Pitching is such a vital part of the game, as far as winning is concerned.

On most teams the set up man has become more valuable, on others not so valuable.

Something to keep in mind — it’s raining lightly. The infield could be very wet on ground balls.

What is a drop and drive pitcher? He is a guy who drops and drives. Very simple.

So by guessing right you might have guessed wrong.

Giambi walks too much. He’s always clogging up the bases with all that walking.

As a new day begins in New York, the sun sets in Hawaii.

If football is a game of inches then baseball is a game of inch.

If that ball had more elevation, it would have been a home run.

If the double play is a pitcher’s best friend, what is a fielder’s choice? An acquaintance?

It’s better to have a fast runner on base than a slow one.

One thing about ground balls. They don’t go out of the ball park.

The reason we call that pitch up and in is because the arms are attached to the shoulder.

He wears his hat like a left hander!

Any ball that goes down is much heavier than any ball that stays on the same plane.

The blood on his sock looks exactly like Oklahoma!

You don't want to use too many statistics. The ones that apply to a July or August game won't be relevant on Saturday.

American McCarver

July 2011 Archives

To Do or Die On Long Island

I took this picture in 1983 at a parade honoring the Stanley Cup Champion New York Islanders. I want to be able to take a picture like this again. I want another moment just like this one.

Tomorrow, we find out if that opportunity will ever come.

Tomorrow is Election Day in Nassau County. It’s Election Day for hockey. Election Day for the New York Islanders.

Tomorrow, the voters of Nassau County decide the fate of the Islanders and their future here.

I’ve spent a lot of time the past few months being a bit evangelical about this. I’ve campaigned, I’ve lectured, I’ve fought and I’ve talked to anyone who would listen about how this is about more than hockey. It’s about quality of life. 

But here, among sports fans, I can talk about the hockey.

The Islanders have played in the Nassau Coliseum since 1972. That’s all but ten years of my life. They are part of my Long Island heritage. They are part of my life. For 39 years, the team has played professional hockey practically in my backyard. I could get in my car fifteen minutes before game time and be in my seat with a pretzel and Coke before the puck drops. 

For four years, I had a hockey dynasty playing five minutes from my house. For 39 years, the hockey team I love has known no home but the Nassau Coliseum. And now they are in danger of losing that home. Their fate partly lies in the hand of people who don’t care about hockey, who don’t care about Stanley Cups or local team pride.

Yes, it’s about more than hockey. But the hockey part is what’s going to hurt first if the vote doesn’t pass. I’ll deal with the quality of life thing later. I’ll deal with the domino effect of closing businesses in my neighborhood later. But I don’t know how I’ll deal with no hockey. I don’t know how I’ll spend the next three seasons watching a rising, hopeful team knowing they’re going to leave in 2015.

I want to see another Stanley Cup parade on Long Island. I want to drive past the Nassau Coliseum every day on my way to work, look at it with pride and say “That’s where my team plays.” I want to continue going to games, cheering for my team, wearing the jersey with Long Island on it.

That’s why I’ll be at my polling place most of the day tomorrow (at least 100 feet away, of course) handing out literature, educating the fence-sitters and maybe getting into a few heated arguments with the opposition.

You can try to take my hockey team from me, but I won’t let you do it without a fight.

Hockey

Derek Jeter 3K

Maybe, someday, your favorite player on your favorite team will have a day like that and HBO will make a documentary like this about it.

Baseball

NFL Films and Network: A Marriage Gone Bad

Really interesting piece at philly.com.

“The thing that has always set NFL Films apart, the thing that has been its trademark, is the slow spiral in the air,” said Comcast SportsNet’s Ray Didinger, an Emmy-winning producer and writer at Films for 9 years before leaving in 2008. “One shot lasting 45 seconds. The ball leaving the quarterback’s hands and being caught. That was the kind of stuff that made NFL Films great and helped make the league so popular. That was their signature.

“But you’ve got these guys [at NFL Network] now with ADD, they’re watching that ball spinning and they’re saying, ‘OK, let’s catch it already. Go, go, go. Catch the ball, will ya.’

“We would sit down in meetings with them occasionally when I was there and we’d be discussing programming for the upcoming season. Every time we would propose an NFL Films-type look at something, you could kind of see them say, ‘Well, ya know, we were thinking of something that was a little edgier and a little punchier and a little faster.’

“The term that we used to get kicked back at us from time to time was, ‘dinosaur television.’ They’d say, ‘That stuff is dated. Been done before. People have seen it. We’re going to change the way football is presented on television.’

“That really bothered me because the one thing about NFL Films was it was distinctive. [If] you saw an NFL Films show on television, it didn’t sound like, look like, feel like anything else on television. If you saw it, you said, ‘That’s NFL Films.’ It had a uniqueness. What’s unique about the NFL Network? It looks like what it is. It looks like a knockoff of ESPN.”

Football

The Greatest Drunk on Earth

Here’s an oldie, but a goodie, from Modern Drunkard. The entire article is exceptional and worth your time, but what stands out for me is Andre’s treatment of a young Hulk Hogan:

When he finished a can Andre would belch, crush the can in his dinner-platter-sized hand, and bounce the empty off the back of Hogan’s head. Hogan learned to count each thunk, so he could anticipate when Andre was running low. 

As one does.

Wrestling

Better

Phillies

In a few hours, the Giants and the Phillies will start the third of seven games they’ll play over the course of a week and a half, three in Philly and four in San Francisco. As the authors of this blog include both Giants and Phillies fans, you might imagine that there’s been some interest in these games. It’s magnified by the fact that the Giants beat the Phillies in last year’s National League Championship Series. And that the Phillies have been the best National League team over the past nine seasons.

Since these two teams met in the playoffs last year, it’s safe to say that this series has had a playoff atmosphere. But I think there’s something more than that to it. This is a match-up between two palpably good teams, and that’s before Carlos Beltran enters the building tonight.

I was born after the first two rounds of baseball expansion, so I can’t grouse about what things were like back in the no-division eight-team leagues of yore. These days MLB has 30 teams, and while expansion isn’t responsible for the existence of terrible teams—there have always been those—I think perhaps it’s responsible for the vast array of just-plain-mediocre teams.

As a west coast fan of a National League team, I’ve always rolled my eyes at the over-coverage of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. But I can’t deny that when those two teams play, there’s a playoff atmosphere, and you’re looking at two genuinely good ballclubs. The games are often terrific because of it.

Baseball is a competitive game. It’s long been said that even the worst team wins a third of its games, and even the best team loses a third. Just about every team ever has fallen in between those extremes. Being a winner in baseball means taking two out of three more often than you take one out of three. Even the most out-of-whack match-up can really go either way. (As I write this, the Royals are beating the Red Sox. And need I remind you that the Seattle Mariners ended their 17-game losing streak by beating the New York Yankees?)

That threat of losing is there, every day, for even the very best team. But despite that, there’s an appreciable difference between the quality of an Astros-Cubs game and a match-up of teams with serious World Series aspirations. This year there are three of those teams in each league: the Phillies, Giants, and Braves in the NL and the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rangers in the AL.

My Giants have rarely been in the position of being one of those elite teams. This sudden rise in quality has given me the ability to appreciate these series against great teams. The Giants-Phillies series the past three years have been terrific. Every home win feels like vindication. Every road win feels like a narrow escape. Even the losses feel different, since it’s a lot harder to be angry about losing to a good team than, say, the Dodgers.

Yankees and Red Sox fans will realize that I’m stating the obvious here. I guess it took me longer to understand what they’ve known for years now: When two teams with serious World Series aspirations play, this great game of baseball gets even better.

[Photo: Dmitry K/Flickr]

Baseball

Peter King’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents [Link]

Are you following the NFL news? It’s like fantasy football — four months of transactions in two days.

Football

The Blind Calling the Outs

What a way to end a 19-inning classic — with umpire Jerry Meals calling Julio Lugo safe at home, despite being tagged by the Pirates’ Michael McKenry four feet in front of home plate. (That’s home plate on the left side of the frame, above McKenry’s foot.) Most blown calls are at least kind of close plays.

Baseball

‘He Could Hold More Liquor Than the Average Person.’ [Link]

Billy Herman of the Brooklyn Dodgers, on drinking with baseball fan Ernest Hemingway in Cuba in 1942:

He was a good guy, but he became a tough guy — real mean — when he was drunk. He wanted to fight. Anybody. He was a pretty good-sized man, about 6-feet-2, 235 pounds. Hugh Casey was the closest to his build so he challenged Casey to a fight. Casey wasn’t anxious to fight but Hemingway insisted. So they put on the gloves. He went right after Hughey. He tried to hit him below the belt, anywhere. He tried to kick him in the groin. He was a dirty fighter.

Finally, Casey knocked him into the bookcase, knocking it over with a large crash on the terrazzo. It was like an explosion. It woke up his wife and she came downstairs. He told her, ‘Oh, we are just playing. Go to bed, honey.’

Baseball

Roberto Alomar is No Pete Rose

From Deadspin:

“He called me over,” Farooqui [said]. “I thought he was just going to shake my hand or give me a high-five. He took the shirt and waved it a little. I thought maybe he would autograph it or something. He just turned and kept going.”

Baseball

Sixteen and Counting [Link]

16 games ago the Seattle Mariners were 43-43, and a mere 2.5 games out of first place in the American League West. After last night’s shellacking in Yankee Stadium, they’re now 43-59, and 15.5 games out of first place in the division. The odds of losing a fair coin toss 16 times in a row are 1-in-65,536.

Baseball

The Un-Retirement of Brett Farve

The Un-Retirement of Brett Favre will soon have more sequels than The Land Before Time.

Football

Logos, Uniforms and Fishsticks

At least it’s not a fisherman.

That was my response to the unveiling of the new Winnipeg Jets logo. I was hoping they would do the same with the logo as they did with the team name; go back to the original, the classic. But, no. The logo and alternates are just some marketing president’s mashup of branding, modernization and…well to be honest it looks like an airplane getting it on with a maple leaf. Sexy.

But at least they can say it’s not the worst logo ever. Their uniforms will probably not go down in history with likes of the 80s Astros, the 1976 White Sox or the 80s Denver Nuggets as disgraces to their sports. There have been dozens of uniforms over time that have made fans less than happy to wear team jerseys and logos (Mighty Ducks, Portland Trailblazers) that had to put a dent in profits of the team store but there is probably no logo change as storied and horrifying as that of the 1995 New York Islanders.

The Islanders - who play on an island as you may have guessed - had been represented on their jerseys by a logo whose main symbol was…wait for it…an island. Long Island, to be exact. You know, where they play. This was a good logo. The “Y” in “NY” was a hockey stick and everything you needed to know about the team was right there: We are a hockey team and we play on Long Island, in New York. 

Somewhere in the offices of the Nassau Coliseum in the mid-90s, some management type person put pen to paper and started writing out ideas for changing the team around. “Hmm, we finished in the basement this season. What can we do to make better things happen? Make some trades? Fire the coach? Oust the GM? I know! We’ll let our leading scorer slip from our hands and then we’ll change the team’s logo!” 

At the subsequent Team Logo Change Meeting (and I’m conjecturing all this, work with me here), the management and the marketing department and the sales department and maybe a few peanut vendors and the team mascot had a brainstorming session about new logos. 

“What would represent Long Island the best?”
“Well….an island would, and we already….”
“CAN’T YOU SEE THAT LOGO IS MAKING US LOSE?”

And so it was decided that a fisherman would adorn the jerseys of the New York Islanders starting the next season. Not just any fisherman. An angry fisherman. A fisherman who looked like he was about to whack someone with his hockey stick. Perhaps he was angry because he had no legs.

“Well,” someone surely said, “representing the Bay fishermen is a nice touch and all, but Long Island is so much more than fishing, in fact…”
“Nonsense! Billy Joel wrote a song about the Bay fishermen so it must be a thing! A big thing!”

And then they added some teal to the logo because sports teams in the 90s love their teal and then they tweaked the fisherman and his fishing gear and voila! Instant hockey success!

“Hey, guys? This dude looks kind of like the Gorton’s fisherman.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Who are you, anyway? Aren’t you the guy who sells peanuts in section 312? Why am I listening to you?”

So the new logo came to be and in the first game against the rival New York Rangers the Ranger fans chanted “We want fishsticks!” and somewhere out there, a peanut vendor shook his head sadly.

The backlash was immediate and immense. Islander fans stormed the team’s office with pitchforks and torches, demanding death to those responsible. Well, we wrote strongly worded letters and shouted “Maloney sucks” at games. Pitchforks are expensive, people. 

In the end, the logo worked no magic. The team finished in last place again and became the laughing stock of the sports world. Management decided to revert back to the old logo immediately and the league said “Too bad. You’re stuck as The New York Fishsticks for another season.”

The team certainly earned a place in a dubious sort of history, though. When people rattle off a list of worst sports uniforms ever, the New York Islanders rank right up there with the Astros, Canucks, Padres, Raptors and White Sox. If you can’t be good at being good, you might as well be good at being the worst, right?

Long may you run, traditional Islanders logo. Or at least until you potentially leave us in 2015.

Hockey

Ten-Run Rule

Baseball

Tour de Force

It has come to our attention that there’s some sort of bike race/drug bacchanalia going on in — where else? — France right now, and as would be the case with any bike race that doesn’t involve a reverbing loudspeaker and the phrase “SATURDAY! SATURDAY! SATURDAY!”, the spectator are getting bored. So they’re amusing themselves, in pretty much the same way that people at any drug bacchanalia would amuse themselves:

By dressing up like jackasses and annoying everybody around them.

But in what could be a breakthrough for a sport that’s got all the excitement of a rolling cricket match, one of the racers (whose name and standing I intentionally omit, just to infuriate the bike nerds) finally had enough and hauled off and punched one of the jackasses:

Which is awesome!

That is a sport we can get behind. Keep the Tour de France exactly as it is, but award extra points for punching spectators, other riders or woodland creatures who happen to stumble onto the course. Have weapons caches along the route, allowing riders to arm themselves — pikes, maces, chains, shields — and part of the strategy becomes additional weight and unwieldiness against speed and endurance. Encourage doping, just to make things more interesting.

An effete European bicycle race — where the most agressive offensive weapon appears to be a horn with a slightly larger rubber bulb than the other guy — suddenly becomes a blood-soaked battle for survival, between rolling, well-armed and well-armored steroid-inflated monsters.

Oh, you would totally watch.

[Photos courtesy of Yahoo Sports. Yeah, we’re just as surprised as you are that there’s still a Yahoo Sports.]

Biking

Who Wouldn’t Pay to See the Black Crackers Play the Hannibal Cannibals? [Link]

Great piece by Jerry Cohen at Flannel of the Month on the history of baseball team names:

The important point here is that for several decades team nicknames were unofficial and and rather elastic. Most fans know the Dodgers tried on “Bridegrooms”, “Superbas” and “Robins” before settling on Dodgers, and Boston’s National League club was known as the “Beaneaters” and the “Bees” before they were the Braves. It took time for clubs to develop traditions and histories which were the foundation needed to give life to names that stuck. In the rare case that club owners tried to force a new nickname on fans it was not always successful, as when Philadelphia’s National league club announced in 1945 that they would henceforth be named the “Bluejays”. The new name didn’t stick (perhaps the fact that the team neglected to take “Phillies” off the uniform didn’t help).

(Hat tip: Jim Coudal.)

Baseball

The Accidental Hall of Famer

In March of 1999, my future bride treated me to a hockey game, in which my beloved Detroit Red Wings were taking on the San Jose Sharks. (My future bride’s willingness to take me to hockey games was not why I married her, but it was certainly an argument in her favor.) The game — a rather forgettable 2-0 defeat for the Forces of Good at the hands of those teal-wearing upstarts — is perhaps best remembered for this happening. But I choose to remember it for a different reason.

I was not the only Wings fan in attendance that night. Sitting behind us was a young lady who was especially… devoted in her support of the Red Wings in general and one player in particular.

“We love you, Chris Osgood,” this lady would shriek loudly, proudly, repeatedly, whenever the puck arrived in the vicinity of the Detroit netminder. 

It was a curious expression of devotion, and not just because Osgood wasn’t in goal for that particular game. (Norm Maracle got the start instead.) No — this display of passion struck me as odd because if there’s one person who seemingly never generated much in the way of passionate outbursts during his 17-year career, it would be Chris Osgood.

I’m not saying Red Wing fans didn’t feel a certain amount of fondess for the goalie. “He was known in Detroit by his nicknames ‘Ozzie,’ chanted by the crowd after a big save,” his Wikipedia entry reads, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time, it’s never to dispute anything Wikipedia says. But jot down a list of the best goalies in hockey from when Osgood entered the league in 1993 to when he retired this past Tuesday, and I bet it will take you some time before you remember to put Chris Osgood’s name on the list.

Certainly, the Red Wings seemingly had a hard time remembering just how good Chris Osgood was. Here’s a partial list of goaltenders that team management thought would handle the job better than Osgood during his 14 seasons in Detroit: Tim Cheveldae, Bob Essensa, Mike Vernon, Bill Ranford, Manny Legace, Dominik Hasek, Ty Conklin, and Jimmy Howard. So far as I can tell, Osgood was only a finalist for the Veznia Trophy once—the 1995-96 season when he lost to Jim Carrey, doubtlessly on the strength of the latter’s performance in Batman Forever. He was named to the All-Star team three times — not bad, but certainly not far short of the resumé you’d expect from a Martin Brodeur or a Patrick Roy. Osgood played in an era when NHL players competed in the Olympics; Team Canada never really gave him a sniff for a spot on the squad. Even his gear was nondescript — in an era where goalies put on customized masks depicting everything from cartoon mascots to recreations of Picasso’s Guernica, Osgood wore what looked like a standard hockey helmet with a faceguard that appeared to have been fastened on five minutes before the puck dropped.

And yet… Chris Osgood retires with 401 career wins. Only nine other goalkeepers won more than 400 games, and the only one who isn’t enshrined in the Hall of Fame — that’d be Brodeur — isn’t eligible yet. Osgood’s name has been carved onto the Stanley Cup three times, and only once was he an innocent bystander. He played in every postseason game in the Wings’ 1998 run to the Cup, and he took over for an inconsistent Hasek in the 2008 playoffs. If Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins teammates hadn’t of bailed out their over-rated pretty-boy captain in 2009, Osgood might have had another Stanley Cup triumph to his name.

We’d all like to be Martin Brodeur — indisputably the best at what we choose to do in life. More often than not, we fall far short of our dreams. And at the end of the day, maybe the best we can hope for is to put in our best effort, to maybe rise above the level of our talent on our best day, and — when it’s time to finally leave the stage— to be able to look back at what we’ve done with no small measure of pride. Chris Osgood can do that. He wasn’t the best of his era, but he was pretty damn good.

And if nothing else, Detroit Red Wings fans can appreciate him for this.

The Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche squared off in a particularly nasty playoff series in 1996, sparking off a rivalry for the next few years that occasionally veered into madness. In the mid-to-late ’90s, I’m not sure that there was anything — hell, ignorance, certain ex-girlfriends — that I hated more than Colorado Avalanche. And the sight of Chris Osgood pummeling Patrick Roy like a Montreal steak always brings a smile to my face.

Frankly, I think the city of Detroit should erect a statue commemorating that moment. Put it right next to the one of Joe Louis’ fist.

[Image courtesy of Dan4th Nicolas]

Hockey

Field Trip: Marlins vs Mets

Just to prove that we here at American McCarver Industries could cover the other baseball team in New York, I flew there earlier this week to catch the Monday game at Citi Field. This was a Marlins/Mets make up game from a rainout in May and it had all the hallmarks of a Monday night just-get-this-over-with kind of game. Book of Mormon it wasn’t.

While neither team has a particularly bad record, both are 10+ games out in the extremely competitive NL East.  The Mets are just plain a mess. Putting aside ownership issues, the team has seen more than its share of injuries — anyone who can hit is on the DL with the exception of Carlos Beltran who just had the flu. Designated late inning Giants killer (but otherwise useless) Scott Hairston was batting 4th and then he got injured during his first at-bat. The Mets clearly needed the day off and weren’t getting it.

Although the Marlins have the worse record, they’ve looked like the better team all year. In fact except for the Posey Curse, they might be in contention right now. Oh, and Hanley Ramirez. He’s kind of a jerk. But otherwise, the Marlins looked like a team that was still playing baseball.

The only people less in the game than the Mets would have to have been the Mets fans. Citi Field was empty, we estimated maybe 10,000 people at first pitch. It was kind of bleak and the predicted game time thunderstorms didn’t help any.

This was my fourth trip to Citi Field and I’m always amazed at how much bigger the park feels versus AT&T, even though the two stadiums seat approximately the same number of people. Citi has seats everywhere you look and is cut up into so many different sections that it just seems big. It plays big — we saw more than one pop out that would have been a home run even at the most unfriendly-to-hitter parks. The air was so thick with humidity that no one was going long anyway.

The rains did come around 8th inning and everyone was hoping they’d call it quickly (the Marlins were up 4-0). The Mets did have a 9th inning rally that might have turned into something but ended up as a 4-1 loss with only a Jason Bay sacrifice fly to give the Mets any offense. None of the few fans left by the 9th were surprised by the outcome but at least the subway was empty.

My biggest take away, beyond the fact that Mets games are not worth seeing this year, is that a Concrete is a bad thing to order “for the road” after a sweaty night drinking beer and watching crappy baseball. It was the only thing I was still tasting the next morning.

Baseball

Good Kid

While that poor kid in San Francisco was pouting over his missed foul ball, a young Brewers fan’s similar story had a much sweeter ending.

Baseball

Chris Stewart, Role Model

I think he just hit my bat two times and the ball just fell in.

Giants catcher Chris Stewart, when asked about his two hits in the Giants loss against the Dodgers, shows all those idiots on Twitter how the pros do the humblebrag.

Baseball

Let’s… Go… Bankrupt!

Overheard at Monday night’s Giants-Dodgers game (won, inevitably, by the forces of good): fans chanting “Let’s go bankrupt!”

Geez, I hope Vin Scully didn’t hear them. (It’s catchy, though. I wonder if the dozens of fans remaining in Chavez Ravine will pick it up and make it their own. That is, before leaving their seats in the 7th inning and steeling themselves to the harrying journey through the lawless Thunderdome that is the Dodger Stadium parking lot.)

Still, cheer up, both of you Dodger fans! On Wednesday the inevitable happened. The world-champion, first-place Giants lost a game to the lowly Dodgers. After winning six straight against the Bums, the Giants finally gave one back when a line-up made up largely of Giants injury replacements couldn’t score off of Clayton Kershaw, one of the Dodgers’ few remaining decent players.

Such is life in a pennant race.

(Note to Dodger fans: a “pennant race” is what happens when it’s late summer and your team isn’t yet focused on its off-season plans.)

[Photo Credit: TMZ.com image of Dodger owner Frank McCourt. Seems like a nice fellow. Why is TMZ hassling him?]

Baseball

Yoooou’re Pout!

It’s tough being a Giants fan lately. Last night, your world-championship, first place team dropped a game against a local middle school the Dodgers. The night before, you missed a foul ball and had to pout your way through a whole at-bat before the San Francisco Self-Esteem Emergency Repair Squad could get you a new one:

Now where in the world would someone at AT&T Park have learned that tantrums like that are acceptable behavior? Oh… Right.

Baseball

ESPN to the Clue Phone, Paging ESPN to the Clue Phone [Link]

The story goes that ESPN president George Bodenheimer attended the first Disney board meeting in Orlando, Florida, just after the company had bought Pixar, the innovative animation factory, and spotted Apple CEO Steve Jobs in a hallway. It seemed like a good time to introduce himself. “I am George Bodenheimer,” he said to Jobs. “I run ESPN.” Jobs just looked at him and said nothing other than “Your phone is the dumbest fucking idea I have ever heard,” then turned and walked away.

Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN  (via @beaucolburn)

The Boundless Hope of the Off-Season

On a hot summer night, over 5,000 people showed up at the Nassau Coliseum to watch a game that belongs to winter. 

What would make all those people spend a Saturday night in July watching a hockey scrimmage between New York Islanders’ prospects?

Hope.

Hope is the energy that fuels the off-season. Hope is what keeps fans tethered to their favorite sports between the championship game and opening day. Hope is what makes us clutch our season tickets like a security blanket.

As sports fans, we dream big. We always dream big. Even if our team finishes in last place, we spend the off-season daydreaming of scenarios in which our team rises from basement to first place. We go to sleep with visions of championships dancing in our head. Because in the off-season, anything is possible. 

Those prospects look good, don’t they? Those young guys will bring a much needed spark to the team. The draft picks, the trades, the free agents signed, the guys claimed off waivers. Any one of those players could end up being the missing piece to the puzzle, the guy who brings the team together and propels them on to victory. We scour the newspapers and websites looking for hints of greatness at training camp, looking for words of hope and encouragement from our favorite players. 

Whether our favorite teams are winners or we’re fans of a struggling franchise, we dream. We hope for even more wins, more records, more streaks, another title. We hope for more things to cheer about, more reasons to sit in the stands.

The hope of the off-season is what makes 5,000 people turn up for a hockey scrimmage in July. We see on the ice the future of our team and for a little while, we can imagine another banner hanging from the rafters of the arena. We look at those kids on the ice and imagine them carrying the Stanley Cup while we cheer them from the very seats in which we watched them play on a summer night.

We can dream, can’t we?

Hockey

Accidentally Popular

Joe Posnanski’s such a good writer, it’s hard to write about him without feeling woefully untalented. Still, his piece “Loving Baseball” for Sports Illustrated is a wonderfully written meditation on the summer game.

Still, one particular passage struck me more than the rest of the piece:

Here we are, 120 years later, in a very different America, and yes, all the time, we read that baseball can’t keep up with the pace of our everyday lives, that television ratings are down, that football long ago took over as the National Pastime. But is that really the surprising part? Or is the surprising part that America still loves and breathes baseball, long after barbershop quartets stopped singing, long after couples stopped waltzing, long after boxers stopped hitting each other with their bare fists. Why in the heck do so many of us still love baseball?

We’ve spent a lot of time in the last week writing about soccer, which is wildly popular worldwide and yet a curiosity at best for most Americans. There are a lot of posts on this site about hockey, which—despite Michele’s wonderful writing on the sport—is only slightly more popular with your average American than soccer.

I love niche sports. I love curling—the one with the sheet of ice, a bunch of rocks, and a guy with a broom. I will stop and watch almost any crazy sport in order to figure out the rules. On a trip to the UK I was mesmerized by hurling, which rhymes with curling but is more like soccer played by men with sticks, who use the sticks to whack each other while trying to play soccer. Or so I gleaned. I devoured Ken Tremendous’s epic story about cricket, a sport that it seems like a baseball fan would love if he only had a few spare days to watch a match.

But this is my point. I love lots of crazy niche sports, and I love baseball. And most of the time, I feel surprised that baseball is as popular as it is. All the games are televised. Millions of people go. Players are paid enormous sums of money. It’s covered by the mainstream media. My nine-year-old daughter plays softball, watches baseball games, and falls asleep with random radio broadcasts whispering in her ear from the MLB At Bat app on her iPod.

I’m not saying baseball isn’t a great sport. It is. And those of you who don’t think it is are philistines. What’s surprising to me is that so many people like it. It is slow, especially if you’re waiting for a big hit instead of looking at the finer details of the pitcher-versus-catcher match-up. It takes a long time. It has no clock and some arcane rules. It’s like a board game with grown men as the pieces.

During college I had a summer job in a deli run by a pair of Hungarian immigrants. The proprietor was the gruff-but-lovable type, heavy on the gruff. One day the subject of baseball (and soccer) came up. He was, unsurprisingly, on the side of soccer.

“Baseball? Is not sport,” he said in his thick Dracula accent. “Is game.

Joe Posnanski’s piece has a lot of answers to the question, “What Keeps The Grand Game Great?” But it’s the question that caught me. I love baseball, but I also love that so many other people love it. Because anything this great and crazy and hard to follow should be a cult favorite, not a mainstream passion. And yet, here we are. Baseball. Still popular after 150 years. Who would have thunk it?

[Photo: My daughter the softball player.]

Baseball

Jorge Posada, Winding Down

Last night. The Yankees are down 4-2 against the Rays in the top of the 8th. Left-hander Cesar Ramos is on the mound. Robinson Cano leads off with a broken-bat bloop single to center. Nick Swisher follows with a walk. Due up next: Jorge Posada. 16-year veteran. Five-time All-Star. Four-time World Series champion.

Now, though, he’s a designated hitter with an OPS of just .695 and only 29 RBIs in mid-July. A 39-year-old batting .224, and more to the point, hitting just .120 against lefties this season. A slow runner who increasingly hits ground balls.

And so instead of walking from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box, he gets called back to the dugout, to watch Andruw Jones pinch-hit for him.

Posada’s face says it all.

Baseball

Fixing Soccer [Link]

Paul Kafasis fixes soccer. I agree with him on all points, but this is the big one:

Point #4: Play Until Somebody Wins

Baseball doesn’t switch to a home run derby after the 12th inning. Basketball doesn’t switch to a game of H-O-R-S-E after the second OT. So from now on, we’re not deciding which team is the best in the world through what are effectively coin flips. I never again want to hear an announcer tell me a goalie “guessed the wrong way”. If the score’s still tied, you keep playing. You’re tired? Suck. it. up. You play to win, so shouldn’t you keep playing until somebody actually does?

This isn’t just because the U.S. women lost on penalty kicks to Japan in the World Cup finale over the weekend. Twelve years ago the U.S. women won the World Cup in a penalty shootout. And penalty shootouts sure are exciting. But they’re a completely different game, and they involve huge amounts of luck. It’s a terrible way to lose and an unsatisfying way to win.

Soccer

The Best Fans in All of Sports

Saturday night’s match at Phone Company Field in San Francisco marked the third time in five years that I’ve attended a soccer exhibition featuring Club America, which — depending on how you feel about C.D. Guadalajara — is either the most successful Mexican soccer club or at the very least in the conversation. And all three matches — in 2007 against Chelsea, in 2009 against Inter Milan, and this Saturday against Manchester City — have included the group of supporters featured in the photograph above.

Please forgive the limitations of still photography, the iPhone 3GS’s camera, and the clumsy oaf shooting the picture, but many people in that photo are carrying musical instruments of some sort — drums, trumpets, whistles, what have you. The ones that don’t have any instruments are either singing or chanting or waving flags. Occasionally, someone will toss confetti into the air and, if security is looking the other way, a road flare or two might get lit up. This pulsating buzz of activity begins shortly before kickoff and, near as I can tell, end shortly after the teams leave the field at the game’s conclusion. Any pauses, halts, or hesitations are momentary, only so the group can switch from one chant to the next.

That this constant musical demonstration happens during an exhibition game, mostly being played so overseas soccer clubs can line their pockets with disposable income from chumps like me, is impressive enough. That it happens regardless of the scoreline is positively astounding. It’s one thing to sing boisterously when you’re holding your own against Chelsea or topping Inter Milan on penalty kicks. But on Saturday, Manchester City pretty much controlled the game from Minute 1 to Minute 90. The game wound up 2-0, but you got the feeling that was because City took its foot off the gas in the second half. The Club America offense only troubled City’s goalkeeper a couple of times; otherwise, it was squandering possession early and often to an opponent that could have named the final score at will. The group of Club America fans never stopped playing or singing.

(I was last asked to conjugate a verb in Spanish nearly a quarter-century ago, so it’s quite possible that the chants and songs turned as ugly as the game itself, and mon0lingual doofus that I am, I never noticed. If the Club America fans were singing about all the horrible things they planned on doing to anyone wearing a Manchester City shirt after the game, it was at least the most jovial, up-tempo narcocorrido I’ve ever heard.)

There’s a chant in soccer — “You only sing when you’re winning” — and it’s generally directed at previously boisterous fans who’ve suddenly clammed up when things stop going their way. I’ve only been to three Club America matches in my lifetime, but I’m reasonably confident nobody ever directs that chant at them.

You hear a lot of argument about which team has the best fans in any sport. Cardinals fans like to claim the title because they’ll reportedly clap politely for an opponent who makes a spectacular play. Red Sox fans think they’re the best because — as they’ll happily tell you until you beg them to stop — they endured heartbreak and misery that no other fanbase has ever experienced (except for nearly all of them). And Yankee fans believe they’re the top fans in baseball because they conflate their team’s success with their worth as human beings.

For my money, though, the best kind of fans are the ones who stare down defeat with the same aplomb they celebrate victory. Bad break go against you? Change the tune. The other team’s lead rapidly edging from “narrow” to “comfortable” to “insurmountable?” Better to light a road flare than curse the darkness. Is a loss all but inevitable? Just keep dancing. Enjoy the moment. That’s a fanbase we should all try to embody.

Dressing your children up as pink-haired undead goblins as a show of support for the team is also quite admirable.

Soccer

Well, We’ll Always Have This

Soccer

The Big Game

Today at 2pm, my family and friends will gather around the television with food, drinks and vuvuzelas left over from the 2010 Men’s World Cup. Yes, we really bought vuvuzelas. 

We will be a mixture of true soccer fans, big game soccer fans, mildly interested fans,  and fans of shouting “USA! USA!” What we all have in common in that we are fans of sports in general so all of us, even those who don’t watch soccer unless it’s the World Cup, enjoy the excitement of a big game. Whether it is the Super Bowl, the seventh game of the NBA finals or even a Little League championship game, we know there is nothing more dramatic in sports than when it all comes down to one game. 

What makes this one even more dramatic for fans of women’s soccer is that there is more at stake than just a championship. While the U.S. team has earned respect around the world what it needs today is to earn the respect - and hearts - of American sports fans. Soccer doesn’t get much respect in the United States to begin with, let alone women’s soccer. Though the road to this game has been one filled with media-friendly heroics that helped gather fans along the way and made names like Hope Solo recognizable to people who never watched soccer before, there’s still the fight to win the new fans over permanently. Perhaps a win today could propel the team and the sport into the spotlight and win over people who are fans of determination, hard play, heart and guts. 

What this game has that the World Series or Stanley Cup doesn’t is a sense of national pride, with people pulling for their country rather than just a team. The casual fan or even the not-a-fan will willingly wrap themselves in a US flag for a few hours and call themselves fans of the game if the pride of their nation is at stake.

The Empire State Building is lit up in red, white and blue this weekend for the team. Vice President Joe Biden’s wife Jill will be at the game, representing the White House, along with Chelsea Clinton. There’s an Olympic-type atmosphere in America surrounding today’s match, an anticipation of feel-good moment where a country comes together to celebrate a potential victory that’s not just a victory for the women at play, but for everyone. Everyone’s looking for that Jim Craig moment.  

Maybe after today’s game — regardless of outcome — people will talk about it for a day or two then move on to talking about the baseball season or the end of the NFL lockout. But maybe there will be a handful of people whose hearts and minds will have been won over by this team, this sport. Maybe a few young girls will decide they want to play soccer. Maybe a few young women will have new, worthy heroes. 

Whatever the outcome, the road to this match has been a hell of a ride. The women of this U.S. team deserve the same accolades and attention of any sports team in any league in America. Let’s give them what they deserve:  our attention and our respect.

If you were not planning on watching the match today, I ask that you just give it a chance. Come on over. I have some extra vuvuzelas and plenty of burgers to go around. Bring your own flag.

[Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images Europe]

Soccer

First Lightning, Now Deer Glands

Musk deer

The saga of the North Korean women’s soccer team, already suffering from an epidemic of lightning strikes, has gotten weirder: Five of the team’s players have tested positive for steroids.

Now you’re saying to yourself, how much bad luck can one team have? But, shockingly, these two events are not unrelated. It turns out—according to North Korean officials—that the players were using medicine from the glands of the Asian musk deer to treat the effects of the lightning.

It is unclear if the musk deer itself contains a gland that generates anabolic steroids, if musk deer gland secretions were mixed with steroids and then given to the team as medicine, if musk deer gland secretions can be mistaken for steroids, or if there’s rampant abuse of steroids in the musk deer population due to the intransigence of the commissioner of Musk Deer League Baseball. (I hear MDLB attendance is way up, though. But that’s purely anecdotal.)

“The gland in question comes from musk deer living in a large swath of Asia from Siberia to North Korea,” reports the Associated Press. “The hairy gland is usually cut open to extract a liquid that is used for medical purposes.”

Lance Armstrong declined to comment.

[Photo: Musk deer by Dan Coulter/Flickr]

Soccer

Start Them Young

We cleaned out the garage today and I found my son’s school journal from 2001-02 when he was eight years old. Almost every journal entry is devoted to sports.

This one is just evidence that us Yankee fans learn how to be assholes at an early age. 

The Yankees will win Mariners you stink you lose three times and will lose four times and the yankees will the win world series ha ha ha madux you stunk that game same to you Glavine. Next year just give up.

BUT THE YANKEES lost!

At least he went back and added the part about the Yankees losing. 

Baseball

Let’s Not Play Two

The Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Angels of Assorted Southern California Municipalities will meet at 1 p.m. PT this afternoon and do something that hasn’t happened in Major League Baseball in eight years — play a scheduled, not-caused-by-a-rainout, no-we-actually-agreed-to-do-this-months-ago doubleheader. As anyone familiar with the history of the sport surely knows, doubleheaders used to be a fixture in baseball, a staple of the regular season that would reward baseball fans with two games for the price of one. 

In these modern times, doubleheaders have fallen out of favor—they’re generally added to the schedule only when rain-outs force teams to make up games. And those doubleheaders are typically of the day-night variety, where one game gets played, everyone gets shoo’ed out of the stadium, and then a new batch of paying customers are hustled in for Game Two. But a scheduled doubleheader hasn’t happened since the Padres and Phillies played one on August 2, 2003.

Conventional wisdom has it that doubleheaders have fallen by the wayside because of greedy owners and indolent players — that the owners hate the thought of giving up ticket revenue and the players union balks at having its workforce play more than one game on any given day. Perhaps, that’s true. But I think it overlooks the most important explanation for why you don’t find many doubleheaders on the schedule these days.

Doubleheaders are awful.

Look, I like watching baseball games as much as the next guy. I do quite a bit of it during the season. But two complete Major League Baseball games back-to-back, with a 30-minute-or-so break to allow the players to rehydrate or eat their orange slices or do whatever it is professional ballplayers do to prepare for a game? That’s a big ask. I mean, in olden times, when nickels cost a penny and no one went out in public without first putting on a hat, pitchers breezed through games so that everyone could be home in time to catch their favorite radio serial on the wireless. Now? Between interminable pitching changes, between-inning promotions, dancing mascots, and hitters adjusting their batting gloves and going on spirit walks in between each pitch like some modern-day Mike Hargrove, if you pull off a nine-inning game in less than three hours, it feels like a momentous achievement.

And the funny thing is, I love extra innings. A game that creeps into the 11th, 12th, 13th inning and beyond? That’s a great time, aided and abetted by the giddy thrill that comes from watching free baseball and the uncertainty as to how and when the game will end, if ever. Doubleheaders, in contrast, feel like a forced march, a test of endurance that no human being should be asked to undertake.

Believe me, I have first-hand knowledge of the enormous time-suck that doubleheaders turn out to be. In 1983, I went to a doubleheader — A’s-White Sox, in case you were wondering — eager to experience the thrill of two games in a single day. That thrill lasted approximately through the first pitch of the first game. The A’s and Sox conspired to play a sloppy, unending affair that stretched on for 11 innings and four hours and 21 minutes. I remember little about the game — the mind has a way of blocking out such traumas — save for a truly wretched performance by Mike Warren, who let the Sox take the lead in the 10th, and then, after the A’s improbably scored three runs in the bottom half of the inning to tie things up again, got pounded for even more runs in the 11th. (Mike Warren, incidentally, was the clubhouse leader for the title of Oakland Athletic Least Likely to Throw a No-Hitter right up until the moment that Dallas Braden yelled at A-Rod to stay off his mound.) Game Two of that 1983 A’s-Sox doubleheader was played in a much crisper two hours and 31 minutes, but we wouldn’t know, since we left shortly after Chicago scored six runs in the third inning. For the people that stayed for both games, that’s seven hours or so of baseball. I imagine that by the end of that second game, they had the same haunted look you’d find on the face of a 1930s dance marathon participant.

Because I never learn from my mistakes, I went to another doubleheader 23 years later — this one featuring two Class A minor league teams. Even though the California League has a rule that the second game of a doubleheader is only scheduled for seven innings, I still couldn’t make it through both games. I blame this less on my sticktoitiveness and more on the fact that the temperature in Modesto at first pitch was 112 degrees. As luck would have it, that particular game also featured a promotion in which a whole host of mascots descended upon the stadium. I have little doubt that as the mascots cavorted and frolicked in the heat for the amusement of the 200 or so people in attendance, they were also making their own gravy inside those costumes.

I’ll probably flip on the TV to catch some of the A’s-Angels doubleheader today, if for no other reason than to see how many people are still in the stands by the end of Game Two. (Given the A’s paltry attendance this season, I’m pretty sure the remaining fans at that second game will be able to personally introduce themselves to one another.) Best of luck to those at the game who do brave both halves of the doubleheader — you’re certainly better fans than me. Just not wiser.

[Pictured: An actual photo of the “crowd” at that doubleheader in Modesto. Not pictured: The author of this article melting into a puddle.]

Baseball

Yeah, But It Actually Was About Football — a Little Bit

Over the past five years I’ve heard people say “Oh, you’ll love it. It’s not REALLY about football.” I’m guilty of having said it myself a couple of times, in the hope that it would get my Whole Foods-shopping Prius-driving NPR-pledging friends over their fear that they might be caught watching a show about a populist concern. Like so many backwards-cap-wearing groundlings. 

But it actually was about football, as much as it was about anything else. The Awl nails it

One way you could put it is that “FNL” is about how silly, even tragic it is to be “about” something. How freeing it can be to turn your back on what you are supposed to be or to like. It points its fingers directly at self-professed “sophisticated” media consumers and asks us: “Don’t you like things that are beautiful?”

Yes, I do.

Football

An Embarrassment of Riches

I’m a Yankee fan. I’ve been a Yankee fan my entire life. I’m used to the team being in the spotlight, for good or for bad. It’s New York. It’s The Yankees

But this?

Even I think this is a bit much. 

Here’s a list of players who have reached the 3,000 hit mark. I’m willing to bet not all of them got a Sports Illustrated cover for their feat. Hell, I don’t even remember Craig Biggio’s run for his 3,000th hit at all. 

This is why they hate us.

Baseball

Trade Me — Quickly

The Padres are wearing their throwback uniforms tonight and I keep expecting Tony Gwynn to bat next. I grew up on the East Coast as a Mets fan but I still think this uniform brings back 70’s baseball to me more than any other. Absolutely iconic. And really damn ugly.

Baseball

All Is Forgiven

Five minutes ago my phone rang. The display showed Gruber’s name. I pick up.

“Hey, Mike, this is Pete Rose and I just wanted to say ‘Fuck the Yankees’.”

Baseball

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Broken Neck

I want to build up this all-American quarterback, this hero. This wonderful, beautiful kid with his entire future ahead of him. His biggest decision in life was whether he was going to take a full ride to UT or Notre Dame. He’s got the hot girlfriend. He’s got the loving parents. And he’s going to break his neck in the first game. We’re going to create this iconic American hero, and we’re going to demolish him.

Peter Berg on Jason Street, in Grantland’s oral history of Friday Night Lights

Football

Embracing the Loss

It’s not easy rooting for losers.

The Yankees have had their lean years. The Jets make a living disappointing their fans. And the Islanders haven’t made the playoffs since 2006 and haven’t even had a decent post-season effort since the 90s. 

So I know about losing. I know about putting yourself out there, handing over your heart to a team that seemingly does its best to break it. But we go back for more, don’t we? We hand our hearts and minds over to the teams again and again, expecting different results each time. “Maybe next year,” we say. “We’ll get it together soon.” 

Year after year we hope, we wait, we look for the silver linings in tarnished seasons. We tell fans of other teams that our team is just going through a rebuilding phase. So maybe that phase has lasted the better part of a decade. Maybe deep in our hearts we know there’s little hope for a championship. The management is a mess. Bad trades are made. Free agents flee. Draftees won’t sign. Suddenly there are more empty seats in the arena than people and fans of your rival team make jokes like “Hey, look at all those fans wearing blue shirts! Oh wait, those are all empty seats! Hah!” A part of you wants to cry. A part of you wants to punch him. But you know there’s no defense, no argument. So you do what all those people who didn’t show up for the 40th loss of the season did. You lose hope.

Congratulations. You have reached the acceptance stage of fandom. Once you pass denial (“Thing are looking good! We might even make the playoffs next year!”) it’s amazing how easily the acceptance comes. It’s even freeing. You learn to embrace being the fan of a losing team. You wear that sub .500 record like a comfortable sweater. You try on the phrase “lovable losers” even though you hate your team, the owner, the general manager and the whole front office. Maybe even the girls who shoot t-shirt out of cannons during tv time-outs. You shrug off each loss with a “Well, I didn’t expect them to win.”

And that’s the great thing about acceptance. The lack of expectations. You have freed yourself from the anxiety and frustration that comes with waiting for something good to happen. You set your sights low. You’re fine with resting on the laurels of “Well at least we aren’t the worst team” and you take pride in the fact that you have all of section 215 to yourself and you’re on a first name basis with the beer vendor. Instead of rooting for wins, you’re hoping for that first draft pick. 

At some point you realize there is a grand life lesson at play here. While other fans are gloating about their team’s performance and feeling smug and self satisfied with their “2011 World Champion” sweatshirts, you know you are the real winner here because you learned some valuable things about love and loss and life.

And, if you’re like me, you will turn being a loser into being a smug asshole and maybe you take what you’ve learned and teach your own kid a thing or two in the process. I hammered home the benefits of being a loser to my son at the end of the New York Rangers’ 2009 playoff run. 

“You make fun of me for being an Islander fan, but who’s laughing now? Not you, that’s for sure. See, it’s ok to be the fan of a really bad team. We have no expectations. We don’t get our hopes up for anything. We go about life knowing damn well that our team will be playing golf at a time when your team is making you sit on the edge of your seat every night, wondering if they’ll make it through to the next round or not. We’re carefree. We welcome April and the end of the season with open arms, instead of anxiety. We never feel that devastation that you surely felt last night as you stood there with your heart in your mouth as the game winded down and you prayed for that goal to even up the score, you had hope right down to the very last second and oh, so sorry, they blew it. Up three games to one and it all came down to that final minute of the final game and you still had hope even then, didn’t you? And you went to bed sorrowful and dejected and maybe a bit pissed off and you know what? I went to bed and slept the sleep of the peaceful, the peace that comes when your hockey team sucks so bad you write off the season in October. And this is a good lesson for life, kid. Set your expectations really, really low and you’ll never be disappointed. Have a great day at school, son. Also, fuck Sean Avery. And I love you.”

He might not have taken too kindly to that soliloquy, but I like to think he was thankful for the lesson I taught him about losing when the Rangers didn’t even make the playoffs the following year.

Hockey

Let Us Praise the All-Star Broadcast Team

Other than the end of the broadcast, when Joe Buck and Tim McCarver stopped talking, my favorite moment was Pablo Sandoval’s double in the seventh inning off the gas-tossing Brandon League.

Baseball

There’s No “I” In Magic

For a month now — eight practices and two pre-season games — I have been the coach of a kids’ basketball team. The squad is composed of nine-, ten- and eleven-year-olds, of vastly different experience and skill.

This makes for some awkward basketball. One brief session involved explaining that you cannot walk while holding the ball. The three-second rule has exposed our school system’s inability to teach kids to count higher than two. And, no, you will never, ever make that half-court shot. How do I know? Because the ball is landing on the free-throw line — that’s how I know.

But these are impressionable young minds, and I’ve been given the rare opportunity to bend them to my will shape the outlook and attitude they’ll use for the rest of their lives. Basketball is a game, yes, but it’s also a metaphor. I’m going to put my English minor to use one way or another.

So at the first practice, the team gathered around me, I ask a question: “Who is the greatest basketball player of all time?”

“Jordan!” one kid shouts immediately.

“Wrong! Run a lap.” I’m molding minds here — it’s not a job for the timid.

“Kobe!” says another.

“Wrong! Run a lap.”

“LeBron!”

“Wrong! Run ten laps, but don’t circle around — just head off in one direction. No, don’t wait for green lights.” He trots off and I assume that he eventually made it home. Whatever.

“The best basketball player of all time is Magic Johnson. This is a team sport, and he was the ultimate team player. He’s the guy they invented the triple-double for. He made everybody else on the court better. That’s what each of you is here to do.”

“Coach—”

“Run a lap! Some of you have been playing basketball for a long time, and have the advantage of entering puberty during the Bush Administration. Others have clearly confused basketball and basketweaving. Either way, we are a team. We win together or we lose together! Nobody has a good game, unless everybody has a good game! We fight and we die together! Stop crying! We shall always aspire to teamhood. Teamness. Teamosity. It was a minor; gimme a break.”

“Yes, Coach.”

“OK! Run a lap!”

But, of course, words are words and on-court glory is on-court glory and the fact that these kids — the future of basketball; the future of society — picked Jordan and Kobe and LeBron before Johnson is telling.

Later that day, on the very first play of our very first scrimmage, the biggest kid on the team — one of the most experienced — brings the ball across the line, puts his shoulder down, drives the lane and… misses. Badly.

OK, fine. Jitters. First day.

But then he does it again. And again. And again. Despite other players who were open more often than not. Despite the gentle guiding hand of his coach. Despite the innate need of human beings to gather together and distribute the risk of existence across a collective.

No passes, no looks, just a straight shot for the glory. That he kept missing was almost irrelevant.

But what can you expect, really? What gets shown on the highlight reels? What gets talked about the next day? What gets the ad contracts and the shoe deals and the unfortunate paternity suits?

You will never hear someone on ESPN say, “And here’s a solid utility player, making sure that Mr. Twenty Million Dollars actually has the ball.”

In a particularly American way, we are obsessed with the Great Man, even in the context of teams. We are drawn to stand-outs, even when their efforts don’t or can’t add up to a victory. Our fundamentally egalitarian society is at war with itself over the place of individual exceptionalism. Don’t make me go all de Tocqueville on your ass. My major was political science.

“Heroes,” some doofus once said, “rise to the occasion.” Except they don’t. They’re helped there, by teammates, by families, by society. Yes, cheering individuals is natural. They put a human face on an abstract concept like teams, or companies, or political parties. They allow us to see ourselves.

But our tendency to pack up all the glory into a nice little box and hand it entirely to one person is damaging, not only to whatever cohesiveness holds that team together, but to culture at large. Every kid who sees a strutting ball-hog feted on the tube is one step closer to trying — probable not succeeding, but trying — to be a strutting ball-hog himself. To the detriment of everybody.

Team sports are the purest sports, because they aren’t about the individual, or shouldn’t be. They’re about banding together and doing more together than you can separately. They are models for something larger. Some people are always going to stand out from the crowd they run with, but unless and until their work makes the whole better, it’s not going to add up to much. When it does, when the whole team benefits, it’s beautiful. When it doesn’t, well, that’s just one more high-profile loser.

The irony that I singled out Magic Johnson as a standard-bearer for teamwork is not lost on me. But the entire concept of a “team” needs starts somewhere. It’s not the draft or the assignments by the Rec Center and it’s certainly not SportsCenter or the maddened crowd. It’s when someone says: We can do this better together.

That kid, the big one? He’s passing now. He still palpably wants the ball, but if he doesn’t have a shot, he’ll give it to a teammate, who will then shoot and miss just as badly.

But I’m calling it progress.

Basketball

A Partial List of People Who Decided Not to Show Up for Work Today Even as So Many Americans Wish They Had Jobs

Baseball

No All-Star Game for You, Sleepy Head

"Heroes rise to the occasion."

-- John Gruber, July 9, 2011

"... unless they are sleepy or have better things to do that day."

-- Derek Jeter, July 12, 2011

Source: Jeter criticized for skipping All-Star festivities

[Pictured: Dramatic recreation of how Derek Jeter is spending the All-Star break]

Baseball

A Baseball Story

I know. I’m supposed to be writing about hockey. But the hockey off-season is full of lulls in the action and no one wants to listen to me reminisce once again about how great hockey was in the 80s. Besides, it’s the baseball All-Star break. The fun part of the season where we get to kick back, talk shit about Bud Selig and watch our favorite players not participate in the game. Which makes it a perfect time to tell you my favorite baseball story.

It was the summer of ‘86. I had gone back to college the previous spring after an extended hiatus. 21 credits crammed into one semester after not being in school for a while was exhausting, so I passed on taking any summer classes. I was majoring at St. John’s University in what was then called Athletic Administration and was later changed to Sports Management. I just finished off a temporary job working in the Athletic Administration office (where one of my job duties was to make sure Walter Berry went to class) and was looking forward to spending my summer days sleeping until noon and working in the record store at night. And then my Dean made me an offer I couldn’t refuse - a summer job that would entail driving to The Bronx every morning, not getting home until midnight most nights and working weekends, all for no pay except a few college credits. I almost laughed at him until he explained who I would be working for. The New York Yankees. At first I though the meant “Working for the Yankees but not really working for the Yankees” as in a job at the stadium selling beer or cleaning out the women’s bathroom.

But no, he meant working for the Yankees. Inside the vaunted walls of Yankee Stadium. And the job would have nothing to do with Budweisers or clogged toilets.

I was to spend my days as an editorial assistant for Yankee Magazine, cropping pictures, proofreading stories and doing advertising layout for the magazine. At night, if the Yankees were on a homestand, I would stay for the games and run errands. If I wasn’t needed I was welcome to stay for the games anyhow.

I spent a lot of time that humid summer in the cool confines of the archives. It was a small, windowless room stuffed in a corner at the far reaches of the stadium. I felt nervous just walking from the magazine office to the archive room, quietly making my way through this place I felt I had to no right to be in as anything other than a fan.

There were full days holed up in that archives room poring through photos of Yogi Berra and Joe Dimaggio, reading scorecards from games played long ago and generally living in a baseball time warp. The room was stuffed with trophies and plaques and mementos of the greatest baseball team that ever existed. And here was all this history, all this fame right at my fingertips. Ticket stubs, game programs, yellowed articles and dusty photographs were my companions that summer. Each time I left the room - usually after a futile search for whatever memorabilia or picture I was sent for - my fingers would be coated with the dust and grime of the legacy of legends.

There were other perks to the job as well. I watched so many games from the press box. Sometimes I helped keep the scorecard, sometimes I just chatted with reporters or with players who were on the injured list. I ate lunch in the third base seats, legs stretched out, sun beating down and Yankee Stadium seemingly to myself. I parked in the player’s lot, sometimes walking in with the players themselves. I was the original George Costanza.

Late that August the pennant race was heating up and the summer nights were cooling down. I knew my days as a part of the New York Yankees staff were drawing to a close. In a way, I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to make that miserable morning drive on the Grand Central anymore. But I hated to give up the perks of a job where I mingled with Don Mattingly and had my name in the Yankee Magazine.

It was close to my last night there when I was invited to watch a game from the General Manager’s office. There I was, in this huge room full of baseball impresarios, sharing drinks and glad-handing each other. I stood quietly in the corner, too overwhelmed by the presence of baseball greats to move out of the spot. I wandered over to the window that overlooked the playing field of Yankee Stadium. I was watching the game from an office behind home plate, surveying the game as if I owned the team. I looked at the outfield bleachers where I had sat so many times before. I was mesmerized, lost in a world that I never thought would belong to me, not even for this brief time. 

 Then a voice beside me: “Great view, isn’t it?” I looked up to see Mickey Mantle standing next to me, grinning. I nodded, unable to speak. Me and Mickey, watching a Yankee game from the office above home plate. 

A week or so later my internship ended. I changed my major to English in September (I know, I know) and then left school all together when life interfered with my plans. But I’ll never look at my stint at SJU as a waste of time or money. I spent a summer among legends. I watched a game with Mickey Mantle. I lived a baseball story I’ll get to tell my grandchildren some day. 

Play ball.

Baseball

Real Fans Watch… Even on Tape Delay

USA vs Brazil

I heard the result of the match earlier in the day, at my kid’s swim meet. In between summoning seven- and nine-year-olds to their IM heats, the guy with the microphone had summarily spoiled the surprise: the US had beaten Brazil.

I hadn’t DVR’d the match, but after the kids were in bed and I’d retired to the couch for some quality couch potato time, I caught a few SportsCenter highlights in one of their super-stylized promo clips. On Twitter a friend noted that they were replaying the match on ESPN2, so I switched over…and said goodbye to the next two hours.

I’m not usually a fan of tape-delayed sports. But with soccer there aren’t the usual temptations to hit the FF button — time outs, injury time outs, TV time outs, etc. — so I found myself watching as the game unfolded. I knew the outcome, I’d seen the highlights…but along the way felt the injustice of the red card, cheered Solo’s (stolen) penalty kick block, got annoyed at Marta, felt the pressure of the time running out, and sat on the edge of the sofa and cheered Rapinoe’s brilliant cross and Wambach’s perfect header.

Sports are why we still have cable in my house. They’re the last bastion of event television, best enjoyed in real time with a beer in one hand and a Twitter client in the other. But every once in a while a game’s so great that even 12 hours of tape delay can’t detract from the experience of watching.

Soccer

Fandom Primer #3

You take your cap off and cover your heart with it during the National Anthem.

Your beer will wait, you lummox. Show a little respect. To the person singing, at least.

Baseball

Achievement Unlocked

On January 24, 1981 I was sitting in the Nassau Coliseum - section 315 - watching history unfold. The New York Islanders were playing their 50th game of the season and right winger Mike Bossy had 48 goals coming into the game. He needed two goals that night to become only the second player in NHL history to score 50 goals in 50 games. I was there to watch one of my favorite hockey players enter the record books alongside Maurice Richard, one of the greatest hockey players ever.

Bossy didn’t even get a shot on goal the first two periods. Almost sixteen minutes into the third period, he scored his 49th. He had four minutes left to achieve the 50 in 50. With a minute and a half left in the game, he took a perfect pass from Bryan Trottier and shot the puck past Quebec Nordiques goalie Ron Grahame. 15,000 fans went crazy. The team greeted Bossy out on the ice. It was pandemonium for a few minutes while we all celebrated Bossy’s feat together.

Oh, yea. The Islanders won 7-4. In all the excitement over Bossy’s goal, we nearly forgot a game was played and won. For a moment, those two points in the standing didn’t mean as much as Mike Bossy’s name in the record books.

Later that night I had a lengthy discussion with some sports fans about the glorifying of individual achievements over team achievements in sports. 30 years later (my god, I just dated myself) I had nearly the same conversation with different sports fans after Derek Jeter got his 3,000th hit.

Some of those fans think because the four major league sports - baseball, football, basketball and yes, hockey (and notice the absence of the belated Oxford comma there) - are team sports the team achievements should be given more attention than the personal ones. 

But let’s face it. Besides winning the league’s championship, other team achievements -winning streaks, points scored in a game, wins in a season - are a cumulative thing that aren’t nearly as climatic as individual goals. I’m thinking it was more exciting to watch Bossy get that 50th goal than it would have been to be there when the team broke the record for longest playoff series winning streak. We cheer the teams, but we love the individuals. We don’t just wear a Boston Bruins jersey. We wear one with a name and number on the back. We don’t collect team baseball cards. We treasure the cards of our favorite players. 

The fact that we identify with individual players is why Derek Jeter’s accomplishment is so fascinating to us. It’s why Wilt Chamberlin’s 100 points is still talked about. Identifying with or cheering on specific players personalizes a sport for fans.

One of the things I was asked about both 30 years ago and last night was if it is detrimental to sports to put so much emphasis on personal achievement. Glorifying players, putting them on pedestals, honoring their success as individuals rather than as part of team can certainly backfire when the players we honor or call heroes end up letting us down. But overall, I think it’s a good thing. It adds excitement to a long season. It gives us something to root for when our teams aren’t doing that well. It makes us feel a connection with the players whose jerseys we wear. You can be a fan of the sport, a fan of a team and a fan of a particular player all at once. Cheering on Jeter or anyone else going for a record is also, by extension, cheering for the sport. 

That night in the Coliseum remains one of my favorite sports memories. Even though I later attended a game where the Islanders won the Stanley Cup, watching Bossy achieve that 50 goals in 50 games landmark felt like a more personal moment, like I was cheering on a friend. 

Hockey

Welcome to Arizona

Remember, All-Stars — when visiting the Phoenix area for Tuesday’s game, make sure to pack all your equipment, a video camera to record the memories from this special occasion, warm-weather, clothes, and…

PAPERS VHICH YOU VILL CARRY VITH YOU AT ALL TIMES!

Also sunblock. Don’t skimp on the sunblock.

[Photo of the head of Arizona’s Welcoming Committee courtesy of this guy’s Flickr stream.]

Baseball

Richie Allen Chaser

I’m sorry, I can’t stand to look at the site and see Derek Jeter’s smug face up there. So here’s a photo of Richie Allen having a smoke in the dugout. And an accompanying piece from the excellent Paul Lukas’ UniWatch.

photo: Charles Bonnay/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Baseball

This Is What Derek Jeter Did Yesterday

This is what Derek Jeter did yesterday. He woke up with 2,998 hits, an aging superstar in decline. He started a game at Yankee Stadium on a beautiful afternoon, the stadium filled to capacity with fans expecting to see history made — or perhaps better put, expecting to see Jeter make history.

On the mound he faced the Tampa Bay Rays’ David Price, one of the better pitchers in baseball. He hit a single leading off in the first inning, setting the crowd on fire. Two innings later, with no one on base and the Yankees down 1-0, in his first attempt to hit number 3,000, he worked the count full, fouled off two more pitches, and then slammed a home run into the left field stands.

He tied the game. He hit number 3,000 at home, with his first home run at Yankee Stadium since last July. He ran the bases. The crowd was hysterical. Goosebumps. Tears. Unabashed overflowing joy. At home plate, he was greeted first by Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, Jeter’s teammates for 17 consecutive years and five World Series titles.

He had faced a moment of intense pressure, an opportunity for historic heroics, and came through in the most perfect conceivable way. He thanked the crowd. He acknowledged David Price with a respectful gesture. (No pitcher wants to be the answer to this sort of future trivia question.) He pointed to his parents and girlfriend in the stands. He exulted in the moment.

The game went on.

Jeter wasn’t done. He went on to get hits in his next two at-bats, including a double. Then he watched the Yankees 8th inning setup man David Robertson — he with a paper-thin ERA of 1.27 and ice water in his veins — give up a 4-3 lead.

So with the game tied, two outs, and Eduardo Nunez on third base, Jeter came to the plate. The crowd wanted more. Four hits and a home run for 3K was not enough. The Yankees needed to win, and Jeter needed to be the man to win it. So he did. One more single, a hard ground ball up the middle, knocking in the go-ahead run.

He is no longer the best player in baseball. He is not the best player on the team. He’s not even the best shortstop in New York. But yesterday, with the entire nation’s attention upon him, he was all of that and more. He cannot do this every day. But he did it yesterday. There is no use playing the All-Star game next week. Jeter played it single-handedly.

He then tried stealing second and got caught, ending the inning. Which too was perfect, because the sooner the inning ended, the sooner the game could arrive at the inevitable: Mariano Rivera on the mound, shutting down the Rays 1-2-3. The Yankees win.

[Photo: Daniel Lucas/Flickr]

Baseball

There’s Always Hope

It’s easy to joke that the only thing Americans care less about than soccer (translation for our non-U.S. readers: “the sport called ‘football’ that’s being ruined by Sepp Blatter, rather than the one being ruined by Roger Goodell”) is soccer when it’s played by women. Then again, the highest-rated American soccer broadcast of all time is a women’s soccer match, the USA-China final of the 1999 Women’s World Cup. You know, the one that ended with Brandi Chastain ripping off her shirt.

Maybe the difference is that while American men are not among the best in the world at playing soccer, American women are. I’ve believed for a long time that the reason Americans won’t embrace soccer is that we’re used to the best players in the world coming from here and plying their trade here. That’s not true in men’s soccer, but it is true for the women.

In any event, if you’re an American who watched the USA-Brazil soccer match and didn’t see something of what the rest of the world sees in soccer, you are hopeless.

What did this match have?

Oppression. It’s so easy to yell at officials for making bad calls and accuse them of being on the take. I get tired of the abuse I hear being hurled at officials at baseball and football games—well, at least when it’s not obvious that the officials are blind as bats.

Then again, these are FIFA referees. (If you don’t speak French, FIFA is an acronym for “Bribes Accepted Here.”)

Was Australian referee Jacqui Melksham on the take? Just incompetent? Selectively enforcing the rules? Whatever the reason, in about 30 seconds the referee gave the match to Brazil. She (probably rightly) called a penalty in the box, eventually giving the best player in the world, Brazil’s Marta, an easy kick for a 1-1 equalizer; the penalty was a red card on Rachel Buehler that forced the USA to play the final 25 minutes of regulation down a player.

The worst was yet to come: when USA Goalie Hope Solo managed to somehow save the first penalty try, Melksham swooped in to disallow the save (because a USA player had a foot inside the box), give Solo a yellow card for dissent, and allow Brazil a second chance. Enter Marta (of course!) for the re-kick, which she made.

Later on, when Marta hit her inevitable goal during extra time to put Brazil ahead 2-1, replays showed that the player who fed her the ball was probably offside. No call. Of course.

Villains. Melksham and Marta were jeered mercilessly by the crowd. Marta was, in the words of ESPN’s Ian Darke, the “pantomime villain” of the piece. Arguing with Melksham resulted in a yellow for dissent. She took a few dives. After Marta’s goal in extra time the Brazilians started taking dives like the Italian men’s World Cup team.

Bumbling villains. Until the last minute, the entire USA offense was… the Brazilians. The match started with an own-goal, though it was one forced by some pressure by the Americans. The immediate own-goal changed the complexion of the match, putting the USA at ease and making the Brazilians play with some fear. Until the 30 seconds of intense referee interference in the match, it was a weird-yet-defining moment.

Underdogs. The U.S. spent nearly an hour playing shorthanded, against the best woman player in the world, having probably been wronged by the officials. After Marta’s goal the U.S. had to play 28 minutes of extra time while down a goal. You don’t get much more underdoggy than that.

Unbelievable comebacks. Soccer matches take about 90 minutes, give or take some injury time. The equalizing goal from the USA’s Abby Wambach happened in the 122nd minute. It wasn’t just the end of extra time, it was two minutes into the final three minutes of injury time tacked on to the end. (Time that wouldn’t have been there had Brazil not been shamelessly diving to try and run out the clock.) It does not get more last-minute than that.

Penalty kicks. After two hours of hard soccer play, the winner had to be determined in an exchange of penalty kicks. This is like two basketball teams settling a tie not with an overtime period, but with a game of H-O-R-S-E. And yet, as ridiculous as going to kicks is, it’s also pretty damned dramatic.

Sex appeal. No, nobody ripped their shirts off like Brandi Chastain. But: Hope Solo was in goal. Gentlemen, I rest my case.

[Photo credit: Hope Solo in what we believe is a promo shot for Nike.]

Soccer

Uribe, I Ribe, We All Ribe

As if to prove that the Dodgers can destroy other people’s dreams as well as those of their fans, Juan Uribe — whose batting average is so low, it’s like he’s still working for the Giants — ended a Padre no-hitter last night after 8 2/3 innings.

The Padres have never had a no-hitter. They came within one pitch.

I’d feel bad for them, but I know too many Padre fans.

(Update: As Cosmonaut Snell has rightly pointed out, the Padres were as scoreless as the Dodgers up to the ninth, so striking out Uribe would have ended the inning, not the game. But the Dodgers, having survived their usual fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth inning collapses, undoubtedly would have given up a run in the tenth. Because they’re the Dodgers. So let’s assume that without Uribe’s hit, the Padres would have had a no-hitter and that I’m not an idiot.)

[Image courtesy of the LA Times.]

Baseball

No Need to Argue

“Congratulations to Derek Jeter,” a social networking acquaintance of mine said Saturday, not entirely unreasonably, before veering off into the land of nonsensical statements. “Agruably the greatest all-around shortstop of all time.”

Crucial qualifier there, “arguably.” It would seem to apply that after a considered, rational discussion one might suggest that Derek Jeter was the greatest shortstop ever and not be dismissed as anything other than a myopic Yankee honk.

Off the top of my head, here’s a list of folks who might queue up to argue the point that Jeter had the better career: H. Wagner, C. Ripken, A. Vaughan, L. Appling, A. Trammell, B. Larkin, O. Smith, and L. Aparicio. Mr. Robin Yount of the Milwaukee Younts would like to remind you that he was a fairly decent MVP Award-winning shortstop between 1974 and 1984, and Mr. Ernie Banks might point out that he won consecutive MVP awards while playing shortstop in 1958 and 1959. There’s another fellow, Alex Rod-something or other, who hit more than 50 percent of his 626 career home runs while playing shortstop and only moved to third base after one of his teammates — I forget who — declined to change positions and deprive fans the chance to see ground balls squirt harmlessly into left field.

It’s sort of hard to make the case that Derek Jeter is the greatest shortstop of all time when he’s not even the greatest shortstop currently on the Yankees roster.

(Rob Neyer, who’s less of a jerk about these things than me, puts Jeter third all time. So save your cards and letters.)

[Photo of the greatest all-around shortstop of all-time courtesy of Neal B. Johnson.]

Baseball

Death to America …nMcCarver!

A couple of weeks ago I was at a Dodger game, in the left-center bleachers. Late in the game, a short pop-fly over second base landed in front of Matt Kemp — he dove, but it got under him and hit the ground, bouncing into his glove. He recovered well, came up throwing, and held the batter to a single.

Good hit, good hustle, good baseball.

But somewhere behind me — back in the seats even worse than mine — someone shouted, “You suck, Kemp!”

This happens a lot in the left-center bleachers, usually between the fourth inning (when people have had enough time to get a few beers in them) and the seventh (when they stop selling alcohol entirely to let the fourth-inning drunks dry out).

Kemp turned around, casually pointed a finger in the direction that the shout came from, and then pointed it to the ground next to him: Come down here any say that.

Of course, that was never going to happen. Some drunk idiot doesn’t get to go down to the field and get beaten to a pulp by the guy who ended up being named starting center fielder for the NL All-Stars for a reason. First, Kemp’s hand has better things to do that punch a loudmouth in the face. Second, the loudmouth would never actually go. It was a criticism without a return address — slurred, angry for no reason, very probably misspelled. The bleachers are the YouTube comments section of baseball.

But I wonder if Kemp turned around at all because the shout stung a little. Maybe he could have gotten off his heels quicker. Maybe he could have gotten under that ball. Maybe.

And maybe it stung just a little when @McCArch tweeted this:

The problem w/ @mericanMcCarver is it’s not a sports blog. It’s people cheering their favorite teams. That’s not sports, that’s fanaticism

And while I’d question the moral equivalence of writing a handful of blog posts about the Dodgers (or the Yankees or, oh geez, what’s-their-names, with red caps?) and blowing up a marketplace full of innocents, @McCArch may just have a point. Perhaps our range is too limited. I mean, this site is taking up one of the six or seven domain names that the Internet has allocated to sports blogs, so we’re obligated to cover everything, right? Somebody has to be responsible for the caber toss.

And here at American McCarver Industries, we take our responsibilities seriously. We want to get under those pop-flys. We want to make sure that our readers are getting every cent of their money’s worth.

So, @McCArch, you tell me what I should write about: Pick a team, or a sport, or a particular issue, and I’ll give you a thousand words about it. A thousand angry, angry words.

Come down here and say that.

Baseball

The Immaculate Inning

While *some* people may appreciate records of endurance and the long slog, there’s certainly something to be said for unexpected flashes of brilliance and perfection. During last nights Phillies vs. Braves game, Juan Perez took the mound in the top of the 10th, and struck out all three batters on a total of nine pitches, all of them strikes.

In the history of Major League Baseball this has happened 46 times. Compare that to 271 no-hitters.

Read more on The Good Phight.

And, yes, I sat on this until after Gruber posted about Jeter just so I could knock it off the top spot.

Baseball

Heroes Rise to the Occasion

(Photo: Suzy Allman, for the NYT.)

Baseball

Battle for the Basement

The sun is warm, the grass is green, the breeze is cool. It’s a perfect day for baseball.

Too bad it’s the Dodgers versus the Padres.

Baseball

Haters Gonna Hate

I, of course, am a Lakers fan. This is as it should be, as all right-thinking people are Lakers fans. Hating the Lakers, I thought well into my mid-thirties, is like hating sunshine.

Turns out, there are a lot of people who prefer their dank little caves instead of a day at the beach. Even people who aren’t from Boston!

It honestly took me a decade and a half of Lakers fandom before I realized that there are people out there who genuinely dislike the team. Even now, almost ten years on, I’m a little flabbergasted by that. The Lakers so dominate the Los Angeles sports biosphere that even with a competing team in town the lop-sidedness in enthusiasm is overwhelming. I didn’t even realize it was possible to hate the Lakers, like it’s not possible for something with mass to travel at the speed of light. It’s just a law of nature, the way the universe works.

But if the Internet is good for anything, it’s good for discovering that there’s a lot of bad craziness outside of your little geographic bubble, even when your little geographic bubble includes Hollywood. The level of vitriol is bonkers.

And I don’t get it. I’m very well-versed in borderline sociopathic sports hatreds, and I don’t get it. Yes, the team has been very successful. Yes, Jack Nicholson has good seats. Yes, the current players aren’t exactly lovable, with the possible exception of Mr. World Peace.

But none of that is about basketball or how the team plays it. They don’t cheat, they don’t hold TV specials to announce career plans and they only rarely end up arrested. Sometimes they’re lazy and sometimes they’re sloppy and every once in a while, they sort of deflate and bow out and let the freakin’ Mavericks win a championship. But when it comes to basketball — averaged over the years — they’re still the best there is.

I learned to love the Lakers during Showtime, when the cool, austere Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was practically assaulted by the effusive, excitable Magic Johnson after their first game together. How could you not love that? There was so much talent, so much enthusiasm, that the whole city caught fire — and not in the way that Los Angeles usually catches fire. This was sports as it should be: joyous.

Who could hate that?

They’re not the Jordan-era Bulls, when a flashy ball-hog dominated a team sport and people cheered. They’re not the thug-era Pistons, when Bill Laimbeer only needed to color his faceguard black to complete the Darth Vader impression. They’re not the LeBron-era Heat, when we learned that bad karma is something you wear around your neck like an albatross, and it will mess up your shooting game.

Those are teams you can hate — one-offs populated by the greedy, the self-centered, the bullies. Not the Lakers. They’re a storied club, rich in tradition, the essence of the game. Think of the Celtics, but, y’know, with wins in the past two decades. They’re rivals to my team, but honorable ones.

Is it jealousy? Is it frustration? Is it profound mental illness? Nutbags have invented conspiracy theories to justify the Lakers’ success, everything from fixed drafts to biased refs to the influence of alien technology. They pick on who the players marry, how they take care of their kids, what they change their names to, who they might possibly have raped.

And ten years into the sad realization that it is even possible to hate the Lakers, I still don’t understand how people justify it. Hate losing to them, sure, but don’t hate them. Over the past thirty years, nobody has done basketball better, smarter, cleaner, more elegantly or more successfully.

The Lakers are basketball. You can’t hate one and truly love the other.

Basketball

LeBron James, America’s Sweetheart?

So I’m perusing the internet yesterday, as one does when they get home from work and are putting off making dinner, and I come across a blog or a tweet or a Facebook status (they all blend together at one point; it may have actually been a Google+ post) saying something about LeBron James being on a list of great things about America. My initial reaction was “Huh?” and figuring I read that wrong, did a little research.

And there it was. On CNN. Well, the CNN/Money/Fortune page. Nice conglomeration there. I guess CNN is doing their part to keep the internet small and tidy. Apparently they are also doing their part to embarrass the hell out of America. 

The list is titled 100 Great Things About America, authored by managing editor Andy Serwer, henceforth known as The Man Who Hates America.

Out of the 100 things on that list there were about five where I found myself saying “Yea, ok, I’ll give him that.” The rest - among them a pickup truck, TMZ, Exxon, LinkedIn, the Kardashians and Detroit - made it seem like Serwer got his assignment mixed up and he was supposed to come up with 100 Awful, Horrifying Things About America. But hey, he’s the managing editor so I imagine this whole thing was his idea to begin with. And really, I would have just laughed it off if it weren’t for number 33 on the list of things Americans should feel proud of.

LeBron James.

Number 33 on a list called 100 Great Things About America. The man who, at this point in his career, is one of the most hated stars in all of sports.

What is it about LeBron James that makes him a great part of America? Is it his greed and selfishness? Is it the way he worships at the altar of himself? Is it the way he shoots his mouth off? Is it his clutch play? Is it the way he brings a team together with his leadership to win the big games? I’ve got two more rings than that guy. Sure, they’re wedding rings and they’re both useless at this point, but that won’t stop me from throwing a joke in here about his lack of championship rings.

I can think of so many sports stars who are more fitting to use as a testament to America’s greatness. Tim Duncan. Kurt Warner. Derek JeterPeja Stojakovic. The guy’s not even American and he should make the list ahead of LeBron. I’d even rather see Shaq sitting there at number 33 and that’s saying a lot being that I’ve never forgiven him for the fifteen bucks and two hours of my life lost when I took my kids to see Kazaam

Under LeBron’s name on the list, Serwer writes: Will America’s biggest loser become a sympathetic figure?

I’m not quite sure how that gets one to qualify as a great thing about a country along with the Navy Seals, Steve Jobs and the Grand Canyon but I’m sure the answer to that question is a resounding no. Any chance he had at garnering sympathy from people who were already on the hate-wagon after the LeBron James ESPN Power Hour (one year ago today!) was lost when, after the Mavericks took the championship from the Heat, he said “All the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today.”

In other words “I’m still rich and famous and you’re not.” 

Yea, well we still have one thing in common, LeBron. We have the same amount of NBA championships under our belts. 

There are far better people who could have filled the 33rd spot on that list, among them the fans of the Miami Heat who have to suffer with LeBron’s bloviating. Sure, he may win a title or two while he’s with the team, but he’s still gotta be insufferable to have around.

Basketball

John Mackey, RIP

John Mackey, Hall of Fame football player and crusader for better medical benefits for retired players, died at 69 this week. A former head of the NFL Players Association, he helped inspire the 88 Plan which provides up to $88,000 a year to former players for health care.

Mackey has become closely associated with the plight of many former players who helped build the NFL in the era before million-dollar contracts, safer equipment and better health care. He suffered from frontotemporal dementia in later years that is believed to have been caused by the contact associated with playing football. Four years ago, the dementia forced Mackey into living in an assisted-living facility. The costs associated with his care, which far outpaced Mackey's pension, led to the "88 Plan" for retired players. Now, former players are pushing for better pension plans and health benefits from the league.

A close friend of mine is a fanatic Denver Broncos fan and as a teenager wrote a letter to every member of every starting Broncos team from the 1960's asking for memorabilia, autographs or anything for his collection -- this friend has a room dedicated to his Broncos ephemera. He was quite surprised at how many of these letters were returned by other family members because the player in question had died. This was the period when most of these players would have been in their 50's or early 60's. It was clear to my friend even then that football had a health problem in its future.

I love football, but I think we still don't understand how detrimental the sport is to players' health. Thanks to the efforts of former players like John Mackey, the league is finally paying attention to the issue.

Football

We Are Too, Asshole

"This product is officially licensed by Major League Baseball and comes with an individually numbered; tamper evident hologram from Mounted Memories."

Available at Wal-Mart. Pathetically, at a reduced price.

(via Kafasis)

Baseball

Play Ball? Please

The first thing I do in the morning is check the sports section. I used to feel guilty about it, skipping over news of housing market collapses and unwinnable foreign wars. But as the world got stupider, and I got older and less concerned with what other people thought, that guilt dissipated. And I got comfortable with the fact that I’d rather peruse last night’s box scores over my morning coffee than how many people had been killed during the night because they prayed to a slightly different version of God than people with slightly better ammo.

Then this happened.

Take a look at this morning’s New York Times sports section. Here, I’ll break it down further for you:

The only vaguely game-related story is a feel-good soft piece on the last player to reach 3,000 hits. Not even current. The rest is an affirmation of the pathetic state of affairs in the current sports world.

As Charles Barkley once famously said, “I am not a role model.” And we loved him for it because 1) it’s Charles and Charles is fat and funny, and 2) it was honest and irreverent and an outlier, or so we thought. 

But let’s pull back a little, because honestly, it would be awesome if just a few of you decided it was OK to be a role model. I wanna feel good about taking my kid to a ball game again and “Play ball!” should be a joyous shout from the home plate ump, not a desperate plea from the fans to two sides in a lockout.

Spending the Off-Season with Paul Newman

The hockey off season is long and awful. It’s the whole summer thing. Maybe I wouldn’t spend my days pining for ice hockey if the heat and humidity weren’t so brutal and soul sucking. 

Baseball fans have it easy in their off season. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, pitchers and catchers. The off season just flies by. Hockey? I’ve got July and August and days that won’t end. Sure, I have the Yankees. But it’s not hockey.

So I fill some of my summer days watching hockey movies. I know what you’re thinking. What hockey movies? There are movies about hockey? Sure there are. There’s Slap Shot. There’s MiracleMystery, Alaska. When things start to get desperate there’s The Mighty Ducks. All three of them. If the desperation sinks further you’ve got Youngblood and Sudden Death. And if you need to sink to new lows in hockey withdrawals you can always watch Cutting Edge. Really, at that point you’d be better off spending five hours on YouTube watching hockey fights from the 80s.

Mostly I watch Slap Shot

34 years and about three thousand viewings later Slap Shot still remains my favorite movie. Sure, there are tons of movies in various genres that I’ve called favorites among the way - The Good, The Bad and the UglyEmpire Strikes Back,Mothra v. GodzillaGoodburger - but I always come back to this one when I’m forced by some list making machinations to choose a favorite.

I know when you think of this movie you think of The Hanson Brothers and fisticuffs and Paul Newman taunting an opposing player about his wife being a lesbian. And sure, on its surface Slap Shot is a movie about hockey’s inherent violence but it’s so much more.

If you look at Slap Shot the right way (like, squint your eyes and tilt your head a little and maybe have a few beers first), the film is a vast piece of social commentary. It’s a cinematic treasure. A piece of art. Genius. Within the comedic vignettes about the Hanson Brothers and Ogie Oglethorpe are little slices of of socio-economic discussions. There’s the struggle to make ends meet, how corporate greed destroys towns and souls, the open discussions of sexuality (the hallmark of the 70s), divorce and separation, our bloodthirsty need for vengeance and violence and, of course, the morality tale that can turn any comedy into a feel good movie of the year. All of this is peppered with quotable lines, hockey fights and Paul Newman, making it a pretty complete package of awesome.

While most people will point to any scene with the Hanson Brothers as their favorite in Slap Shot, mine has nothing to do with the brothers and their foil and and fists. It’s the during the fashion show:  

Johnny Upton: I’m gonna flash’ em, Joe! 
McGrath: No, you’re not. 
Johnny Upton: I’m gonna walk down that stinkin’ runway, open up this faggot robe and wiggle my dick at ‘em! And do you know why? Because I want you to have a heart-attack and die so we don’t have to do this shit again! You and your fucking fashion shows!  

There’s a bit more of an exchange and then Johnny walks off camera and you hear the women in the fashion show audience screaming. It’s a beautiful moment, one perfectly written and filmed and it speaks of the desperation of small town sports teams, not just hockey. 

But overall? Yea, it’s a hockey movie. It has enough on-ice action to make me forget for two hours that I’m living in hockey’s drought season and just enough comedic and social value that I can watch it again and again and not be forced to resort to Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze high sticking each other. And there’s the bonus feature of finally having icing explained to you.

I am a sucker for that first Mighty Ducks movie, though.


Hockey

Fandom Primer #2

You show up before the first pitch, you leave after the last out. No exceptions.

I don’t care if you think you’ve got important things to tend to — your grandmother is still going to be dead after the game is over.

(Fandom Primer #1 is on @Mike_FTW’s Twitter page. Fair warning: You might want to drive home from work and have a drink before you click that.)

Baseball

Knobby’s Yips

Regarding the start of Roger Clemens’s perjury trial, I was looking for an article that makes it clear how Clemens dug his own hole — how his testimony to Congress was volunteered. He wanted to tell what appear to be blatant lies while under oath. This column by Ian O’Connor for ESPN is a good background piece. What caught my eye, though, was this:

The federal judge in the case, Reggie Walton, said he isn’t likely to allow statements from Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch, and Mike Stanton that they received PEDs from McNamee.

We all know Andy Pettitte was involved in this mess, but I hadn’t recalled seeing Knoblauch’s name in the story — probably because by the time the scandal broke, his Yankee days were long since over.

Knoblauch has always been intriguing to me, because he suffered and never recovered from the most baffling of all sports maladies: the yips. Knoblauch was a fine second baseman in Minnesota, came to the Yankees in 1998 and had another good season in the field, and then, in 1999, he lost his ability to reliably throw the ball to first base. I’m not talking about turning double plays or throwing across the body after fielding a ball hit hard up the middle. I’m talking about routine ground balls. The sort of throws any competent high school player could make reliably. The more routine the play, the more likely it became that Knoblauch would fire the ball into the stands. (Knoblauch couldn’t reliably make tough throws, either. The problem was simply more glaring, and, as a Yankee fan, more nerve-wracking, on the routine plays.)

Think about it. Knoblauch was a four-time All Star and won the Gold Glove in 1997. And then in 1999 he couldn’t make short throws to first base — throws that you or I could make.

Fans behind first base needed protection. One of Knoblauch’s wild throws hit Keith Olbermann’s mother in the face. Knoblauch’s yips never subsided, and Yankee manager Joe Torre eventually had to move him to the outfield, and soon after that he was shipped to the salt mines of Kansas City. He never played second base again and soon retired. His career fielding stats tell the story.

The yips are generally regarded as a psychological affliction. You get it in your head that you can’t make a throw/putt/foul shot/whatever. Instead of just doing it, you think about it, and thus you miss, badly. Then the actual missed throws/putts/foul shots/whatevers reinforce the notion in your head that you can’t do it.

But now I’m wondering about Knoblauch. 1999 was the year Clemens first joined the Yankees, and one of the peak years of the steroid era. Knoblauch’s career hitting statistics don’t look PED-inflated, and Knoblauch has only admitted to using HGH in 2001 and 2002, which wouldn’t explain throwing problems that began in 1999. But I can’t shake the suspicion. Or maybe I just don’t want to face the idea that a world-class athlete, through no fault of his own, could become afflicted with the athletic equivalent of writer’s block and never shake it.

Baseball

Lying is Bad

The day after the biggest trial since that one trial ended, another big trial begins. Well, I wouldn’t say it’s big. Maybe it’s big only to baseball fans. Or only to people who really dislike Roger Clemens. You know, the kind of person who would call Clemens a liar on twitter. Me. Certainly not Nancy Grace. 

Today in Washington, the jury selection process for the perjury trial of Roger Clemens will begin. Roger is near the end of his path of self destruction. It didn’t have to be this way. No one made Roger testify on Capitol Hill. No one but Roger forced him to take the oath and swear to things that only Roger’s version of the truth. But he did it because that’s what Roger Clemens does. The man who never knew how to take responsibility for his own actions allegedly (I guess we have to use that word until this trial is over) lied to Congress to save his own ass. He was the Greg Brady of the Mitchell Report, telling everyone those weren’t his cigarettes in his jacket pocket. Someone must have put them there. Or he was holding them for someone else. Or someone was setting him up. But no, Roger was never to blame. He never did anything wrong. Always someone else’s fault. Always an excuse. And in making congressional hearings a forum for his excuses, Roger effectively threw himself under a bus.

That bus has been dragging Clemens along for three years and will drop him off today at courthouse where he will begin the unenviable task of trying to undo the damage he did to himself in 2008. Roger has nothing going for him here. He has nothing to bring to the table but a series of lies, stretched truths and outright fantasies. When you’re going up against the word of a sleazy drug peddler once accused of rape and people are calling you the liar, you’ve got your work cut out for you. 

I’ll be honest with you. My interest in this trial has little to do with the American justice system or the sanctity of baseball or vindication of Andy Pettite’s words or even steroids. It has little to do with teaching our children that lying is bad. It has to do with a years long hatred of Roger Clemens and a huge, combined comeuppance for every time he’s done something, well, Roger-ish. Lying. Blaming. Being an arrogant jerk. 

I didn’t like Clemens before he was a Yankee. I didn’t like him when he became part of my favorite team. I hated him when he left and I hated him — and the Yankees management — when he came back. When he “retired” for the first time and talked about going into the Hall of Fame (Ha!) wearing a Yankees cap instead of a Red Sox cap I went into a frenzied rage. So perhaps my interest in this trial is a little biased. But really, is there anyone out there who actually likes this guy? Anyone who is rooting for him to come out of this alive and well and ready to play in an old-timers game as if it all never happened? I don’t think anyone is going to keep tabs on this trial thinking “Gee, I hope Roger Clemens gets away with telling tales under oath!” 

I may be in the minority of people who actually care about this perjury trial and I most certainly might be in the minority of Yankee fans who have a long-standing, personal vendetta against Clemens but I know I’m not the only one who thinks he’s a lying sack of shit. If I were, we wouldn’t be talking about this trial.

Maybe I should give Mike Piazza a call and see if he wants to watch the proceedings with me. 

[Reuters photo]

Baseball

Baseball’s Big Hair Era

Fantastic set of portraits by Paul Windle of baseball’s big hair era.

(Via John Nack.)

Baseball

Dodgers Blew

So when, exactly, do you give up? When do you tuck your hopes into a small teak box — the one with a little ballerina that spins around when you open it up — and stuff it deep into your sock drawer? When do you hacksaw your dreams into several medium-sized pieces, wrap them in heavy plastic and bury them in the backyard? When do you well and truly call it a day?

Until next year, I mean?

Out of everybody who writes for this stupid little blog, three are Giants fans (because the Bay Area breeds low moral character), two are Yankees fans (because there is a serious mental health problem in this country), one is a Phillies fan (because somebody has to be) and only myself and Unindicted Co-Conspirator Michaels are stalwart enough to declare allegiance to teams under .500. I’d rather fight than switch!

And by “fight,” I apparently mean “lose.”

And by “stalwart,” I mean “dumb.” And by “allegiance,” I mean “hur-de-dur-de-dur.”

The Dodgers have dropped seven of their last ten games, are in the basement of the NL West — behind the freakin’ Padres — and have the fourth-worst record in all of Major League Baseball. There’s no shortage of excuses, of course — I could list them here, but “suicidal fans” is always the last entry, followed by a gunshot — and what it fundamentally comes down to is that the team just isn’t playing very well. This is a very simple game — you throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Ideally. Often times you manage to do none of those things, but “You sit mired in last place barely winning 40 percent of your games” doesn’t have the same zing.

Oh, sure, Matt Kemp is an All-Star, Andre Ethier hit in thirty straight games earlier in the season, and Clayton Kershaw is off to a terrific start and has a batting average that’s worthy of envy. But the team as a whole — the organization as a whole — is steadily going exactly nowhere.

Plus, Jonathan Broxton is going to come off the DL at some point, and that’s just going make things worse.

Some people will tell you that you never give up, that there’s always hope, that being a true fan means that you believe — down to the last out — that there’s still a chance. But these people are stupid. Being a fan doesn’t mean being divorced from reality. This is not a movie, or if it was, it’s not an inspirational drama. It’s maybe a gross-out comedy. A straight-to-video gross-out comedy. With a lot of groin shots, followed by slide-whistle sound effects.

That I’m giving up is going to sound to some like the act of a typical L.A. fan, someone who shows up late in the third and leaves during the seventh-inning stretch to “avoid traffic.” Like someone who puts a Lakers flag on his car during playoffs, but “doesn’t really follow basketball” during the season. Like someone who thinks that, y’know, the puck is… Um. Does L.A. still have a hockey team? Yes? Whatever.

But it’s not. I may not have the experience with century-long losing streaks, like my dad does with the Cubs, or friends did with the Red Sox, or Inmate Gruber does with the Yankees (in my mind), but neither is fandom a promise to put on clean white sneakers and down the off-brand Flavor Aid. (It’s all the Dodgers can afford.) The earlier you realize that the team is in deep trouble, the earlier you can start to fix it — change things up, experiment, invite Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill to come by and see what they can do. And no groin shots!

I love the Dodgers, but that doesn’t mean I have to like them.

And so… Now what? With the season effectively over, and the hope of the wildest of cards fading into the distance, now what? Crawl back under the covers, and hope for a miracle? Walk away, with our hands over our ears, going “La-la-la-la”? Become really interested in what the local high-school baseball team is doing? Suffer serious head trauma and become Phillies fans?

Or just put all our energy into hating the Yankees?

I know what my plans are.

Baseball

I’m Hoping Someone Passed Kevin Mitchell a Cigarette

Because after writing this paragraph in his coverage of the women’s final this weekend in The Guardian, he clearly needed one…

The beauty of Sharapova goes beyond her long legs and blonde hair. Her tennis is engaged with a silken movement that leads to precision across the disciplines, but, when it mattered most, those connected elements deserted her for the second time in three days and the title was gone before the sweat had left her lovely brow.

In the interest of balance, I’d love to see someone from The Guardian write about Djokovic in the same way. I mean, have you seen his abs?

Tennis

If You Leave Me Now

You know what’s worse than a breakup? An impending breakup. The kind of breakup where you spend your entire existence wondering if the love of your life is getting ready to leave you. It’s been threatened. It’s been talked about. Ultimatums have been given. It’s all about to come to a head. 

And that’s where Long Island hockey fans are at right now with the Islanders. On August 1st, residents of Nassau County will go to the ballot to determine if we want to give the County and team owner Charles Wang enough money to rebuild the Nassau Coliseum and turn the surrounding area into a sports/entertainment complex, thus keeping the Islanders here for the foreseeable future instead of having them run for the hills when their lease expires in three years. 

It’s a complicated deal but one that mostly puts the financial burden on Wang. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy the past few weeks telling my fellow Nassau County residents that it’s not just about hockey, that a vote for the Islanders is a vote for their community. I’ve hammered home the point that if the Islanders go, the Coliseum goes and then the surrounding business community dies. I’ve tried to make it less about hockey and more about “it’s the economy, stupid” because that’s what anyone who is not a hockey fan will understand.

But make no mistake, it is very much about the hockey for most of us. We’ve got 39 years invested in this team. For the younger fans, they can say they’ve been Islander fans their whole lives. We’ve been together through ups and downs, through a misguided logo change, through glory days and the “dynasty” tag, through years that left us wondering why we torture ourselves with this relationship. We’ve maintained our ties with the team through bad management and horrible trades and we’ve come out to see our team play in what is probably the most awful arena in all of sports. The only thing that saves the Nassau Coliseum from being the most depressing sports place on the planet is those four Stanley Cup banners hanging from the rafters and even then, sometimes those banners are just a sad reminder of what used to be.

We’re on the brink of the end of our relationship. It’s a sad, heartbreaking thing. Ask any fan of any sport whose team has left them what it feels like. From the Brooklyn Dodgers to the Seattle Supersonics, from the Quebec Nordiques to the Cleveland Browns, there are fans all across North America who can tell you about the heartbreak of your favorite team abandoning you for another city. A prettier city. A city who can give them more of what they’re looking for. A city that will provide a more rewarding relationship. Ask a Baltimore Colts fan what it’s like. That’s the stuff earnest young men in black rimmed glasses with acoustic guitars write hit songs about. 

So of course it’s about the hockey as well as the well being of our neighborhood. There are people screaming in opposition about the $58.00 a year our property taxes will go up if this vote is passed and I get that, I do. We’re one of the highest taxed counties in the nation (our average annual property tax is $8,306) already. But $58.00 a year to save your hockey team? That’s too much to ask? I don’t know how else to put it to these people. I’ve explained about the economic impact of the team leaving and the Coliseum closing down. Now I’m just trying to appeal to their emotions. I’ve become a lovelorn teenager writing poorly written MySpace posts about love and loss and the empty, black space that will envelop my heart when I’m left alone with nothing but my memories. My pleas to vote “yes” have become nothing more than a Dashboard Confessional song where hockey is the one who got away. 

I love hockey. I love my Islanders. This team is part of my history, my lifeline, my entire being and our 39 year relationship is out of my hands. I’ve done what I can to keep us together and the rest of this will play out like an episode of Intervention, where you’re watching a bunch of people who think they know what’s good for everyone decided the fate of your lover. “I’m sorry, he needs to go away with us for a while. It’s for his own good. He’ll be like a new person soon. Let him go if you love him.”

Maybe the Islanders aren’t the best team around. But there’s such hope for them. They’re building up. They’re getting better. There are good years ahead of them. To think that it all could be taken away, that they’ll get their shit together somewhere else, with other fans cheering them on in a new arena in a new city with a new name, well, that breaks my heart. 

We’re spending these summer days in limbo, not sure if we’re going to still be The Home of the Islanders. We can plead and beg and try to convince the naysayers. But the ultimatum has already been given. Come the evening of August 1, 2011 we will know if our tenuous relationship will come to an end and we’ll join the legions of other sports fans who have suffered through a team breakup. It will be weird to spend the next three years giving ourselves to the team, knowing that when the 2015 season ends, so does our time together.

I can only hope the residents of Nassau County do the right thing and keep the Islanders here. Yea, it’s the economy, stupid. But it’s also hockey. Which means it’s also our hearts.

[AP photo of the Baltimore Colts leaving town in the middle of the night]

Hockey

‘Christopher Walken’ on Hot Dogs [Link]

In the late '90s, predating their web archive, The Onion ran an occasional column called “Walken in L.A.” I can think of no better way to cap off The Fourth than with a link to his masterpiece on hot dogs:

When I make a movie, my hot dogs are my co-stars. If, in the middle of a scene, I decide I want to consume a hot dog, I do so. I waste the director’s time and thousands of dollars in film stock, but in the end, it is all worth it, because I enjoy eating hot dogs more than I enjoy acting.

Eating

Kobayashi Scored 69 [Link]

Put an asterisk next to Joey Chestnut’s win today — Kobayashi gobbled down a record-breaking 69 hot dogs in a rival contest across town.

Eating

The Tao of Garry Templeton

I don't know about you, but I can't believe Overlooked Player Having a Strong First-Half wasn't picked to be on this year's All-Star Team. It's an outrage that Aging Superstar Posting Less-Than-Stellar Numbers took a roster spot that could have gone to someone like Stalwart Performer on Small Market Club or even Promising Rookie Off to a Hot Start. Why, it's like the All-Star Game is nothing more than a damn popularity contest.

Chances are you opened up your sports section this morning or turned on ESPN or surfed over to your favorite non-American McCarver sports weblog and read something along those lines. Perhaps you've uttered them yourself. I know I used to get pretty worked up about who made the All-Star Game not so long ago until one day I stopped seeing the point in it. Not unlike Brother Snell, I've just sort of given up on the whole process.

Which is not to say that I've given up on the All-Star Game itself. I think, in the last 30 years, there have been only two or three times when I didn't watch the game in its near-entirety, and those two or three times I didn't, I felt the worse for it. It's just that, a few years ago, I came to the realization that any energy spent on griping about All-Star selections was energy wasted. For all the terrible results that fan-balloting and the managerial selection process have given us over the years, for all the times, I was reduced to a spittle-covered fury about one shortstop being passed over in favor of a lesser shortstop, I cannot at this moment recall the particulars of a single All-Star Game snub. The outrage seems to pass by the time Chris Berman is assaulting our eardrums at the Home Run Derby. So why not skip the outrage altogether?

So a sizable chunk of baseball fans want to see the rapidly aging corpse of Derek Jeter propped up between second and third for one last hurrah? Big whoop. If their idea of a good time is to watch Captain Handsome age like one of those stop-motion films or ground out feebly on prime-time network TV, who am I to begrudge them one last chance to cheer for their over-rated beloved superstar? You put things to a vote, and sometimes you wind up with regrettable results.

Sure, it will be annoying when one of those ground balls manages to trickle through the infield for a wimpy base hit, and Tim McCarver and Joe Buck enthuse about how this proves that Jeter "rises to the big occasion," but honestly, anything McCarver and Buck say is going to be annoying. Those two could be spelling out where to find a cache of Nazi gold, and I think I would still have to white-knuckle the recliner just to endure it.

McCarver: See, it's called "buried treasure," Joe, because it's something that you treasure, which you bury in the ground. If it were unburied, it wouldn't be "buried treasure..."

Me: Where is that GODDAMN MUTE BUTTON?

And other, better writers like Jason and Joe Posnanski have already detailed, the way that All-Star Game rosters are assembled and the rules governing player usage are just nutty. You'd be hard-pressed to find a pitcher having a better year in the American League this season than Justin Verlander. And he's unlikely to play in the All-Star Game next week, let alone start it, because he'll have pitched the previous Sunday, and that's a big no-no, according to the rules. 

Then there's the antiquated rule about every team having a representative, which probably sounded like a swell idea back in the days of eight-team leagues, but with 14 to 16 hungry mouths to feed, you wind up with teams stuffed with guys that fail to excite the populace at large. I bow to no man in my desire to force-feed Oakland Athletics down the public's throat, but even I have a hard time believing that the only reason Gio Gonzalez will be making the trip to Phoenix is because someone told Ron Washington that he had to pick an Athletic. (On the bright side, if enough pitchers get scrubbed because of the inane Sunday-Before rule, maybe Gio ends up starting the game.)

If you're going to complain about something involving All-Star roster construction, don't unleash your wrath on the withered remains of Derek Jeter or the nondescript nobodies from losing teams who invited because they have to be. Instead, get angry about the fact that someone has apparently decided that middle relievers -- the punters and kick returners of Major League Baseball -- apparently deserve a role in Baseball's summer showcase event.

Like many things, we can blame this on the tyranny of Joe Torre. Back when he was picking the American League rosters, Torre started placing middle relievers and set-up men on the All-Star team -- doubtlessly as a plot to stuff more Yankees onto the squad. (Gruber nods his head approvingly.) The result? We've been subjected to a steady stream of Jeff Zimmermans, Shigetosi Hasegawas, and -- God forgive us -- Arthur Rhodeses with our Midsummer Classics.

So when Tyler Clippard of the Washington Nationals takes the mound next week in a game that will decide home field advantage for the World Series, and your child turns to you and says, "Daddy, what in God's name is a Tyler Clippard?" feel free to curse Joe Torre's name. I know that's what I'll be doing.

Still, whenever the talk turns to All-Star Game roster selection injustices, my thoughts always turn to the man whose picture graces the top of this post, Garry Templeton. A shortstop with the St. Louis Cardinals, Templeton played in the 1977 All-Star game and seemed certain to get the starting nod after a hot start in 1979. Only one problem: He didn't. The fans voted in Philadelphia's Larry Bowa instead. And though Templeton was selected as a reserve to the National League squad, he had quite enough of that role, thank you very much.

"If I ain't starting," Templeton said, "I ain't departing." And indeed, he didn't make the flight up to Seattle for that year's game.

Templeton would get selected to one more All-Star Game -- the 1985 contest, when his manager, Dick Williams, got to pick the reserves. But for one brief moment in 1979, Templeton had figured out the dirty little secret of All-Star Game selections: they're all pretty much bullshit. It's a lesson the rest of us would do well to remember when Old Man Jeter drags his aging carcass up the Chase Field dugout steps on and onto the field a week from next Tuesday.

[Photo of Garry Templeton being physically dragged from the field after shooting St. Louis fans the bird on Ladies' Day, taken by Scott Dine of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

Baseball

Fan Art

From American McCarver fan @darth, who is apparently desperate to escape his family on this holiday. More like this please.

Nike Re-Signs Vick

The brand dropped him in August 2007, halting the release of his fifth signature shoe, the Air Zoom Vick V, and releasing a statement saying that cruelty to animals was "inhumane, abhorrent and unacceptable."

I'm all for rehabilitation, believing people can change, second chances and the like. But... too soon?

Football

Nathan’s is All Filler

So Joey Chestnut has once again been crowned Repulsive Gorging Champion of the World, in a contest that fully 81% of ESPN viewers don’t even consider a sport. Let pass that there’s actually an organization called “Major League Eating.” Let pass the spectacle of men rhythmically stuffing their gullets with soaked hotdogs. Let pass, well, pretty much everything about the event. None of it matters in the face of a single, strident fact:

It’s terrible TV.

The whole reason that the contest exists — or, rather, than it’s anything other than a half-column-inch curiosity in tomorrow’s paper — is to fill an hour of airtime. And it does a terrible job of it. The eating only lasts for ten minutes, and that’s nauseating to watch. There’s no balletic beauty, no elegant effort. There are just a bunch of guys — some in mohawks and in facepaint — stuffing themselves. This is the cameras turned around, away from the professionals and into the stands. If I want to watch people eat themselves sick, I could just look over to the right-field All-You-Can-Eat bleachers at Dodger Stadium.

But let’s say that gluttony porn was your thing, and you… get off… watching it. First, there are very likely several dozen Web sites that can fulfill that need more professionally for just a few bucks a month. And if you’re too cheap to pop for your own dogs and a mirror? Well, then, you’ve still gotta sit through fifty minutes of the worst television sports cliches imaginable. You think Olympic coverage is padding with faux-inspirational stories and gauzy soft-focus? At least it’s followed by, y’know, actual sport. The Coney Island hotdog eating championship is as fluffy and in-the-way as an unsoaked bun.

And so another year comes and goes, padding with cliches and bad editing, shot through with filler and pig lips, topped with a spectacle that’s straight out of ancient Rome. The only difference is that in Rome, they followed it with the vomitorium championship.

I hope I haven’t given any one any ideas.

Eating

Joey Chestnut Wins his Fifth Mustard Belt

On a day that many of our misguided readers will turn their attention to a bunch of dope addicts riding bicycles in France, of all places, we turn our eyes to the most American of all sports, save baseball; competitive eating. 

Today, our Independence Day, American icon Joey Chestnut ate 62 hot dogs in 10 minutes to win his 5th Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest in a row. Did I mention it was 95 degrees?

So as you gather around your picnic tables this afternoon to celebrate what it means to be American, and you spot your fat nephew George gorging himself on tubular processed pork anus and cherry Kool-Aid try not to give the kid a dirty look. 

That fat little bastard could be our next great American athlete.

Eating

The Unfair Classic

AndrewMcCutchen_001

As Comrade Knauss points out, other than the U.S. Constitution there is no better American tradition than baseball on the Fourth of July. But simultaneous to that celebration of America’s summertime sport, there’s usually another tradition: people complaining about who didn’t make the All-Star Game rosters.

I’m not going to be one of those people, not because I don’t care but because I’ve just given up. There’s an old saying that a camel is a horse designed by committee. The All-Star Game rosters are, year in and year out, camels. With scraggly teeth. Who spit at you.

First come the fan votes, in which people are encouraged to punch paper ballots at ballparks or (embracing new technology!) vote up to 30 times per e-mail address via the Web. Seems kind of fishy, especially when teams create bizarre vote-swapping alliances. And of course, fans tend not to vote for the best players right now, but for names they recognize. As a result, some of the best young players in the game end up being substitutes, not starters. And old stars are rewarded for their career (and not their current sliding stats) with starting slots.

This is why, though I can give some stick to my friends who are Yankee fans, I really can’t get too upset about Derek Jeter starting the All-Star Game. There are at least ten American League shortstops having better seasons than Derek Jeter. He’s not even in the top half. He’s having an awful year. But he’s a familiar name. Lots of fading stars have gotten an All-Star Game valedictory. Does Derek Jeter deserve less?

After the starters are selected, the players pick the next 16 All-Stars, a selection process featuring a voting panel probably similar in composition to the one that makes up the weekly College Football Coaches’ Poll — in other words, a group so focused on doing their own jobs that they probably don’t closely follow what everyone else is doing. Again, this is a round more likely to reward reputation than current stats. But I’m over it. It’s called the All-Star Game, not the All First-Half Achievers Game.

Then the managers finally get to make some picks, but they’ve got to fill all their missing roster spots and ensure that every team has at least one player represented. This makes it almost inevitable that someone deserving player will get shut out. For every Ryan Vogelsong — and seriously, you will not find a better feel-good All Star than he — there’s an Andrew McCutchen.

You may not have heard of Andrew McCutchen. He plays in Pittsburgh, which explains why. Usually the Pirates are one of those teams who have an undeserving player make the All-Star Game roster because, well, it’s the rules! But McCutchen is one of the best players in the National League, and he’s been passed over for two years in a row.

If you look at the league leaders in Wins Above Replacement, a useful all-purpose stat, you’ll find that only two position players have had a better first half than McCutchen: Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes. Take defense out of the equation and he’s still among the top 15, across both leagues.

I could get worked up in a lather over McCutchen getting overlooked again, but as I said before, I’ve given up. Instead, I’m going to accept that Andrew McCutchen, like fireworks, ice-cream sandwiches, and hot dogs, is a part of the glorious tapestry that is an American summer.

He’s being talked about more now than he probably ever has before in his career. He’s the latest entry in one of our most cherished baseball traditions. He’s this summer’s All-Star oversight. The game wouldn’t be the same without one.

[Andrew McCutchen photo by Brock Fleeger/Flickr]

Baseball

The Perfect Holiday

Children love Christmas, because of the presents. Teens love Halloween, because of the vandalism. But adults — by which I mean sensible people, by which I mean me — love the Fourth of July, because of the everything.

The Fourth is the perfect holiday. You celebrate something important — the founding of the United States of America, that noble experiment — by doing exactly what you’d want to do on a hot day in the middle of summer. There’s none of the religious tediousness of, say, Easter, or the marginal quality of President’s Day. There’s nobody there you don’t want to see, like at Thanksgiving. You don’t need to stay up late, as sensible people increasingly find hard to do, during New Years. And it doesn’t start in late September and go on for months and months, with the carols and the commercialism and the bottomless slavering maw of greed, like with Kwanzaa.

There is nothing more American than the Fourth, and nothing more ideal: picnics and fireworks and no gift-giving and exactly zero obligation to see your extended family.

And sports. American sports. Especially baseball.

Oh, sure, people at Thanksgiving might go all Kennedys and run a little touch football in the backyard before drinking themselves into a stupor, and at Christmas, they’ll certainly watch plenty of games. But no other holiday comes as close to requiring that you get up off your ass and throw, catch or hit a ball, warmed by the summer sun, belly full of hot dogs. And that’s a wonderful thing.

Because along with BBQ and ice cream and fireworks and music, along with constitutionally defined government and the Bill of Rights and the slow but infinite perfectability of the American experiment — along with everything that makes the Fourth of July such a perfect day — baseball is uniquely American, with a unique place in our history. It is simultaneously as old as our traditions and as new as our dreams.

You can get by on the Fourth without baseball. You can get by on Election Day without voting. It doesn’t mean you should, and it doesn’t mean that you’ll be better off for it. Part of what it is to be truly American is to truly participate.

That’s a moral not just for a single afternoon the first week in July, but for each day that you’re lucky enough to live under a blue sky and a government of, by and for the people. Join in. Play a part. Make a difference. Eat yourself full, nap a little, enjoy your friends and family, and then get up, go out and play. It will be dark soon, and there’s going to be a show.

But until then — catch, throw, hit, run, breathe, live.

[Fireworks at Dodger Stadium courtesy of malingering.]

Baseball

Baseball

Basketball Lockout: Please Make It Go Away

As designated "business guy" on the American McCarver team, I was asked by Mike to write about the basketball lockout. Quite frankly, I never follow basketball until the playoffs and even then, it seems like the winner is pre-ordained and I find it only semi-interesting (although +1 to the NBA for giving the Mavericks this year's victory). But I do like business, negotiations and conflict and there's a bunch of that going on in basketball (and football) right now. My take:

We have no idea what's going on and anyone who thinks we do is wrong. Professional sports is legalized thuggery where monopolies are either blessed or ignored. Teams are owned by rich folks who keep their financials opaque and leagues are just pass through devices for TV contracts and merchandise deals. Journalists who write about the business of sports?  The most out to lunch, they're the guys who can't write for the business pages or the sports pages so they get the business sports beat. Here's one argument for why the NBA lockout will settle quickly:

...[A]lmost half of the players in the NBA ask for advances on their paychecks during any given month, frequently because they spend a high percentage of their earnings, their cash is tied up in illiquid investments, and more than a handful are legally bound to support women they are not married to but have had children with.

Sorry Mike but I'm having a hard time caring about this issue. The more I read, the more I hope they figure it out quickly for the simple reason that I don't want to have to see more stories like this. Some things aren't worth looking behind the curtain -- and I don't believe we get to peek anyway.

Baseball

Catching: Bugs Bunny, Third Base: Bugs Bunny, Shortstop: Bugs Bunny, Second Base: Bugs Bunny, First Base: Daffy Duck?

Major League Baseball announced the lineups for this year’s All-Star Game, and there’s a rather glaring omission in the list of Yankee infielders on the squad:

  • Alex Rodriguez (starting third base)
  • Derek Jeter (starting shortstop)
  • Robinson Cano (starting second base)
  • Russell Martin (backup catcher)

Missing from the lineup: first baseman Mark Teixeira, who has hit 25 home runs, 65 RBIs, .353 OBP, and in the field looks on pace to win his third consecutive Gold Glove.

When will this sort of discrimination against the Yankees stop? Sure, Curtis Granderson is starting in the outfield, too, and Mariano Rivera will, of course, be in the bullpen. But it’s embarrassing to the entire sport that the game’s best and hardest-hitting first baseman won’t be playing in the All Star game — a game whose outcome will determine whether the Yankees will have home field advantage against the Phillies come October.

(Also ripped-off: Yankee reliever David Robertson, with a 1.08 ERA and 53 strikeouts.)

Baseball

7/4/85: The Greatest Baseball Game Ever Played

You’d think as a Yankees fan my favorite Fourth of July baseball memory would be Dave Righetti’s no-hitter in 1983. And it was. For two years. Until a Mets game took over the crown. Yes, the New York Mets.

July 4, 1985. New York Mets at Atlanta Braves. The greatest baseball game ever played.

Back in the 80s I was a huge Braves fan. Even though I loved my Yankees, I had a soft spot for the National League and a permanent place in my heart for Dale Murphy. That whole Braves team was a joy to watch. Horner, Hubbard, Ramirez, Camp (we are not going to talk about Len Barker). They weren’t a good team. But they were a fun team. 

My parents had a television in the backyard, expressly for the purpose of watching baseball games. On this particular Fourth of July, the Mets-Braves game took precedence and a bunch of us gathered in front of the tv with our beer and hot dogs to watch the game, which started late due to a rain delay.

The first seven innings or so were unremarkable, save for the field being waterlogged which made for some slip-n-slide action in the outfield which resulted in at least one Mets run. 

It was 7-4 Mets headed into the 8th. 

Let’s note here that the 1985 New York Mets at the time were my most hated sports team ever (that lasted until the 1986 Mets, who remain Number One Sports Enemy). I loathed everyone on that team. Gary Carter. Lenny Dykstra. Keith Hernandez. I didn’t want to sit around with a bunch of drunk Mets fans watching them beat my team. 

My man Dale Murphy came through in the bottom of the 8th with a three run double and the Braves took an 8-7 lead.

Thanks to two rain delays, it was close to midnight when the ninth inning started. There weren’t a lot of fans left in Fulton County Stadium, most of them assuming the after-game fireworks they showed up for weren’t going to happen. The Mets tied the game up and as we headed into extra innings, I think there were about 200 people left in the stands.

After three scoreless innings, we sent someone out for a beer run at the end of the 13th. When the Mets went ahead 10-8 and the Braves came right back to tie it up, we sent someone else out for a Taco Bell run. By this time, my parents were in bed, the party cleaned up and a just a few of us were left huddled around the television in the backyard. 

A few more scoreless innings passed. Darryl Strawberry and manager Davey Johnson were thrown out of the game for arguing a call. At 3am. Umpire Terry Tata would later tell a reporter “At three o’clock in the morning, there are no bad calls.”

It was getting close to morning. There were five people left in our group. There were about as many left in Atlanta. The players were weary, the field was a mess and at that point I didn’t even care who won. This was a game for the ages. Everyone would be talking about it for weeks and I’d be able to say I stayed up for the whole thing. 

Bottom of the 18th inning. 11-10 Mets. Two outs, nobody on and Atlanta was down to their last available man. Pitcher Rick Camp. This was it. I was sure the game was over. Rick Camp? How the hell was a pitcher going to tie this game up?

By hitting the only home run of his entire career. That’s how. I let out a triumphant shout of near-victory that woke my parents. My father dragged his ass outside to see what was going on. “Holy shit, this game is still on?” He sat down with us to watch history unfold. 

We were going into the 19th inning. It was almost morning. The cameras panned the stadium and we applauded the people who were still there eight hours after the game was supposed to start. 

The game’s current hero, Rick Camp, came out to pitch. Unfortunately, his heroics didn’t last and the Mets took a 16-11 lead into the bottom of the 19th. 

Mets starter Ron Darling came out to pitch at close to 4:00 am. Suddenly it was 16-13 with the tying run at the plate. 

Rick Camp.

Could he do it again? Could this pitcher who was batting .60 before the game started pull of another hero moment? At the 1-2 count we all held our breath. 

Strike three. Game over. 4:00 am. 

Fireworks went off over Fulton County Stadium, as promised. 

Everyone, even the Braves themselves, even the few of us still watching the game in my parents’ backyard applauded. I’d like to say that the effort put out by both teams in the game meant there were no losers, but the Braves would probably beg to differ.

And that was the greatest baseball game ever played.

ed note: this was 26 years ago. my memories might be hazy, but mostly accurate.

[image: part of the game’s scorecard]

Baseball

The Unbearable Lightness of Oakland

It has been an encouraging thing, seeing the not always forward-thinking world of baseball involve itself, however cautiously, in the It Gets Better campaign aimed at bringing hope to LGBT teens. The San Francisco Giants were the first to jump in, recording and posting their anti-bullying video, but they've been followed by others --most notably, the Cubs and the Red Sox, with the Mariners following suit. The other day, my colleague Mike Monteiro was directing people to an online petition urging the Phillies to cut their own It Gets Better Video.

I have little hope or expectation that my team, the Oakland Athletics, will participate in the project (though there is a petition calling on them to do so). It's not that the anti-homophobia campaign isn't an important cause or that the Athletics organization and its players are necessarily opposed to the idea. It's just that after watching the way the A's conduct their business on and off the field, I don't imagine they're capable of envisioning a future where anything improves ever.

Instead, look for the A's to participate in the decidedly less important and worthwhile It Pretty Much Stays the Same Until We Are All Gripped By Madness campaign. My understanding is that the video will feature owner Lew Wolff talking about how maybe the A's could jump start things once they get to move to San Jose before his voice trails off and he stares off into the middle distance for 30 uncomfortable seconds. Former A's player Eric Chavez is even expected to return to participate in the video. He'll swing diffidently at a batting practice fastball before turning to the camera, shrugging his shoulders, and saying, "Meh."

While shrugging, Chavez will dislocate his shoulder and wind up on the 60-day disabled list.

[Photo by the author during some desultory regular season game.]

Baseball

Auto-Tune the Sports

Via nearly every media outlet with a “smugly bemused” setting, we get word that the BCC has developed software to allow on-line viewers to vary the volume of the on-court grunting at Wimbledon. Each individual viewer can control their own experience, by dialing up or down either the court-side mic or the commentary from the booth. Yes, finally you can tune out all that useless grunting and just concentrate on the sound of women heavily exerting themselves.

And we say it’s about time! It’s been over thirty years since NBC broadcast a commentator-less NFL game, and the technology finally exists to permit each individual to decide what they want to hear. If I can filter my on-line news to just stories about grunting women, why can’t I do the same with my sports? Or, better, why limit such critical technology to tennis, instead of real games? Why limit it to just the sound?

Imagine the future:

You control the mix of the dugout microphone, as you listen to baseball players spit, plan wife swaps and assault water coolers!

You control the amount of drugs in any particular Tour de France rider’s system!

You control how much effort LeBron puts into the fourth quarter of a Finals game! (Buggy. Currently stuck on 0.)

You control the length of basketball players’ shorts, the height of their ‘fros, and color of the ball! (1976 Nostalgia Package extra.)

You control the duration of the NBA and NFL lock-outs! Ha. Just kidding. Suck it up, losers.

You control how many angry e-mails we get, as that single sentence back there is the entirety of our Tour de France coverage!

You control the length of Brian Wilson’s beard! (Current options: Pirate, Viking, Homeless Drifter, Howard Hughes, Tim Linsecum But Turned-Around.)

You control the American interest in soccer! (Duplicate of the LeBron bug.)

You control how much hockey we cov— Whoa, there, Sparky. It doesn’t go that high. Stop it. You’re going to break the controls! Let go! … You do realize that the season is over, right?

You control how many laps of the same damned thing you’re willing to watch in any given NASCAR race! (Common sense would seem to indicate that this be between two and six, but apparently it can go up to, like, 500. That can’t be right. We’re double-checking.)

You control the volume of both the commentators and Frank McCourt’s screams, as he’s finally given what he deserves!

You control how long this stupid article goes o—

[Photo from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, for all your grunting-women news.]

Tennis

The Only Game in Town

Dear Gary Bettman:

As you are aware, both the NBA and NFL have gone into lockout mode. You remember what a lockout is, right? 2004-2005 non-season? No Stanley Cup? Yea, I thought you would remember that. 

Well, football and basketball are facing a similar situation now. At the same time. You know what this means, Gary? This means that in October, after the Yankees win the World Series, the National Hockey League could be the last league standing. At a time when the nation is usually overwhelmed with sports, there will be just hockey. 

This is the NHL’s chance to shine, Gary. A golden opportunity to grab the attention of sports-starved citizens looking for a fix. You need to swoop in on the failure of the NBA and NFL to come to an agreement with their players and use it to your advantage. It’s called exploiting the weaknesses of others, Gary. It’s what good business people do. 

You start with an advertising campaign using a catchy slogan like “The Only Game in Town” and you take it from there. Get some NBA and NFL players who have nothing to do and use them. Hell, Ron Artest spent last night on twitter looking for a job. Give him a few dollars to promote your game. Take a few bucks out of Roberto Luongo’s salary or something to pay him.

 ”Hi, I’m Ron Artest, also known as Metta World Peace. When I’m not abusing exclamation points on twitter I like to watch hockey games.”

Like that. Or, have some NFL players team up with NHL players. A buddy system thing. Aaron Rodgers and Sidney Crosby can make some appearances together and Aaron can say things like “Now my Sundays are free to watch my BFF Sidney play in the NHL!”

I don’t know, Gary. Work with me here. I’m trying. Bring in the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. Have LeBron and Dwyane drop the first puck of the season. Produce a show called Hockey Wives. Pay Shaq to tweet about NHL games. Show the world that the NHL has its share of showboating players, enormous egos and non-sports entertainment value just like the NBA and NFL. Just do something with this opportunity. 

You’re never going to a chance like this again, Gary. I know you have a tendency to not do what’s right for the league and to fix things that aren’t broken and, in general, do what you can to ruin the game. Here’s the moment where you can do the opposite of what you usually do. The right thing. The National Hockey League can fill a huge sports void come October. Don’t waste this. 

The only game in town, Gary. The only game in town.

Hockey

Lightning Crashes

I find it difficult to fathom that none of the other writers at this fledgling sports website have not picked up on what has clearly been the biggest story of the week if not of 2011 thus far. Perhaps, because the story involves soccer, it failed to penetrate the granite-thick skulls of my compatriots. Or perhaps, because the story involves the Women’s World Cup, they have decided to ignore it because they are swine. I choose not to believe that.

As reported via the Twitter feed of Guardian correspondent John Ashdown (Hat Tip: Deadspin), there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for why a game-if-ultimately-overmatched North Korean side fell to the U.S. women 2-0 in the opening match of group play this week. According to coach Kim Kwang Min: “On 8 June, our players were hit by lightning. More than five were hospitalised.”

Well, lightning strikes—that’s not going to help your preparations. You sports fans reading this don’t need me to tell you that, after rickets and genetic mutation-inducing exposure to radiation, lightning strikes are about the worst thing that can befall an athlete. (We all remember how all three things conspired to inexorably alter the course of Game Six of the 1985 World Series.) That the Korean women were able to stay within shouting distance of their American counterparts for 90 minutes after enduring such an occurrence speaks to their tremendous intestinal fortitude and their apparent semi-imperviousness to lightning.

North Korea plays Sweden Saturday in the next Group C match, and you have to figure that this is a must-win match for the Koreans if they entertain any hope of advancing to the next round. Still, a glance at the team injury report suggests that they’re facing long odds against the highly skilled Swedes.

  • Probable: Kim, C.O. (Hamstring); Yu, J.H. (Lightning strike); Paek, S.H. (Lightning strike); Ho, U.B. (Lightning strike); Song, J.S. (Lightning strike, groin)
  • Questionable: Ri, Y.G. (Called home by Dear Leader); Kim, S.G. (Out of favor); Yun, H.H. (Possible CIA infiltrator)
  • Doubtful: Ri, J.S. (“Food” poisoning); Jo, Y.M. (Run-in at DMZ with wise-cracking American doctor and cross-dressing company clerk that turns into a meditation on the futility of war); Ri, U.H. (Ankle)
  • Out: Ra, U.S. (Shot, trying to escape); Choe, M.G. (Un-person’d)

Then again, were I betting man, I might be tempted to lay down a sawbuck or two on North Korea in Saturday’s game. After all, lightning rarely strikes twice. Or even six times, as the case may be.

[Photo of lightning: John Fowler]

Soccer

The Sisters of St. Joseph

The first rule of fandom is that you root for the team your dad roots for. My dad immigrated to this country as a soccer fan. Specifically, a Benfica fan, being a native of Lisbon. And a soccer fan he stayed. 

As a fat little immigrant kid, I wanted nothing more than to be “normal.” By which I mean, not get beat up by the kids in my neighborhood who called me a “pork and cheese.” For some messed up reason, I wanted to be ONE of them. (It’s very confusing being a kid.) I wanted a Schwinn with a banana seat, the A-Team, to celebrate the Fourth of July, and most of all, I really, really wanted to love baseball.

There was no baseball in our house. 

When I turned six my parents, God-fearing Catholics that they were, decided to enroll me in Holy Child Catholic School on North Broad St, where I was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph. My first day was terrifying. I knew about two dozen words of English, all learned from watching TV. The other kids were frightening and already drawing up a schedule for kicking my ass at recess. At the front of the room stood one of the most imposing sights I’d seen so far in my young fat life. A nun. And not one of those new friendly nuns. This wasn’t a Lillies of the Field nun. This was a straight-up box-headed starched-up bride of Christ holding a metal yardstick and rosary beads the size of medicine balls. But, lo and behold, BEHIND this nun! Tacked up on a corkboard behind her desk: an autographed photo of Greg Luzinski. The Bull. Currently roaming left field for the Philadelphia Phillies. And it was then I learned one of the most delightful secrets of life in these great United States: nuns love baseball.

I made a pact with the Sisters of Saint Joseph that day. I would let them teach me about God and Jesus if they taught me about baseball. And so we played our part for years. For every station of the cross I endured I expected to find out why Paul Owens was called The Pope. For every rosary said I expected to hear why Larry Bowa would get so damn anxious at the plate. I traded Confirmation for the balk rule. (I still understand neither.) 

In 1980 the Phillies went to the World Series for the first time since 1950, and while at home my parents wondered what all the fuss was about, the Sisters of St. Joseph started every day with a recap of the previous night’s game. And when the Royals’ George Brett was pulled from Game 2 with hemorrhoid pain you could sense there was a prayer circle involved. We prayed for Carlton to pitch well, and for Bowa to keep his temper under control. And when the Phillies won it all the Sisters had us make signs and march in an impromptu parade down Broad St.

That was our last year together. The Sisters stayed. I went to high school. Luzinski went to Chicago.

The Catholic stuff? Well, I’m an alumni. But the good Sisters carved out a place in my heart. They attempted to fill it with Jesus and that didn’t work so well. But they did in fact teach me something about faith. And baseball. And for that they are dear to me.

Baseball

‘Sometimes I Saw the Catcher, Sometimes I Didn’t’

After Anker linked to it the other day, I started reading this great story by Mark Jacobson about Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson — the Yankee pitchers who literally swapped wives in 1972 — and this paragraph jumped out at me:

Thirty-eight years later, despite holding steady as ESPN.com's "sixth most shocking moment in baseball history," the Peterson-Kekich "Trade" has been largely regarded as a curio of the game's wacky period immediately preceding free agency, a time that included Charlie Finley's mule and Dock Ellis's supposedly pitching a no-hitter while under the influence of LSD.

What caught my eye is the supposedly. That’s a misplaced modifier, the sort of mistake that, a generation ago, never would have slipped past the copy-editing desk at New York Magazine. There’s nothing supposed about Dock Ellis having pitching a no-hitter: it happened on 12 June 1970, with Ellis’s Pirates beating the Padres 2-0.1

What Jacobson meant to write was “Dock Ellis’s pitching a no-hitter supposedly while under the influence of LSD.” But then I got to wondering: is there anything supposed about that, either?

For one thing, Ellis walked eight batters and beaned another — not exactly your typical no-hitter box score. We have to take Ellis’s word for the LSD, but listen to him tell the story and tell me you don’t believe it:


  1. Both Pirate runs came on solo dingers by Willie Stargell. 

Baseball

The Return of Jaromir

Jaromir Jagr has been found alive, well and signing with the Flyers. The Red Wings and Penguin would like to take this moment to say, “Dude. He’s 39.”

Hockey

A House Divided

This was the sign in front of my parents' house in October of 2000. The Yankees and Mets were playing each other in the World Series. What you don't see here (and I'm forcing my mother to find a picture of) is the roof of the house - which slants down and faces a street with heavy traffic - on which my father used duct tape to divide the roof in half with a Mets logo on one side and a Yankees logo on the other, with "His" and "Hers" written underneath them. 

A Subway Series between the Yankees and Mets this weekend divides my parents' house once again. It's a tradition, this rivalry. It's part of our family dynamic and I wouldn't have it any other way. Me, my youngest sister and my mother on the Yankees side and my father and middle sister (who has always been the kiss-ass kid) on the Mets side. 

There have been fights, altercations, name calling and goading. There was my father's effort to have my daughter's first words be "Yankees suck!" and me teaching my children to laugh like little Pavlov's Yankee fans to every time my father said "Let's go Mets!" I still have the broom I used to chase my sister around the yard in 2003 yelling "Sweep! Sweep!" and my father treasures the blackmail photo he took of my then infant son wearing a Mets cap the same way I treasure the moment I put a Yankees bumper sticker on Dad's brand new car. Or the time my father told my mother "you might as well be giving blowjobs to Roger Clemens." Yes, that really happened.

Our mutual love of baseball is what makes our family rivalry so much fun. The game we adore brings us together even as a Subway Series tears us apart. We'll watch the games as a family (at this point the Yankee fans outnumber the Mets fans because my kids have chosen their baseball allegiance wisely), curse at each amicably, make fun of each other's teams viciously yet still have those moments of baseball neutrality when we all agree on how much we hate A-Rod. 

I look forward to a Yankees-Mets series the way some people look forward to a war. I have my insults and jabs lined up like sharpened weapons. I know my father and sister have done the same. I've prepared my kids for battle. We're ready for a weekend of family fun and togetherness.

Bring it on, Mets.

Baseball

Maybe It’s a Soccer App

My eleven-year-old son just used the word “nil.” This means he’s either been watching soccer or programming Objective C.

I’m not sure which upsets me more.

Soccer

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