Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

By JC

I have been remiss in my postings of political cartoons. So today I have something special for you: 4 5 cartoons! So let’s just have a nice civil, down-to-earth open thread, shall we? Hehehe

Me thinks there may be some correlation here amongst these goodies!





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by jhwygirl

Setting a fine example and a tone for the season, Coach Pflugrad allowed hoodlum Jimmy Wilson back to practice today after a one week suspension since his “not guilty” plea to biting a woman on the leg.

Wilson has been sitting in prison in California for the last two years awaiting a second trial on murder charges because the first one ended in a hung jury. The second trial acquitted him.

But why was Jimmy Wilson suspended? It was because of pending citations from the city for a late night incident August 5th. This, from the Missoulian’s fine court and crime reporter Tristan Scott:

According to court records obtained by the Missoulian, the alleged offense occurred on Aug. 6 at 2:15 a.m. near the intersection of Park Street and Southwest Higgins Avenue. The ticket alleges Wilson committed “assault by biting (name redacted) on the right leg, causing pain and visible injury.”

Ryan said the alleged offense occurred inside a vehicle occupied by Wilson and five other individuals, including the alleged victim. The woman did not report the incident to police until later.

“There were six people in the car and nobody else saw what happened. What occurred was either unintentional or it was playful,” Ryan said. “He’s pleaded not guilty, and he deserves a fair shake until all the facts are compiled and the investigation is completed. It’s a strange allegation.”

So Jimmy’s back in town, dancing and having fun on the field as I saw from KECI’s clips on tonight’s evening news.

Pflugrad, for his part, justified putting Wilson back on the field saying “we’ll let the legal system play out.”

I’m sure he’s just a misunderstood youth, just looking for a break…and all of these incidents are just a bunch of mistakes. All of ’em.

It’s a great discipline message sent to the gang of Grizzlies, no?

Coach Pflugrad is setting quite the tone there in his new haunts. City residents better buckle-up – this is just the beginning.

Wh00t! Wh00t!

by JC
saints

It’s Super Bowl Sunday, the BBQ beans are crock-potting, and I’m off for a pregame dog walk.

Consider this an open thread.

by Jay Stevens

Ah, the beginning of baseball, the crack of wood on horsehide, the infielders’ cries, the sweet susurration of the crowd…

Hawks dive bombing schoolgirls?

A certain New York Yankee slugger should beware: A student taking a tour of Fenway Park today was attacked by a red-tailed hawk that swooped off its nest, drawing blood from the girl’s scalp.

Her name: Alexa Rodriguez. Her age: 13, the same jersey number the Yankee third baseman wears.

The Globe has a great pic…

I had thought maybe this year the Yanks had a chance to grab the division, but after this I’ve just got to believe the Sox will bump ‘em out of the playoffs.

Blogs and baseball

by Jay Stevens

If you have any doubt that blogs are changing the media landscape, you need look no further than…baseball.

There, just as it is in politics, blogs are ruffling the feathers of the establishment. In fact, more so.

Take this recent column by the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy: “Famous guest blogs in.”

It’s a satire of the give and take found this spring on Boston hurler, Curt Schilling’s blog, 38 Pitches. And it ain’t pretty.

It’s mocking the Q&A posts Schilling has written during spring training and basically paints all the commenters as sycophantic fanboys, lavishing Schilling’s ego with unadulterated praise.

Other lowlights include:

–Implying that Schilling’s blogo-fans have elevated the pitcher above the team – a capital crime in Boston (“If you leave Boston, I’ll be forced to leave, myself.”)

–Trashing the open nature of blogs (“It’s so much easier to communicate anonymously, without eye contact or using my real name. That’s why blogs are better.”)

–Painting bloggers and their readers as basement-dwelling cretins (“I used to go to Star Trek conventions and comic book trade shows. No more. Now this blog is my life.”)

–Expressing anger that Schilling’s blog might circumvent the media in disseminating Red Sox info to the fans (“I know you guys first heard about Pap being our closer on this blog, but I’ve promised the owners, Theo, and Tito I’ll try not to break any more news here. I’ll leave that to the “sportswriters,” if you know what I’m saying.”)

In reality, a quick perusal of Schilling’s blog actually reveals a pretty cool interaction between fans and a major-league pitcher complete with loads of great baseball information. Schilling has, to date, posted nine very lengthy question-and-answer posts, in which the following questions appeared:

–How much does having a “good” or a “bad” catcher behind the plate affect the pitcher? Why?

–What pitcher you think throws the best of each pitch these days? we hear about Santana’s change-up or Rivera’s cutter. who do you think throws the best 2 seam fastball? 4 seamer? changeup? curveball? knuckleball? cutter? splitter? slider? forkball?

–It’s the top of the 6th and you’re up by a run. You’ve been through the lineup twice. What are you doing differently to keep the hitters on their toes? What did you do in earlier innings to set yourself up for success in the later innings?

–How *do* you communicate to set the infield defense the way you want it? The communication to Varitek is easy to see. I’m just curious how you get the right message to the defenders pitch-to-pitch

Schilling answers each, in detail.

Or take Schilling’s synopsis of his outing on March 23 against the Orioles, which includes this baseball gem:

With one out in the second Gibbons chased a good split, and then [ex-teammate Kevin] Millar comes up. For 3 years he’s talked trash, in person, through text messages, over the phone, about how I better never throw him my curve ball.

Last year in Baltimore I started him off with it, he took it for a strike. Today I shake [Sox catcher Jason Varitek] 3-4 times, Millar calls time out, steps out and says to ‘Tek “What the hells he want an 0-0 curve ball?”, curve ball strike one. Curve ball again, yanked foul, now he’s laughing, and I am trying not to. Curve ball again he lays off. Count gets to 2-2 and he freezes on a 2 seamer inside for strike three. I don’t know if he’s debating the call or just talking, one never knows with him, but he never looks my way as I go into the dugout.

Just a classic baseball story…which is only augmented by Kevin Millar’s response the next day.

On the other hand, I’ve never really liked Shaughnessy that much, to tell you the truth. He made his name off his bally-hooed book, “The Curse of the Bambino,” which Fox baseball analysts loved and beat us over the head with for years. He obviously reveled in the authorial fame of the book; so much so, that he appeared to be actively rooting against the Red Sox in 2004. (Or maybe it was the children’s book that was slated be released a couple of months afterwards.)

Or maybe it was the time my mother (a HUGE Sox fan) and I were wondering when the Sox-Yanks rivalry really got going, and we turned to Shaughnessy for an answer. Surely, as the pre-eminent author on ancient Red Sox curses, he’d know.

We were sure the rivalry hadn’t started before 1913 when the Yanks were known as the Highlanders and served as the doormat of the American League. And certainly not after 1920 when Harry Frazee sold off the stars of the Sox – including Ruth – to finance his Broadway shows. The post-Ruth Sox didn’t reach .500 until 1934. Personally I thought maybe the blood started flowing in the late 1930s when Ted Williams came up and his Sox started challenging the DiMaggio-led Yanks in the standings.

So my mother (did I mention, a HUGE Sox fan?) wrote Shaughnessy. His reply? “As far as I’m concerned, there’s always been a rivalry.” His brush-off made one thing clear: he didn’t care. But what did we expect from a sportswriter with a perm?

I am not alone in my distaste for Shaughnessy. There’s a blog dedicated to trashing him. He’s a figure of ill repute on the famous Sons of Sam Horn message board. There they call him “CHB,” or short for “curly-haired boyfriend,” from a comment thrown out by former Sox OFer, Carl Everett, referring to “[Globe columnist] Gordon Edes and his curly-haired girlfriend.”

(That is to say, Shaughnessy might have reason to dislike bloggers and other Internet denizens.)

What Shaughnessy’s anti-blog satire says to me is that the guy really doesn’t like the idea that fans can go directly to the source for their information. There’s always been tension between beat writers and players – the writers are constantly puzzled by the popularity of the players with the fans, these rubes off the farms, these semi-violent brutes who can barely talk, let alone write. On the other hand, the writers, why they’ve seen it all! They know and love the game! But they’re the servants, the court scribes.

And now, with blogs, they’re becoming less relevant. At least before, the writers had the power to act as the conduit between the fans and their gods. They were the priests interpreting the flight of swallows and reading the entrails of a sacrificed goat. Now the fans can skip the middle man and judge the players for themselves! The horror!

Often you hear the punditry class praise themselves for living in a meritocracy. Nothing could be further from the truth. These guys are terrified of a meritocracy.

by Jay Stevens 

Sarpy Sam nailed the story about a Billings high school basketball coach who was fired for refusing to reinstate a player who had been drinking.

The coach, Larry Lee Falls Down, had a rule for his Plenty Coups High basketball team: no drinking. The punishment was a full year suspension. Then one of the varsity members was caught drinking, and suspended. His parents complained, the superintendent ordered the boy back on the team, and the coach refused.

The Pryor School Board subsequently ordered that the coach be fired in an illegal closed-door meeting.

Sarpy Sam:

WHERE IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OUR SCHOOLS HAVE TO TEACH OUR KIDS IN THIS SCENARIO!!!! Yea, teach them to get away with something clearly illegal, but I thought our responsibility was to teach them right from wrong, not if you are good at sports you can get away with anything you like.

What is happening to us as a society that venerates athletes over the law? How sad.

Amen.

Patriots v. Colts

by Jay Stevens 

Many of you know my football team is the New England Patriots. So I’m a little shocked to have been eliminated by the Colts and Payton Manning. Last night’s game felt like a turning-point — the 2001 World Series, say, when the D-Backs won game 7 off of Mariano Rivera.

The good news is that I never saw the end of the game. My brother-in-law Tivo’d it while we put the little ones to bed (mommies and grandparents off galavanting). Only he didn’t manually override the time of the game on Tivo, so the recording stopped with 3 minutes and 49 seconds left, the Patriots up by 3 and with the ball.

I had assumed they won.

Instead, Tom Brady couldn’t get it done, and Peyton Manning drove the Colts 80 yards in the waning moments of the game for the winning touchdown. Peyton Manning??? (What the hell happened? Did the pain in his thumb force him to stop thinking so much?)

For me, however, there will always be 3:49 in the game, Patriots with the ball and a 3-point lead, Manning on the sideline shaking his injured thumb and Dungy making his I’m-Tony-Dungy-I-Can’t-We’re-Going-To-Lose-To-The-Patriots-Again Face. In my little world, all is still right.

by Jay Stevens 

Did anyone catch the Fiesta Bowl last night???

I was lucky enough to stumble on the end of the game while channel surfing last night, I caught the last play of regulation and the overtime. Maybe the most thrilling end to a football game I’ve ever seen – or at least jostling the Pats-Rams Superbowl in 2001 for room near the top. (The San Francisco Chronicle calls it “the greatest game ever.” Let’s compromise…the greatest college football game ever? Certainly without a doubt the best bowl game ever.)

ESPN’s Pat Forde has a great recap of the game:

At the end of a game unlike any college football has ever witnessed, two of the great female icons in American culture staged a harmonic, hypnotic, borderline hallucinogenic convergence.

Boise State introduced Cinderella to Lady Liberty.

A head-to-toe, shining-beacon-to-glass-slipper miracle ensued.

The Broncos culminated an unrivaled string of gusto-laden, do-or-die trick plays with one of the oldest in the book, the Statue of Liberty. And when Ian Johnson grabbed Jared Zabransky’s behind-the-back handoff, scooted around the left side and scored two titanic points to beat lordly Oklahoma 43-42 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, magic bloomed in the desert.

Ford’s got great descriptions of all the trick plays Boise State (three? four? I lost track), so the article is well worth a read. Not to mention that Boise State’s star running back proposed to his girlfriend on national television minutes after scoring the winning two-point conversion…

The Fiesta Bowl, folks. The Fiesta Bowl…

After re-enacting the Statue of Liberty play for my startled wife, all I could think was that I’m glad there’s no playoffs for the upper-tier of college football. Could you imagine how exciting it would be to see the Boise States challenge for a national crown? I’m telling you, Division I college football playoffs would be more addictive than crack. Last thing I need as a father of twins with a full-time job and near full-time blogging habit is another exhausting and addictive sports-viewing habit…

Update: In Boise State’s victory, Western Dem’s Kari Chisolm sees a need to end the BCS bowl system

by Jay Stevens 

Not much in the Montana blogosphere about the recent semi-final football game, in which the Griz lost to UMass, 19 -17. It’s probably too painful.

It was a heart-breaker, to be sure, a game that Montana probably shouldn’t have made close, since they were nearly dominated on both sides of the football. But what people will remember is Griz quarterback Josh Swogger’s heave-ho interception with 47 seconds left, the ball on their own 29, and needing just a field goal to win the game.

Yes, yes, Rial Cummings is right, UMass deserved to win this game, they were the better team. And, yes, next year’s Griz squad looks like it might be even better than this year’s model:

The Grizzlies started 10 juniors, three sophomores and three freshmen Friday night against UMass. Does 2007 sound like a rebuilding year to you?

All three starting linebackers will be back, and about six good backup linebackers will return.

All three starting wide receivers will be seniors next year, and there are two excellent underclassmen in Mike Ferriter and Rob Schulte who will push them for playing time.

The offensive line loses only center Jeff Marshall, but Oklahoma transfer J.D. Quinn reportedly is the most talented O-lineman on the UM squad. If that’s true, then this line could be the best one Montana has fielded in at least a decade, because 320-pounders like Cody Balogh and Colin Dow are the real deal.

(And don’t forget star RB Lex Hilliard is set to return next year, and Cole Berquist seems more than capable taking the QB reigns.)

Yes, yes, yes. But…a heave-ho with more than 40 seconds left, and all you need is a field goal?

In the end, Josh Swogger can rest assured that Montana is a classier place than, say, Boston, and he probably won’t have to bear the burden of this loss, unlike Bill Buckner or Bob Stanley or Mike Torrez or, or, or… And if he is harassed by angry alum, he can always head back to Pennsylvania and forget Montana ever existed.

Ultimately that play, and the season, rests squarely on the shoulders of coach Bobby Hauk. If he called it, it was the wrong play. If the QB called it in the huddle or at the line, he was the wrong QB. Of course, the team’s 12-game win streak and playoff performance — both almost unexpected — also belong to Hauk, who did a fantastic job with the team he had.

This was a weird, almost unlikable team, with a pretty poor offense (booed at home against Cal Poly), and no big names or stand-outs anywhere on the field. Josh Swogger was a capable quaterback – at best. His stats are mediocre — 54% completion, 17 touchdowns to 12 interceptions – but the numbers don’t illustrate his play, which seemed hurried and inconsistent and ending inevitably under a pile of opposition jerseys. (Why Berquist didn’t get the nod is beyond me. As a freshman pressed into service by injury, his numbers were similar to Swogger’s. Despite some poor play during the 2005 playoffs, he always had poise. In his one start this year — against a decent Great West conference team, South Dakota State – he helped the Grizzlies dominate to a 36-7 win.)

Yes, sir, that was our 2006 season in a nutshell. An unlikable 12 – 1, semi-finalist football team…booed at home!

Still, who would trade any of this for a division I-A team? I don’t even watch I-A football. I don’t watch the Bowl games. What a joke the upper-tier college system is. Give me the Griz and the I-AA playoffs any day.

by Jay Stevens 

This may sound crazy, but I think I like baseball’s hot stove league more than the actual season itself. It could be because I’m a Red Sox fan and there’s too often little joy in that in the waning days of summer. But I think it’s more that the winter trades and free agent signings elevate baseball into the realm of imagination. It’s always fun to mix-and-match players and speculate on the possibilities of a team (ah, the old days of baseball card trading!), sometimes more fun than actually watching the teams play the games and, thus, grind the perfection of potential under the cold boot heel of reality.

Er…anyhow…the big story this offseason involves my Bean Town gang’s attempt to sign Japanese phenom pill-hurler, Daisuke Matsuzaka, to a multi-year deal. The story is big not so much because of the player, who figures to be a decent number-two level starter, but because of the staggering amount of money involved.

That is, the Red Sox offered $51.1 million just to talk to Matsuzaka! That amount doesn’t include whatever money the pitcher himself will be offered! (In fact, the money offer was so ridiculous that many pundits thought it was offered just to keep the Yankees from acquiring Matsuzaka.)

However, under the complex financial rules surrounding the deal and baseball, the money isn’t as much as it appears and some are already calling the deal the biggest move of the offseason.

Why?

First, Boston has to pay the $51.1 million to Matsuzaka’s Japanese club, the Seibu Lions, only if Matsuzaka signs with the Red Sox, and apparently Boston’s boy-genius GM, Theo Epstein, is leveraging that fact into pressuring the Lions to pick up some of Matsuzaka’s U.S. contract, which would effectively lower the negotiating fee. That is, the Lions would gladly pay some back to get any money at all.

Second, the $51.1 million bid doesn’t count against baseball’s luxury tax. The tax hits any MLB club that exceeds a certain payroll threshold to the tune of a 40 percent on money that exceeds that payroll. That means, if you add that 51 mil to Matsuzaka’s actual salary – to, say, 20 million a year – the Sox can stay below the threshold and save its luxury tax payments. Which makes the actual cost of hiring Matsuzaka comparable to $16 mil a year for a player whose entire salary falls under the luxury tax rules.

Third, $16 million for a number two pitcher in his physical prime is looking like a bargain in this year’s free agent market. Jeff Passan:

Already Boston made the move of the winter with the posting bid for Matsuzaka, which, as the pitching market shakes itself out, is looking somewhat reasonable. Adam Eaton, who has never posted an earned-run average under 4.08 or thrown 200 innings in a season, got $24 million for three years from Philadelphia. Jeff Suppan is poised to get $10 million a year, Barry Zito perhaps $17 million. And the New York Yankees, the team that bid only $32 million for Matsuzaka, landed the negotiating rights to left-hander Kei Igawa – a pitcher most executives envision as a No. 4 starter – for $26 million.

The one thing that can be said about this whole Matsuzaka deal is that baseball economics are completely and absolutely f*cked up. Just compare Boston’s complex “steal-of-the-offseason” with the relatively simple successful building strategy under the NFL’s economic system.

Um…go, Sox?

When the Yankees dropped out of the playoffs, I crowed. The implication was, the Yanks stopped signing players with character, and started buying the “best talent.” And you need more than talent to win the post-season.

Really, that’s nonsensical sentimental clap-trap. Jerks play good ball in the postseason. Chemistry is overrated. Maybe. Whatever. What makes me say this is perhaps the smartest one-paragraph summation of what makes winning baseball in October, and why the 2006 Yanks didn’t have it. It’s from a Bill Simmons email column:

In 1996-2000, it wasn’t just that they had great chemistry (which they did), they didn’t have nearly as much offensive talent so they were forced to play true October baseball. The current Yankee lineup isn’t built for the postseason. You just can’t rely on three-run homers with the great pitching in the playoffs, while you can in much of the regular season (especially playing Tampa and Baltimore 38 times). With a great set of contact hitters and speed guys –Damon, Jeter, Abreu, Melky, Cano — this team should be hit-and-running, stealing at every opportunity, taking extra bases, bunting, etc. However, with power hitters like Sheffield and A-Rod clogging up the end of the lineup (such as Game 4, when A-Rod hit eighth), they can’t. There is actually TOO MUCH talent. Are you honestly going to bunt with runners on first and second and no one out with the 25-million-dollar man up? Of course not. But if former eighth-place-hitter Scott Brosius is up, it’s a no-brainer. So it’s not just their lack of chemistry but the fact that playoff teams thrive off role players. Even if you take a loaded team like the Mets, they still have guys like Endy Chavez, Jose Valentin and Paul Lo Duca. Baseball front offices, regardless of the payroll, should build their teams like baseball teams, not fantasy baseball teams.

Sheer brilliances. It also explains the inability of the Billy Beane ballclubs to win playoff series. Beane-ball prohibits stolen bases and sacrifices, which, according to theory, consume valuable outs. Over the course of a season – when you play the Rangers, Orioles, Royals, and Mariners a bunch of times – you need these outs, because it’s less likely that in any given game the opposing manager will pull out all the stops to beat you. He’s not going to drop in his best starting pitcher, say, in the third-inning of a two-run game on two days’ rest. So you need to save up the outs, wear down the opposing starters, exploit weak middle pitching, and win a bunch of midseason 12-10 games.

In the playoffs, however, runs are more valuable than saving outs. It’s better to sacrifice your guy to second and play for the one-run inning. Because the other guy isn’t going to let you pile up a bunch of runs.

Incidentally, wasn’t the Cardinals – Mets series the most uneventful and least exciting 7-game series you’ve ever seen? I mean, I channel surfed during last night’s game seven. I channel surfed during a 1 – 1 NLCS game seven! Face it, if you’re not a Mets or Cardinals fan, the series was a snoozer. The most exciting thing about the games was Endy Chavez’ miracle double-play in the sixth inning of last night’s game, maybe one of the best postseason defensive plays of all times. (By the way, I love Mets’ pitcher Oliver Perez’ fist pump, like he’s saying “I’m the man!”) Check out the catch if you haven’t seen it yet.

Who thinks the Cardinals have a chance in the World Series? Not me. At 83-78, this is the weakest of the Albert Pujols/Tony LaRussa teams (since 2001, 563 – 508, 5 of 6 years in the playoffs). They don’t have the pitching to hold off Detroit. They don’t have much hitting outside of Pujols.

Here’s my bold prediction: Detroit in five.

Whither the Yankees?

I’m not back from vacation yet, but I wanted to talk about the baseball playoffs – and more specifically how the Yankees suck.

The Yankees looked awful, didn’t they? Where was the vaunted offense? Where did the pitching go? The one thing I keep coming back to is how phenomenal their four championships in five years was. I mean, this present team was no bunch of slouches…Rodriguez, Posada, Jeter, Giambi, Cano, Abreu, Matsui…I know Joe Morgan kept saying it might be the best lineup ever assembled — and it seemed hyperbole as the Tigers pitching shut them down – but he just might have a point. They slugged their way to a AL East title this year, and overcame some truly horrible starting pitching in doing so. That they would exit the season for lack of hitting was a surprise, especially to the likes of Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman.

But best of all, rumors have Boss Steinbrenner destroying this team in the offseason. That can be only good news for baseball, because when Steinbrenner puts his hand into things, in invariably results in poor Yankee finishes. The best news – for baseball – is that the Boss is going to sack Joe Torre and hire either Lou Pinella or Joe Giardi in his stead. There’s also talk of ditching Alex Rodriguez – maybe the best shortstop of all time, a guy who’s hit consistently in the .300 range with power, and who plays good defense.

Consider the winning Yankee ballclubs of the late 90s: they were assembled by then-GM Bob Watson while Steinbrenner was serving a suspension and not allowed to participate in the running of his ball club. It was Watson who found and played Yankee-bred players like Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettit, Ramiro Mendoza, and Mariano Rivera. It was Watson who signed David Cone, John Wetteland, Wade Boggs, Joe Giardi, Darryl Strawberry, Tim Raines, and Paul O’Neil. You could even argue that Watson was responsible for the Yankee players who later emerged to help the with the WS wins, like Jorge Posada, Ricky Ledee, and Shane Spencer.

Brian Cashman, on the other hand, was obviously an extension of the Boss. He did the Boss’ bidding and signed the players the Boss demanded. Some of the signings worked well: Roger Clemens, Tino Martinez, David Wells, Graham Lloyd, Orlando Hernandez, Scott Brosius, Chili Davis, and Jeff Nelson. Others didn’t work out so well: Chuck Knoblauch, Kenny Rogers, Hideki Irabu.

But the core of the team remained, even with the tinkering made by the Boss.

Then came Giambi and Robin Ventura and Karim Garcia and Raul Mondesei and Jeff Weaver and Jose Contreras and Gary Sheffield and Javier Vazquez and Jon Lieber and Kevin Brown and Tony Womack and Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright. All paid outrageous sums of money to turn in mediocre performances and sometimes childish behavior (the sissy slap, anyone?), and the winning stopped at the playoffs, when the games really started to matter.

Do I think the Yankees will slink to the bottom of the AL East? Do I think their run of playoffs are over? No. But these guys look old – Sheff and Giambi and Bernie Williams and the Moose – and their pitching stinks, and Rivera’s going to crack one of these days, and how likely is it they’ll win another WS this decade? They’ll pay for premium players as always, but they won’t find the young, top-of-the-line starters they desperately need.

So thanks Boss Steinbrenner! Wreck your team! Fire Joe Torre. Fire Lou Pinella whose motivational technique with players is to scream at them. That will go over real well with the grizzled veteran superstars that typically play in New York.

On pitchers

One of the fun things about playing fantasy baseball is getting to know random players very well. If it weren’t for fantasy, I’d probably know everybody who played for the Red Sox, and nobody else. And the most interesting guys aren’t the fantasy mainstays – the A-Rods, Pujols, or Big Papis. You just plug those guys into your lineup and forget about them. No, the guys I think about the most about are the fringe players. The guys who fill statistical gaps, or who fill out the bottom of your pitching roster.

Take three pitchers I drafted for my team but have since cut: Chris Young, Matt Cain, and Daniel Cabrera. I’ll remember them forever because of all the hours (well, maybe minutes) I spent poring over their biographies, stats, and play in order to decide whether I should keep them or cut them loose. (I cut them loose.)

Before delving into the trio, I should probably explain how I evaluate pitchers, or what makes a pitcher good in my estimation:

Strikeouts.

Seriously. You can tell more about a pitcher from that single stat than anything else. A pitcher strikes out a lot of batters? He’s going to be good. If he doesn’t? Chances are he’s lousy.

What about Jamie Moyer? David Wells? you ask. Greg Maddux fer chrissakes!

Enter walks. The fewer a pitcher walks, the better for the pitcher. A pitcher with a high strikeout rate and a low walk rate is a Hall-of-Famer. Clemens, Pedro, Randy Johnson. Wells and Moyer and Maddux succeed without many strikeouts because their walk rate is astoundingly low. (In 1997, for example, Maddux walked twenty batters in 232.2 innings!) But keep in mind walks allowed is not a fantasy category. So in fantasy a strikeout pitcher is worth more than a control pitcher like Maddux.

There are other factors, too. Ballpark is probably the biggest, only on WHIP and ERA. The least predictable fantasy category is wins. The one factor that influences wins is the team you play for. The more runs they score, the more likely your pitcher will pick up wins. But still, how do you explain Roger Clemens’ 13 wins in 200+ innings and with a 1.87 ERA for a pennant-winning Astros team? (That same year Chris Capuano won 18 with a 3.99 ERA for a Brewers team that won 81.) You can’t. So I don’t even try to predict them. They don’t count as far as I’m concerned.

And now…a peek into my brain:

Chris Young

All the indications were good for Young. A young arm, but at 26 not too young. A great start last season with Texas, with a late season fade. (Texas heat!) Considering the league, park, and heat, his 4.26 ERA and 1.26 WHIP were extraordinary. And a very good K rate of 7.8 strikeouts every 9 innings.

Best of all, he had been traded to the San Diego Padres in the offseason.

It was perfect! He was bound to slip under the radar with his 4+ ERA, his 13 wins. But not only did his stats suggest he’d thrive away from Arlington, he was going to Petco, one of the best pitcher’s parks in the majors and to the NL, where you could easily shave a full run off his ERA!

Certainly he didn’t disappoint. Sure there were some rough patches (a May 24 start against Atlanta when he was chased from the game in the fourth), but his ERA was 2.97 as late as July 1st.

Then something was up. A series of less-than-spectacular starts, none catastrophic, that raised his ERA to the upper 3s. Tired arm, I thought. Turns out he was probably pitching in pain, the result of a “strained right rhomboid muscle.” Whatever that is.

I like the kid. Maybe a short stint on the DL or a skipped start puts him back on track. While it’s too early to write him off as an early-season pitcher, I’ve moved on.

Matt Cain

Cain is the perfect example of how bad data sullies evaluation of a player. No, I’m not talking about the seven games he started for the Giants last year, his big-league debut, when he posted eye-popping numbers:

2-1 – 46.1 IP – 24 H – 19 BB – 30 K – 2.33 ERA – 0.93 WHIP

It is too small of a data set for predictive purposes. Only seven starts? H*ll, the Mets’ Steve Traschel has had seven-game stretches this good. Still, latent in this small set was a warning: 24 hits allowed in 46 innings pitched. That’s an average of 0.52 hits allowed every inning, too good to be real. (Sandy Koufax gave up 0.75 hits an inning, and he struck out 9.3 batters every 9 innings compared to Cain’s 5.8.) The low amount of hits allowed masked the frequency of walks – 3.7/9 innings. (Pedro’s career mark is 2.4/9 innings.) It was only a matter of time before the hits started dropping, and then the walks would get him.

H*ll, I know the danger of evaluating a player after a seven-start callup to the bigs. No the bad data I got was the hype I heard from my friends and family in the Bay Area. All they could talk about last Christmas was Matt Cain this, Matt Cain that, like he was the next Pedro Martinez.

So how is he doing? Sure enough, this year he’s up to 0.85 hits allowed every inning, and the walks up to 4.4/9 innings. His strikeouts are up, but the kid is wildly inconsistent. H*ll, he was downright bad at times. This year Cain averaged only a solitary quality start (7 IP with 3 or less ER allowed) each month this season, until this month when he had three – against San Diego, Washington, and Arizona. It’s obvious he’s not Pedro Martinez. Maybe the next Ramon Martinez…

Never, ever take advice during the offseason from a desperate fan base trying to focus away from a superstar slugger under suspicion of steroid-abuse.

Daniel Cabrera

Cabrera is one of my all-time favorite fantasy players. I really enjoyed having him on my team, only his stats were killing me. So…then…why?

Owning Cabrera means that once every five days a big surprise awaits you. The closed door on “Let’s Make a Deal.” A box with either a live cat or a dead cat in it. The tossed dice on the craps table with your week’s salary at stake.

And the morning after, the box score was a demonstration in surreal art.

I owned Cabrera way too long, for six crazy weeks. Here, for example, were the pitching stats for his first three starts:

1.1 IP – 3 H – 7 R – 7 ER – 0 HR – 7 BB – 1 K (April 7 loss vs. Boston)

5.0 IP – 3 H – 1 R – 1 ER – 0 HR – 9 BB – 10 K (April 12 no decision vs. Tampa Bay)

7.0 IP – 5 H – 1 R – 1 ER – 0 HR – 1 BB – 6 K (April 17 win vs. LA Angels)

I picked this guy because of his crazy strikeout numbers (8.75/9 IP in 2005, 9.3 this year). And his strong finish last year. He’s one of those rare pitchers that might actually do better with a dead arm – a Randy Johnson or Nolan Ryan type talent here. This year, too, he’s in the midst of a two-game scoreless streak, at 16 innings and 17 strikeouts. Love watching the guy. Will try to draft him next year, too, even though he could take down my fantasy team.

Those Darned Red Sox

I haven’t been writing much about baseball lately, and yes the Red Sox’ recent performance has everything to do with that. Since August 1, they’re 6-13, and they’ve only done that well thanks to a mid-month sweep of Orioles. During that span, the Sox dropped two of three to the Devil Rays, Tigers, and Indians, and were swept by the Yankees (in five) and the Royals.

For me, it was obvious the season was over when the Sox lost three to Kansas City. You don’t lose to a quadruple-A squad (hat tip to Bill Simmons) in August and contend. You don’t.

Bob Ryan sums up the Sox’ plight very well in today’s column, “Warning: These truths may hurt,” in which he goes step-by-step through the lineup and outlines the flaws with this current squad. (Yes, it’s a long column.)

There’s only two decent arms on the squad: Schilling and Papelbon. Beckett has stunk up the joint. The bullpen is a mess; stick a fork in Timlin. (Thanks for all the memories, Mike.) There’s no no. 5 hitter. The Sox miss Damon. Coco Crisp is a disappointment. The Yankees are good.

The truth is that this is not a good time to be Theo Epstein. For two years running, he has been unable to construct a viable pitching rotation. (We haven’t mentioned Matt Clement, a very nice guy; no one is in a hurry to see him come back, because it’s clear he wasn’t cut out for Boston.) Theo was cut one year of afterglow slack, but overheated fans, already in a bloodthirsty mood, are downright rebellious now that the Yankees have humiliated their team with a five-game sweep.

The truth is that the essential Yankee/Red Sox dynamics haven’t changed, no matter what happened in the fall of 2004. The Red Sox have a lot of money, but the Yankees HAVE A LOT OF MONEY. The real story is that the Yankees have not won since 2000. They’re winless in this century. People around here should focus more on that. The Yankees have some splainin’ to do.

Personally, I’m not angry at Theo or the Sox. Sure he may have made some questionable moves. In retrospect they were mistakes. But some of the same columnists lambasting Theo over Beckett were singing praise to his genius when he made the trade. Theo’s attempt to rebuild the Sox from the bottom up is showing its growing pains. He’s still laboring under some of former GM Dan Duquette’s contracts (notably Manny’s) and trying to build a minor-league system that was in shambles. Let’s not forget that it was Theo’s moves to acquire Timlin, Foulke, Cabrera, Ortiz, Roberts, Mueller, et al. that won it all in 2004. One WS win in four years? I’ll take it.

Meanwhile, Boston columnists fall over themselves comparing the five-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees to the infamous 1978 “Boston Massacre” collapse, but the truth is that this team was playing over their heads all year. This is hardly a “collapse.” It’s a “market correction.”

So, thanks for the baseball, Sox. I’ll be pulling for the Tigers or Twins or Padres.

What about that trade between the Phillies and Yankees? Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle for four minor leaguers.

Maybe it’s just sour grapes pushing my pen here — I’m a Red Sox fan and my team nurses a half-game lead over the Yanks — but this trade was obscene. Abreu and Lidle for four minor leaguers? None of them remarkable, even. If one of them becomes an everyday major leaguer, the Phillies will be lucky. Of course, the Phillies didn’t make this trade for the prospects. They did it to dump Abreu’s contract, some $20 million dollars for the rest of this year and the next.

Apparently the Yanks were the only team to afford the price tag.

I’m not advocating a salary cap, which has made basketball a mess (but has made football a lot of fun). But the current financial structure that allows only one team to afford the services of a player that may tip the balance of power in the entire American League is…repulsive. The Yankees have spent foolishly of late, especially on pitching. Yet not only do they have the resources to continue making mistakes, they have the resources to fix those mistakes midseason. The wins the Yankees accrue are not earned through baseball skill, but with money.

On the other hand, I don’t believe all teams should necessarily play on the same financial level. The Royals, for example, don’t have the same size fan base — should their smaller support reward them with the same payroll as the Yankees? And few people complain about the Red Sox or Orioles who, while rich, who are forced to live with the expensive mistakes they make. You can still outsmart the Orioles with half the money.

(The Times’ Murray Chass predictably blamed the Phillies for the trade, not the imbalance of team wealth.)

Perhaps there’s no real solution. The Yanks’ wayward — almost desperate — spending may reflect the waning health of the Boss. Maybe he wants a championship before he gives up the team. And it’s hard to imagine an owner or ownership group who are as impulsive and demanding and free with their money as Steinbrenner. Maybe the problem goes away when the team ownership changes hands.

(By the way, a snarkier blogger might note that Steinbrenner and Castro seem to be in similar shape…)

Ultimately my b*tching is an expression of fear. With Abreu and Lidle, it’s obvious the Yankees are more than a half game better than they were before. The Red Sox may have just been bought out of the playoffs.

Baseball chatter…

It’s time for another baseball post!

Pronk vs Papi update

You may remember that, waaay back at the beginning of the year, some sports pundit had the audacity to say that Cleveland’s Travis Hafner may be a better hitter than Boston’s David Ortiz. So I compared the two…and well…maybe the dude was right.

How are they doing now?

David Ortiz: .283 BA, 73 runs, 34 HRs, 95 RBIs, .389 OBP, 1.001 OPS

Travis Hafner: .310 BA, 72 runs, 29 HRs, 83 RBIs, .440 OBP, 1.082 OPS

I call it…a tossup! Hafner gets on base more, Ortiz has a little more power.

Is Kansas City the American Siberia?

It’s pretty obvious that the Kansas City Royals have some fundamental problems. They’ve had only one winning season in the past eleven years. You could blame the fact that they play in a small market and can’t afford to keep their talent – only if you look back at the last eleven years, they haven’t developed many quality players.

Since 1995, the Royals have produced Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Carlos Beltran, Raul Ibanez, Mike Sweeny, and Joe Randa – that’s it. A couple of fantastic players. But the best pitcher the organization produced during that time was Jeff Suppan, with 94 career wins and a whopping 4.66 ERA.

Compare the Royals to, say, the Minnesota Twins. Check out the lineup you could assemble just from players developed since 1995: C Joe Mauer (with AJ Pierzynski as backup), 1B Justin Morneau, 2B Todd Walker, SS Christian Guzman, 3B Casey Blake/Corey Koskie, LF Matt Lawton, CF Torii Hunter, RF Jaque Jones, DH David Ortiz, SPs Franciso Liriano, Johann Santana, Brad Radke, Mark Redman, and Carlos Silva, RPs Eddie Guardado, LaTroy Hawkins, JC Romero, Juan Rincon, and Jesse Crain. (And I left out Damian Miller, Doug Mientkiewicz, Mike Cuddyer, and Lew Ford.)

That’s a pretty good team, maybe a little weak up the middle, but you get my point. The Royals don’t know what they’re doing. I suspect if you gave them a cr*pload of money, you’d have the Baltimore Orioles, not the Yankees or Red Sox.

The latest news concerning the Royals is that they basically traded Elmer Dessens for Odalis Perez.

The real story isn’t the trade itself – a middling reliever, prospects, and cash for an erratic, if sometimes brilliant starter – it’s the news behind the trade. You see, Odalis recently caused a ruckus in the Dodger clubhouse, getting bent out of shape for his demotion to the bullpen. (Apparently he doesn’t realize his 6.83 ERA really, really s*cks.) He’s only appeared in games five times since June 28, a very lousy rate for a major-league relief pitcher. Basically he was taking up bullpen space because the Dodgers didn’t want him, but they didn’t want to eat his contract.

Thus, the deal. Let’s face it: the Royals were doing the Dodgers a favor. They take on a chunk of Perez’ salary and get cash and a couple of arms…that’s it. It doesn’t improve their team much, it just gets LA out of a jam. And it tacitly punishes a trouble-maker, by sending him into exile. To Kansas City.

I think the Royals should embrace being the Siberia of MLB. They’re not winning anything any time soon. Why not take on all of MLB’s troublemakers? Just get cash and prospects to sweeten the pot. Kansas City fans might like it, too. Imagine going to see a game with Barry Bonds, Odalis Perez, Shea Hillenbrand, and Carl Everett. You’d never know when a fight will break out in the dugout! You watch guys walk out ground balls, let popups drop, steal third base on their own – it’d be a glorious disaster!

Whither Soriano?

It’s trade deadline time, that means gossip! The biggest rumor circulating is that the White Sox are interested in picking up Alfonso Soriano. They’d have to part with mega-pitching talent Brandon McCarthy.

I smell panic. Adding bats is not the solution.

Last year they won based on a consistent and deep starting rotation. Buehrle, Garcia, Contreras, and Garland each won at least 14 and had ERAs of under 4.00. Not so this year, ERAs are up. Buehrle (4.53), Garland (4.78), and Garcia (4.86) are each up more than a full run. That’s not especially surprising: these marks are closer to each pitcher’s career average. After all, last year we were all waiting for Garland to collapse, but he never did. Apparently he was waiting for this year to revert to his usual numbers.

That’s the long way of saying that pitching is the problem, not hitting. This year, only Jose Contreras (9-3, 3.52 ERA) is having a decent year. But the offense is clicking. Paul Konerko (.298, 25 HRs) and Jermaine Dye (.316, 25 HRs) are en fuego, led by newly acquired Jim Thome who’s second in the AL in HRs (33), third in RBIs (82) and OPS (1.037).

Soriano’s more valuable as a second baseman, and the Sox already have Iguchi there. That means playing left field – which would allow rookie bust, Brian Anderson, to grab some pine. But if pushing Anderson off the field is the goal, there are cheaper alternatives available. Boston’s Trot Nixon, Chicago’s Jaques Jones, Pittsburgh’s Jeromy Burnitz or Craig Wilson, just to name a few. They could probably be had for a couple of borderline prospects and cash.

The point here is that Brandon McCarthy will fix a gaping hole in Chicago’s lineup now. Why trade him away for a player that doesn’t fit?

Say it ain’t so, Barry

Barry Bonds is under investigation by a grand jury for perjury.

Most baseball pundits are saying they’re “bored” of the coverage, or tired of it. Perhaps they’re mistaking the fans’ silence for disinterest and are following suit. I don’t know about you all, but I’m following this thing closely. Barry Bonds, indicted? Are you kidding me? Who says that’s not news?

What’s at stake here isn’t a single player and some lies. If Bonds is indicted and convicted, the whole steroids scandal could bust wide open, and heads could roll, household names, star players. And Bud Selig’s.

If anybody should be held accountable for this steroids mess, it’s Selig. He’s been a zero commissioner since day one. The financial structure of the game is a shambles – thanks in large part to Selig’s overzealous protection of small market teams. And steroids has been an open secret in the game for years. Don’t tell me Selig didn’t know about it, but I imagine he was more interested in salvaging sales after the ’95 strike than in protecting the sport’s integrity.

So, yeah, I’m watching the Bonds’ news closely.

The Glass House Gang update

You may remember from a previous post that my fantasy baseball team carries a number of oft-injured players – Ken Griffey, Austin Kearns, Scott Rolen, and JD Drew – of whom I wrote, “Am I nuts? I’ve got four guys who have next to no chance of getting 400 ABs!”

Oddly enough, none of them have been injured since. (*knocks on wood*)

Last I wrote, my team was in 7th. Since then, things have changed dramatically. For starters, I’m in first place by a 4½ game lead, thanks to awesome pitching performances.

Unlike my hitters, where I prefer older, more predictable veterans, I prefer younger pitchers. Not rookies, but guys in their second or third years. And they have to have high strikeout ratios. My staff? Johann Santana (12-5, 3.04 ERA, 158 Ks), Carlos Zambrano (11-3, 3.27 ERA, 147 Ks), CC Sabathia (7-6, 3.73 ERA, 92 Ks in 101 IP), Justin Verlander (12-4, 2.77 ERA, 80 Ks), and Chris Young (8-4, 3.64 ERA, 111 Ks). Oh, and I drafted Jonathan Papelbon, too, thinking he’d make a nice starter this year, only Boston made him a closer and he’s simply put up eye-popping numbers ever since: 29 saves, 0.53 ERA, and 52 Ks in 51 IP.

Needless to say, I’m first in Ks, ERA, and WHIP.

I miss Jose Canseco, don’t you?

There was Madonna, the ball bouncing off his head into the stands for a homer (for which he received an offer from a soccer team), and that time he pitched against the Red Sox and ended up tearing a tendon in his elbow. Oh, and there were domestic violence charges against him, too.

But don’t deny you were enthralled by the on-field exploits, too, belting 33 taters in his rookie-of-the-year full first season, becoming the first 40-40 man (stealing 40 bases and hitting 40 HRs in the same year) in baseball history, winning the ’88 MVP, playing an integral part of the powerful A’s team of the late ‘80s…

He also wrote a tell-all, in which he candidly admitted to taking steroids and accused a number of other prominent major leaguers (McGuire, Giambi, Palmeiro, I-Rod, and Juan Gon) of juicing. And isn’t it funny after all the trashing of Canseco that he’s the only one left with any integrity over steroids? You can’t say that about, oh, McGuire, Palmeiro, Barry Bonds, or Bud Selig, can you?

The latest hijinks comes from the Golden Baseball League’s All-Star game, in which Canseco pitched (giving up four runs in a third of an inning) and won the game’s home run derby, despite playing only seven games in the league. Oh, and he won the home run derby’s $250 prize. Disneyland? Hardly.

“I’m going to take these guys out and get them drunk,” motioning toward his teammates on the South team. “I’m going to buy about 400 gallons of beer.”

It sounds like he’s having a good time.

Essentially, I agree with Michael Chabon on this one, although I find Canseco more amusing than informative:

Like all showboats, Canseco courts the simpler kind of admiration, starting in the mirror each morning. He is slick, he drives too fast, he is nine feet tall and four feet wide and walks with a roosterish swagger. But there has always been something about him, about his style of play, his sense of self-mocking humor, his way of looking at you looking at him, that goes beyond vanity and self-aggrandizement, or being a world-class jerk.

Canseco…is a rogue, a genuine one, and genuine rogues are rare, inside baseball and out. To be a rogue, it’s not enough to flout the law, break promises, shirk responsibilities, cheat. You must also, at least some of the time, and with the same abandon, do your best, play by the rules, keep faith with your creditors and dependents, obey orders, throw out the runner at home plate with a dead strike from deep right field.

Above all you must do these things, just as you other times neglect to do them, for no particular reason, because you feel like it or do not, because nothing matters, and everything’s a joke, and nobody knows anything, and most of all, as Rhett Butler once codified it for rogues everywhere, because you don’t give a damn. One day you make that breathtaking play at the plate from deep right. On another day you decide, for no good reason, to take the mound during the late innings of a laugher and pitch, retiring the side (despite allowing three earned runs on three walks and a pair of singles) — and ruining, forever, that cannon of an arm.

I’ve never seen a man who seems more comfortable with who he is than Jose Canseco. Not with who we think he is, like our current president, or with his best idea of himself, like our president’s predecessor, but with himself: charmer and snake, clown and thoroughbred.

Above all, I see Canseco as the perfect symbol for the 80s and 90s: irreverent, mischievous, hot-headed, entertaining. And yet he’s a harbinger of what was to follow, just like Ken Starr and his Congressional allies predicted the current mean-spirited and incompetent GOP leadership and its disastrous effect on the world.

I’ll take Canseco over Bonds any day. Just as Paul Simon’s line from “Mrs. Robinson” — Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you… — encapsulated a sentimental longing for simpler times, so did the AP story on Canseco’s recent independent league heroics affect me. Those old days seems so far away, don’t they?

France 1, Brazil 0

Just saw the tape of Brazil – France last night. Thoughts:

So my theory about hair and WC success was all wrong – Portugal’s ‘dos edged out the close-cropped England crew. The France – Brazil match was harder to predict; plus, I didn’t know Ronaldhino would opt for a ridiculous ear-warmer to keep his locks in check.

I’ve mentioned before that I didn’t like Brazil’s style of play this World Cup. Too much like Argentina in the past, relying on quick counter-strikes while sitting back and playing defense by fouling and bunching up their men in the back. Well, this style bit them in the *ss.

Their play was good enough to get them out of their group and win their first game…but let’s be honest for a moment, shall we? They didn’t exactly face any world-beaters. Croatia, Australia, Japan, and Ghana. Maybe the easiest four games in all the tournament. (Italy’s close: U.S., Czech Republic, Ghana, and Ukraine.) Brazil did not beat a single quality team. When they met France, they were totally unprepared.

That said, I place the blame for Brazil’s failure on two sets of shoulders: Ronaldhino and Brazil coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira. (And, of course, on France’s shoulders – what spectacular play!)

This was supposed to be Ronaldhino’s team. He didn’t step up. Period. When things began to disintegrate, why didn’t he call for the ball? Why did he let Cafu and Roberto Carlos try to take over the game? Why did he let Kaka try to repeatedly bang up – solo – against the French defense?

A good leader is selfish and demanding. Look at Zidane – always calling for the ball, taking it away from teammates. Whenever a French player got the ball, the first thing he did was look for Zidane, and then after passing it to him scamper to an open space for a pass. That’s as it should have been: Zidane set the tempo of the game, he created the game’s only goal and most of France’s chances. The others accepted their roles he gave them.

Parreira, though, really ensured Brazil’s loss. The team lacked cohesion. If Ronaldhino couldn’t set the pace on the field, it was Parreira’s job to find someone who would lead Brazil. But worse still was Parreira’s selection of the starting eleven, especially in his obdurate decision to start Ronaldo over Robinho.

Ronaldo is toast. He’s done. He’s no longer a world-class soccer star. Oh, sure, maybe after a rigorous training regimen he could slim down, but can all the training in the world regain a lost step? Ronaldo was too slow. There were a number of excellent chances for Ronaldo in the first twenty minutes of play that he just couldn’t catch up with, that the 2002 Ronaldo would have gotten a boot on, if not put in the net. He can still handle the ball, sure, he still has a strong shot, but the quickness is gone. He’ll do fine in the MLS if he signs with the Red Bulls, but he can’t score against the best. He was never a danger in this game.

You could blame Ronaldo himself for his fitness. It’s obvious the guy has enjoyed his celebrity and his fat paychecks. (Not quite as much as Maradonna…but Ronaldo is still young.) Ultimately that’s his own problem. If he’s not up to playing, then his coach should have put him on the bench and played Robinho instead – who was sizzlin’.

But the big story is, of course, the return of Zidane. France really was clicking against Brazil. They had a delicious fluidity, their play like a current or wave. And Zidane is the reason. He’s back.

Superman, revisited

Yes, it’s an awful lot of space to dedicate to a middling movie, but the hero is an American icon. And, like a lot of other icons, dull. Why?

He’s omnipotent. Yes, yes, there’s trouble in this movie and others, he nearly bites it, and so forth. But in every movie, he’s the favorite. It’s Lex Luthor who’s the underdog.

Did I mention he’s omnipotent? That means he can do anything. Where’s the risk? What are the stakes? Ironically Superman’s omnipotence is his weakness. It makes him less interesting than, say, Batman or Spiderman. In the early comics, Superman was not so powerful. He couldn’t fly, he could only leap…tall buildings. He didn’t have the multitude of visions he later developed, x-ray, laser vision. I think others crop up when the need arises. H*ll, the dude can turn back time.

I’ve read this before, I’ll repeat it as my own, but unlike other superheroes, Superman is the real guy, Clark Kent is the manufactured identity. The other heroes are people first; the hero is an inner expression, a persona that goes with the powers – usually accidental. That’s what drags down Superman. We can never really sympathize because we could never become Superman. He’s an omnipotent alien descended to the stars like some arbitrary God. He’s not an average joe squeaking by doing the best he can with his limited gifts like the rest of us.

Other super thoughts:

So the guy can hear everything. He knows what goes on everywhere. So…how does he decide who to save and who to let hang? Now that’s an awesome responsibility and the only challenge as far as I can see that taxes his superpowers. There are just too d*mn many of us.

Which leads me to the next question: why does he have a job? It’s a waste of time, isn’t it? Eight hours he could be fighting crime, saving downed planes, putting out fires. It’s a big world. Does he sleep? Eat? If not, why bother work as a journalist at all? If he does eat and sleep, why the job? Couldn’t he just make his own food, rearrange molecules or something? He could sleep wherever he wanted. On the sidewalk. In a flophouse. On a roof somewhere where it’s warm – not that heat or cold affect him. It’s not like anyone’s going to surprise him in his sleep, stick him with a knife or anything.

And he always chooses Metropolis over the rest of the world, Lois Lane in particular. How many others have died so that Lois can go on a quiet midnight ride over Metropolis Bay?

World Cup thoughts

Seems like the final was already played: Argentina v. Germany. Not a great game because the teams were so evenly matched and the ball spent the majority of its time in the midfield. But what skilled, cohesive teams! What deadly offensive skill, what smothering defense!

Brazil – Ghana was a dull game. Ghana controlled the ball most of the time and had a load of opportunities. Brazil’s defense is just good enough. And Brazil’s goals, all of them sort of cheap, quick counter-attacks, timing passes, etc. You know what? Brazil is the new Argentina. I hate that style of play. They are not a fun team to watch.

Defenders should never have a perm. Leave the perms for the strikers. Defenders should have everyday conservative haircuts. If possible, a defender should even be balding.

Speaking of hair, I’ve discovered an easy way to tell who’s going to win the game early on. By the team hair. The more hair bands, hair nets, and head bands a team has to pull back long, flowing locks highlighted, teased, cut into shapes, the less likely that team will win the game.

You think I’m joking?

South Korea – Switzerland. South Korea had perhaps the worst haircuts in the tourney: between the forward with the bleach surf ‘do and the defender with the 1960s Beatles mop-top were a whole lot of other bad cuts. Switzerland sported not a single ‘do that leaked over the ear. Switzerland wins, 2-0.

Spain – France. Spain featured at least three guys with shoulder-length hair and perms. One guy even wore the kind of u-shaped hair band you find on preppie teens. Two others wore headbands. Another had moussed himself a mohawk. France has a couple of bald guys and a guy missing a side burn and some hair on his temple because of a scar. France wins, 3-1.

Argentina – Germany. Historically, Argentina – along with Italy – is a hair disaster. They practically revolutionized the greasy-mop-tied-with-string look. This year they were less egregious, with only one or two greasy mops tied with a string. They had at least one perm. They also had a wild-haired Native American looking guy who actually looked kick-*ss. Germany, however, features nary a single extraordinary ‘do. Germany wins on PKs, 1-1 (4:2).

Go back and examine the record. You’ll see I’m right. Besides Ronaldhino, Brazil has very modest haircuts – and Ronaldhino’s having a very mediocre tournament. They win. England has subdued hair this time around and has survived despite mediocre play. Italy’s hair is toned down this year, and lo! They do not get booted out on PKs!

Hair predictions for the rest of the tournament:

Tomorrow, Beckham, in a conservative close-cropped do, and teammates beat a heavily permed and treated Portuguese team. Conservative hair Brazil defeat the bald and missing side burn of France. Next, Germany easily takes down the subtler, yet still more groomed Azzurri. England loses to Brazil despite Ronaldhino’s poor play on a bad pass made by the tousle- and moussed-hair forward, Crouch. In the final, the German squad, uniformly conservative in their hair styling, defeat an overrated Brazil squad as the country blames curly-locked Ronaldhino for its loss. (He just can’t replace the close-cropped leader of the 2002 WC champs, Rivaldo.)

You can put money on it!

So my old man did it. He sent in his letter, and our local newspaper dutifully printed it:

To the Editor of THE EAGLE:

With the recent kick-off of the Art of the Game and in an effort to add to Pittsfield's rich baseball heritage, I think we should institute new rules to the game calling for offensive and defensive teams, to move in the same direction as the NFL. After all, now that NFL players have to take a break to take on oxygen after a 20-yard-run, should we penalize our baseball players by making them play both sides?

We should have nine players who only play defense, which would eliminate having a good batter who cannot catch a fly ball on the field. The good batters can all be on the nine-man offensive team and flail away at the ball. Fans would love the additional offense and marvel at good fielding plays. After all, wouldn't this just be the natural progression after the initiation of the designated hitter?

As this concept is adopted in the Major Leagues, we can all proudly say it started here in Pittsfield, just as baseball itself started in 1791. Ah the Glory!

I’ll keep you posted on the reactions. Baseball talk is the crack of New England: rest assured we’ll see some steamy reaction to this epistle. Heck, I might even have to create a “curmudgeon” tag just to track the discussion. (I just hope no angry football players ambush pop outside the A&P.)

By the way, how fast did the Eagle print that letter? That was fast! They must know a good baseball brouhaha when they see one.

US out of WC

Watched the US WC loss to Ghana today. Slightly bummed. I didn’t really expect the team to advance, but hoped like h*ll. And because Italy downed the Czech Republic 2-0 this morning, with a win over Ghana they would have gone on.

That’s pretty good when your third game in the first WC round still counts. And I’m Ghlad about Ghana. The only African team to move on. I admit I have a soft spot for scrapping underdog Africans ever since Cameroon’s remarkable run in 1990.

But that’s about all the good I can take away from the US’ play this WC. They looked terrible against the Czech Republic, fantastic against Italy, and somewhere in the middle today. Their midfield is world-class. The defense was much better than 2002. Keller was adequate in goal. No bone-headed mistakes. But no amazing saves, either.

The refs killed them this tourney. And let’s face reality: the US will never get breaks from WC refs. What’s in the best interest for FIFA, a strong US showing, or a strong Italian showing? Follow the money…

But what really killed the US was their offense. They scored one goal in this tournament. (The other was an own-goal, people.) One. Their best striker is Brian McBride, whose weird upright stiffness makes him look more suitable for English tea parties than soccer. Their set plays are atrocious. Donovan’s weak kick out of bounds on a direct kick just outside the box in the 80th minute today pretty much drove a stake through the team heart. US crosses are weak, flat, and inevitably off-target, yet they rely on the lob as their main offensive arsenal. The forwards can’t beat anybody. They’re slow.

And look at all the awesome African strikers! There’s about six on the Ivory Coast and at least three on Ghana! Let’s start handing out some passports, people! If France can “naturalize” players from Morocco and Africa for their national team, why can’t we? Aren’t we a “melting pot”? If we can’t make strikers, let’s buy ‘em!

Of course no one wants to move here anymore.

I’ll definitely be pulling for Ghana. Other than that, I’m open to suggestions. I was pulling for Holland until I watched them play the Ivory Coast. I just don’t like ‘em. Germany?

It started with a 215-year-old document that historians claim is the oldest reference to baseball, a 1791 ordinance that prohibited anyone playing the game within 80 yards of the Pittsfield, Massachusetts, meeting house.

Pittsfield is my birthplace and the county seat of my home town, Lanesborough, where my parents still live.

Like many small towns across the country, Pittsfield is eager to put itself on the map and has audaciously claimed itself the birthplace of baseball, elbowing Cooperstown from the hallowed spot.

The Pittsfield group hopes their find puts to rest once and for all the debate about the game's origins. "Pittsfield is baeball's Garden of Eden," Mayor James Ruberto said.

[snip]

Pittsfield might be a sensible home for the sport. Some historians have documented "the Massachusetts game" as a precursor to modern baseball, where runners were thrown out if they were hit by a ball.

[Jim] Bouton, whose decade-long career as a pitcher included stints with the New York Yankees and Houston Astros, lives in nearby Egremont and is helping to restore Pittsfield's Wahconah Park, the former home of several minor league teams. He hopes the discovery helps bring attention to the project.

"We thought this was a lucky stroke," said Bouton, whose 1970 book "Ball Four" offered a scandalous look behind the scenes of professional baseball. "I'm sure Pittsfield will live off this for a while."

And this article from the Red Sox’ website has a classic quote by Bouton:

"Cooperstown used to brag about inventing baseball in 1839. Heck, by 1791, baseball was already a nuisance in Pittsfield."

Naturally, the city and county are doing everything to promote the idea that baseball was born in Pittsfield. Enter the “Art of the Game” project:

[Pittsfield’s] rich [baseball] heritage will be celebrated the next couple of years by Art of the Game, an art and baseball project produced by a unique collaboration of public organizations and private groups, including The Berkshire Eagle. Front and center are 100 large and imaginatively decorated plastic baseball gloves, 80 of which are in Pittsfield, with 42 of those on North Street. The gloves, as different from one another as snowflakes, are in the tradition of the colorful sheep from the city's popular Sheeptacular exhibit.The Art of the Game also features 23 baseball-related works by local artists and a storefront exhibit of baseball art, "Windows on Baseball," will be exhibited later this summer. The project details can be found on the Art of the Game Web site at http://www.artgamepittsfield.org/home.htm.

My old man, a natural-born curmudgeon, finds the whole promotional project faintly ludicrous. So just yesterday he wrote me about a letter he wanted to write to the county paper, the Berkshire Eagle, with an idea on how the city could further its claim as the incubator of ideas for our nation’s pastime. The letter would combine my dad’s belief in the inherent laziness of baseball players and his disdain for Pittsfield’s “Art of the Game” project:

I think we should go further and make the next development in the future of baseball and change the rules to operate like the NFL, i.e. offense and defensive teams. If the footballers can be so out of shape that they need to go to the sidelines to sniff oxygen after a hard 20 yard run, baseball players should have their rest as well. I am proposing a defensive (fielding) team of 9 players, and another nine offensive (batters) players to do the hitting. When this concept takes off, we (Pittsfield) can take credit for that as well. After all it is only taking the DH role a little further. What do you think??

Do you think the readers would take me seriously?

Pops: (a) I think it’s a terrible idea. (b) Yes, people would take you seriously. It might be worth submitting, though, just to read the responses from subsequent letter writers.

Ultimately, I admire my old man’s pluck and ironic approach to sports. He enjoys watching the games more to criticize the players’ energy and performance than for the outcome. To him sports isn’t about the competition, but the execution of the players’ soldierly roles. He mocks the games as he watches. After all, this is a man who drafted his fantasy World Cup squad (yes, we’re pathetic) based on alphabetical order. His roster includes the three Als, the Saudis Mohammed Al Anbar, Mohammed Al Deaya, and Hamad Al Montashari. He may be last in our league, but it’s fun checking his results every morning.

Sure he’s playing the game, but with a little contempt for it as well.

Let's hope that he submits the letter. If so, we'll be sure to follow its progress here on 4&20…

Let me say this straight off: I was wrong about the US soccer team. They did not, and will not destroy soccer in this country. I say this after having watched a thrilling game against Italy, which ended in a 1 – 1 tie.

That's right, soccer un-fans. A tie was thrilling.

As always, some thoughts:

The US owned the midfield. We saw this in the last World Cup against Germany, who the US outplayed. The US hustled, tackled well, and made fantastic developing passes though the midfield. The Italians were forced to play long passes to their flankers up front and consequently had fewer chances.

The US desperately needs a world-quality striker before they can compete in the World Cup. That was the frustrating thing about this game. The US developed and developed, pushing the ball up to the goal box time after time, but couldn't do anything with the ball. Weak crosses across the box. Some half-decent shots from outside. But nothing serious or deadly, nothing to stretch the defense or cause double- or triple-teaming. Nobody creative, except Dempsey, who doesn't appear to have the speed to take him to the next level.

On the other hand, the Italians had dangerous strikers, and they scored on a fantastic curling pass behind the defense on a nice header into the corner.

I hate it when the referee decides the game. I had fifteen minutes of joy – after the US goal and then the red card against Italy. When the next red card came against the US, the joy turned to rage. That's one of the reasons I haven't written about the game until now.

Didn't it look like the Italian player respected the US squad from the beginning? There weren't the usual plethora of crybaby antics usually associated with Italy. That, or Portugal and Mexico set the bar low during the last tournament. I can still see Figo's twisted whiny face… But seriously, I don't think anybody writes the US off anymore.

Other random WC thoughts:

Brazil looks beatable. Ronaldo looks like Maradonna. Circa 1994. Fat, huffing, two steps too slow, a flash of former brilliance sandwiched among ugly sloppy plays…like that complete whiff on a ball in the goal box. You read that right: a Brazilian missed a ball he aimed a kick at. In the World Cup. That's like a pro bowler getting a gutter ball. Tiger Woods dinking a ball off the tee. Larry Bird putting up an air ball from the key.

France's Zidane passes the ball backwards well.

That said, South Korea didn't look so great beating France. I'm still annoyed by the speed skating routine the Koreans did after scoring a goal on the US in 2002. But then again, they did knock Portugal out of the tournament so we could advance.

Argentina's the team to beat. Look for them to knock England out. Why is it they always meet? Fight a war over some rocky island, and get paired up in every World Cup afterwards. FIFA has a perverse sense of humor.

By the way, after US midfielder Pablo M got his red card, who else thought the match was fixed? After all, it's Italy's soccer league that's embroiled in a corruption scandal revolving around match-fixing…

In today’s ESPN “Daily Quickie,” Dan Shanoff accurately summed up the full implication of the US team’s 3-0 defeat by the Czech Republic yesterday:

The worst-case scenario for U.S. Soccer came on Monday.

After four years of buildup, hype and expectations after a breakthrough run to the quarterfinals in 2002, the U.S. team was handed the worst loss of any team in the 2006 tournament so far.

Considering the promise of U.S. soccer's legitimacy, this was even worse than the 5-1 beating that the U.S. team took from the Czech Republic at the start of the 1990 World Cup.

Wasn't the U.S. supposed to be better than this? Maybe not "beat the Czechs" better, but certainly "make a freaking game of it, please!" better?

So, for starters, yesterday's 3-0 shellacking provides fodder for the cynics and cranks who think the real sport this month is mocking soccer and its fans, particularly the hopeful ones rooting on the U.S. team.

Next, it was the ugliest loss found anywhere in the 2006 tournament, combining all the elements of nearly every losing side yet, in a horrible twist on the symbolism of an American melting pot:

Paraguay: Allowing a goal in the game's first minutes.

Costa Rica/Iran: Allowing three goals or more.

Angola/Poland/Sweden/Serbia: Being shut out.

Plus one unique effort: The largest goal differential (3) yet seen in the Cup. (Being behind 2 at the half was a kiss of death worthy of the Group of Death: Teams up 2 or more at halftime are 72-0-4 in Cup history.)

When the day began, I didn't think a team could be humiliated more than Japan, which gave up 3 goals to Australia in the game's final 10 minutes, including (1) the equalizer, (2) the winning goal, and (3) one for plain embarrassment.

But at least Japan was in the game for 90 minutes, leading for 84. The U.S. was out of it right from the start and was never competitive.

Yet it gets worse:

As I watched Italy beat Ghana 2-0 (in a game much closer than the score), it didn't take a soccer savant to realize that both teams are vastly superior to the U.S.

So after a day that started with so much promise (2nd round, anyone?), the U.S. will be fortunate not to go 0-3 in its group and lucky (lucky!) if it doesn't finish 32 out of 32 teams.

That's how ugly this 3-0 loss really was. The first day of play in the Group of Death signaled the death knell for U.S. soccer in 2006.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. What makes this humiliation worse isn’t just that this 3-0 loss dashed our expectations for this world cup, but maybe for US soccer altogether. Just a week ago, fans were discussing – with a straight face – the inevitable domination of the sport by the United States because of its population and wealth. If the game caught on – which naturally it would with a great showing by the US – this country would quickly become a soccer powerhouse.

Some fans were even feeling nostalgic about these golden days when just a few die-hards followed the game.

Have no worry. US’ pathetic performance ensures the soccer fan base will remain small.

Go Holland!

Czechs 3, U.S. 0

So the U.S. mens' soccer team stunk up the joint, 3-0. I didn't see the game but someone who did said the U.S. squad was lucky it wasn't 8-0. The Czechs were better and faster. So much for hoping the U.S. squad gets out of the first round, let alone equals last year's effort.

U.S. coach Bruce Arena is pretty p*ssed, too. In a news conference, he railed star Landon Donovan and the rest of the team:

"Landon showed no aggressiveness," Arena told a news conference after his team's 3-0 defeat in their World Cup Group E opening match."I am very disappointed by the performance of our players over 90 minutes. But give the Czechs credit. They punished us every chance they got."

[snip]

"We certainly had a very poor start to the game – to put yourself down a goal after five minutes to a team like the Czech Republic," he said. "We were behind the eight-ball from the start."

Arena blamed his veteran goalkeeper Kasey Keller for "putting the ball upfield where we have nobody" at the start of the sequence that led to the first goal.

[snip]

Arena also singled out PSV Eindhoven midfielder DaMarcus Beasley — alongside Donovan one of his most important players — for strong criticism.

"We got nothing out of Beasley on the night," Arena said.

"Not enough players took the initiative. We didn't get too many good performances."

Although known for his generally blunt style, Arena was in top form as he rattled off his team's failings with refreshing candor.

"A number of players played poorly," he said. "Aside from giving up the early goal, second balls were a big part of the game and they won more than their fair share."

Harsh words from Arena, apparently completely justified. (So much for Keller being one of the best goaltenders in the world, eh?)

Let's face it: the US squad is in big trouble. With the Czechs and Italians winning their opening matches, it'll take a minor miracle for the US squad to advance. All the Czechs and Azzuri need to do now is tie their remaining two games. Because Italy-Czech…etc…play last, they'll probably play very conservatively…at best. In order for the US to advance, they need to win their remaining two games. Or tie Italy, beat Ghana, and hope for a Ghana win over the Czechs.

Double ugh.

So now it's time to pick a second-favorite team. I've always liked Holland…

(Update: Jan Koller's hamstring pull turns out to be not a serious injury, good news for the Czechs.)

The rumors are true. Tester supporters everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief.

Clemens to the Astros? Say it ain’t so, Rocket!

I’ll believe it when it hits the wires. Why would he do such a thing? Seriously? Who cares if the ‘Stros play in his home state. Houston sucks! It’s polluted. It’s dull. There are way too many conventions. The Bushes consider Houston their political capitol. The Texans. Ugh.

But Boston! La la! Now there’s a city and team to join! If I were Clemens, I’d pick the Sox in a heartbeat. In fact, I predicted it. So it’s got to happen! And why not? There’s the tradition. There’s the career full circle thing. Plus, with Clemens, the Sox would be the instant faves for the whole shebang! (Not so in Houston, dear readers.)

But…would I trade the Rocket for a US Senator from Big Sandy?

*gulp*

*gulp*

Let me get this straight. Would I deny the Boston Red Sox Roger Clemens and a clear shot at the title in exchange for a Jon Tester victory in the primary and general elections?

Is that the deal?

*gulp*

Um, okay. I guess that’s a fair trade. I mean the Sox just won in 2004, so it’s not like we really need to win it all this year. So. Okay. Sure.

Deal.

(*sigh*)

Update: Argh! It's hitting the wires! But only as a rumor…




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