being slightly less of a bastard than then-teammate and sparring partner, Bonds.

Jeff Kent, the 2000 National League MVP and 2005 Sliver Slugger, will likely finish with over 2500 hits, close to 400 home runs, a batting average just shy of .300, and one fantastic motorcycle accident when his career finally, officially dies.

I'm Back...What Did I Miss?

So it has been nearly a month since I last added any new posts to this site but that is just because not much has really been happening in the sports world, plus that photo of the guy getting hit with a soccer ball was too spectacular to replace as the top story photo. Here's a quick, cursory glance at the insignificant stories and events that have taken place since my last post:

The Summer Olympics
I suppose that the fact that NBC is airing 216 hours of coverage per day (I did not make that up, that is their official number) means the Olympics are kindof a big deal. A few months ago, I wrote that the best Olympic rivalry is the U.S. and Australia in swimming. After Michael Phelps (ever heard of him?) tied the Aussies with eight gold medals through the end of the swim meet, I think the rivalry may be no more. Ian Thorpe looked more and more pissed every time they showed him on T.V. as the meet went along. It was wonderful.

Team Handball has once again become my favorite Olympic sport that no one knows about. In the Winter Olympics, it is usually the biathlon because the fact that they race around while armed, having the full capability to shoot their competitors gives me a great thrill. There should be an open-water swimming obstacle course in which the athletes are armed with harpoon guns. That's how to make the most out of those underwater cameras. Tell me you wouldn't watch.

Chris Kaman has taken a lot of flak for playing for the German National Basketball Team in the Olympics from seemingly everyone in the United States, including the Clippers and his own father. But at least Kaman is of German descent. Becky Hammon is playing for Russia because she was a free agent!

Because there is no women's professional basketball league anymore, you may not know about her, but the 2007 WBNA MVP was not selected to the U.S. National Team. (Wait, 2007? Oh, I guess the WNBA does still exist. Oops.) Hammon, who has been about as big a star as anyone not named Lisa Leslie, wasn't chosen to be among those trying out for the U.S. team. She plays for the WNBA's San Antonio Feminine Sounding Mascots, but in the off-season played for a Russian team coached by their National Team coach who offered her a chance to play with them for cash.

Hammon defends herself saying that athletes have competed for other countries than their native homelands quite commonly and that naturalization is a common practice. I agree. The U.S. track team's best milers are from Sudan and Kenya and I root for them. The problem I have with Hammon's situation is that it was purely a financial thing. She doesn't live there. She doesn't even really speak Russian. She has no connection to Russia. She wasn't oppressed or forced from her war-torn homeland. She just wasn't good enough to make it here anymore. Basically, she was an aging free agent and signed a deal to play for a club, and that is what is sad about the Olympics now.

I get that the games need to feature pros now because there is too much money at stake for countries to send people they know are not their countries' best. Advertisers would never pay for a college all-star basketball team. The ironic thing is that sports like baseball and tennis are in danger of disappearing from the Games for good (baseball is already out for 2012) because the best athletes...that is, the pros...don't see the value in playing and often sit out in favor of prepping for their professional leagues (baseball playoffs and U.S. Open). So because they may only get amateurs to play in the future, they will be dumped from the Olympics.

In other Olympic news, the U.S. soccer team stunk so badly, and interest has dipped so deeply, that they weren't even on T.V. Well they were on T.V. because again, there is 216 hours of coverage per day, but they were relegated to the midday time-slots on Oxygen or something. Where have you gone Cobi Jones?

Did you know that little girl who sang the song near the end of the Opening Ceremony (I don't really know what I am talking about because I didn't watch it) was lip-syncing? Government censors stepped in minutes before the Ceremony and forced the 'ole switcheroo because the girl actually singing wasn't cute enough and they didn't want an image of Chinese people possibly being ugly beamed out to billions of people around the world. I have seen some of their athletes and I can say that that ship has sailed.

The New York Bretts
The embarrassing Brett Favre mess finally ended with an abrupt and surprising trade to the Jets. That along with a Mets win that day made for the best day in months for my brother Steve. And he got married a week ago! Favre was traded for a conditional draft pick which means that the more he plays, and the better the Jets do, the higher the pick that the Packers get becomes. The thing is, the Jets still would only have to give up one first round pick next year if they make the Super Bowl. Correct me if I am wrong, but I don't think there is a single sports fan or front-office person for any sport on earth who would not give their next 3-5 first round draft picks for a trip to their league's championship (besides people in Boston who have completely forgotten what being a real fan is like).

Manny Goes To Hollywood
The Dodgers traded nothing for the best hitter in baseball, thus making their need to sign Barry Bonds disappear. Manny has been spectacular since joining the Dodgers, hitting .424 with 6 homers and 21 RBI in 16 games. He has done everything right, including saying he wanted to finish his career in L.A., invigorating a completely stagnant offense, and saying he'd even gladly cut his hair as per team rules (still waiting on that one). And best of all, they have pulled into a tie for the Division lead with the D-Backs. Of course, they were only one game back when he was traded. So after two weeks of everything going their way, they have gained a game in the standings and have only been playing four-games over .500. They'll miss the playoffs and he'll sign with the Yankees for five-years and $100-million.

Late-Season Baseball Packages
For the last few years, I have waited for the last month of the baseball season or so, and then signed up for the package where I get to watch all the Mets games live online (besides the 4-5 games per week that are blocked out because the whole system is corrupt). I wait on this because the entire season is far too expensive at the start and typically I would not have been able to watch 100+ games, thus making it worth it. But they prorate the package and you can get the last month for $15-$20 (right now it is $30 for the premium package, $20 for the basic with 1/4ish of the season to go).

Before signing up, I decided to try the cable company to see what their prorated price is for the same package on TV instead of the internet because I'd rather sit on the couch than in this chair. They don't prorate it after midseason! That's right, for the low-low price of $130, you too can watch the last 38 games for the same price as if there were 81 games left. What a deal! And Major League Baseball wonders why they're losing fans? I can't afford to go to a game or watch it on T.V. anymore. And the games I get for free are mostly on Fox, which means they take twice as long as they're supposed to and I have to deal with fancy space-themed sound effects and graphics every time Tim McCarver misreads a stat sheet.