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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ricky ticky tock, time's up on the clock

I'm giddy and it has nothing to do with the fact that the Penguins could even the Stanley Cup Finals at two games apiece tonight.
It's because after six long months, Rick Reilly is on the verge eligibility to write columns again. Reilly left Sports Illustrated at the end of 2007 to sign a five-year, $17 million contract to write for ESPN. But SI had a clause in his contract that forbade him from doing anything for another company in the first six months after he left the magazine.
It's been five months and 30 days since he left SI. It's been five months and 30 days since I didn't cry myself to sleep.
OK, I'm exaggerating, but don't think a small part of me didn't get torn up along with Reilly's expired SI contract. I don't know what ESPN has in store for his first column, whether it will appear online in the magazine or in some new medium they invent (What's next HD?), but my wit-deprived eyes will be looking for it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What can you do for Brown?

Big Brown, associated more with a delivery service than race tracks, has a crack in his front left hoof and may not be able to run in next Saturday's Belmont Stakes. If he doesn't race NBC's ratings will reflect what could very well have been coverage of a Muncie, Ind., PTA meeting.
All this time, those clever, seasonal racing fans are asking "What can Brown do for you?" Some say he can save the sport while others argue that he'll put it out of its misery by proving that a Triple Crown winner will do nothing to boost the sports popularity.
And while it has occurred to some of these racing "pundits" that this year's horse cannot speak for himself, it would probably be a lot easier if he could. What they don't know is that he can speak for himself.
Give me a mane brush and call me Robert Redford because I spent some time with the thoroughbred and it turns out I'm a regular horse whisperer. Here's what Big Brown had to say Wednesday afternoon:

Do ya know what it feels like to have a cracked hoof? Mah trainer tells tha reportas that it's like havin' a cracked cuticle in yer fingernail an' that it hurts. Hell yeah it hurts, but it's nothin' like havin' a cracked fingernail. Since when do humans walk on their fingernails? I di'n't think so. It's like someone slicin' ya three big toes open an' makin' ya walk around on dirt tracks all day. An' when you're not doin' that ya have to stand in yer own s--- with a cut on yer toes. How does that sound?
This whole Triple Crown bulls--- is tha equiv'lent of yer godfather enterin' ya an' yer smallest kid into piggy-back races against other parents. Ya win tha first race, but yer MILF crush from tha next neighborhood actually breaks her ankle crossin' tha finish line an' is euthanized right there on tha track in front of her 12-year-old son.
I mean sure, ya feel bad for tha kid an' his family, but for Secrectariat's sake, that could have been you dyin' with yer kid on yer back! Well I don't want to die, an' I sure as hell don't want to run another race a couple weeks later. But ya know what? Ya do it anyway because yer kid is crackin' ya with a whip an' says if ya don't beat Tommy an' his dad, godfather Mickey isn't gonna let ya sleep with Mommy anymore.
So let me get this straight, ya say. I'm runnin' this race an' not only might I die, but if I don't prove to be "breedworthy," I'm not even allowed to sleep with mah wife anymore? That's right, buddy, that's exactly what I'm thinkin' when I'm runnin' these damn races.
I don't even have a wife, but I'm sure I have a few kids around somewhere. How am I s'posed to find a gal out here when A. Tha one I planned to ask on a date after that Derby dies after I leave her ass in tha dust an' B. There's a hundred-fifteen pound anorexic dude ridin' around on mah back all day. Ya try havin' another guy rap his legs around ya on national television all day an' tell me how many chicks ya pick up. Not many, buddy, no siree. Mah best breedin' days are behind me. Once they make ya a "stud," an oxymoron if I ever heard one, ya only get to sleep with tha big burly women so yer kids are real big an' burly an' can go through all this s--- in three years. That would be like if someone told ya men that ya could only get with high school softball coaches after ya turned 24. Ya wouldn't stand for that now would ya?
I won that second Bal'more race, too, an' I wasn't even in much of a mood to be runnin'. Tha reason I went so fast is because everywhere I turned on tha infield there were 19-year-old boys drinkin' Keystone an' 17-year-old girls liftin' up their trainin' bras. I mean I can't even look at that legally. Can I? Anyway that's how I cracked ma damn hoof, I stepped on one of those beer can tabs comin' around tha first turn an' was tramplin' on it tha whole way aroun'. An' just when I decided it wasn't worth tryin' any longer to win this damn race, I remembered tha part about not gettin' to be a "stud" when I finish this Triple Crown. Well that high school softball coach type is better than yer right hoof any day. Just ask yer trainer to keep tha stable dark an' ya won't know tha diff'rence.
So back to this Belmont crap. Ya know why no horse has won all three of these races since Affirmed? It's simple, we don't really care. We win these races an' earn our owners what, like a million dollars? An' how much of it do we see? None. I still live in tha same dark stable an' ride in tha same trailor up the highways while little kids, probably tha same ones that would whip their parents in tha piggy back races, point at me an' make faces.
So now everyone wants to know, am I gonna to win next Saturday? Of course I'm gonna win if mah trainer lets me run. It was a freakin' beer tab. Yeah it hurts but its nothin' I can't fight through to get that stud status. An' ya know what else, I'm on HGH. That's right, Horse Growth Hormones. Yeah, I said it. Eight Belles was on 'roids but no one discovered that in tha autopsy did they? How do ya think she got those upper legs? Mmm, that's tha only reason I didn't race ahead at tha Kentucky one because I wanted a good look at those four pillars of beauty. Anyway, Affirmed, Seattle Slew, Secretariat, even Sea Biscuit, they all used steroids. They didn't put that part in tha movie, did they? There's no testin' in tha sport, an' they sure as hell aren't gonna bring a horse onto Capitol Hill, so why wouldn't we do it?
An' can I say one more thing? I love those people from PETA. I know they make 'em look bad on television, I hear mah trainer talkin' about it all tha time, but they treat me so good. When it's real late at night, I can be layin' down in ma' stable then alluvsudden I hear these whispers. An' do ya know who it is? It's tha PETA people. They brung me candy bars an' Kool-Aid since ma' trainer only gives me oats an' water durin' tha day. Sometimes I get peanut butter when I hafta do those damn car ads so it looks like I'm talkin'.
So that's about th' extent of it. I hate racin' I really do, but I don't wanna ruin tha rest 'a tha perks for mahself. Tha stud stuff, tha admiration, an' those Musketeers bars -- I couldn't live without 'em. So what should ya do with yer money on next Saturday? Put it all on me. If ma' trainer runs me -- an' I can promise he will -- it won't be close. Everybody wants to know what I can do fer 'em lately. Well this is it, I'm gonna win tha Triple Crown.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sports Network Stories: 5/26/08 - 6/2/08

June 1
Gamer: Milwaukee 10, Houston 1

Gamer: San Francisco 4, San Diego 3

May 29
Gamer: Teixeira and Braves pound Brewers

Cubs recall reliever Cotts

May 28
Gamer: Rays hand Rangers first series loss in a month

Percival leaves game with apparent injury

Cards place Pineiro on DL, recall Jimenez

Braves activate Soriano, place Diaz on DL

May 26
Marlins purchase contract of P Nelson

Reds promote top prospect Bruce

Diamondbacks activate Tracy from DL

Braves activate Carlyle

Friday, May 23, 2008

Bad case of Beli-mia

I'll remember Bill Belichick as one thing - a cheater.
If he wins the next five Super Bowls, the next three American Idols and an Iditarod, I won't think anything more of him.
Two years ago I would have told you that he rivaled Vince Lombardi as the best coach in NFL history.
Now, for two reasons, I'll tell you he rivals Barry Bonds. Firstly because he's simultaneously the biggest and most successful cheater in the history of his sport. Secondly because without cheating he still would have been one of the most successful figures in the history of his sport.
And it's the latter realization that perplexes me. What is it that makes someone's desire to succeed so high that he feels justified cheating to reach his goals?
Spygate tarnished Belichick's reputation for sure, but since all the tangible evidence has seemingly surfaced, it appears that his actions were overblown and in some cases falsely exaggerated (by The Boston Herald).
He and the organization were justly punished and like an old french fry the the scandal was swept under the rug.
Then this happens. Matt Walsh, the "third video assistant" who "doesn't know football" told Commissioner Roger Goodell that Belichick uses players on Injured Reserve in practice.
He reminds me of the people at the gas station who take six pennies out of the change tray so they don't have to break an extra dollar.
He takes every minute edge he can to get a leg up on his opponents.
Whether that means taping their signals, practicing with extra players or cutting the sleeves off his hoodies so he can throw his challenge flag a little farther, he'll do it.
And that's what I can't stand.
He's clearly a genius and without cheating his stats would undoubtedly make him one of the best coaches ever. But the cheating on his resume is the mustard on your favorite T-shirt.
That stain won't go away like the Spurs in late spring.
The only explanation I can think of is that Belichick has a sickness. Call it Beli-mia because every time he cheats I want to throw up.
When everyone said Belichick and his Patriots were in a different league, they were right - the league of cheaters.
Don't be offended by me grouping the whole team together because of Belichick's actions. After all, he preaches the team concept more than
anyone in the game. If they don't want to be cheaters they can find another team to play/work for.
That includes everyone from owner Bill Belichick to kicker Adam Vinatieri. They're all cheaters. Remember how angry you got when your sister used to always be the banker in Monopoly and somehow she would never run out of money? Multiply that anger and the importance of the game by 100 and you can understand where I'm coming from.
But with the talent that Belichick and the Patriots have, I'll never understand where they're coming from.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

NBA = Not Business Acclimated

The NBA has become the punchline of professional sports organizations. I don't mean the players and the teams, I mean the business.
I got sick watching David Stern condemn Tim Donaghy through the most twisted-satisfied smile I've seen since Jack Nicholson in "The Shining."
Yes, you caught your man who was corrupting your league and you can't wait to see the law stick it to him. How convenient that you find joy in punishing one of your league's ex-authority figures.
This self-dignified celebration puts Stern on the same level as Bud Selig for his anti-steroids tirade.
It's not only that though. I'll defer to one of my favorite columnists, Gary Parrish, on why the one-year-in-college rule is a joke (even though I love watching these would-be lottery picks play for a college season.)
But there's also the calamity of the NBA Draft Lottery. How do teams like the Portland Trailblazers and Chicago Bulls deserve top picks in back-to-back years when teams like the New York Knicks have starters who would be in the D-League for other franchises?
The NFL is the model league for all things business in pro sports whether you like football or not. The teams with the worst records deserve the best picks. Just as pointless is the NBA's ordering of the rest of the draft lineup before postseason play finishes.
Last year, for example, the Golden State Warriors were the first No. 8 seed to win a playoff series. Under NFL rules they would have had the 23rd pick in the draft, dropping below all the first-round losers that weren't already above them. As it was, they selected 18th, five spots higher than they should have.
The reason you do the draft the NFL-way is for parity. That's why the NFL is so successful, David! People outside of the northeast don't like to see the Patriots win every year, but if they do it's damn impressive.
The things the NBA does to make a few more bucks is only turning the league into another P-word: parody.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Let's get Tek-nichal

As SportsCenter first pointed out, (for me anyway) Jason Varitek's role in Jon Lester's no-hitter was the fourth of its kind that he's caught in the major league's, good for first all-time. (By the way, he also hit a two-run homer Monday night.)
So it is in the midst of Mike Piazza's retirement as the greatest hitting catcher of all-time that I ponder Varitek's place among best game-calling catchers of all-time. It can't be a coincidence that he's caught each of the last four Boston no-hitters: Lester's, Clay Buchholz last year, Derek Lowe in 2002 and Hideo Nomo in 2001.
He's caught one for some diverse player personalities as well: from a former Asian savior in Nomo, to more of a veteran in Lowe, to the second career start of a rookie in Buchholz and finally to the gritty cancer-survivor turned walking inspiration in Lester.
Forget things like number of shut-outs or strikeouts caught by different catchers over time, we're talking about the biggest single-game defensive accomplishment possible for the man in position No. 2. It's the equivalent of how many times an offensive lineman has blocked for a 220-yard game by a running back.
You might argue that there have been more no-hitters (256 by my count) than 220-yard rushing games (I couldn't find a number) but remember that the number of games in a football season is less than 10 percent of the games in a baseball season, and that baseball has been around considerably longer.
By catching four no-hitters Varitek has done something more impressive than pitching one. The catcher is the only person that the pitcher looks at before every pitch, and in many cases, relies on to call those pitches. And most important of all, after about the fourth inning the catcher is usually the only person who communicates with the pitcher because of superstitions.
Varitek has done all these things perfectly (well, minus the nine walks in the games) four times. He's almost as important as a caddie is to a player in contention to win a golf tournament. In 2005, one of the years he actually didn't catch a no-hitter, he won the American League Gold Glove Award.
And don't forget that he's the team captain of a Boston squad that in 2004 and 2007 won its first world championships since 1918.
With someone who does so much right behind the plate, how can a pitcher ever be worried that something could go wrong?
Varitek is more than a great catcher, he's a team changer. He's the Tim Duncan of baseball. He's got that gritty look of a veteran with not always flashy but still sufficient stats that have done nothing but make his team successful.
Does his accomplishment with Lester further prove his value as a great game-caller? Yes, but more than that, it also propels him into the threshold of purely all-time great catchers.

Sports Network Stories: 5/19/08 - 5/25/08

Nationals shake up roster, option P Chico

Gold-medalist Hamm breaks hand

Navy AD Gladchuk gets extension through 2015

Marlins select OF Jones' contract

Mystics sign guard Smith

Chappell ineligible at North Dakota

MRI on Jones reveals fluid, tear in cartilage

Bouchie transfers to Evansville

Shave and a haircut: Cowboys extend Barber, Newman

Take a piece of Piazza

Mike Piazza's retirement should trigger a string of big-name players ending their baseball careers this season. It should, but I don't think it will.
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, David Wells and Kenny Lofton are all free agents. Bonds and Clemens are arguably the best hitter and pitcher, respectively, of all-time if you ignore the likelihood of steroid usage by both.
And Wells is known for his bulldog toughness while Lofton's name is synonymous with base-stealing. So why haven't these guys been signed? Because they're old.
True that Bonds and Clemens would bring more baggage than their age but regardless of off-the-field issues, all five of the aforementioned players aren't valuable enough to be everyday players. Bonds would be an effective pinch-hitter, Lofton a pinch runner or defensive replacement, and Clemens and Wells would be a tough relief match-up, but why would anyone pay them upwards of an eight-figure contract to do something that a kid in triple-A will do for six figures?
Piazza did the right thing by going out on top, even if his numbers did fall off in his final two seasons with San Diego in Oakland. But it's May 21 not many teams are desperate enough to waste the cash it would take to sign a washed up All-Star in his 40s.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Do you really mean it, Papa?

I almost packed my bags for a roadtrip to Cleveland on Thursday and it has nothing to do with the Cavaliers-Celtics game (which will be played in Boston anyway.)
It's because I can get a large pepperoni pizza for less than a quarter! If gas wasn't so expensive the trip would make sense financially. Wouldn't it be fun to drive to Ohio (I know, of all states) just to say you bought a Papa John's pizza for 23 cents?
If you ask me, this promotion is reason enough to forgive those blue-collared folks for picking Hillary in the primaries.
The concept of 23 cent pizzas I do love, but the reasoning for it is meager and reeks of a CYA retraction. Who cares if you upset a few people by sponsoring shirts that called LeBron James a "Crybaby"? He's a big boy in case you didn't see his triple-double in three quarters of play.
What's the worst thing that can happen, that guy in your commercials goes back to Pizza Hut? I can see it now: "Better T-shirts. Better pizza."
Once he tastes one of those Pizza Mias he'll realize he'd rather have his hands on your "dough" than theirs. Unless he eats a pepperoni and chicken Mia for breakfast the day after a rager, that guy isn't going anywhere.
And since my Jeep Cherokee got 16.3 mpg on my last fill-up, neither am I. Rest in Pizza.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

One before Two except after C and in the NBA

Two things are really bothering me today. The first one is the fact that the NBA starts second-round games before all the first-round series have played out. i.e. game one of Magic vs. Pistons followed by game one Suns vs. Spurs on TNT right now, which precedes Hawks vs. Celtics game seven tomorrow.
The second thing that bothers me is that I never realized the NBA did this in the past. I'm pretty sure MLB and the NHL don't do something so stupid. And obviously with one-game rounds neither does the NFL.
So how is it fair to have two mildly rested teams begin the second round while one of the teams on the other side of the bracket in the conference has to play a game seven before a quick turnaround to begin the second round themselves?
This is like walking a bride down the aisle with the best man ready at the altar, but not the groom.
This serves as one more reason why the general sports fan has a hard time putting the NBA on the same level as the NFL, and even MLB for that matter.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Led by a Sheppard

This is how you handle a sticky contract situation.
You don't talk if you haven't been traded, and you show up for camp until you're told otherwise.
Lito Sheppard is a model Pro Bowler playing for a model franchise that has been up front about its intentions for months. They wanted to trade Sheppard but since they haven't received an offer that would match his value they've held on to him.
No one needs T.O.-like distractions during mini-camp. Having players complain about their contracts in the preseason is as distracting as your biology teacher standing over your shoulder while you hide your cheat sheet under your non-writing hand. So I hear anyway.
Why should he leave anyway? The Eagles are going to have plenty of cap space and hopefully give him a little bit of a bonus for the way he's played in the last couple years, even if last year was a bit of a down season for him. Who can forget the interception he had against the Cowboys when he took a Drew Bledsoe pass in the endzone to seal the game and the NFC East Divisional title?
The Eagles will be deadly with Sheppard, Asante Samuel, Sheldon Brown and Brian Dawkins AKA Master Splinter in the secondary. And since they drafted about 73 linemen they should be deep enough to stop the run if they continue the eight to ten man rotation they've used in the past.
There's a reason Lito's last name is Sheppard and it has nothing to do with the "sheep"-ish grin he'll be wearing when the Eagles get back to the playoffs this season.