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

August 2011 Archives

Bucky Effing Dent

In honor of the start of a Yanks/Red Sox series and because my last post was about my worst moment as a sports fan (and maybe because I like to piss off Red Sox fans), I’m going to tell you about my best moment. 

October, 1978. Junior year at my Catholic high school. Because the kids in my school came from all over Long Island, we would often stay after school, hanging out in the front lobby or the grass by the side of the parking lot instead of asking our parents to drive us all over creation.

The previous August I had a sweet sixteen party, one of those dress-up, dancing affairs where we played nothing but Who records and my friends got in trouble for sneaking Vodka into the pitchers of soda.

Those drunken friends chipped in to buy me a wonderful birthday present: a portable radio. Keep in mind this was in the days before boom boxes. This radio was small, had no cassette player or 8-track player -  just an AM/FM radio. Their intention in getting me this particular present was so I wouldn’t rush home after school during the baseball playoffs. I could stay after and hang out with them and listen to the games on my portable radio.

On October 2nd of that year, there was a one-playoff game for the AL East title. Yankees. Red Sox. Fenway. This is what baseball was all about. This is the stuff that rivalries are made of.

I listened to most of the game in front of the school while everyone else was smoking or starting fights or whatever it was we did in those days. I held the radio up to my ear and did a play-by-play for everyone who was interested. As the game wore on and the tension grew, everyone gathered around me on the lawn and I turned the volume up. And then the late bus came. I had to leave them all there, not knowing what was happening.

My school district didn’t give us private school kids our own yellow buses. We had passes that allowed us to take the public buses for free. So for the four miles home, I had a bus full of commuters gathered around my seat, crossing their fingers, praying and waving lucky charms.

The moment happened when I got off at my stop. It was a 1/4 mile walk to my house, down one straight road. I had the radio up to my ear again as Dent came up to bat. My heart was beating fast, my nerves were tingling. I went into a half-run, hoping that I could make it to my house - which I could see all the way at the end of the block - before anything great happened. And there was no doubt in my mind, I felt it in every nerve in my body, that something grand was about to happen.

The only reason the Yanks left Dent in to hit in the seventh inning of a game they were losing 2-0 was because they were out of spare infielders. 

Before his home run, Dent fouled a ball off his foot, hopping around in pain and asking the trainer to come out and take a look. After walking around a bit, Dent decided he was OK and went back into the box.

Mickey Rivers was on deck, and the Yanks leadoff hitter had been closely observing Dent the entire time. While most everyone in Fenway Park was watching Dent grimace in pain, Rivers noticed that the bat Dent was using was the same one that Rivers had used earlier in the game and Rivers knew the bat was cracked. He grabbed a bat-boy and sent him to the plate with the bat he was holding, and Dent took the new lumber despite being in the middle of an at-bat.

And then it happened. Dent swung at a Torrez fastball. It was going, going, gone. A three run homer.

“Deep to left! Yastrzemski will not get it! It’s a home run! A three-run homer by Bucky Dent! And the Yankees now lead by a score of 3-2!” - Bill White

I was literally jumping in the air. I broke into a sprint and ran the rest of the way home, where my mother, who was the source of all things Yankees for me, was standing in the kitchen waiting for me. High fives all around. The Yankees went on to win, 5-4.

And that is how Bucky Dent came to be known around Boston as Bucky Fucking Dent, making it pretty much the best baseball day ever.


Tennis, Anyone?


Hey Dodgers fan*— maybe it’s time to turn to tennis? Here’s some verbiage to get you in the mood for the US Open.

Following on yesterday’s fantastic New York Times Magazine piece by Gerald Marzorati on great tennis rivalries (coupled with photos of Andy Samberg), Byliner’s packaged up ten of their favorite long form pieces on tennis. David Foster Wallace leads with #1 and #2, but there are other greats on the list including Sara Corbett’s wonderful 2003 piece on Venus Williams

Over the last several years, Venus and Serena have been universally treated as a single organism, as twinned souls embarked on a solo mission — one that seems to garner a double dose of competitive bile.

Eight years later, people still think of Venus and Serena as a single organism. (Hint: Serena’s the one to watch, despite the fact that she’s been sidelined most of this year with minor health problems like a pulmonary embolism.)

*There’s only one of you left, right?


Doubles A Dollar More

It’s fantasy football draft weekend and that means I’m drinking a gin and tonic at the airport waiting for a plane to Vegas. Ace the bartender is taking my drink order and with each one she faithfully and robotically adds, “Would you like a double for two dollars more?”

Ace, yes, of course I would. A Vegas trip means mastering the art of drinking straight through 36 hours without losing track of your mind, money, or lunch.

I joined the Perpetual Fantasy League (“PFL”) in 1997 when doubles were a dollar more and the phrase was a rallying cry for league co-owners Middlefinger, Varl, Squarehead, and Papagarzio. First one to the bar would text the others: “Hey, you know what — DOUBLES A DOLLAR MORE BITCHES”.

I had the same reservations about joining the PFL as I did about joining the staff at American McCarver. Do you want to join a team that takes a disproportionate amount of pleasure in the art of talking shit about each other? I’m not talking quips, I’m not talking about snark, I’m talking about a group of bright individuals devoting a good portion of their not inconsiderable mental capacity to viciously tearing each other apart… over sports.

“Another drink?”

“Yes, Ace. Is that your real name?”

“Would you like a double for two dollars more?”

“Yes, Ace.”

I’m quick witted. I can verbally spar, but when it comes to sports trash talking, my original belief was that you either had the gift or you didn’t. You are either predisposed to be a great trash talker or you stay the hell out of the way.


In Jane McGonigal’s book, Reality is Broken, she explains:

[Trash talking] recent scientific research has shown, is one of the fastest and most effective ways to intensify our positive feelings for each other. Teasingly trash-talking allows us to provoke each other’s negative emotions in a very mild way — we stimulate a very small amount of anger or hurt or embarrassment. This tiny provocation has two powerful effects. First, it confirms trust: the person doing the teasing is demonstrating the capacity to hurt, but simultaneously showing that the intention is not to hurt. Just like a dog might play-bite another dig to show that it wants to be friends, we bare our teeth to each other in order to remind each other that we could, but never really would hurt each other. Conversely, by allowing someone else to tease us, we confirm our willingness to be in a vulnerable position. We are actively demonstrating our trust in the other person’s regard for our emotional well-being.

I instinctively know this is true, but as I transcribe the idea, I hear Squarehead in the back of my head: “No, actually you are really a shitty owner. Who the hell would draft Daniel Thomas before Mark Ingram? I am really looking forward to fucking with you ALL SEASON LONG.”

“… for two dollars more?”

“Yes, Ace.”

Starting shortly, American McCarver will systematize trash talking by opening comments for staff writers. Staff writers will now be able to bare our teeth via the comments system and while I believe Jane when she tells me we’re just confirming trust and we’d never actually hurt other, I also trust that we’re not that concerned with each other’s emotional well-being

Fuck it. Doubles a dollar more. Bitches. 

(Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gagilas/2959426266/)


All My Troubles…

It’s is the 45th anniversary of the Beatles second-to-last concert, held at Dodger Stadium.

In tribute, there are only 45 people in the left field bleachers for today’s game.


Another Record

The Yankees hit three grand slams in a single game yesterday, which had never been done before in Major League Baseball. They wound up beating the A’s 52-9.


Pat Summit Reveals Dementia Diagnosis

There’s not going to be any pity party […] and as far as I’m concerned it’s not going to keep me from living my life, not going to keep me from coaching.”

Summit has 1,079 career victories and 8 national championships. She’s a class act. We wish her all the best.


They Might as Well Ban Losing

After violence marred a weekend preseason game against the archrival Oakland Raiders, the San Francisco 49ers on Monday moved to strengthen security at home games, including banning tailgating after kickoff and warning fans that rowdy behavior won’t be tolerated.

Although I count myself a 49ers fan, my brother is a Raiders fan and we’ve generally gone to at least one home game for each team every season. The study in contrasts of the two fan bases is wonderful and right before my brother and I end up fall down drunk (usually about 11am), we have a good laugh at the differences. In a nutshell, most of the Raiders fan base appears to have been paroled the night before so they could attend the game, whereas most of the 49ers fan base appears to have flown down from their Tahoe winter home to attend the game. Or something like that.

But to be clear, I don’t think that means the Raiders fans caused this. If anything I’ve probably felt more safe in the Raiders parking lot than 49ers (but mostly because I might fall into one of the lakes that are a feature of Candlestick winters). And in fact, I attended a regular season 49ers/Raiders game a few years ago that was played in Oakland and that the 49ers won in overtime. The only thing that happened to me because of my 49ers jacket and hat is that the guy in the parking lot selling t-shirts of a 49er fan giving a Raiders fan a blow job looked at me disparagingly.

The violence at this game was not fan on fan, it was fans on ownership — it was just a reality that ownership wasn’t represented in the cheap seats. Let’s face it, neither the Yorks nor Al Davis have seemed to care one iota about fielding a competitive team in years and this violence is the collective frustration of both fan bases saying enough is enough.

The ownership groups can take all the preventative measures they want, it won’t matter until they start preventing their sucky teams from losing. And the only reason we tailgate in the parking lot after the game starts is because it’s less depressing than going inside the stadium. Sorry guys, but this one is on you.


The Worst

I was watching some sports channel last night which was airing some kind of “Best Baseball Moments” countdown. I caught the end of it, the montage part in which inspiring music plays in the background while the I’m Gonna Let You Finish But Joe Carter Had The Best Baseball Finish Of All Time show goes on and on. And as I was watching that montage I thought, man a lot of people think some of my worst baseball moments are the best. Looking at you, 1986 Mets.

And really, the ‘86 Mets winning the World Series and the whole Bill Buckner thing is only third on my list of worst baseball moments. Second would be when the Atlanta Braves traded Brett Butler. The first? October 20, 2004.

I just said that date out loud. My son was in the room and did that hand covering the ears thing. We’re not allowed to talk about 2004 around him. Mostly, he insists the baseball playoffs in that year never happened.  But they did. Oh, they did. And I will always look back upon that year as the one when the Yankees really broke my heart.

The Yanks held a three games to none lead over the hated Red Sox.Three games to none. They had to win ONE game out of the next four. Just. One. Game.

“Red Sox are three outs away from being swept out of the American League Championship Series for the first time since 1988” - Joe Buck at the start of the bottom of the ninth of game 4.

We were psyched. This was awesome. We were running the dreaded Sox into the ground. Humiliating them. Punishing them. Who’s your daddy nowThis was GAME ON and we were loving it.

And then the pact Big Papi made with the devil kicked in and all hell broke loose.

The games came and went and suddenly we found ourselves in front of the TV watching a game seven that should never have been.

“The 1-0 pitch, swing and a groundball to second base, Pokey Reese has it, he throws to first and the Red Sox have won the American League Pennant.”

I’m telling you. I was stunned.

I remember back in whatever year that was that I saw Apocalypse Now in the movie theater. At the end of the movie, as the credits rolled, the theater was completely silent. Shock and awe. Everybody just sat there like, what the hell did we just see?

It was like that in my sister’s house. We all just sat there with our mouths hanging open. Nobody said anything for a long while. I think we were post traumatic.

I went through stages of denial. I lingered on anger. Maybe I threw a couple of things. Maybe I broke a few Yankee bobbleheads in the middle of the street by running them over with my car. Maybe I looked up Curt Schilling’s phone number and told him I would take that damn bloody sock and shove it so far down his throat he’d be shitting cotton and blood for two weeks. Maybe I went home and stared at my photo of Bucky Dent hitting that homer over the Green Monster and cried into my pillow.

Let it be known, I wasn’t really crying because the Yankees lost. I mean, it’s sports. It isn’t my life.

I was crying because they lost to the Red Sox.

And now I’d have to face every Red Sox fan I brazenly taunted after game three, when I thought there was no way in hell the Yanks would lose this series.

Chickens coming home to roost and all.

I’d like to say I learned a valuable lesson in sports humility that day.

But…eh. I just learned how to be really bitter.


The Yankees Against the World


Joe Torre said here on Thursday that the disputed home run call in the Yankees-Royals game on Wednesday night in Kansas City was due to the umpire’s misunderstanding of the ground rules at Kauffman Stadium.

Royals designated hitter Billy Butler was wrongly credited with a third-inning solo home run, even though the shot was reviewed via instant replay, said Torre, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of baseball operations and a former Yankees manager.

So even with instant replay, even with the Yankees vigorously objecting, the Royals still get the run on a bad call. As Mariano Rivera said, unacceptable:

Yankees closer Mariano Rivera was uncharacteristically irate with the ruling, charging from the clubhouse after seeing it on television and barking at the umpiring crew after Butler’s homer was upheld.

“I mean, that cost us the game,” Rivera said. “Tied game, you know? I understand we’re human, but come on. You have replays and get the call wrong? That’s unacceptable.”

This is why we need heroic fans like Jeffrey Maier — to keep it fair when the game is stacked against the Yankees.


The Enemy Within

It is, by all accounts, a marvelous time to be a Phillies, as American McCarver’s resident Philadelphia booster Mike Monteiro is fond of telling you loudly and repeatedly long after you’ve begged him to stop. The Phillies are on pace to win 330 games this year. (Math is not really my strongest subject.) Bud Selig is mulling a proposal that would officially declare the postseason a mere formality. Everyone who dons the Phillies uniform is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being you’ve ever known in your life. It is no wonder, then, that Phillies fans are feeling rather bullish about their prospects for the fall. So you can understand — maybe even appreciate — why Monteiro is so boastful, why his tweets drive adolescents to write terrible blog posts, why he’s acting like a real cock of the walk.

(Note to editors: If article goes over word count, please delete “of the walk” from that last sentence.)

But as fairy tales, childhood pastors, and regrettable writing clichés warn us, pride comes before a fall. And though the Phillies are riding high now, a threat looms on the horizon that may well threaten to dash their postseason hopes to bits, sending Philadelphia sports fans back into the death spiral of self-loathing and misery the rest of the nation associated with the City of Brotherly Love. And the most horrifying aspect of it all is that this clear and present danger lurks just 62 miles away, the very essence of its destructive power emanating toward Philadelphia in waves.

Jack Cust has signed a minor league deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

You might possibly not be familiar with Jack Cust’s work if you only pay attention to people who are good at playing baseball. Most recently, Jack Cust plied his trade with the Seattle Mariners, until they asked him to stop showing up at the ballpark a few weeks ago. It may seem odd that the Mariners — currently enjoying one of the worst offensive seasons of the last four decades — would part services with a hitter. Or it would seem odd right up until you notice that Cust was hitting a less-than-robust .213 with the .673 OPS one would expect from a noodle-armed middle infielder and not a Bunyan-esque power hitter. Cust did manage to hit the ball out of the yard three times in 2011, though that figure might have been offset by his 87 strikeouts in 270 appearances. Mariners fans lamented his departure with heartfelt tributes such as “thank the Lord” and “one less terrible player to worry about.”

I am intimately familiar with Jack Cust’s body of work since, for four seasons, he was the Oakland A’s primary designated hitter, though to be fair, the tail-end of his tenure featured a lot less hitting, designated or otherwise. Still, those early days were glorious — he homered six times in his first seven games with the club in 2007, capping of that stretch with a walk-off three-run homer against Cleveland. A’s play-by-play man Ken Korach, who is not often prone to such outbursts, shouted “Jack Cust could run for mayor of Oakland” as Cust rounded the bases in that game. And he probably could have, though it’s worth noting Oakland has a history of electing awful mayors

The 2007 season continued much in that vein—Cust hit 26 homers that season for a power-derived team and followed up with 33 the following season. At the same time, he was striking out — a lot. Cust led the American League in strikeouts three years running between 2007 and 2009, including an eye-popping 197 Ks in 2008. Many of those strikeouts were of the called-third-strike variety, the bat remaining on Cust’s shoulder if a pitch wasn’t precisely where he fit comfortable swinging. This passivity was frustrating to watch, sure, but what did it matter when Cust was one of the few A’s consistently knocking the ball over the wall?

Well, that stopped happening. The home run totals fell while the strikeout rate remained gallingly high. To be fair, Cust’s on-base percentage remained robust, but that may have been because pitchers started to recognize that Cust was the only Athletic capable of smacking a homer and that putting him on base posed little downside when the only way he could get from first to third on a base hit was if he was allowed to hail a cab somewhere around second base. The A’s probably didn’t do much to assuage fans’ growing frustrations with Cust by trying him out as an outfielder: The familiar clang of balls bouncing harmlessly off his glove when he was in the field soon began to drown out the sound of balls whizzing past him at the plate for a called third strike.

This is the player the Phillies have invited into their organization — an older, slower, less prone to hitting home runs version of that player, at least. He’s safely tucked away in Triple AAA ball at the moment, but how long before the Phillies conclude that Jack Cust is the answer to their lefthand pinch hitting woes. Phillies organization: If Jack Cust the answer you come up with, you are asking awfully confusing questions.

[The photo at the top of this story is a Jack Cust bobblehead on display at the local BBQ joint a short jaunt from my house. Keen observers will note that someone has swiped the bat out of the Cust bobblehead’s hands; long-time A’s fans will recognize that missing a bat won’t make much of a difference in many of those plate appearances.]


Miggy Will Save Us

On Tuesday, right-hander Sergio Romo (right elbow inflammation) and outfielder Carlos Beltran (strained right hand) were placed on the 15-day disabled list. Plus, Jeff Keppinger (right wrist), Nate Schierholtz (right foot) and Aaron Rowand (rib cage) were nicked up, while Pablo Sandoval (foot) started at first base instead of third.

Oh, and starter Jonathan Sanchez left Tuesday’s game after spraining his left ankle in the third inning. Despite those injuries, the Giants aren’t conceding anything. Sandoval came in Tuesday and more or less told skipper Bruce Bochy he was going to play, while Miguel Tejada is fresh after spending time on the DL with a lower abdominal strain and said he’s ready to contribute.

“I’m prepared to be one of the bigger guys on this team,” Tejada said.

The Giants will always have 2010 to remember. It’s been said many times that success in sports is about controlling injuries as much as anything else and the Giants have clearly been on the wrong end of that equation this year. While not completely conceding the season, it’s really hard to see how enough players get healthy to make this a serious run.

Now all we have left to root for is everyone else playing the Phillies. Hey Gruber, is there room on the Yankees bandwagon?

[Image: 20 seconds after Ryan Howard watched the third strike, the third out, the sixth game and the season into the record books.]


The Texas Rangers and an Awkward Memorial

There’s this telephone pole I pass on my way to work. It’s distinct from the hundreds of other telephone poles along my route because it’s adorned with flowers, wreaths, banners and cards.  They are memorials and tokens left to remember the guy who died at that very spot when he drove way too fast, lost control of his car and crashed into that pole. 

I hate seeing that memorial. I hate driving past it every day and being forced to think “Oh yea, that guy died over here. ”  I’m not a callous person. In fact, I hate seeing it because I’m not callous.  A telephone decked out in funeral flowers for a person you didn’t know but are made to think about every single day is a sad, sad monument. Especially when you consider the circumstances of his death. A fresh banner - one that says “Happy birthday” - has been added to the accumulated tokens and the whole thing comes off as a tacky sort of testament to someone’s life and death.

I’m guessing the Texas Rangers don’t feel the way I do about memorials of that sort, because they are erecting a statue to honor Shannon Stone, the man who fell to his death at Arlington Stadium when he fell over a railing in an attempt to catch a ball. Stone’s six year old son witnessed his father’s fall. The statue will stand at the home plate gate and depict Stone and his son watching a game.

From everything I’ve read about him, it seems like Stone was a really nice guy, a good husband and father and friend. So it’s with nothing against the man or how he died when I say that this is a terrible, horrible idea.

“Over a period of time after the accident, I got to thinking about what we as an organization could do and I thought it was appropriate,” Ryan said. “I think we want to have a memorial for Shannon Stone and I want the fans when they come in to see it and remember Shannon and Cooper and the fact that they represent what I think we’re about and that’s making memories for our fans and family.” Because the first thing you want to see when walking into the gate is a reminder of Stone’s death. Nothing says “baseball memories” like loss, heartache and the traumatic experience of a six year old. Can you imagine one of Stone’s friends walking into the ballpark and seeing some smiling stranger with a beer taking a picture in front of the statue of his dead buddy? Awkward. 

 I’m failing to see how this is an appropriate thing for the team to do to commemorate this man’s life or his love of baseball.  The team was kind enough to donate money to the family and set up a donation account for Stone’s son. And really, that’s enough. 

Maybe this is just the Rangers organization’s way of saying “This is a not so subtle reminder to be careful.” Even if that’s the ulterior motive of the statue, it still comes off as tacky as a roadside memorial to me. Maybe even tackier.


Adding Jim Thome to Phillies for Stretch Run

As Thome’s career is winding down, — he turns 41 this month — the thought of adding him to the Phillies bench for the stretch run at the August trade deadline has crossed some people’s minds.

It’s a great thought. Bring him back and get one of baseball’s truly great guys a ring.

I love this idea. But does it make sense? Frank Ward of the Daily Philadelphian looks at the numbers.


The Nicest Guy to Ever Hit 600 Home Runs

“He is the nicest, gentlest, kindest guy you will ever meet… to everything except the baseball, he still hits that really hard.”

—Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer

(photo Paul Battaglia / Associated Press)


Gruber: “Convince Me That a Sport Played With a Puck Instead of a Ball is Really a Sport.”

Asking me to explain why hockey is a real sport is a good way to get hazed when you consider my stellar credentials.

I’m originally from California, which is currently home to three teams:

The Los Angeles Kings, who haven’t managed to win a Cup for the 43 seasons of their existence, including 8 years when they had the best player in the history of the game scoring an average of 114.75 points per season for them.

The Anaheim Ducks, who will forever be known as the Mighty Ducks, who, yes, were originally owned by the Walt Disney Corporation. Who are, yes, named after that ice hockey-based Bad News Bears Disney movie. And, finally, yes, Emilio Estevez was in that movie, and yes, he played a hockey coach who clearly didn’t know how to skate. The Ducks have managed to win a Cup, and are no longer owned by Disney, but remain a hockey team named after cartoonish waterfowl.

The San Jose Sharks, who have statistically been playing “good” hockey, placing 1st or 2nd in the Pacific Division every year since 2004, but until this last year have brilliantly and consistently choked during the playoffs against teams they’ve habitually beaten during the regular season as if they suddenly and inconveniently remember that they still hold the record for most losses in a single season.

Further eroding my hockey credibility is the fact that I am a product of the NHL’s 1990s expansion years, which brought hockey to the Sun Belt, stripped Canada of two franchises, and is the decade that brought us FoxTrax - technology designed to make hockey watchable on TV:

The arrival of FoxTrax coincided with a ratings slump that that NHL wouldn’t recover from until the NHL Winter Classic debuted in 2008. It sounds like the 90s were rough until you look at who was winning the Cup: Edmonton; Pittsburgh (twice); Montreal (their 24th); my beloved New York Rangers (their 4th after 54 long years); and the New Jersey Devils’ dynasty began, followed by the transplanted Nordiques’ win in Colorado. The Red Wings (who suck) got it twice in row, and Dallas finished off the decade, establishing the Sun Belt as a legit home for the Stanley Cup.

It was a good decade for the sport, but mostly because it was the decade I understood why it was my sport.

Of the big four American sports leagues, the NHL has the smallest total fan base, the smallest revenue from television, and the least sponsorship. Big Three American sports fans like to look down at hockey fans because of these stats. They ask, “Is there even a medal for fourth place?”

Fact is, hockey sucks on television. The game moves fast and the center of the action, a small black puck, is easily lost visually as it zips around at speeds exceeding 80mph. This was the problem Fox was attempting to solve when they developed FoxTrax: they thought highlighting the puck would allow folks to keep up, but it just made it look like a video game. 

In hockey you watch the whole game, and you must go to the arena to actually see and appreciate the whole game. You can’t be a phone-it-in couch-based fan because you won’t appreciate a game where you can only see 1/3rd of the action at any given time. HD and big screens have helped the visibility situation a lot, but more than any other sport, you need to be at a game to understand and completely appreciate it.

Hockey requires constant and precise attention. It’s 60 minutes broken into three periods of singularly fluid motion. They don’t stop after each play to assess field position. They don’t pause after each pitch to pose for the camera. Hockey is a sport on the clock and that clock is relentless. Look away and you might miss the second that changes the course of the entire game.

All sports require commitment, but because full appreciation of hockey requires physical presence to grok it, I think hockey is better at drawing you in. The NHL estimates that fully half of its fan base roots for teams in outside markets. I’m guessing because folks continue to rabidly root for their home team once they’ve been transplanted from traditional hockey markets where it’s a) cold, and b) fucking cold.

If you let it in, hockey gets under your skin. It’s not a sport for the short attention span generation; it’s a commitment.  And that’s how I judge my sports: not by the size or shape of the ball, but by the quality and the commitment of the fan.


The Worm in The Hall

Dennis Rodman is being enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame today. I loved watching Rodman play. He quietly antagonized every opponent, got in their heads, made them take the first swing, and then manage to look at the referee with genuine shock, SHOCK!, when he was called for a foul.

And he backed it up with an uncanny ability to “fetch the ball,” as Phil Jackson called it, winning seven rebounding titles in his career.

Also, he fucked Madonna, back when it mattered.

Sadly, he’s mostly remembered now for his antics off the court. A legacy which he’s brought upon himself. The off the court stuff bugged me, but not for the reasons you’d think. The on-court antics were sublime. He was one of a kind. A fucked up Eddie Haskell-like god of mischief and rebounding. Off the court? Whatever. I’ve known weirder.

Check out the video below. The way he wraps himself around Malone, the dirtiest player in the NBA, while making it look like he’s just trying to get himself up is masterful. This was somebody who enjoyed going to work.


Please Help Me Become a Better Fan [Link]

After I, um, gently bathed the Eagles’ fan in a shower of mediocre beer, it became quite clear that I have an anger management issue when it comes to football…


The Bullies

The bullies were in town last night. And, like all bullies, they took a perverse, unthinking pleasure in pounding the unholy crap out of anybody and anything they could get their meaty, lummox hands on: the Dodgers, the Dodgers’ fans, and — saddest of all — the innocence of childhood.

But that’s what bullies do.

The Phillies — fresh off having their pitcher hit the game winning home run on Tuesday — apparently thought it would be amusing to allow the Dodgers the tiniest bit of hope before untying the hand they had held behind their backs and busting lips and blackening eyes. “Haw haw,” they said. “Haw haw.”

The result was crueler than a simple, brutal beating. Instead of being knocked down and getting to go home, the Dodgers went up by six runs early in the game. Six runs. The little nerd landed a punch! And the electric thrill of hope that comes with every unexpected victory in a season of near-constant defeat buzzed to life. Oh, my God! If this was a movie, the music would swell and—

But, of course, real life doesn’t work that way. In real life, the bullies win and the weaklings are beaten senseless.

The Phillies took the lead away, run after run after run. They scored at will, cycling through Dodger pitchers like so many bookish 98-pounders. The Dodger bullpen gate saw more people pass through it than the stadium entrance.

They even thought it would be funny to put their palm on the Dodgers’ forehead in the bottom of the ninth, laughing as the Dodgers took one last flailing shot at a win.

Ha ha. Funny.


OK, fine. It’s a game, and you play games to win. I’ve had my heart broken by more important things than baseball. But it’s not me I’m concerned about. It’s the children.

Won’t somebody think of the children?

My son was at the game yesterday, with his day-camp. He’s wanted to paint his face ever since he got interested in sports and began steady exposure to beer commercials. Because I consider face painting the sort of thing that people from Philadelphia do, I’ve adamantly refused. But yesterday, without me, he finally got the chance. He was thrilled. This was the thing that was going to make a difference. This was the magic that would turn the season around.

For four innings, it looked like he was right. And then, of course, it all fell apart. “Haw haw,” the Phillies barked in their dugout. “Haw haw.”

My boy is too young to know real loss. I know I can’t protect him forever, but he’s twelve and so he’s never had a woman walk out, or a job dead-end, or something he’s proud of be savaged by thugs and philistines. He’s a boy, still with hopes and dreams.

Last night, a part of that boy died, sacrificed at alter of the bullies. They took a wonderful moment of his childhood — a glorious moment of vindication and validation — and knocked it to the ground, laughing as they did.

The aftermath:

The message is clear. There can be no doubt. It’s communicated as powerfully as a punch to the gut that drops you to your knees, unable to breathe.

The Phillies hate children.


The Standings

The post at end of the railing at the top of the stairs is where my sons put their baseball caps, accumulated over the years from all sorts of places — birthday parties, unfortunately-named little league teams, baseball camp, 2009 NLCS misprint sales.

At least the Dodgers are on top of one pile.


This is Why We Play 27 Outs…


The Texas Rangers Want You To Sit Your Ass Down

The Texas Rangers have officially taken a stance against The Wave. Sure, it’s a sarcastic kind of stance and you can’t really be sure if they mean it or not (I mean, are they really going to sell your children to the circus? Because if they are I know a lot of people who will take their kids to a game and force them to do the wave) but it’s been put out there and I, for one, welcome our anti-wave overlords.

I’ve always been anti-wave. I’m not as hardcore about my wave hatred as this guy Greg who has single-handedly made this sentiment into a movement, but I really do hate it.

I don’t like being told what to do and when to do it when I’m at any kind of gathering. It’s why I don’t do the Cha Cha Slide at weddings. It’s one of the reasons I stopped going to church. Kneel. Sit. Stand. Kneel. Sit. Clap your hands. Right foot stomp. So I don’t want to be sitting at a baseball game enjoying my peanuts and Cracker Jacks and Yankee dominance to have it all be uninterrupted by everyone in my section suddenly standing up and raising their hands in the air like they just don’t care. I won’t stand up. I won’t do it. 

It’s not cheering. It’s not rooting your team on. It happens at random times and is not tied into any part of the game. It happens when a double play is being turned and you end missing a pivotal piece of action because the row of doofuses in front of you have stood up in unison to shout “WOOO!” as the play occurred. It starts in one section when there’s a couple of balls being fouled off at the plate and by the time it gets to your section A-Rod has just let an easy grounder get away from him and he’s probably standing there chagrined, wondering why everyone in section 248 is standing up and waving their arms when he just made an error. 

The wave is stupid. It’s a dumb exercise in group think and has as much place at a baseball game as skimpily clad “ice dancers” have at hockey games. 

I applaud the Texas Rangers and their sly attempt to tell everyone to sit their asses down and pay attention to the game. 




The Sittin’ Hawaiian

The result of that big fight between the Giants and the Phillies?

It’s a three-game suspension for Shane Victorino!

The Flyin’ Hawaiian walked toward the mound after being hit by a pitch, then later wrestled with umpire Mike Muchlinski. I’m guessing that rasslin’ with a man in blue is not appreciated by the powers that be.

Not suspended: Ramon Ramirez, who hit Victorino with the pitch; Eli Whiteside, who stepped between Victorino and Ramirez; and Placido Polanco, who ran in from second base to throw gasoline on the fire.

(Correcting what Mike wrote earlier this week: Jimmy Rollins store second with a six-run lead, not a four-run lead. To this year’s Giants offense, a six-run lead is about as insurmountable as it gets, and the unwritten rules of baseball say that you don’t steal in that situation. But this whole “unwritten rules of baseball” stuff is nonsense. If you can steal a base, and they can’t stop you, I don’t care if you do it. But if you piss the other team off, you might regret it later. That’s what Rollins should’ve kept in mind: That he’d be giving motivation to the team that beat the Phillies in the playoffs last year, not that he’d be breaking some nonexistent rule.)


A Hall of Famer, At Last

Those of you who are not aware of the ineptitude of my favorite college football team, the California Golden Bears, need to know only this: Their conference awards its champion with a berth to the grandaddy of ‘em all, the Rose Bowl. Cal last played in the Rose Bowl in 1959. (Thanks a bunch, Mack Brown, you destroyer of dreams.)

Anyway, a few years ago I realized that no Cal football players have ever been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, either. Now, there’s decent news on the horizon: former Cal Bear Tony Gonzalez has turned into one of the best Tight Ends in NFL history. So he seems to be a lock.

Then there’s Aaron Rodgers, who departed Cal after the Holiday Bowl letdown (see photo above) for the green room of the NFL Draft. After sitting in the green room for approximately five years, a Green Bay-bound tomato truck passed by and offered the down-on-his-luck kid a lift.

After holding a clipboard for approximately five years while Brett Farve dithered and re-dithered and zithered and slithered and finally parted ways with the Packers, Rodgers took over and became a star, and finally won a Super Bowl. Now, Trent Dilfer will tell you that winning a Super Bowl is not a ticket to the Hall of Fame for a quarterback. But it sure helps. So perhaps Aaron Rodgers will one day make it there too.

In the meantime, though, Cal has found its first football hall of famer, and it comes from an unlikely source: the 1951 Rose Bowl team, the second-to-last such Cal team to win its conference championship outright. Les Richter, a linebacker for Cal who went on to play for the L.A. Rams, was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend.

Richter played nine seasons for the Rams, then retired and got into motor sports, eventually becoming a NASCAR executive. He died in June 2010, but he’s achieved immortality in Canton, Ohio. Given that Cal will never, ever play in the Rose Bowl again, this is about as good as it gets.

Unfortunately, we’re still two Hall of Famers behind Stanford.

[Photo by me: Aaron Rodgers leads the Bears to a crushing defeat at the Holiday Bowl after getting screwed by Mack Brown.]


Three Out of Four Ain’t Bad

So the return visit of the Phillies to San Francisco didn’t produce as much tension as the series in Philly, unless you could two tight well-pitched games and a brawl during a blowout. Okay, so maybe it did produce tension: but only the last two games produced taut games with lots of non-fisticuff-related drama.

At least the Giants avoided the ignominy of the four-game sweep, and at home, no less. It’s pretty hard to sweep a four-game series anywhere, as most knowledgeable fans will tell you. Still, some Phillies fans had hope, given how inept the Giants have looked all week.

In the end, Sunday’s game was a taut 3-1 affair in which the Giants needed three hits to plate a runner who had hit a leadoff double. I’ve never seen that before, but if any team can generate a negative offense, it’s my Giants.

My favorite bit of Giants-Phillies trivia: Tim Lincecum is the last two pitchers to have beaten the Phillies. And he lost a game in between those starts!

In any event, here’s hoping these two teams meet again in the playoffs this year. (This will require very little effort on the Phillies’ part, but as for the Giants? There’s a whole lot of work to be done.)

[Photo of Mike Monteiro and me, taken by my wife.]


Getting Away With It

With the news that Alex Rodriguez will not be punished even if he did participate in an illegal poker game (complete with cocaine use and a half-million dollar scuffle), we here at American McCarver thought it would be handy to finally set out once and for all a complete list of activities that A-Rod can get away with:

  • Steroid use
  • Illegal gambling
  • Unsavory associations
  • Opting-out
  • Walking over the mound
  • Batting under .200
  • Ball-slapping (both kinds)
  • Getting $30 million a year to play a fucking game
  • Smugness
  • Arrogance
  • Killing, cooking and eating:
    • Endangered species
    • One B-list celebrity a month
    • Any human child under three years of age
  • A magazine photo-shoot wherein he fucking kisses himself

And, of course:

  • Just about anything he wants to, apparently

About That Stolen Base…

Errata: Quite a few Giants fans wrote in to point out that at the time of the stolen base the Phillies were up 8-2, not 6-2 as I wrote. I apologize for the mistake. We had a lot of runs to keep track of. I still maintain that an 8-2 lead with four innings to play isn’t insurmountable. At least it shouldn’t be for a World Champion.

Much has already been made of Friday night’s Giants v. Phillies skirmish. But today’s New York Times interview with MLB disciplinarian (and former Dodger!) Joe Torre is taking it as a given that Rollin’s stolen base is the de facto cause.

Let’s review the facts: Top of the 6th, Phillies lead 6-2, 3 runs already scored in that inning. 

These facts are also worth noting: The Giants still had 4 innings to play. That’s 12 outs. And they were down by 4 runs. 

One of the unwritten rules of baseball is that you don’t steal a base late in the game if your team has a big lead. The idea there being that the losing team has already conceded the game and the stolen base is an ungentlemanly case of being a dick and rubbing it in. The punishment for breaking one of baseball’s vaunted unwritten rules is, fairly enough, a fastball to the ass.

That rule can be a bit subjective though. Let’s take a look at two troublesome phrases. First, “late in the game.” I’d argue that “late in the game” would apply to the final innings. The eighth and ninth. Not the 6th. They still sell beer during the 6th. Secondly, “big lead.” Perhaps the Giants consider 4 runs a big lead, but I’ve seen plenty of teams come back from bigger deficits with more time to play. So what constitutes a “big” lead? Quoting from The Unwritten Rules by Paul Dickson, who in turn is quoting former Braves manager Bobby Cox:

…one rule of thumb that managers have used is not to let a grand slam beat them. In other words, if they have a five-run lead late in the game, that should be sufficient.

There’s that phrase “late in the game” again.

I find it odd that the current champs would concede a game where they had 4 innings to play, 12 outs to make, and were only down by 4 runs. Then again, when Carlos Beltran, the Giants newly minted right-fielder was asked about the stolen base he replied:

“I wouldn’t have done it.”

So, there you go. Down by 4, 12 outs to go, Carlos Beltran feels the lead is insurmountable. Once a Met, always a Met.


Fight! Fight!

Last night’s brawl from the Giants/Phillies game was the first thing I saw when I turned on ESPN this morning. (video here)

When hockey is your favorite sport, fights in any other sport seem lame. Mostly because they are. Especially baseball fights.

Let’s face it, we all have a barbaric side. Even if it’s just a little one. When a fight starts on the ice or the field or the court, there’s a part of you that wants to yell “FIGHT! FIGHT!” and then you hope for some fisticuffs that end with at least a little bit of blood or a few black eyes and maybe even a suspension of your rival’s star player. 

The baseball fight is an awkward ballet where everyone comes off the bench but no one actually does anything. It’s all very reminiscent of the Sharks and Jets, rivals dancing around each other but seeming to enjoy the dance too much to actually get down to the fighting. While the two original fighters have a dance-off in the middle of a circle, the rest of the guys are just jumping up and down to get a better look or having a staring contest with someone on the opposing team. There’s a whole lot of “Come at me, bro!” but very little actual coming at. 

So we spend ten or fifteen minutes watching a bunch of guys posturing and yelling obscenities while the two people who actually started the brawl are being suffocated on the bottom of a pile-up of umpires, third-string players and some coaches trying desperately to keep anyone from getting suspended.  

No blood. No black eyes or missing teeth. Just a few ejected players who may get an invitation to Dancing With the Stars. 

That’s not to say there hasn’t ever been a really good MLB fight. 

This 1984 game between the Braves and the Padres featured included two bench-clearing brawls. Or the 2003 showdown between Pedro Martinez and 72 year old Don Zimmer. Or my personal favorite - a 1973 fight featuring American McCarver poster boy Pete Rose going up against my childhood hero Bud Harrelson. 

If you’re going to have a baseball fight, duke it out like they did. Or leave the fighting to hockey.


Feel-Good Story of the Year


The day before Steelers secondary coach Ray Horton left to become the Arizona Cardinals’ defensive coordinator, he stopped by the team complex for some final farewells.

One of the people he spoke to was Maurice Matthews, a cafeteria cook who has reportedly worked for the Steelers for some 20 years. Matthews was also a loyal fan, driving himself to many of the team’s road games, writes Darren Urban of Arizona’s Word From The Birds blog.

During Horton’s seven years in Pittsburgh, the two had regularly joked about two things: Matthews’ ability to come out and play some “D” for the Steelers, and his often-made request to borrow Horton’s car, a red 1999 Mercedes SL500. But as they said their goodbyes, Horton started acting like he’d forgotten his wallet. And he asked Matthews to help him out.

Matthews gave Horton the $20 he had in his pocket — and Horton yelled, “Sold for $20!”

Then he gave Matthews the keys to his car.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tells the story of how Matthews reacted:

“I’m like, ‘Stop playing with me Ray; don’t play with me,’ ” Matthews said. “The other [workers] were looking at me, their jaws dropped.

“Ray said, ‘Hey, you always liked the car, you’re a good dude, I know you’ll take care of it. It’s yours.”

The following day, Horton had Matthews drive him to the airport in the Mercedes convertible, which had 64,000 miles on it. When Horton picked him up, he handed Matthews the title and proper paperwork to transfer ownership of the car.

“I’m still in shock,” Matthews said. “I don’t think it has hit me yet. I still pinch myself. I look out the window when I bring it to work and I just go, ‘Man, that’s mine.’”

As free agents and coaches often remind us, most of pro football is “just business.” But that’s not what Horton said to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin after he sold his car at a steep discount, according to Word From The Birds.

“I just told Mike, ‘It’s just taking care of guys who took care of you,’” Horton said.


Take Me Out to the Ball Game

If you close your eyes, you can hear Vin Scully: It’s a great time for some Dodger baseball!

Oh, sure, the team is bankrupt and demoralized and playing lousy. Everybody hates the owner, including his wife. A once-great franchise has been so long in the basement that they’ve started to redecorate, adding a nice sofa and thinking about getting a pool table and maybe a wet bar.

But it’s still a great time for some Dodger baseball.

Because the same brutal laws of capitalism that have hobbled the team also mean that I can get into Chavez Ravine for a buck.

Slightly less, actually. Ninety-five cents.

Oh, sure, they’re Top Deck tickets (you can wave at airplane passengers as they go by) and the Dodgers will be playing the Astros (one of the few teams in the league worse than they are) but that’s supply and demand for you.

Heck, I can get a seat in the Left Field Pavilion for five bucks. That’s less expensive than the ball that Matt Kemp will toss to me after warm-up. (He’ll toss the ball to me because he throws out four or five a game, and so everybody in the stands will get one.)

So, ha, all you losers in AT&T Park, with your $60 upper-deck tickets and your $70 left-field seats. (Prices this Sunday, against the Phillies. Pfft. The Phillies. When were they last any good?)

Who’s the World Champions now?

OK, yeah, you are. But you’re a lot poorer for it.

Me, I’m gonna take the family out to the ballpark. The game is next Friday, so there will be fireworks after. The high will be 80°, and by the 7:10pm first pitch, it’s going to wonderful out. The Dodger Dogs will taste just as good.

If you ignore the actual baseball, it’s going to be a great time.

[Image courtesy the Los Angeles Times.]


Bubba Smith, RIP

Bubba Smith was an All-American at Michigan State University, who retired his jersey in 2006. He entered the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996. In the 1967 NFL draft, the Baltimore Colts made him the first pick. He won a Super Bowl with the Colts in 1970. Bubba played in two Pro Bowls and spent nine seasons in the NFL. 

Yet he will be mostly remembered as Hightower in Police Academy.

RIP Bubba. And Hightower.


Tim on Grass

Tim Lincecum during the national anthem at last night’s Giants-Diamondbacks game.

(“At that distance you can’t even see the joint in his hand,” my pal Jon Seff quips.)

[Photo: Me and Instagram]


Boom! Another A-Bomb on A-Rod

ESPN New York is reporting that Major League Baseball is investigating Alex Rodriguez for suspected illegal gambling. (I’m shocked, shocked, that there might be gambling in this establishment! And hey, is that Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon?)

“We’re taking this very seriously,” [an MLB executive] said…. “I would say a possible suspension would be very much in play.”… Rodriguez still employs his cousin, Yuri Sucart, after fingering him as the “mule” who transported his performance-enhancing drugs in 2003 after his steroid usage was revealed in a 2009 Sports Illustrated story… “You get the feeling that Alex says what he thinks he needs to say to get by, and then goes out and does what he wants,” the MLB executive said.

I guess it was only a matter of time before this blog’s obsession with disgraced gambler ballplayers collided with its obsession with arrogant sports franchises.

[photo: Keith Allison/Flickr]


Pole-to-Pole Pop

If you have one of these cards, I bet it increased in value a bit after his two Major League debut games against the Giants. “Big, strong slugger with pole-to-pole pop” indeed…I think that ball he hit off of Lincecum landed somewhere in the Oakland hills.

I hate him already. I bet he’s corking his bat.


Quitting Time

When it comes time to summarize the 2011 season for the Oakland Athletics — coming soon to a toe-tag near you — I think this play, in which an infield single becomes an infield triple, encapsulates things rather succinctly.

Honestly, that’s the sort of play where you sort of hope everyone on the 25-man roster tacitly agrees to disperse to the four winds shortly before the postgame spread in order to spare themselves and their loved ones further embarrassment.

[Hat tip to Rob Neyer for pointing us toward the wince-inducing video evidence.]


The Long, Slow Goodbye

The New York Islanders all but left town last night. Their contract runs until 2015 and after that they will surely leave but in the hearts and minds of Islander fans, they’re already gone. We’re preparing for a funeral that is going to be four years in the making. 

The voters of Nassau County made it clear. Their partisan politics got in the way of facts and figures and reality and the majority of residents - at least those who bothered to come out and vote - gave the New York Islanders the finger while they cast those votes. They don’t want hockey here. They don’t want the Coliseum. They don’t want to better their community. There’s no other conclusion I can draw for this. 

This is a sports blog and I won’t bother you with the economic fallout of this vote. My anger is over here. My sadness, it’s right here. My sadness is for my hockey team. 

I cried before I went to sleep last night. I sat in front of my computer and watched the twitter stream of my fellow hockey fans as we all found out the results together and I cried. No matter what happens with the Coliseum, no matter what they decided to do with that land now, the Islanders are going to leave. 

They haven’t been such a great team lately. But they’re getting better. So much better. Watching them grow into a playoff team has been exciting. Watching the young players, knowing they are going to lead the team to future greatness, that’s such a tremendous part of being a sports fan. And they’re going to have to do it with this team. Because what player is going to sign with the Islanders now that their future is so up in the air? This is our team. This is the team that’s going to carry us for the next four years as we prepare to say goodbye. Now with each game, with each win, with each step toward regaining the power they once held over the NHL, there will be a pervasive sadness to go along with the cheers. Every fan who sits down to watch a game in the Nassau Coliseum will be thinking the same thought: This is all going to be gone.

Those banners hanging from the rafters? The four Stanley Cup banners, the conference banners and division banners, the banners with names like Bossy, Gillies, Nystrom and Smith? They will be hanging somewhere else. Maybe Quebec. Maybe Kansas City. Maybe even just next door in Brooklyn. Wherever those banners hang, even if that place is still in New York, it won’t look right. It won’t feel right. Those championships were born and raised on Long Island. Those Stanley Cups were fought for in the Nassau Coliseum. Those banners belong to us, the fans, as much as they belong to the team. To think of those blue and orange numbers hanging from the rafters in a Quebec arena is heartbreaking.

There’s a sticker on the back of my car that says “We’re all Islanders.” I wish everyone felt that way. I wish the people who went to the polls last night to vote no thought of us as a community rather than a bunch of disparate towns whose people are only brought together by identity politics. Maybe they don’t remember the parades down Hempstead Turnpike. Maybe they don’t remember the pride of being home to an NHL dynasty. Maybe they forgot that the centerpiece of the team’s uniform is a picture of Long Island. We’re all Islanders. Don’t we all want what’s best for our communities? Perhaps not.

So how do you root for a team that you know is going to leave you? Four lame duck seasons of hockey - seasons in which the team will only get better and better - is going to feel like a pretty long funeral march. It’s not even just the team. How do we say goodbye to hockey? What is fall and winter without the skates hitting the ice, without the red lights, the air horns, the sound of boards rattling, the cursing of lost power play opportunities, the high fives? I can’t imagine greeting October without the anticipation of seeing my favorite hockey team on the ice. The Coliseum - if it still stands - will certainly live up to its nickname of the The Mausoleum. The closer it gets to 2015 and the end of the Islanders lease, the more it will feel like a burial ground. Each game, each season will bring us closer to saying goodbye to part of our lives. To the game, to the team, to the banners that hang from the rafters.

In about two years, I’ll probably be moving from Long Island to Northern California (so, how are those Sharks looking?). I was going to say goodbye to the Islanders and the Coliseum anyway, but on my own terms. I’ll come back to visit them in 2015 for their farewell tour. I’ll wear my Islanders jersey and feel at home in the Coliseum because that place - no matter how crappy it may be on the inside - always feels like home. I’ll say my proper farewells and go back to California with “We’re all Islanders” tattooed on my heart. Because this team - the one that plays in Nassau County and not one that will play in any other place - will always be mine. 

[photo: Jim McIsaac, Getty Images]


The End of Heroes

Knauss: I just want someone my kids can admire.


Knauss: Admittedly.

Snell: Sports are not the place for heroes, my man.

Knauss: So, politics then!

Snell: I think maybe you.

Knauss: I won’t be able to fool them forever. Who were your heroes growing up? I’m trying to think of mine.

Snell: Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Not the actors, the actual guys. And they never let me down. Not until Star Trek V, I suppose.

Knauss: Right.  Anybody non-fictional?

Snell: No.

Knauss: That makes me sad.

Snell: But remember, I grew up a Giants fan. So I had no heroes.


Randy Moss Decides Not to Play Anymore

Emphasis added.

Throughout his career, Moss earned the reputation as one of the most dangerous players in the game, when he wanted to be.


Rose and Fall

Gotta hand it to Charlie Hustle. It’s 8:30 in the morning on an already-hot San Fernando Valley day at a city little league field, and Pete Rose is there — red shirt, red sweat pants, gold chain on his wrist — getting his hand shaken and back slapped by the fathers of the kids being dropped off for Pete Rose Baseball Camp.

He’s looking pretty good for his age, or as good as I hope to look at 70. He’s got a hefty gut, his famous bowl cut is long gone and what’s left is hidden under a cap, and his walking is a bit hobbled — two decades of barreling into catchers will do that to you — but he’s engaged and carrying a bat that he pretty clearly knows how to use.

He’s going to speak to the kids before they start four mornings of training, with a bunch of burly men who have been trotting around, placing buckets of balls, laying down chalk, warming up. They look like pro ballplayers, gone to seed in varying degress. Maybe they were in the farm league and never made the cut. Maybe they were in the bigs for a stint, replacing someone on the DL. Heck, maybe they spent their careers as journeymen, bounced around teams until they got pushed out by cheaper kids who could also hit .200. What happens to ball players then they’re not allowed to play ball anymore, and their name doesn’t make any sense in front of the words “Baseball Camp”?

It’s the fathers pressing up against Rose because maybe a third of the kids actually know who he is, or was. That’s the ratio for my boys: the 12-year-old is deeply immersed in his stats and history, the 11-year-old is aware of his stature but not the specifics, and the 9-year-old is just a fan of running and throwing and hitting things. They’re all here to improve how they play — a little baseball tune-up during the minor-league basketball season — but “here” exists because of Rose.

It’s easy to write Rose up as Greek tragedy, the hero done in by his own weaknesses. He’s a legend, one of the best to ever play the game: the most hits in history, the most at-bats, five-hundred games in five different positions, the MLB record for singles, the NL record for doubles — the man had two or three good careers packed into a single go-round.

But he’s not in the Hall of Fame, and may never be. His number isn’t retired by the team he spent most of his career with. He’s not allowed to officially attend MLB events without dispensation from the Commissioner. He’s a pariah, an outcast.

Pete Rose bet on baseball games, including those of his own team. He lied about it for fifteen years, and there’s still some question if he ever bet on the Reds to lose. He says no. But of course he would.

And so what to make of him? What to make of his legacy? I’ve always been a Rose hard-case. Ban him. He’s gone. He made his bed and it was in Vegas instead of Cooperstown. Maybe if he’d come clean when caught, you could make a case that he was in the thrall of an addiction, or foolish, or short-sighted. But he didn’t. Presented with the evidence, he lied, and kept lying, for a decade and a half. If baseball — all-American baseball — can’t even pretend to have integrity, then what hope is there for business, or politics, or the culture in general?

But watching a 70-year-old man with a slight limp walk over to a bunch of excited kids — each dressed up in a t-shirt with the word “ROSE” on the back and the number “14” beneath it — it’s hard not to think that he’s gotten a raw deal. If he didn’t bet against his own team, then he never had a reason to give less than one-hundred percent on the field. He broke rules, but he never cheated the game. How many steroidal monsters are going to waltz into the Hall of Fame — their bats powered by chemistry instead of true effort — while Pete Rose is locked out? How many cheaters — on-the-field, in-the-dirt cheaters — get to be immortalized in the Pantheon, while Pete Rose sits forlornly outside? And why? Why is that fair?

I don’t have a good answer to that question.

I’m eager to talk to my boys tonight, to see how the camp went. I want them to have fun. I want them to get better. And, yeah, I want them to brush up — just a little — against someone who was one of the very best at something they love. Whether they realize it now or not, they’re going to tell stories about the next four days, when they played baseball under the eye of Pete Rose. The 12-year-old wants to hit, and what he hears today will leave a deeper impression on him than anything I’ve ever said. The 11-year-old wants to be a catcher, and any little tidbit of advice is something he’ll carry around in every game he plays. The 9-year-old is going to love the idea of sliding head-first, because it will allow him to get dirty in an entirely new way.

And for these next four days, I don’t want Pete Rose to be the gambler, the tax-evader, the ex-con, the banned, shamed liar. I don’t want Pete Rose to be the Pete Rose that we all know exists, the dark half that has almost irrevocably eclipsed the — oh, yeah — baseball great.

For the next four days, I want him to be the hero, and just the hero. I want my boys to spend time with Charlie Hustle. They can learn — or more, understand — all that other crap later, in time. They’ll be let down by someone they admire, eventually. They’ll have their hearts broken. They’ll see the purity of something they love shamed. It will happen. They may even end up thinking all that about Rose.

Just not this week.


And Lew Wolff Knows From Awful Owners

Lew Wolff fronts the ownership group that purchased the Oakland Athletics in 2005. In the time that he’s been running the show, the team has run up a mediocre 537-542 record—a deceptive performance since it’s fluffed up by two winning seasons from the tail-end of the A’s early-to-mid Aughties successes. In the last four seasons, Oakland has posted a losing record three times—the team lost as many times as it won in 2010—and it will surely add a fourth losing season this year after many predicted a playoff run for the A’s.

As uninspiring as things have been on the field for the A’s during the Wolff years, off-the-field activity has been downright depressing. Wolff’s primary impetus for buying the team was to move the A’s out of the aging, no-longer-fit-for-baseball Oakland Coliseum and into the sort of revenue-generating ballpark that has revived the fortunes of many a ballclub. He dropped a quixotic effort to build a fanciful “ballpark village” in an Alameda County suburb the first time a group of NIMBYs cleared their throats. Lately, he’s had his sights set on San Jose, pinning his hopes on a Major League Baseball “blue ribbon” commission that is now in its third year of trying to figure out where the A’s should play. In the meantime, Wolff has alternated between telling everyone what an awful experience it is to attend a baseball game in Oakland and then expressing disappointment that paying customers are taking him at his word. In spite of the lackluster attendance, the A’s continue to turn a profit, in part by keeping player payroll at comically low levels. There is a sense that if Major League Baseball were to bring back talk of contracting franchises, Lew Wolff would happily pocket the money and run while a club that gave the world Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Rickey Henderson, and four Oakland-based titles gets swept into the dustbin of history. Wolff has denied that, of course, but the savvy fan has learned not to believe much of what comes out of his mouth. This is the owner, after all, who declared that sadsack manager Bob Geren was doing a “fantastic job” approximately two weeks before firing him.

That’s a roundabout way of saying that Lew Wolff is a terrible owner who is awful at every baseball-related thing he attempts to do. If you have someone as incompetently venal as Lew Wolff calling the shots for your favorite team, you have my deepest sympathies.

And yet, even Lew Wolff has found someone he can point the finger at and laugh:

“My hope is that the Dodgers will be sold to a party that will restart this great franchise, and that Frank [McCourt] and his family will benefit from a positive sale,” Wolff said. “But to try and equate or compare what Bud Selig has done with the administration of the current Dodger franchise is unsupportable.”

When Lew Wolff is mocking your ownership moxie, perhaps it is best to simply fake your own death and start a new life as a plumbing fixtures salesman in Pocatello, Idaho.

There is one disputable passage in Bill Shaikin’s otherwise sterling report on Wolff telling other people their business, and it’s this:

Wolff said he did not speak out as a way to curry favor with Selig, his fraternity brother at the University of Wisconsin, who has kept the A’s waiting more than two years for a decision on a proposed move to San Jose. Wolff said no one — including Selig — had asked him to speak out and said he had no interest in buying the Dodgers.

I take issue with any suggestion that Lew Wolff is taking a stand because he’s an unprincipled crony or a ruthless businessman looking to grease the skids for his own interests. That’s not at all the Lew Wolff I know, and I will not stand for that kind of talk.

The reason Lew Wolff is speaking out is because he’s a shameless suck-up. Let’s get our facts straight, please.

[Chilling image of history’s worst monsters by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty.]


Speaking of Trade Deadlines

Dodgers manager Leo Durocher in 1947, regarding any players on his team who objected to Jackie Robinson:

I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a fuckin’ zebra. I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What’s more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded.


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