Friday, May 29, 2009

Dodger Stadium Vs. Citi Field

Ending on Tuesday, I watched the Mets play 5 games live over a span of 8 days, and being that I live in Los Angeles, that is clearly the most games I have ever seen in such a short span. The first three games were last week at Dodger Stadium, and the last two were this week at Citi Field. Much is made about the differences between one set of fans and another, one city and another in sports, and going to all these games provided me with an interesting perspective.

Essentially what I learned is that many Dodger fans are the uneducated (in sports terms, not necessarily in scholastic terms), obnoxious thugs that I had thought they were, but also that the "I have the right to ruin anyone's night"-mindset that many of those Dodger fans carry with them does seem to be native to Chavez Ravine.

A comparison between the two ballpark experiences:

Dodger fans were able to start "the wave" with ease at all three games, usually making upwards of 10 trips around the stadium, only ending when an inning ended. Mets fans got a "wave" going one night, it made about one-and-a-half trips and fizzled out. My section tried for three innings to start a wave in the second game and it never got more than two or three sections away. Perhaps Mets fans are there to watch a ballgame?

At least 30 beach balls were passed through the stands at Dodger Stadium during the course of each game. There was not a single one at Citi Field in two games.

Generally fans around me seemed more knowledgeable about the intricacies of the game at Citi Field than at Dodger Stadium (less booing when a pitcher holds a runner on, more overheard talk about pinch-hitting and relief pitching strategy, instant recognition of plays (double play balls hit, whether a ball will be caught, etc.).

Attendance at Dodger Stadium: 37,136, 37,857, 50,761 (bobblehead night).
Attendance at Citi Field: 41,103, 39,376 (50 degrees and raining).
Remember that these figures are the tickets sold, not the fans attending. I would guess that that actual crowds at Dodger Stadium in each game were far lower, while those at Citi Field were about accurate. I even saw two men walking out of Dodger Stadium's parking lot 30 minutes before a game after having picked up their bobbleheads and leaving!

Dodger crowds arrived late and left early, starting in the seventh inning (despite that all three games were decided by a total of five runs). The photo above is of Citi Field approximately two hours before game-time on Monday. Mets crowds arrived very early, and generally did not leave early (despite that the two games were decided by a total of eight runs).

Concessions and restrooms at Dodger Stadium do not compare to those at Citi Field, but this is an unfair comparison given that the stadiums are over 50 years apart in age. What is interesting is that the $6.50 Nathan's foot long hot dog is far better and far bigger than the similarly priced super Dodgerdog. This may seem like a trivial point, but it is certainly not: one of the nights at Dodger Stadium, I sat in a suite and even in this high-priced section, the dog I got came out of a pool of hot water, not off of a grill. Sitting in the right field-upper deck at Citi Field, my hot dog was grilled. All of the Nathan's dogs are grilled, while Dodgerdogs are steamed at nearly every concession stand. Besides the number of choices being better in New York, the prices were about the same...astronomical.

Dodger fans pour out constant abuse at fans of other teams from the moment they step out of their cars in the parking lot to the moment they get back into the car after the game. While the rivalry is better between the Mets and Dodgers, and there were more Mets fans as targets in L.A., I did not see or hear a single National fan get heckled or abused during either game. And there were Nationals fans in crowd with jerseys, hats, etc. Not once. I sat in $100+ seats for all three Dodger games - constant abuse towards Mets fans. I sat in good seats one night and upper deck-out field seats the next - no abuse towards Nats fans.

The view of the mountains at Dodger Stadium is no comparison with the view of the salvage yard beyond Citi Field. But the sight lines inside the newer stadium are fantastic, the seats are wider, and actually all face the infield. Whereas if you sit down the baselines at Dodger Stadium, particularly in the new seats that were added in the last five years, your seats probably face the outfield and you have to look around the person next to you (not in front of you) to see a pitch.

Generally speaking, I did not feel like I needed to watch my wallet at Citi Field (till I got back on the subway, of course) but at Dodger Stadium, the crowd is definitely more full of a "bad element." I have found that security and ushers at both stadiums are very nice. In L.A. they show the "fan abuse" hot-line number constantly throughout the game. I was not aware of such a number in New York, but I didn't notice anyone needing such a number. Mets security, ushers, and vendors wore red, green, and fluorescent yellow shirts respectively, making them very easy to spot. Dodger workers generally wear Dodger colors.

Citi Field had far more team stores, each with a different theme (the everything store, the women's boutique, the vintage-style store, etc.). But this is also a function of it being a brand new stadium.

Citi Field is far more family friendly (advantage of being new). There is an arcade, batting cages, a miniature scale-version of the field to play on, a kids area DJ, a "spirit team" shooting t-shirts into the crowd, and a mascot. Dodger Stadium doesn't.

The Dodgers' jumbotron and scoreboard pale in comparison to their brand new counterparts in New York, but the other scoreboards and stat-boards around the stadium are comparable. In fact the Dodger Stadium out-of-town scoreboards are easier to read than those at Citi Field.

Citi Field features picnic benches, standing bar tables and plenty of standing room all in view of the field for people eating. It is also much easier to navigate - the concourses are much wider. There are no trough-style toilets in the mens' rooms and there are bathrooms everywhere. It has more interesting playing-field features (varying heights of the wall, seats overhanging the field, corners and funny angles of the of wall).

Dodger Stadium has terrible sound quality. There are no speakers around the stadium, only those gigantic, booming ones in center field. So if you sit near them, you can only hear bass and if you sit far away, the sound echoes and is delayed from the picture on the jumbotron. Citi Field has speakers spread around the stadium so the music, organ, anthem, and P.A. announcer are far easier to hear clearly.

Dodger Stadium's cheapest seats are still better than at most stadiums, but they are further from the field than at Citi Field, which is more upright, smaller, and upper decks overlap lower decks more. Dodger Stadium's capacity is larger by more than 12,000.

Parking at Citi Field is actually more expensive than at Dodger Stadium ($18 and $15). However the reason is that Citi Field does not have space for a full crowd to park there and the Mets encourage fans to take mass transit. In fact, the first section of the Mets website's parking page is all about how easy it is to take the subway from New York City, and take trains from Long Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, etc. There is a subway stop in the parking lot. The Dodgers have made public transportation to Dodger games nearly impossible and while they created a shuttle to Union Station last year, it apparently was a disaster and seemingly has been discontinued. There is no information on the Dodgers website about it and a google search only yielded broken official team site links and angry fan-blog entries. Citi Field parking lots open four hours before games and I saw nearly no trash in the lots (we spent a lot of time there looking for the Shea Stadium infield plaques). Dodger Stadium lots open two hours before games and are covered with trash and broken bottles.

I accept that I could not be any more biased than I am about this particular issue, but these five games only confirmed for me what a terrible experience it is to go to a ballgame at Dodger Stadium.

In unrelated news, the spellcheck for this site suggested "Cambodian" when it did not recognize "jumbotron." They do both end win an n.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dodging Dodger Stadium

Let me preface this post by saying that I am completely aware of these two things: this may somewhat seem like sour grapes, and many of these problems are likely the same at nearly every ballpark.

Last night marked the eighth straight year that I went to each Mets game of the season in Los Angeles and the streak will officially stop there; I have finally decided that I have had enough. Had they won one or two or three of the games, had Jerry Manuel not suddenly turn into the worst manager in baseball this week, my general mood might be better, but it wouldn't really affect the quality of the ballgame experience at Dodger Stadium.

For the first two games, we had very nice seats (right behind home plate in the second deck) but seemed both times to be stuck two rows in front of the one guy in the building that wouldn't shut up, got increasingly ruder, and had little or no clue what was actually happening. The odds of us actually finding the one guy there that night who was "that guy" are pretty slim, so it is safe to assume that "that guy" is basically in every section.

And they were nice seats...$100 face value, so while we did not have to deal with the brunt of the thug-element that has ruined Dodger Stadium, we still weren't completely shielded from it. And regardless of where you sit, you still have to walk to your car. I don't expect people to sit quietly and occasionally let off a dignified round of applause. But I expect to be left alone to enjoy the game. I expect to not have food, drinks, profanity and threats thrown at me. And I expect to not have to worry about my safety on the way out.

Wednesday night, I was insulated from these bad fans because I was lucky enough to sit in a suite. I heard a few playful taunts on the way into the stadium (I had a Mets jersey on) but nothing threatening or particularly annoying. Then I didn't hear a word from anyone all game long. It was really pleasant to go to a ball game, sit with a bunch of strangers rooting for the other team, and not feel like I should be worried about getting hit if the Mets scored. But the good feelings soured when I got to my car afterwards. Of the 20-or-so cars in the row I was parked in, 5 had been broken into during the game, including the one in front of mine, and the one behind it. Thankfully mine was spared.

"But aren't there a-holes at every stadium?" Of course there are. And while I have not been to every stadium, and have not sat in all areas of the ones I have been to, I have been to Safeco, San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, The Big A, San Diego (Petco and the Murph), Arizona, Busch, Wrigley, Fenway, Camden, and Shea and perhaps only at Fenway were fans this obnoxious and abusive. People in Anaheim are just as obsessed with their team as Dodger fans are, but it is different there. The fans in San Diego are the same ones at Charger games acting like thug-Raider fans, but still the Padre games are fun.

Whether it is having food thrown at me, a soda hitting me in the head, constant swearing, taunts and threats, or just continuous annoying yelling pointed at me because I have the wrong jersey on, there seems to be some problem every game. I have even had my wife threatened by a guy in the parking lot because she had a Mets jersey on. Would all of this likely happen at other parks? Sure. Should I have to put up with it? Certainly not. And I get that the guy in the Mets jersey who stands up and turns around and yells at the Dodger crowd when the Mets score deserves a little abuse. He is asking for it. But I am not that guy.

When I got home from the game I had decided that I would never go to Mets game at Dodger Stadium again unless I was in a suite. Spoiled? Sure, but it is just the only place an opposing fan can feel safe. As for my car, I certainly can't take public transportation since the Dodgers' owner refuses to allow it in the parking would cut into his parking profits. Profits that are due in large part to his price hike two years ago to add more staff and security out there. But while the traffic flow is a little better than before, the security is only getting worse and worse.

The stadium itself is in a spectacular setting; nearly 50 years later, there are still few parks that can rival it for that. But a nice view is not enough to overcome the rest of the problems that come with ballgames at Dodger Stadium, some universal, some Dodger-specific: traffic, ticket prices, abusive fans, violence and break-ins in the parking lot, disgusting bathrooms with trough-urinals, the many seats that face the outfield, narrow and dark hallways and stairwells, and incredibly overpriced and unappetizing food (pardon the sacrilege, but Dodger Dogs are not good).

Sure this is all pretty whiny. Sure Dodger fans have the right to scream and cheer. And the Dodgers do post their "annoying fan hotline" number all over the place. But I also have the right to root for the other team and not feel threatened. I shouldn't have to have my finger on the "send" button on my cellphone all game long, waiting for someone to throw something at me.

My dad said last night as we were walking through the parking lot full of broken bottles, trash strewn around, cars full of people screaming out the windows, and careening around outside the actual lanes, that it was like being in a third-world country.

I wouldn't go on vacation in the "third-world," and I won't be visiting Chavez Ravine anytime soon either.

Monday, May 18, 2009

NBA: Where Mid-Afternoon Naps Happen

Last weekend looked like it might wind up being one of the better sports-weekends of the year, but it wound up being about as lacking-in-punch as the Mets' make-shift lineup on Sunday Night Baseball.

Both Game 7's (or Games 7 ?) in the NBA were over by the end of the first quarter, with Orlando and Los Angeles both leading by 10 after 12 minutes. Neither result was much of surprise, although the Magic putting Boston out of their misery was technically an upset. I am up to about 10-15 minutes of total playoff game-time watched this season, but the Lakers-Nuggets series may push me well past the 30 minute mark. It was good that the NBA schedules that extra rest day on Saturday so we could really get all wound up to watch the Rockets and Celtics take their dumps on Sunday though. God forbid they play two games in three days at the end of a series. Imagine if the Nuggets and Magic play in the Finals. I said it before, but honestly, put a suicide watch on David Stern.

The Red Wings crushed the Black Hawks in their Western Conference Final Game 1 on Sunday, with the Khabibulin Wall busting wide open in the third period (Detroit scored twice in 1:29 to ice it, and then added a empty-netter late). So that series is over.

Calvin Borel is single-handedly trying to ruin the sport of horse racing this spring. Two weeks ago, he ostensibly destroyed the chance of a fan-winning Triple Crown chase by winning the Kentucky Derby aboard Mine That Bird, a 50-1 shot. Then rather than trying to defend the Triple Crown hopes at the Preakness on Saturday, he instead rode one of his other horses, Rachel Alexandra, and of course he won. So now, there is no hope of a Triple Crown, no chance that anyone will watch the Belmont Stakes on TV, and the dying sport will go another 50 weeks without being relevant again. They're trying to make me care that the Belmont is a showdown between the two winning horses, and that Rachel Alexandra is a great story because she's a she, but I say "baseball, NHL, NBA, golf, tennis" to both stories and I turn the channel.

Roger Federer climbed back on top of the tennis world for the weekend, finally beating Rafael Nadal on clay. Nadal hadn't lost on his favorite surface in 33 matches over the last two years. He had also put together a 5-match win streak against Federer. So perhaps the balance in this epic rivalry is not all completely tipped.

I don't like to blame the manager or coach too often in sports because it is an easy cop-out for fans to do so, especially considering that they make 100 good decisions a game, but we key in on the one bad one. But I am starting to question some of Jerry Manuel's moves with the Mets more and more. Trailing 2-0 on Sunday with one out in the eighth and the bases loaded, Manuel pulled starting left fielder Daniel Murphy in favor of pinch-hitter Angel Pagan, who of course hit into an inning-ending double play. There is no guarantee that Murphy would not have done so, nor that either wouldn't have hit a grand slam, but why pinch-hit for a regular player having a good year with the bat with a guy making only his second at-bat of the season after having elbow surgery? And if you were looking for a righty-lefty matchup, why not hit Jose Reyes, who is hitting .379 lefty pitchers, instead of Pagan?

The Mets did win three out of four on the road this weekend (stealing 137 bases in the wins and then attempting to steal one (1!) in the loss), and that makes me happy. Sadly it probably marked the death of the Giants comeback against the Dodgers however. Just when the Dodgers must have been feeling vulnerable and the Giants must have been feeling confident, the tide changed and the lead out West is back where it was when Manny left. The Mets are in L.A. this week (where they've been horrific since sweeping the Dodgers out of the playoffs three years ago) and could perhaps help the Giants now. I'll be at all three games...getting food thrown at me. But at least I'll get in shape walking all the way to my car (which will be outside the lot because there is no way in hell I am paying $15 extra just to get stabbed).

And finally, if you think baseball or cycling have it bad in terms of doping and steroids, consider this: When anti-doping officers showed up in the locker room just before the Belgian bodybuilding championships, all twenty competitors packed up their things and headed for the doors. And you thought the 90's-00's Yankees had a locker-room full of cheaters!

SoCal Sports Hub: Hardball Weekly (5/18/09)

On Pace For 64 Homers (That'd Be The Record, Right?)

The bad news for the Padres is that they are second-to-last in the National League in runs scored and batting average. The good news is that division rival Arizona is last in both, and Rockies are equally inept. The Padres had lost six straight going into their weekend series with the Reds, and came away with a sweep, thanks in part to some 16th innings heroics on Saturday.

Adrian Gonzalez homered in five straight games last week, and considering that his protection in the lineup is coming from Chase Headley, who is batting .246, you have to wonder how long it will be before the Major League home run lead is taken away from him, and when he will start running away with the walks-lead.

Manny Who?

The Mets come to Los Angeles looking to continue their hot streak, but they may have already saved the Dodgers' season for them. When Manny Ramirez first went out on his drug-suspension, the Dodgers scuffled; the Giants got hot, and it looked like San Francisco might sneak back up in the race. They closed from 6.5 games back to 3 games back in the blink of an eye and you could feel the Dodgers imploding.

Then the Mets went in and won three straight in San Francisco, pushing the Dodgers' lead back to 6 games and probably ending anyone's hopes of running down the Dodgers in the West. It isn't that a 6 game lead is insurmountable in May; it is that the Dodgers were on the ropes, likely feeling that nothing they could do would be enough without Manny (they're actually out-hitting and out-scoring their own numbers when he was playing). Now they've won four straight, are back to .500 since Manny left, and after 1/5 of the suspension, they're exactly where they were when they front by a mile.

Now the question is whether they can slow the Mets down in Chavez Ravine this week.

Lackey Is Back, Sorta

John Lackey made his 2009 debut over the weekend, taking a no-decision, and sending his ERA to infinity after getting tossed two pitches into the game for throwing behind and then into the chest of the leadoff hitter. It was a questionable ejection and might have cost the Angels the game given that they were essentially forced to have someone start a game on the spot. Lackey is scheduled to throw anywhere from 3-100 pitches Monday night, going up against former Angel great, Jarrod Washburn in Seattle.

Lackey's abridged start on Saturday was in Texas, where the Angels suffered a sweep at the hands of the Rangers, who have won seven in-a-row and suddenly have the 2nd best record in the league. The Angels did take two-of-three from Boston earlier in the week, but the Texas sweep leaves them at .500 and in desperate need of pitching help (allowing over 5 runs per game this season).

Around the League

Unlikely leaders continue to shine in the American League, with Toronto and Texas holding firm in the East and West, and Kansas City only a game back in the Central. The Royals are 2-7 in their last 9 however, and it appears the bloom may be off the rose. The Phillies and Mets have both caught fire and are looking like they will be making the NL East a two-horse race. The Mets are 11-3 in their last 14, and the Phillies are 5-2 in their last seven (though four wins came against the Nationals). Hells Bells are ringing in Milwaukee where Trevor Hoffman has converted four saves in the Brewers' 5-game winning streak. The Yankees are also riding a 5-game streak, thanks to three consecutive walk-off wins at Yankee Stadium over the Twins last weekend.

The Lineup - 9 Things To Watch This Week

Dodgers vs. Mets at Dodger Stadium (Monday-Wednesday)
Angels vs. Mariners at Safeco Field (Monday-Thursday)
Zack Greinke (7-1, .60 ERA) vs. Victor Martinez (.401 BA) (Thursday)
Red Sox/Josh Beckett vs. Mets/Johan Santana (Friday)
Phillies' Lineup (most runs in NL) vs. Yankee Stadium (Friday-Sunday)
Dodgers vs. Angels at Dodger Stadium (Friday-Sunday)
Dodgers/Clayton Kershaw vs. Angels/John Lackey (Saturday)
Adrian Gonzalez (most HR hit) vs. Rich Harden (8th most HR allowed) (Saturday)
Streaks: Rangers - 7 wins, Nationals - 4 losses

This post is a copy of a weekly feature I write for SoCal Sports Hub. Check out their site for great info., articles, interviews and comments on all Southern California pro and college sports.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Santa Claus Is Stalking Me

[Warning: No Sports Content Whatsoever]

At 10:10 this morning, I got a call on my cell phone with a number I did not recognize and the name "Santa Claus" on the screen. This makes a little bit of sense at first, but then it stops making sense and makes me think I am going to be killed by a reindeer very soon.

Last week, I was babysitting for my sister's children. My nephew was being stubborn when he went to bed and said he didn't want to pray, not even for his mom on Mothers' Day. So I told him I was going to call Santa Claus and tell him. He said he didn't believe me and I told him I'd show him in the morning.

He is not the kind of kid who would forget this type of thing, so before he got up in the morning, I added an entry for Santa in my phone: cell, home and work numbers, email, address...the works. So I showed it to my nephew and he insisted he didn't believe it was real, but was really quiet for a while too.

So I do have an entry for Santa Claus in my cell phone, so if someone at that number called me, that name would show up on the screen. The numbers I entered for my fake Santa entries were a made-up number, my cell number, and my home number with the area code "1-225"...get it? 12/25. I just checked, that happens to be the area code for Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

So you would think that someone from Baton Rouge mistakenly called me this morning, right? Or they were calling random people with the same cell number as them in other area codes, right? And it is just an amazing coincidence that this happened 5 days after I happened to enter their number into my phone (but never actually called it), right?

Here's where it gets creepy. The name on the screen said "Santa Claus," but the number that was calling was not any of the three numbers I have saved into my phone in the Santa Claus listing. And I do not have this number saved into my phone at all, so it should have popped up as "Unknown Caller," but instead it said "Santa Claus." What the hell?

Am I in the middle of a Christmas-themed horror movie? Just in case, I want to say to my wife that I love her and to Kate Beckinsale that I am sorry it never worked out for us.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

'It's All About The Nation, Baby'

The City of San Bernadino (outside of Los Angeles) has had a ban on the sale of 40 ounce bottles of beer since 1989. If you've even been to San Bernadino, you could probably guess that this ban has never really been enforced. Apparently the city has decided to enforce it now though, because they say there is a correlation between that particular product and crime, and Dr. Dre would probably agree. You might ask, "Why is this on my sports blog?"

This story was reported on Tuesday's news on KCAL and they had a reporter go out there and interview liquor store patrons to see what they think of the ban. What do you think people who hang out at liquor stores in the middle of the day in San Bernadino think of a ban on 40-sales? But why is this on a sports blog?

Unfortunately the version of this story that KCAL posted on their website was from early in the day, before the guy interviewed the locals., so those interviews are not available online (that version of the story aired late last night and the web producer didn't copy over the old version...tragic). So you can't see this story online, but the reason that it is on a sports blog was that the first interview they showed was of perhaps the single greatest stereotype in the history of humanity, and it happens to be sports related.

"What do you think of the city banning 40's?" asks reporter Greg Mills.

"If you're gonna banding things," a short, fat, Hispanic man slurs out through his obvious mid-day drunken stupor, wearing a JaMarcus Russell Raiders jersey in the middle of May. And as he throws his arms out as wide as he can and shakes his head seemingly unintentionally, he finishes with, "all liquor should be banded."

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Raider Nation.

Monday, May 11, 2009

SoCal Sports Hub: Hardball Weekly (5/11/09)

This is the first major league baseball weekly recap article I have written for SoCal Sports Hub, a site that obviously caters to Southern California sports fans (in case you're wondering why anyone would spend time looking information on the Pads). Check out their site and stay tuned for more weekly MLB updates.

Signs Of Things To Come?

The big story in baseball last week was the Manny Ramirez-suspension of course. You’ve already read, heard, and seen all the angles of this one, but what we’re left with are questions about how the Dodgers will fare for the next two months without Manny. On paper, they’re still the most talented team in the division and should be fine, but on paper the Mets have won the last three National League crowns.

Interestingly, the Dodgers’ hits-per-game, runs-per-game, and batting average have improved in Manny’s absence, with three of the four games played against one of the best pitching staffs in baseball (San Francisco). But the Giants are also a pretty bad team over all and the Dodgers went 1-3 without Manny, all at home, and against the Giants and Nationals (fewest wins in baseball).

Can Juan Pierre keep hitting .426? Can Andre Ethier keep his average from tanking more (32 points in four games so far). Can the Dodgers keep hitting? Can the young guys really just forget that their protection is gone from the lineup? Which is the anomaly: the good hitting or the bad record? Stay tuned as the Boys in Blue head to Philadelphia and Florida this week.

Reinforcements Are On The Way

The best that can be said of the Angels thus far this season is that they have survived. They’ve survived personal tragedy, a plague of injuries, and inconsistent play from top to bottom. Perhaps last week the Halos turned the corner, going 6-1 against two AL division leaders and a cellar-dweller, and crawling back above .500.

Torii Hunter put a perfect cap on the successful week, making a spectacular home run-robbing catch to preserve the win and the series sweep over the upstart Royals. The offense still scuffled, scoring just 21 runs all week, but the pitching mostly shined, allowing just 10 runs in the six wins (and 13 in the loss).

Hosting the Red Sox and then heading to Arlington later this week, the Angels will welcome the first of their many injured compatriots back to the lineup. 2008 All Star pitcher Ervin Santana could possibly join the team as they head to Texas for the weekend series against the Rangers. Ace starter John Lackey appears to be close on Santana’s heels with his rehab going well. And Kelvim Escobar, who is ineligible to return from shoulder surgery for another month, is throwing well as well.

The Wheels Are Off

After quickly rolling out to 9-3 start, including series wins in New York and Philadelphia and a sweep of the Giants, the Padres have slammed back to earth, going just 4-16 since. They are getting nice seasons from Scott Hairston (.333, 16 RBI in 25 games) and Adrian Gonzalez (.294, 10 HR, 22 runs, 22 RBI in 32 games), but overall the team is 2nd to last in the NL in batting average and third to last in runs scored.

Coupled with this dismal offensive production, they are third to last in the league in ERA as well, allowing 4.69 runs per game. They’ve also blown 8 saves (out of 16), further crippling their chances. Even Jake Peavy hasn’t been able to keep his head above water, going 2-4 with a 4.27 ERA thus far.

The Padres can start turning things back around this week as they head to Chicago and then host the Reds, but it already looks like they won’t be one of the clubs putting a scare into the Manny-less Dodgers.

Around The League

The Royals’ AL Central lead evaporated in the SoCal heat as the Angels swept them into second place (by percentage points) over the weekend. Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Washington are in quite a battle for the worst record in the league, currently combining for a 13-game losing streak. The Mets have taken a hold of the NL East and this time it may stick. The Phillies seem to be the only other true contender and can’t get out of their own way (3rd to last in the Bigs in ERA), and the Mets have surged to a 7-game win streak thanks to one of the best pitching staffs (yes, you read that right) and one of the most potent lineups in the game. It appears that St. Louis will not be running away and hiding. Like the Marlins, Dodgers, Royals, Padres and Blue Jays, their hot start has ended and the field is catching up. Alex Rodriguez is back, but the Yankees still stink, so there is some justice in the world.

The Lineup - 9 Thing To Watch This Week
Angels - Red Sox at the Big A (Tuesday - Thursday)
Manny-Less Dodgers at Philadelphia and Florida
Santana (Mets) vs. Lowe (Braves) at Citi Field (Monday)
Zack Greinke (6-1, 0.51 ERA) vs. Baltimore (Friday)
Hanley Ramirez (.533, 11 runs, 4 homers, 7 RBI, 3 SB last week) vs. Milwaukee and L.A.
Ryan Zimmerman (.346, 6 HR, 22 RBI) has a 28-game hitting streak.
A.J. Burnett (Yankees) vs. Roy Halladay (Blue Jays) at Rogers Centre (Tuesday)
Florida (Most K’s in NL) vs. Milwaukee (2nd most) at Miller Park (Tuesday-Thursday)
Streaks: The Mets have won 7 and the Pirates have lost 8

Friday, May 8, 2009

Hypocricy, Thy Name Is 'Mannywood'

I try to avoid thinking of individual moments, games, or series as turning points early in a baseball season. It is just so long that even a really significant event that happens today can be followed by 10-15 more momentum shifts (good and bad) before it is all said and done, rendering this really significant event as pretty insignificant in the end.

Obviously the Dodgers losing Manny Ramirez for 50 games is a monumental blow to their season. Or is it? Heading into yesterday's games, the Dodgers were 6.5 up in the N.L. West and running away from a pack of average-at-best teams. Not counting any added emotional stress that may make players choke, they are still more talented than any of the teams chasing them. My guess is that they will still be in the lead in the West 49 games from now, and then they'll just pull away again for the final 70 games after Manny is back.

After all, this team played more than 50 games without Manny last season and are a deeper, more talented team this year.

There are a few wild cards to be played in this scenario though. Will the Dodgers' young players crumble under the pressure without Manny's bat and mouth to make everything easier for them? Will their pitching staff be able to compete over the course of a season (with or without Manny, this is not a good staff)? Will Manny come back hungry to prove he's an all-time great? Will he come back a shadow of his former allegedly steroid-using self? Will he come back apathetic since his chances of a huge free agent contract may have just vanished? Will the Giants make a trade for a bat, making them an actual threat?

If there is no such thing as a turning point this early in the season, Dodger fans should be hoping that last night's game was also not a microcosm of their season: great start but then suddenly the bats went silent, the pitching fell apart, and by the time they got the offense going again, it was too late.

There's a part of me that feels sorry for Dodger fans after yesterday. First they lose Manny, then the team comes out and scores 6 in the first inning: "Ha, we're fine without him!" Then the Washington Nationals, the worst team in baseball, score 11 unanswered runs to steal the game and halt your record home-winning streak. But then I remember how miserable Dodger fans make a trip to that stadium, and all the Dodger fans I know who are obnoxious, and what the Dodgers did to my parents when they left Brooklyn, and what an ass Tommy Lasorda is, and how pissed I still am about the 1988 NLCS and Hong Chi Kuo flipping his bat in the air two years ago when he hit a homer off of John Maine and Guillermo Mota plunking Mike Piazza and then sprinting to the clubhouse to hide six years ago, and then I don't care so much.

And who comes to town next? Of course it is the Giants. Who better than to come in and sweep the Dodgers, cutting the division lead from 6.5 to 2.5 in four days, than the team and fans who Dodger fans crucified for supporting Barry Bonds. Just as San Francisco fans were ripped for standing by an "obvious cheater," now they get to come to L.A. and return the favor to all the Dodger fans who insist that Manny is innocent ("He just wanted to spice up his sex-life" I heard one misinformed fan say). Click here and watch the video to see more Dodger fans.

For the Giants fans' sakes, I hope the Dodgers have extra security in the parking lot after the game. Dodger fans will stab you in the parking lot when things are going well, just imagine what it will be like out there this weekend.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Jury Is In; Manny's Guilty

So the drug Manny Ramirez took was just revealed.

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), is a women's fertility drug that is often taken by steroid users to help kick-start their natural testosterone production after they stop a steroid cycle.

So either Manny was inspired by the Octomom and wants to make sure he can still give birth even at his advanced age, or "Manny Being Manny" is a euphemism for 'roid rage.

Incidentally, Manny reportedly never asked for an exemption from Major League Baseball to use this banned drug for therapeutic reasons.

Slugger Cheats: Why Does Everyone Seem So Shocked?

I thought I was going to write today about how that Lakers-Rockets series exploded last night. I was going to rip Kobe Bryant, and Ron Artest, and Von Wafer, and Luke Walton, and Sasha Vujacic, and especially Derek Fisher. I was going to rip Lakers' radio announcer, Mychal Thompson, for saying that Fisher had "sacrificed himself for the team" when he made one of the dirtier plays in recent memory to level Luis Scola.

But now I guess I should write about how Manny Ramirez "sacrificed himself for the team." Because by Thompson's definition, "sacrificing one's self" means cheating and getting suspended, and that's just what Manny has done.

At this point, we know very little about this Manny-cheater story, but we know this: he took a banned drug and is out for 50 games, and he says the drug was prescribed for a legitimate medical condition.

Perhaps we should all withhold judgement on this one till we find out what the "medical condition" was, what exactly this drug does, and if the Florida doctor is legit (why are these doctors always from Florida?). But that ship sailed a long time ago for professional athletes, so Manny can kiss the Hall of Fame goodbye.

So Manny cheated and he's gone. And the Dodgers are left to keep the train on track until July without him. Just for posterity's sake, let's record some key stats at this point and see exactly what kind of influence Manny has on this team:

Record: 21-8, .724 (13-0 at home, 8-8 on road)
Standing: 1st in NL West by 6.5 games, 4.5 game ahead of the Wild Card, best record in baseball by 1.5 games
Runs per game: 5.55 (Manny: .815 - 2nd LA)
Batting average: .283 (Manny: .348 - 1st LA)
Homers per game: .83 (Manny: 6 HR - t-1st LA)
Slugging percentage: .426 (Manny: .641 - 1st LA)
On Base percentage: .376 (Manny .492 - 1st LA)
Orlando Hudson: .342, .793 runs/game, .586 RBI/game, .103 HR/game
Andre Ethier: .317, .759 runs/game, .931 RBI/game, .207 HR/game
James Loney: .276 .310 runs/game, .690 RBI/game, .000 HR/game
Matt Kemp: .275, .607 runs/game, .607 RBI/game, .107 HR/game
Rafael Furcal: .264, .808 runs/game, .269 RBI/game, .039 HR/game
Russell Martin: .242, .480 runs/game, .520 RBI/game, .000 HR/game
Casey Blake: .225, .500 runs/game, .536 RBI/game, .179 HR/game
Juan Pierre (Manny's presumptive replacement) is hitting .335 but mostly in pinch-hit role, so his other per-game offenseive statistics are not relevant.
Staff ERA: 3.72
Run Differential: +55
The Dodgers are currently 3rd in baseball is runs/game, 5th in hits/game (9.59), 20th in HR/game (.828), 2nd in BA (.283), 1st in On Base % (.376), 12th in Slugging % (.426) and 7th in OPS (.802).

At least ESPN stopped talking about the Thursday meeting between Brett Favre and Brad Childress (that apparently was never actually planned). Well, they stopped talking about it for about 20 minutes.

Seriously though, what the hell was Derek Fisher thinking?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

May Is When Summer Blockbuster Season Starts

In the entertainment world, May is huge.

In TV there are the May sweeps, which is basically the period when networks put on their sexiest programming to try and steal extra ratings points. May is also the end of "pilot season," when new shows are being finished up that will be the big fall premiers (and then get cancelled within three shows).

In the movies, of course May is the start of the big summer blockbuster season. They kicked it off last Friday with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which is the epitome of a summer movie: huge budget, huge star(s), huge action, part of a series (whenever possible), with an open ending in case it does well, so then can make more. They aren't looking for best picture Oscars this time of year, just ticket sales. Wolverine was a really fun movie even if they completely missed the boat on a better explanation for why he he had lost his memory prior to X-Men, and on the post-credits cliffhanger (I won't mention either till next week to avoid the spoiler). Next up is Star Trek and I don't know about you, but I am going on opening night (tonight) in a Darth Vader costume to make the nerds' heads explode. Seriously though, Star Trek + J.J Abrams = me happy.

Sports, which is merging more and more into the WWF world of sports-entertainment it seems, also hits its stride in May and then gallops through the summer at a torrid pace.

NBA Playoffs - The NBA playoffs actually begin in April and don't end until 2011, but no one really cares about the first round unless a series goes seven games anyway. Coincidentally, the second round starts and the seventh games of the first round series are all in May. The stink of games being fixed is still all over the NBA, with Monday's Rockets win over the Lakers being no exception, but fans don't seem to care. There is so much personality and so much intimacy in the league because there are fewer players on the field/court than any of the other major sports, and there is no hat or helmet to hide them. It is a stage and so many of these guys are performers, besides being athletes. I am losing interest more and more every year though. Maybe its the ubiquitous tattoos, or the thug personae, or the fact that the playoffs take 3 months, or the fact that my team is never playing, or the fact that games are fixed and the refs will not allow the Lakers to miss the NBA Finals this year, or the fact that the first 44 minutes of every game are generally irrelevant.

I have decided though, that I will root for Orlando. For two years I have held it against Dwight Howard that all he does is dunk (leads the league every year) and that he won the dunk contest on that famous Superman dunk, but it was a layup and shouldn't have counted. But after his Game 1 win in Boston, he gave the perfect interview: he said all the right things, stayed humble, said he was upset that they didn't play better, etc. He made his serious face for two straight minutes, but he couldn't hold back his goofiness. Right at the end, he broke character and said with a child's smile, "But I did come up with my wrestling name tonight...'Black Magic.'" He doesn't strut and pose and make "I'm angry" faces like Kobe Bryant. He doesn't taunt and showboat like LeBron James. He's just a happy guy who happens to be perhaps the best player in the world.

NHL Playoffs - A day after a triple overtime thriller in which an 8-seed (who just knocked off the team with the league's best record) beat a 2-seed on the road to even the series, the league's two best players faced off and each threw in a hat trick, sending their game down to the wire. The NHL playoffs are clearly the best postseason in sports and they come to shine in May. The regular season is all-but forgotten though and you wonder if they might be better off just playing a 20-game regular season, then a World Cup-style round robin tournament that would lead to the Stanley Cup playoffs starting the day after the NCAA Tournament ends, and finishes right at the start of the NBA Playoffs.

Horse Racing - Yes, people pay attention to horse racing in May. The Kentucky Derby, which is always the first Saturday in Many, is the official summer-sports kickoff. And in years when the favorite wins the Derby, the sport truly shines. It may be the only sport where an upset means certain doom for event organizers. How pissed are the people at the Belmont that the Derby winner was a 50:1 shot that wasn't even scheduled to race in the Preakness because it was silly to put him in a race of that length. Goodbye Triple Crown for 2009.

Tennis - The men's Grand Slams have been pretty spectacular in the last few years, as we watched Rafael Nadal scratch and claw his way up onto the pedestal with Roger Federer (and possibly push Federer off?). Their rivalry has grown into historical proportions in the sport and with a lot of young talent nipping at their heals, men's tennis seems to be hitting a renaissance. Women's tennis has a ton of stars but no one to really carry the crown right now, which makes for interesting Grand Slams because unless the Williams Brothers, I mean Sisters, decide to dominate everyone, it is anyone's game.

Golf - Alright, maybe the Masters is the official kick-off of the summer sports season, but it is in April and that is clearly Spring and doesn't help my premise here, so I ignored it. With Tiger Woods back, and back at a high level, the question of whether you would bet on him or the field is back in play, and that makes for exciting golf...OK, it makes for watchable golf, but still only on Sundays at the Majors.

Baseball - It isn't the postseason, but May is the time when pretenders start to be sifted out and we get a truer sense of who are the real deals for the fall. The Padres had a fantastic start, but have lost 6-in-a-row as May rolled in and are out of the race. Florida once had the longest winning streak and largest lead in the game, but are now just .5 game up on the field and falling. Contenders are showing their faces, and don't tell them that games in May don't matter (especially Rick Ankiel's face, which is still indented into the outfield fence from last night). The Dodgers and Cardinals are on fire, the Phillies, Mets, Red Sox and Angels are waking up, and we even have some surprises that are making bids to be the next upstarts to go the distance (are K.C., Toronto, and Seattle really still leading in the A.L.?).

NFL - Despite being months away from the actual season, the NFL makes news year round. Be it the new draftees coming to camp and fighting for spots, or the commissioner (who I am liking less and less despite his hard stance on discipline) taking a bid from London for the Super Bowl, which he previously said the league would look into, and that they had no interest in. Or the debate over the Commish suggesting we throw quality of play, competitive value, player health, and the entire record book out the window to cash in on two extra regular season games.

Cycling - With the sport's crowning event (but contrary to popular belief, not their only event), the Tour de France still two months away, Cycling is still pretty much off of the everyday sports-fan's radar, but with Lance Armstrong back in the field this year, and multiple Americans being presumptive favorites, news from the grand tours of Europe will make it onto Sports Center this year and the sport's profile will be higher than ever in America (just look at how huge the Tour of California was!). Incidentally, why don't we translate the "de" in "Tour de France?"

Other sports, like soccer and car racing probably have big events right now and certainly must in the summer, but since I don't care about soccer unless I know the players personally or it is the U.S. National Team, and car racing isn't a sport, I won't bother looking into those.

Monday, May 4, 2009

How I Would Fix The Mets, Vol. I

Rooting for a baseball team is a strange experience. As I sit here on Monday, I feel as though the whole season is a waste because the team has no fire, no starting pitching, and no hope. And I feel as though this last weekend was a complete and utter failure.

But in reality, they're three games back from the Marlins in first place, a team that could easily finish the season 20 games under .500. The Braves are just not that good. And the Phillies are actually happy with how they're playing (but are still only two-and-a-half games up on the Mets).

And that horrible weekend? They beat up the Phillies in Philadelphia on Friday. Then a $36 starter vomitted his career all over the mound on Saturday before the team climbed back into the game and went to extra innings before losing a gut-wrencher. So they split with the Champs on the road with their two worst starting pitchers.

So I suppose you could say that the Mets are kinda sitting pretty. But I wouldn't.

If I was a master of time and space, here is how I would fix the Mets at this point in the season:
-Travel back in time and give Derek Lowe the four-year deal he wanted and let Oliver Perez go. Has there ever been a more obvious personnel move in sports history? You pass on one established veteran ace because he wants a fourth year, even though you are absolutely positive that he will win 15 games with an ERA under 4.00 in each of the next four years at New Shea, in favor of a head-case who doesn't come much cheaper ($3M per year less), and who is as likely to strike out 8 batters as he is to walk 8 batters. He might win 10 games, but could also lose 20. Currently: Perez is 1-2 with a 9.97 ERA, 21 walks and 20 K's, currently headed to the minors, bullpen or "disabled" list. Lowe is 3-1, 3.03, 28 K's and 14 walks.

-Sign Manny Ramirez for whetever he wanted. Don't even negotiate. Just give it to him, win the World Series this year and then he can implode all he wants after already won. Thanks to Deadspin for the image above.

-Without the power to go back in time, send Perez to the DL with with phantom knee injury, then send him to the minors to "rehab" until he figures out what the catcher's mitt looks like. And pray.

-Sign Ben Sheets now before anyone remembers that he is not on a team. They will need another starter down the stretch (everyone does), and while Sheets is still recovering from elbow surgery, he hasn't had an ERA over 3.82 since 2003 (2.70, 3.33, 3.82, 3.82, 3.09), and he averages a 4:1 K:walk ratio over his career. If he is signed before the draft (early June), the Mets have to send a draft pick to the Brewers, but what are the odds that that draft pick will wind up being an ace starter. He is only 30, but considered injury prone, so a one year (or 3/4 year) deal would likely be very cheap.

-Take the leash off of Jose Reyes. He should steal every single time he touches first or second base. He should do as many hand-shakes, high-fives, fist-bumps and hugs as he wants as long as he is inside the dugout. He should bunt on every other at bat and go the other way on the other ones.

-Play small ball. I don't care how much money Carlos Beltran makes, if there is a man on first with less than two outs, he's bunting. If Carlos Delgado makes an out trying to hit through the shift, he should be fined...bunt to third for God's sake! If someone does not slide and are called out, fine him. If someone fails to get a sac-fly in the air with a runner on third and less than two outs, fine him. If someone hits behind a runner or bunts and moves him up, or hits a sac-fly...he is getting paid millions of dollars to do so!

-Get an attitude and a team identity. Pitchers can save pitches by hitting guys instead of intentionally walking them (ok, bad idea perhaps, but logical). Pitchers can throw inside a lot though. Establish that early and make batters respect it. No headhunting, but if someone gets intentionally plunked, one of theirs in getting one in the hip. Take pride in defense. Make hard slides. Relievers should be competing for their jobs every game. Everyone should have to watch tape of Alex Cora play. Be the latest hustling-running-small ball team to go all the way since slugging teams never do.

-Leave Danny Murphy in left field and let him learn to play it and leave Ryan Church in right. As long as Luis Castillo is hitting, he is the second baseman. If he starts to flop again, then perhaps you think about moving Murphy there and Gary Sheffield, Jeremy Reed and Fernando Tatis can plattoon the corner outfield spot. But Murphy is not going to be a third baseman in New York for a long, long time. With his bat, he needs to be in the lineup so he needs to become adept at some other position. Left field is the most logical place. But he had beetter be taking hundreds of fly balls and line drives a day out there.

-Someone slap Carlos Beltran in the face and tell him to wake up (and maybe have him take that thing off of his temple).

-But Brian Schneider on the trade market. He is a great glove and manages pitchers very well, but he simply can't hit, and the Mets have two other catchers than can. He is the starter when he comes back from his injury, but he's on a short leash.

-Tatis needs to play more. He should be the first replacement in the outfield and at first, and probably at second as well. That way Cora is always available off the bench.

-Sean Green is not an elite middle reliever. He does not need to be pitched in key spots to justify the trade...J.J. Putz was the reason for that trade.

-Frankie Rodriguez needs to pitch more. I am all for saving guys' arms, but he has 10 appearances in 22 games. I'm not saying they should pitch him in more non-save situations, I'm saying there need to be more freaking save situations.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Last* Word On Some Overcooked Stories

I have been gone all week, with the only sports channel available being ESPN Deportes ("deportes" apparently means "only soccer" in Spanish), and came home to find that really not a damned thing happened. But some of the sports world's favorite re-tread stories were apparently back in the news this week, and I didn't have my chance to add my rant to the cacophony of morons screaming about them...till now.

Alex Rodriguez is a cheater and lied about when he cheated. So you're telling me a guy that ballooned up like...well, like a guy on steroids, was using steroids? And he lied about it too? Did anyone believe that he had only used drugs on those random days when they happened to test him as he said? Did anyone really believe that he only used in Texas because the pressure was so great on him, but that the pressure of a larger contract on the largest stage (New York) made him go clean? Did anyone really believe anything he said on the issue after he'd already been caught lying and fessed up because he was caught? Guess what, the dude is a lair and cheater. Move on.

Brett Favre wants to unretire. I never thought I would say or write these words, but screw you, Brett Favre. First you blew your chance to ride off into the sunset with your legacy in tact and after a season for the ages. Then you whined like...well, like a professional athlete that you weren't getting what you wanted and shouldn't have to be held to the contract your signed. So then you got what you wanted, had some laughs (7 TD's in a game), but generally were a bad quarterback and had the chance to ride off into the sunset with most of your legacy in tact (since the Jets wear green, most people would have forgotten that you weren't a Packer forever). Now you allegedly want to come back and to play in Minnesota. This whole things makes me sad. (Thanks to Cory Hollenhorst for the above image. Google "Favre Vikings" images...some people are reall good at Photoshop.)

The U.S. Congress is taking time out of their busy pre-campaign campaign schedules to hear a bunch of jackasses argue about the validity of the BCS in college football. Let's not mince words here, the BCS is a money-making scheme that works really, really well. The bowls are too. And while many of us fans like to say we love the bowls and would be sad to see them go, we'd forget that within 2 years of a tournament-style championship. And they could still call the tourney games bowls anyway, so everyone gets his or her way regardless. If the NCAA wants to crown a champion for each of its sports instead of all-but-one, they need a tourney. If they want cash, they keep the BCS. And even that is stupid because let's face it, a football sweet 16 game would get far better ratings than the Holiday Bowl does, which would mean more TV ad dollars, which means more naming-rights dollars and more stadium ad dollars as well. I watched 3-4 bowl games beginning to end this year and I wouldn't miss a playoff game. As for the argument that a playoff would invalidate the regular season, I have two points: who cares how good your regular season is if your postseason is more a pageant than a sporting event, and if you lost 2 regular season games, your chances of making an 8-team playoff would nearly vanish. So how is that different that now?

The San Jose Sharks blew a great season and left the postseason with their potential unfulfilled. And the sun rose in the east this morning.

NBA teams had great playoff games with really exciting 4th quarter finishes. Unfortunately, they had to play the first three quarters first. Plus the Lakers and Cavs are sitting at home waiting for all of their toughest foes to beat one other to death to find out out who will be swept next.

The NFL and Comcast are still fighting about whether the billions of Americans who do not want the NFL Network should have to pay for it on their basic cable bill. Or if the millions of Americans who do want it for about 10-12 hours a year should. Or if the 10's of Americans who want it year round should get it on a premier sports-tier. Why was this so easy for MLB to make happen when supposedly no one in America likes baseball anymore but everyone likes football? And why is the NFL trying to say they're fighting for the right of the people to watch their games when they signed an exclusive deal with DirecTV to charge $11,000,000** a year for the season pass, rather than having such a deal on all TV providers.


The NFL Draft happened. Lots of guys I have never heard of or can't remember made a lot of money and I will never hear of, nor remember most of them. But the Giants got a dude that made the craziest catch in college football history, so that's cool. I will do a draft post-mortem at some point, which will allow me to make fun of people who made mock drafts, so that will be fun.

There are probably more but I am sick of thinking of stories that I am already sick of. This will be the last time I address them. Until next time.