Wednesday, October 29, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Patti LaBelle Clangs Out The Anthem

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 23, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

World Series Sleeper Or Another 2008 Classic?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Once A Linebacker...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Somewhat Bitter Potpourri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Mind-Blowing Underperformers Of The Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-Donut stat is approximate.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I Still Hate Baseball, But Football Is Making Me Happy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giants 27-Browns 13

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

No More Divisional Series - No More Frank TV Ads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 6, 2008

Most Overrated: Cubs, Torre Or Francona?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Baseball Playoff Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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